Biondi, Giovanni Francesco (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 05
Biondi, Giovanni Francesco

by Sidney Lee

BIONDI, Sir GIOVANNI FRANCESCO (1572–1644), historian and romance writer, was born in 1572 at Lesina, an island in the Gulf of Venice off Dalmatia. Entering the service ofthe Venetian republic, he was appointed secretary to Senator Soranzo, the \enetian ambassador at Paris ; but he soon afterwards returned to Venice, and at the suggestion of Sir Henry Wotton, the English ambassador there, came to England to seek his fortunes. Arriving in 1605) (Cal. Dom. State Paper, 1629-31, p. 347), with an introduction to James I, he was at first employed in negotiating with the Duke of Savoy marriages between his children and Prince Henry and Princess Elizabeth, but the scheme never reached maturity. He was settled in London in the latter half of 1612, when Prince Henry's death ended 'all hope of a Savoyan match,' and was well received by the king, who granted him a pension. Fifteen interesting Italian letters, written between 9 Oct. 1612 and 24 Nov. 1613, by Biondi in London to Carleton, who was then the English ambassador at Venice, are extant among the 'State Papers.' In one of them, dated 28 Oct. 1613, Biondi promises to follow Carleton's advice, and remain permanently in London ; and in the latest of them he announces his intention of going to Paris with Sir Henry Wotton, should Wotton be appointed to the English legation there. He had been in early life converted to the protestant faith ; but Archbishop Abbot informed Carleton (80 Nov. 1613) that, although he knew nothing to Biondi's disadvantage, he was as suspicious of him as of all 'Italian convertitos.' In 1615 Biondi proceeded to the general Calvinist assembly held at Grenoble as James I's representative, and he assured the assembly of the English king's protection and favour (Marsollier, Histoire de Henri, duc de Bouillon, 1719, livre vii. p. 27). On 6 Sept. 1622 Biondi was knighted by James I at Windsor, and married about the same time Mary, the sister of the king's physician, Sir Theodore Mayerne, 'a very great lump or great piece of flesh,' as Chamberlain describes her (Nichols, Progresses, iii. 777; Cal. Dom. State Papers, 1619-23, p. 495). Soon afterwards Biondi became a gentleman of the king's privy chamber. On 22 Feb. 1625-6 he resigned two small pensions which he had previously held, and received in behalf of himself and his wife, during their lives, a new pension of 200l. On 13 June 1628 an exemption from all taxation was granted him. On 25 Sept. 1630 he sent to Carleton, who had now become Viscount Dorchester and secretary of state, a statement of his affairs, and desired it to be laid before the king. After giving an account of his early life, and of the loss which he had sustained in the death, in 1628, of his patron, William Cavendish, earl of Devonshire, he complained that his pension had been rarely paid, and prayed for its increase by 100l. and its regular payment. The justices of the peace for Middlesex reported (11 May 1636) that Biondi, with other persons of 'quality' residing in Clerkenwell, had refused to contribute 'to the relief of the infected' of the district. There is extant at the Record Office a certificate of payment of Biondi's pension on 7 May 1638. Two years later he left England for the house of his brother-in-law, Mayerne, at Aubonne, near Lausanne, Switzerland. He died there in 1644, and the epitaph on his tomb in the neighboring church was legible in 1737. An admirable portrait of Biondi is given in 'Le Glorie de gli Incogniti,' p. 240. This book, published at Venice in 1647, is an account of deceased members of the Venetian 'Accademia de' Signori Incogniti,' to which Biondi belonged.

Biondi was the author of three tedious chivalric romances, which tell a continuous story, and of a work on English history. They were all written in Italian, but became very popular in this country in English translations. They are entitled: 1. 'L'Eromena divisa in sei libri,' published at Venice in 1624, and again in 1628. It was translated into English as 'Eromena, or Love and Revenge' (fol., 1631), by James Hayward, and dedicated to the Duke of Richmond and Lennox. A German translation appeared in parts at Nuremberg between 1656 and 1659, and was republished in 1667. 2, 'La Donzella desterrada,' published at Venice in 1627 and at Bologna in 1637, and dedicated to the Duke of Savoy. The dedication is dated from London, 4 July 1626, and in it Biondi mentions a former promise to undertake for the duke a translation of Sidney's 'Arcadia.' James Hayward translated the book into English, under the title of 'Donzella desterrada, or the Banish'd Virgin' (fol.), in 1635. 3. 'Il Coralbo; segue la Donzella desterrada' (Venice, 1635). It was translated into English by A. G. in 1655, with a dedication to the (second) Earl of Strafford. The translator states that Coralbo was regarded by Biondi as the most perfect of his romances. 4. 'L'istoria delle guerre civili d'Inghilterra tra le due case di Lancastre e di Iorc,' published in three quarto volumes at Venice between 1637 and 1644, with a dedication to Charles I. It was translated into English, apparently while still in manuscript, by Henry Cary, earl of Monmouth, and published in two volumes in London in 1641, under the title of 'An History of the Civil Warres of England between the two Houses of Lancaster and Yorke.' It is a laborious but useless compilation.

[Le Glorie de gli Incogniti (1647), pp. 241-3; Niceron's Mémoires pour servir, xxxvii. 391-4; Cal. Dom. State Papers for 1612, 1613, 1622, 1624, 1626, 1628, 1630, 1636, 1638; Granger's Biographical History, ii. 36; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

S. L. L.