1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Villamediana, Count de
VILLAMEDIANA, COUNT DE (1582-1622), Spanish poet, was born at Lisbon towards the end of 1582. His father, a distinguished diplomatist, upon whom the dignity of count was conferred in 1603, entrusted the education of the brilliant boy (Juan de Tassis y Peralta) to Luis Tribaldos de Toledo, the future editor of Mendoza's Guerras de Granada, and to Bartolomé Jimenez Patón, who subsequently dedicated Mercurius Trismegistus to his pupil. On leaving Salamanca the youth married in 1601, and succeeded to the title on the death of his father in 1607; he was prominent in the dissipated life of the capital, acquired a bad reputation as a gambler, was forbidden to attend court, and resided in Italy from 1611 to 1617. On his return to Spain, he soon proved himself a fearless, pungent satirist. Such public men as Lerma, Rodrigo Calderón and Jorge de Tobar writhed beneath his murderous invective, the foibles of humbler private persons were exposed to public ridicule in verses furtively passed from hand to hand. So great was the resentment caused by these envenomed attacks that Villamediana was once more ordered to withdraw from court in 1618. He returned on the death of Philip III. and was appointed gentleman in waiting to Philip IV.'s young wife, Isabel de Bourbon, daughter of Henri IV. Secure in his position, he scattered his scathing epigrams in profusion; but his ostentatious attentions to the queen supplied his countless foes with a weapon which was destined to destroy him. A fire broke out while his masque, La Gloria de Niguea, was being acted before the court on the 15th of May 1622, and Villamediana carried the queen to a place of safety. Suspicion deepened, Villamediana neglected a significant warning that his life was in peril, and on the 21st of August 1622 he was murdered as he stepped out of his coach. The responsibility for his death was divided between Philip IV. and Olivares; the actual assassin was either Alonso Mateo or Ignacio Mendez; and naturally the crime remained unpunished.
Villamediana's works, first published at Saragossa in 1629, contain not only the nervous, blighting verses which made him widely feared and hated, but a number of more serious poems embodying the most exaggerated conceits of gongorism. But, even when adopting the perverse conventions of the hour, he remains a poet of high distinction, and his satirical verses, more perfect in form, are instinct with a cold, concentrated scorn which has never been surpassed.
- (J. F.-K.)