Fynes Moryson (1566-1630) was a well-connected young gentleman from the East of England. In 1591 (as described in my earlier blog ‘Fynes Moryson’s Itinerary: A Rough Guide to Shakespeare’s Europe’) he left England to travel around Europe. For the next two and a half years he travelled through the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Prussia, Poland and Bohemia.

In the autumn of 1593, he arrived in Vienna, ‘vulgarly called Wien’… He wasn’t much taken with it. ‘It is dangerous to walke the streetes in the night, for the great number of disordered people, which are easily found upon any confines [i.e. within any region], especially where such an army lieth near as that of Hungary, governed by no strict discipline1… I stayed three days at Wien to ease my weary horse…’ 

Here follows the story of the next stage of Moryson’s journey, largely told in the rather delightful (and occasionally, I admit, rather convoluted) words of his Itinerary.


  • Crossing into Italy: Quarantine and benevolence
  • On to Padua: Hallow’een and horse-trading
  • The City of Padua
  • Sources

Crossing into Italy: Quarantine and benevolence

‘From hence [Vienna] we took our journey for Padua in Italy…’ in the company of some ‘Dutchmen’, i.e. Germans. ‘The first day after dinner [i.e. lunch] we rode six miles, in a plain of vineyards, pastures, and corn fields, with some woods, to a village, where I paid 15 creitzers2 for my supper and eight for my horse….’

‘The eleventh day in the morning we rode a mile, through high mountains and rocky, and a narrow way, to the village of Treviso [i.e. modern Tarvisio], where the Dutchmen showed a passport. We all had a like [i.e. similar] passport given us from the Emperor his Officers, which we were to deliver to the Venetian Officers at Pontena [Pontebbe?], lest, either for suspicion of infectuous sickness or any other cause, they should not permit us to enter into Italy….’

For, as Moryson observes later, ‘whosoever comes into Italy, and from whencesoever – but more especially if he come from suspected places, [such] as Constantinople, never free from the plague – he must bring to the Confines [i.e. borders] a certificate of his health. And in time of any plague, he must bring the like to any City within land, where he is to pass, which certificates brought from place to place, and necessary to be carried, they curiously observe and read. This paper is vulgarly called Bolletino della sanità; and if any man want [i.e. lack] it, he is shut up in the Lazareto, or Pest-house forty days, till it appear he is healthful, and this they call vulgarly far’ la quarantana. Neither will the Officers of health in any case dispense with him, but there he shall have convenient lodging, and diet at his pleasure. 

‘After dinner [i.e. lunch] we rode two miles in a stony way betweene mountains to Pontena (which the Dutch call Pontafell).’ When they got there, apparently there was no problem with the quarantine regulations. But, a little further on, ‘there was a wall of stone between the mountains, and a village called Chiusa [?Chiusaforte], where there was a gate shutting up the highway…. Here the Venetian souldiers keeping this passage required a benevolence of us, which we willingly gave.’ It was ever thus. According to the OED3, ‘a benevolence’, apart from its usual modern meaning, used to be ‘a charitable contribution’ – no doubt to the Venetian Border Guards’ Benevolent Fund. 4

On to Padua: Hallow’een and horse-trading

‘We had now entred the Italian Province of Frioly [Friuli]… By the way we passed seven branches of the River Tagliamonti [Tagliamento] on horse-backe without boats, the streame being so violent by the waters falling from the mountains that it dazels the eyes, if the passenger looke upon the water. For which cause we passed warily, turning our eyes from the water, and having guides passing before us to try and shew us the Fordes.’ Further down river, somewhat more sedately, they ‘passed two branches of a river by boat, in which we sat on horse-backe’.

And thus on through Spilenburg [Spilimbergo], Sanvocate, and Konian – to ‘a village, where I paid 40 sols for my supper, 23 for oats, and 10 for hay.’ According to Moryson, ‘The silver Crown, almost five shillings English, is given for 7 Lires of Venice… 20 Soldi [make] a Lire.’ So the lira was worth much the same as an English shilling; and a shilling was a good day’s wage for a skilled labourer. So the meal alone cost… Blimey! Even so, he didn’t sleep too well, because, ‘coming hither on All-soules evening, which they keepe with great superstition, we could not sleep for little bells tinckling all night.

