Magazine article The Spectator

The Lure of Europe

Magazine article The Spectator

The Lure of Europe

Article excerpt

The Jacobean Grand Tour: Early Stuart Travellers in Europe by Edward Chaney and Timothy Wilks

I.B. Tauris, �25, pp. 304,

ISBN 9781780767833

Spectator Bookshop, �22.50

The pattern of foreign travel by wealthy young Englishmen that became known as the Grand Tour began in the Renaissance and matured in the 17th century. In its origins it was a training for statesmanship. The state's takeover of the church, which had done so much of the state's official business, enlarged the employment opportunities of the nobility and gentry. So did the expansion of the government's administrative resources and ambitions. But with the opportunities came challenges. Monarchs needed their advisers and officials and diplomats to be skilled and knowledgeable. So noblemen and gentlemen urged their sons to look beyond the accustomed pleasures of the hunting field and get down to educational business. They placed them under learned and strenuous tutors, or sent them to the universities and inns of court that grew and prospered under landowning patronage.

Never has the English ruling class been so earnestly educated. Remote as the content of its latinate education may seem to us, it had a practical orientation. Fathers and theorists enjoined the study of history, because the political thought of the period was essentially the study of historical laws and lessons that could be applied to present problems. The development of foreign travel - principally to France and Italy, but also to Spain and Germany and Switzerland and the Low Countries and elsewhere too - had a similarly utilitarian aim. One young voyager after another was told not just to look at the scenery or wonder at the eccentricity of foreigners but to enquire into the political organisation and power struggles, and the military dispositions and capacities, of the countries they visited - information that might not only stretch and nourish the minds of future rulers but be immediately useful to fathers in Whitehall.

The journeys were expensive, and they had their hazards. Some of the risks are remembered by Polonius, whose concerns about the itchy-footed Laertes echo many a paternal warning of Shakespeare's time.

Magnates employed doyens of cultural and intellectual life not only as learned guides but to keep their young charges from debts and damsels and diseases. Ben Jonson (who took Sir Walter Raleigh's son to France), Inigo Jones, Andrew Marvell and Thomas Hobbes were among the supervisors of young Englishmen abroad.

There were political and religious anxieties, too. Might not the impressionable young be lured into exile conspiracies, or be converted to Catholicism? Arrest or kidnap by hostile powers was another danger.

English ambassadors kept close watches on travellers, who could cross the Channel only with a government licence, and who were instructed to keep out of the papal states.

That was a nuisance, because Bologna and Ferrara, which stood within them, blocked the direct route from Florence to Padua or Venice. Yet all excursions into Italy aroused unease. Queen Elizabeth's leading minister William Cecil, Lord Burghley, urged his contemporaries not to 'suffer thy sons to pass the Alps, for they shall learn nothing there but pride, blasphemy and atheism'.

There was a recurrent ambivalence about exposure to foreign influence. The Reformation, having severed England from the international community of the Catholic church, gradually identified Protestantism with the national identity of a land beleaguered by the threat of Catholic invasion. …

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