Fynes Moryson (1566-1630) was an Elizabethan gentleman, a couple of years younger than Shakespeare and Galileo. As a young man, in the 1590s, he travelled widely in Europe, and to the Holy Land. He subsequently described his experiences in enormous detail in his Itinerary (London, 1617). This article is the first in a series of blogs recording his travels, especially through Galileo’s Italy.

And, as it just so happens, Moryson is the putative narrator of my historical novel Galileo’s Revenge. Well, they could well have met, as we shall see anon…


  • Moryson’s early life
  • Setting out
  • His travels through Europe and beyond
  • Moryson in Ireland: Tyrone’s rebellion
  • Moryson and ‘An Itinerary’
  • A bit of bibliography

Moryson’s early life

Fynes Moryson came from a prosperous and well-connected family based in Licolnshire in the East of England. The third of four sons, it is probable that his father intended him to enter the Church. Perhaps with this in mind, he studied at the University of Cambridge. After taking his Bachelor of Arts degree, however, he decided instead to travel in Europe – pretty much to go back-packing, in fact. Although many men might travel for business, or to study at prestigious foreign universities, or on military service – or, indeed, on pilgrimage – Moryson’s purpose seem to have been more explicitly educational, almost sociological. In this sense he was one of the pioneers of the Grand Tour.

Certainly he takes it for granted ‘That the visiting of forraigne countries is good and profitable’ (Itinerary, part III, bk.1, ch.1), but admits that it is not for everyone. ‘First, women for suspicion of chastity are most unfit for this course, howsoever the masculine women of the Low Countries use to make voyages for trafficke [trade]… Neither would I advise Angelica, if she were alive in these days, to trust herself alone and in desert places to the protection of wandering Knights…’ Fynes evidently knew his Orlando Furioso. His caution was probably realistic, and he also discourages married men, and the old, who ‘shall never be able to endure the frequent changes of diet and air’. He’s not wrong.

Setting out

Moryson prepared carefully for his journey, as he explains at the very beginning of the Itinerary (I.1.ch.1):

‘Being a student of Peter-house in Cambridge, and entered the eighteenth year of my age, I took the degree of Bachelor of Arts, and shortly after was chosen Fellow of the said College by Queen Elizabeth’s mandate. [When] three years [had] expired from my first degree taken in the University, I commenced Master of Arts, 1 and within a year after, by the favour of the Master and Fellowes, I was chosen to a vacant place of privilege to study the Civil Laws.

Rudolph Ackermann: Peterhouse, Cambridge, from Trumpington St, 1815.

‘Then, as well  for the ornament of this profession, as out of my innate desire to gain experience by travelling into foraigne parts, (to which course my Parents had given consent some few years past, upon my first declaring of my inclination to the said profession,) upon the privilege of our Statutes permitting two of the Society [of Peterhouse Fellows] to travel, I obtained licence to that purpose of the said Master and Fellowes, in the year 1589, being then full 23 years old. And presently leaving the University, I went to London, there to follow some studies fit to enable me in this course, and [which were] there better taught. And these studies, [and] the visiting of my friends in the Country, [and] my going to Oxford to take the same degree I had in Cambridge, and some oppositions upon new deliberation made by my father and friends against my journey, detained me longer in those parts than I purposed.

‘At last, in the beginning of the year 1591, and upon the first day of May, I took ship at Liegh, 2 distant from London twenty eight miles by land, and thirtie six by water, where Thames in a large bed is carried to the Sea. Thence we set sail into the main…’

His travels through Europe and beyond

Apart from a brief return trip to England (May to November 1595), Moryson travels non-stop for the next six years. Here is his actual itinerary in outline.

  • First journey, 1st May 1591 to 13th May 1595 (Itinerary, part.I, bk.1 & 2):
    • (bk.1) After ten days at sea, Moryson arrives at Stade in the Netherlands. He spends the rest of the summer travelling around Germany, through Hamburg, Wittenberg, Dresden, etc. to Leipzig (‘stayed all winter’, i.e. 1591/92).
    • In the spring of 1592 he continues to Prague (‘in Bohemia’), where he stays two months, then on via Sweitzerland to Heidelberg (‘Lived there the rest of the summer’), and from there back to the Netherlands and Leiden, where he stays the winter of 1592/93.
    • In the spring, after a dangerous tour of the Dutch war-zone, he heads off again by sea to Denmark and Dantzig, and thence on via Cracow and Vienna to Italy, arriving on Halloween 1593. He over-winters in Padua (1593/94).
    • (bk.2) In the spring (3rd Feb 1594) he sets off down the Adriatic coast of Italy (through Ferrara, Bologna, Ravenna, etc.) to Ancona, and thence across Italy to Rome (March 12th). After a flying visit to Naples and another four days to ‘do’ Rome, he heads north again through Siena into Florence and Tuscany, where he spends the summer. In November he heads up the Mediterranean coast to Genoa and then overland to Milan, Mantua and back to Padua for the winter (arriving Dec 14th).
    • In the spring (3rd March 1595) he heads for home, through Verona and Bergamo, over the Alps to Zurich, Geneva, Paris and Rouen. A boat from Dieppe takes him to Dover, whence he arrives in London on 13th May 1595.
  • Second journey, 29th Nov 1595 to 10th July 1597 (Itinerary, part 1, bk.3):
    • Accompanied by his younger brother Henry, Moryson ‘journeys to Stade… and from thence to Venice (in Italy), and so by the Mediterranean Seas and the islands thereof, to Jerusalem [and back again]’. His brother dies at the start of the return journey, in early July 1596.
    • Itinerary, part I, bk.3, also contains a chapter on Moryson’s ‘journey through many several Shires of England, Scotland, and Ireland’.

