Sir Robert Cecil, who organised James VI of Scotland coming to the English throne
and got to be Earl of Salisbury for his trouble.
Right honourable: as I have been bound unto your honour so I most humbly desire your honour to pardon my boldness and make my choice of your honour to let you understand my bounden duty and desire of God’s preservation of my more dear sovereign Queen and Country: whom I beseech God ever to bless & to confound all their enemies what & whom soever. Fifteen years since I was in France servant to Sir Henry Cobham who was Ambassador for the Queen’s Majesty, and lay in Paris, where I fell acquainted with one Smith a priest, and one Morgan someone of her Majesty’s Chapel, one Verstigan who brake out of England being apprehended & one Morris a Welshman that was our porter, who is at Rome; these men thrust many idle toys into my head of religion, saying that the papists’ was the truth & ours in England all false, and I being but young their fair words overreached me & I believed with them. Within two years after I came into England where I saw men of that faction condemned & executed which I thought was great injustice taking religion for the only cause, and when my best friends would persuade me I would not believe them. Then in time passing one Mr Johnson died & I became an humble suitor for his place (thinking myself most worthiest) wherein I found many good and honourable friends that spake for me, but I saw that I was like to go without it, and that any may have preferment but I, whereby I began to sound the cause, and guessed that my religion was my hindrance. Where upon my mind being troubled I desired to get beyond the seas which I durst not attempt without licence from some of the Privy Council, for fear of being taken and so have extreme punishment. And according as I desired there came a letter to me out of Germany from the Duke of Brunswick, whereupon I spake to your honour & to my Lord of Essex who willingly gave me both your hands (for which I would be glad if there were any service in me that your honours could command). When I came to the Duke of Brunswick he used me kindly & gave me a rich chain of gold, £23 in money with velvet and satin and gold lace to make me apparel, with promise that if I would serve him he would give me as much as any prince in the world. From thence I went to the Landgrave of Hessen, who gave me the greatest welcome that might be for one of my quality who sent a ring into England to my wife valued at £20 sterling, and gave me a great standing cup with a cover gilt, full of dollars with many great offers for my service. From thence I had great desire to see Italy & came to Venice & from thence to Florence where I played before the Duke & got great favours, & one evening I was walking upon the piazzo in Florence a gentleman told me that he espied an English priest & that his name was Skidmore & son and heir to Sir John Skidmore of the Court. So I being intended to go to Rome to study with a famous musician named Luca Marenzio:
Marenzio's commendation at the beginning of Dowland's First Book of Songs
stepped to this Mr Skidmore the priest & asked him if he were an Englishman, & he told me yea: & whose son he was, & I telling him my name he was very glad to see me, so I told him I would go to Rome & desired his help for my safety, for said I, if they should mistake me there my fortune were hard, for I have been thrust off all good fortune because I am a Catholic at home. For I heard that her Majesty being spoke to for me, said I was a man a man to serve any prince in the world, but I was an obstinate papist. Whereunto he answered Mr Dowlande if it be not so make her words true. So in further talk we spake of priests, & I told him that I did not think it true that any priests (as we said in England) would kill the Queen or once go about to touch her finger, and said I whatsoever my religion be I will neither meddle nor make with any thing there done, so that they do not anything against the Queen. Whereunto he answered that l spake as a good subject to her Majesty, but said he in Rome you shall hear Englishmen your own countrymen speak most hardly of her and wholly seek to overthrow her & all England. And those be the Jesuits said he who are of the Spanish faction. Moreover said he we have many jars with them & withall wished to God the Queen were a Catholic, & said he, to defend my Country against the Spaniards I would come into England & bear a pike on my shoulders. Among our talk he told me that he had orders to attach divers English gentlemen, & that he had been 3 years [out of?] England, so I brought him to his lodging door, where he told me that there was 9 priests come from Rome to go for England. He came but the day before to Florence, do I think they came altogether, he told me that he would stay there in the town and study in an abbey called Sancta Maria Novella, & that he must be in for one month, and that he would write letters of me to Rome, which I should receive very shortly, but I heard not of him in a month after, and then there came two friars to my lodging the one was an Englishman named Bailey, a Yorkshireman. The next day after my speech with Skidmore I dined with my Lord Gray and divers other gentlemen, whom I told of my speech with Skidmore giving them warning. Whereupon my Lord Gray went to Sienna, and the rest dispersed themselves. Moreover I told my Lord Gray howsoever I was for religion, if l did perceive anything in Rome that either touched her Majesty or the state of England I would give notice of it though it were the loss of my life, which he liked well & bade me keep that secret. This friar Bailey before named delivered me a letter which I have here sent your Honour, which letter I brake open before Mr. Josias Bodley, & showed what was written in it to him & divers other, after this, this friar Bailey told me he had received letters from Rome to hasten me forward, & told me that my discontentment was known at Rome, & that I should have a large pension of the Pope, & that his Holiness & all the cardinals would make wonderful much of me, thereupon I told him of my wife and children how to get them to me, whereunto he told me that I should have acquaintance with such as should bring them over to me if she had any willingness or else they would lose their lives for there came those into England for such purposes, for quoth he Mr Skidmore brought out of England at his last being there 17 persons both men and women, for which the Bishop weeps when he sees him for joy. After my departure I called to mind our conference & got me by myself & wept heartily, to see my fortune so hard that I should become servant to the greatest enemy of my prince: country: wife: children: and friends: for want, & to make me like themselves. God he knoweth I never loved treason nor treachery nor never knew any, nor never heard any mass in England, which I find is great abuse of the people for on my soul I understand it not. Wherefore I have reformed myself to live according to her Majesty’s laws as I was born under her Highness, & that most humbly I do crave pardon, protesting if there were any ability in me, I would bed most ready to make amend. At Bologna I met with 2 men the one named Pierce an Irishman, the other named Dracot. They are gone both to Rome.
The Queen is looking pretty sanguine about the whole Philip of Spain thing in the Armada Portrait
In Venice I heard an Italian say, that he marveled that King Philip had never a good friend in England that with his dagger would dispatch the Queen’s Majesty, but said he, God suffers her, in the end to give her the greater overthrow. Right honourable this have I written that her Majesty may know the villainy of these most wicked priests and Jesuits, & to beware of them. I thank God I have both forsaken them and their religion which tendeth to nothing but destruction. Thus I beseech God night & day to bless and defend the Queen’s Majesty, & to confound all her enemies & to preserve your honour & all the rest of her Majesty's most honourable Privy Council. I think that Skidmore & the other priests are all in England for he stayed not at Florence as he said he would to me, & friar Bailey told me that he was gone into France to study the law. At Venice & all along as I came in Germany say that the King of Spain is making great preparation to come for England this next summer, where if it pleased your Honour to advise me by my poor wife I would most willingly lose my life against them. Most humbly beseeching your Honour to pardon my ill writing & worse inditing, & to think that I desire to serve my country & hope to hear of your good opinion of me. From Nurnberg this 10th of November 1595.
Your Honour’s most bounden
John Dowland's letter to Sir Robert Sidney, from Diana Poulton's biography of John Dowland, currently and very sadly out of print.