‘The [next] fourteenth day in the morning, we rode six Italian miles, through fruitful hills of corn, and by pleasant Vineyards, to Trevigi[=Treviso], a City little in circuit, but fortified, and built of bricke, with arches hanging over the streets, under which men walk dry in the greatest rain… After breakfast we rode twenty-two Italian miles, through a most pleasant plain, in which we passed over a river, and came to Padua.

The Botanical Garden of Padova today; in the background, the Basilica of Sant’Antonio

‘Here I sold my horse for 20 silver crownes, which I bought at Crakaw for 18 guldens.5 Along the way, I might have sold him for 26 crowns or more, and [then], from the place where I sold him, might easily have hired a coach or horses to Padua. But my foolish hope to sell him dearer, and desire to save the charge of hiring a coach, or horse, kept me from selling him by the way; whereof I repented when I came to Padua, where horsemeat was very dear. And the horse-coursers, finding that I must needs sell him, agreed among themselves so craftily, sending me every day new buyers, to offer me less than before they had offered.  [So that,] when I had kept him 14 days, I must have been forced to sell my horse at their price, if I had not found an English Gentleman by chance, who, returning into Germany, gave me 20 crowns for my horse.’

The City of Padua

Despite this salutary experience, Moryson was much taken with Padua.Padua is seated in a sweet plain, having no trees near the City. Of old the wall was triple, and now it is double. The inner wall is some three miles in compass, and is very high having a walk upon it round about, with pleasant shade of trees, where Gentlemen use to play at the balloone6… The air at Padua is very healthful, and the building is with arches of stone, hanging over the streets, under which they walk dry in the greatest rain; but the streets are thereby made narrow, and in the midst are dirty… This City has little traffick [i.e. trade], though it is very fit for the same, because the Venetians draw it all to themselves. But Gentlemen of all Nations come thither in great numbers, by reason of the famous University, which the Emperor Frederick the second, being offended with City of Bologna, planted here in the year 1222, or thereabouts….

‘[And so] I stayed all this winter at Padua, in which famous University I desired to perfect my Italian tongue.’ Whenever he arrived in a new country, Moryson was very keen to learn the language, as he explained in one of his ‘Precepts for Travellers’. More of that anon.

First, he needed somewhere to live. Which is how he would have met the recently appointed Professor of Mathematics, Galileo Galilei.


An Itinerary, written by Fynes Moryson, Gent…. containing his Ten Yeeres Travell through the Twelve Dominions of Germany, Bohmerland, Sweitzerland. Netherland, Denmarke, Poland, Italy, Turkey, France, England, Scotland, and Ireland. (London, 1617). See ‘Further reading’ in https://galileosrevenge.co.uk/2019/07/11/fynes-morysons-itinerary-a-rough-guide-to-shakespeares-europe/

Vale, Marcia, The Gentleman’s Recreations. Accomplishments and pastimes of the English gentleman, 1580-1630 (Cambridge, 1977).

Featured image courtesy of Marco Meyer on Unsplash. OK, it’s Wengen in Switzerland, not Villach in Austria, but it’s very lovely.

  1. The Ottomans dominated the Balkans, including Hungary, throughout the 16th century, besieging Vienna itself in 1529, as they would again in 1683.
  2. The creitzer was a common unit of currency in Bohemia. Moryson does provide ‘A briefe Table to understand the expenses in small Coynes most commonly spent’, but it is so unbelievably complicated that I shall have to return to it another day.
  3. My bible, The Oxford English Dictionary
  4. According to the OED, it was also ‘A sum of money, disguised as a gift, demanded by the sovereign from his subjects (1473).’
  5. Don’t ask.
  6. A team game played ‘with a great ball of double leather fil’d with wind, and driven to and fro with the strength of a man’s arm arm’d in a bracer of wood’. (Markham, Countrey Contentments (1615) in Vale, The Gentleman’s Recreations).