Moryson in Ireland: Tyrone’s rebellion

A page of Moryson’s manuscript. Note the Italian quotations in Moryson’s ‘Roman’ hand.

Having returned to England in July 1597, Moryson spent the next couple of years staying with family in Lincolnshire. This gave him ‘a pleasing opportunitie to gather into some order out of confused and torne writings the particular observations of my former travels…’ Throughout the time of his travel and recuperation, Moryson had continued to hold his fellowship at Peterhouse, Cambridge, ‘which in my absence had yielded me some twenty pounds yearly’. At length, however, in July 1600, ‘being modest [embarrassed] further to importune so loving friends, and having the foresaid assurance of preferment in Ireland, I yielded up my fellowship…’ This ‘preferment’ was as secretary to Charles Blount, 8th Baron Mountjoy (1563-1606). Mountjoy was commander of the English forces in Ireland charged with supressing the rebellion of the Earl of Tyrone. Moryson continued as Mountjoy’s secretary until the latter’s death in 1606.

Moryson and ‘An Itinerary’

After Lord Mountjoy’s death, Moryson retired to Lincolnshire and settled down to prepare his travel diaries for publication. This was to be a three-part work:

  • The First Part is much as sketched above (see His travels through Europe and beyond). It is a fairly straightforward chronicle of his travels and observations, ‘Shewing particularly the number of miles, the soyle of the Country, the description of Cities… as also the rates of hiring Coaches or Horses…, with each day’s expenses for diet, horse-meate [i.e. fodder] and the like’.
  • The Second Part describes Moryson’s experiences in Ireland. It is entitled ‘The rebellion of Hugh Earle of Tyrone, and the appeasing thereof, written in form of a journal’.
  • The Third Part aims to be a more scholarly text. He reorganizes his material country by country, and under general themes. These are such as ‘Geographicall description’, ‘Apparell’, the structure of the various ‘Commonwealths’ (‘under which title I containe an historicall introduction, the King’s pedigree and Court… the military power’ etc.), ‘Religion’, and finally the ‘nature, wit, manners, bodily gifts, Universities, Sciences, Arts, language, pompous Ceremonies, specially Marriages, Christenings and Funerals, [and] of their customes, sports, exercises, and particularly hunting.’

A bit of bibliography

After some ten years Moryson’s task of editing was completed with the publication of An Itinerary, written by Fynes Moryson, Gent. First in the Latine Tongue, and then translated by him into English: containing his Ten Yeeres Travell through the Twelve Dominions of Germany, Bohmerland, Sweitzerland. Netherland, Denmarke, Poland, Italy, Turkey, France, England, Scotland, and Ireland. At London. Printed by John Beale, dwelling in Aldersgate street. 1617. This splendid folio volume is ‘Divided into III Parts’, each of nearly 300 pages. (There is a facsimile edition: Amsterdam and New York, Da Capo Press, 1971.)

However, the second half of the intended Third Part, being ‘not as yet fully finished’, remained in manuscript until finally published as Shakespeare’s Europe. Unpublished chapters of Fynes Moryson’s Itinerary. Being a Survey of the Condition of Europe at the end of the 16th Century. With an Introduction and an Account of Fynes Moryson’s Career by Charles Hughes. London, Sherratt & Hughes, 1903. This consists of pp.xliv + 497. It is sometimes referred to as Part IV of the Itinerary.

Further reading

Try Marcia Vale, The Gentleman’s Recreations. Accomplishments and pastimes of the English gentleman, 1580-1630 (1977); this utterly fascinating overview and anthology of contemporary writing has a chapter on ‘Travel’.

  1. For the record, it is still the case that BA graduates of Cambridge (and I believe Oxford) are entitled to claim an MA degree after the lapse of another three years. I seem to remember that a small amount of money changes hands.
  2. i.e. Leigh-on-Sea in Essex.