Henry Wotton
  • Henry Wotton

  • Died: December 01, 1639
  • Born: Kent, The United Kingdom.

  • Description: Sir Henry Wotton (1568 - December, 1639) was born at Bocton Hall in the parish of Bocton or Boughton Malherbe, Kent. He was educated at Winchester College and at New College, Oxford, where he matriculated on 5 June 1584, alongside John Hoskins. Two years later he moved to Queen's College, graduating in 1588. At Oxford he was the friend of Albericus Gentilis, then professor of Civil Law, and of John Donne. During his residence at Queen's he wrote a play, Tancredo, which has not survived, but his chief interests appear to have been scientific. In qualifying for his M.A. degree he read three lectures De oculo, and to the end of his life he continued to interest himself in physical experiments.

    His father, Thomas Wotton, died in 1587, leaving Henry only a hundred marks a year. About 1589 Wotton went abroad, with a view probably to preparation for a diplomatic career, and his travels appear to have lasted for about six years. At Altdorf he met Edward, Lord Zouch, to whom he later addressed a series of letters (1590-1593) which contain much political and other news, and provide a record of the journey. He travelled by way of Vienna and Venice to Rome, and in 1593 spent some time at Geneva in the house of Isaac Casaubon, to whom he contracted a considerable debt.

    He returned to England in 1594, and in the next year was admitted to the Middle Temple. While abroad he had from time to time provided Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, with information, and he now definitely entered his service as one of his agents or secretaries. It was his duty to supply intelligence of affairs in Transylvania, Poland, Italy and Germany. Wotton was not, like his unfortunate fellow-secretary, Henry Cuffe, who was hanged at Tyburn in 1601, directly involved in Essex's downfall, but he thought it prudent to leave England, and within sixteen hours of his patron's apprehension he was safe in France, whence he travelled to Venice and Rome.

    In 1602 he was living at Florence, and a plot to murder James VI of Scotland having come to the ears of the grand-duke of Tuscany, Wotton was entrusted with letters to warn the king of the danger, and with Italian antidotes against poison. As "Ottavio Baldi" he travelled to Scotland by way of Norway. He was well received by James, and remained three months at the Scottish court, retaining his Italian incognito. He then returned to Florence, but on receiving the news of James's accession hurried to England. James knighted him, and offered him the embassy at Madrid or Paris; but Wotton, knowing that both these offices involved ruinous expense, desired rather to represent James at Venice.

    He left London in 1604 accompanied by Sir Albertus Morton, his half-nephew, as secretary, and William Bedell, the author of an Irish translation of the Bible, as chaplain. Wotton spent most of the next twenty years, with two breaks (1612-1616 and 1619-1621), at Venice. He helped the Doge in his resistance to ecclesiastical aggression, and was closely associated with Paolo Sarpi, whose history of the Council of Trent was sent to King James as fast as it was written. Wotton had offended the scholar Caspar Schoppe, who had been a fellow student at Altdorf. In 1611 Schoppe wrote a scurrilous book against James entitled Ecclesiasticus, in which he fastened on Wotton a saying which he had incautiously written in a friend's album years before. It was the famous definition of an ambassador as an "honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country" (Legatus est vir bonus peregre missus ad mentiendum rei publicae causa). It should be noticed that the original Latin form of the epigram did not admit of the double meaning. This was adduced as an example of the morals of James and his servants, and brought Wotton into temporary disgrace. Wotton was at the time on leave in England, and made two formal defences of himself, one a personal attack on his accuser addressed to Marcus Welser of Strassburg, and the other privately to the king.