Fynes Moryson (1566-1630) needed to find board and lodging for the winter. The young English gentleman, a near contemporary of Galileo (and Shakespeare), had left England on Mayday, 1591. (See my first Fynes Moryson blog, A rough guide to Shakespeare’s Europe.) After two years of travel around northern Europe, he had crossed the Alps into Italy on Hallow’een, 1593, and headed straight for the Venetian university city of Padua. (See my second blog, Fynes Moryson arrives in Italy.) Now to find somewhere comfortable to stay until the Spring.

(The featured image is The Fruit Seller (1580) by Vincenzo Campi.)


  • Fawning and crouching for gain
  • Dining at an Ordinary
  • Hotel Galileo
  • The markets of Padua
  • Cash and carry
  • Moryson’s price check
  • Sources and reading

Fawning and crouching for gain

But it was not always easy to find good lodgings. Moryson warns the traveller to be on their guard in Italy: ‘The Italian hosts are notable in fawning and crouching for gaine, so as they meet passengers at the Cities’ gates, and emulously invite them to their houses, with promise of all dainties,  as if they would give them for nought, but when they are once come into the houses, all things threaten famine, and for that meate [food] they have, if the passenger first agree not for the price, they extort so unreasonably, as nothing can be added to their perfidiousness and covetousness.’ He’s really not happy, is he? (And, by the way, at this time, ‘meat’ still means ‘food’ in general, simply as opposed to ‘drink’; what we now mean by ‘meat’, i.e. butcher’s meat, is called ‘flesh’.)

And to make it absolutely clear that it’s not just his problem, Moryson quotes his fellow travellers: ‘The Germans say: these [Italian hosts] are fair-spoken, and most obsequious men in all things, till they come to the shot; for if any man love honourable titles, capping, bending of knees, and an humble looke, they will observe him to the full. But in the end the shot will be intolerable, and he shall pay for their fained courtesie and lowlinesse.’ The ‘shot’, according to the Oxford English Dictionary [OED], is ‘the reckoning, amount to be paid, esp. at a tavern etc.; or one’s share (1475)’.

Dining at an Ordinary

But hopefully, being a university town, Padua will be a bit different.

In the journal section of his Itinerary, the very detailed record of his travels, Moryson explains the options: ‘Here [in Padua] a Student may have his table at an Ordinary (vulgarly a la dozena [i.e. by the dozen, or in bulk]), and his chamber for 8 or at most for 10 silver crowns the month. But few live after this fashion, save the Dutch, and strangers new arrived, and having not yet got the language. Rather they hire a chamber, which is to be had for a zechine1, or tenne lires a month, or at a lower rate, the Hostesse being to finde linen, and dresse [cook] the meat [food] you buy.’

According to the OED, an ‘Ordinary’ here means (1589) an eating-house or tavern offering a public meal at a fixed price or, indeed, the meal as such. So, it would seem that a traveller could eat – conveniently but more expensively – at an Ordinary, and hire a room separately. Or, more economically for a longer stay, he could take a room in some guest-house, where he would buy his own food. The food would then be ‘dressed’ by the Host or Hostess: ‘The Hostesse dresseth your meat in the bargaine for your chamber, and finds napkins, tablecloths, and towels. And, either in your chest or her own, will lay up the meat and very bread you leave, more providently than any of our parts would require.’

Vincenzo Campi (c.1530/35-1591), Cucina (Kitchen), 1580, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

So Moryson has cheered up a bit. He seems to be quite taken with this system. ‘In Cities [in Italy], where many take chambers in one house, they eate at a common table, but each man hath his owned napkin, glasse, forke, spoone, knife, and ingestar [?flask] or glasse of wine, which after meate are severally and neatly laid up by the Hostesse. And at the table, perhaps one man hath a hen, another a piece of flesh, the third potched egges, and each man several meat after his diet.’2

Hotel Galileo

Moryson seems to be sold on this second ‘self-catering’ option. And yet it also seems that he himself has struck a rather costly all-in deal for lodging and board: ‘My Hoste had a large house, with a faire court, hired yearly for forty crownes; and with him my selfe and some Dutch men lodged, each having his chamber and plentifull diet, for eight silver crownes the month.’ This sounds rather expensive.

Perhaps Moryson had found a particularly interesting Host? Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) himself had only arrived in Padua in 1592, as the new professor of mathematics. According to Heilbron (p.88, 98), within a few years, from 1599 onwards, he was running a very substantial establishment, including accommodation for some 10 boarding students (and their servants). Labelled ‘Hotel Galileo’ by some scholars, it made a very substantial contribution to his total income. Galileo was always short of money, so surely it is possible that even as early as 1593 he was already operating on a smaller scale, accommodating ‘some Dutch men, each having his chamber and plentifull diet, for eight silver crownes the month.’ And the occasional Englishman? Well, it’s not impossible.

The markets of Padua

Maybe, when it came to it, Moryson was just too busy sightseeing to spend time every day buying his own food? But he certainly took a lively interest in local food and eating habits. Everywhere on his travels Moryson records the nature and the price of local food. And Padua was no exception.

But the first thing that strikes Moryson is not what is in the markets, but who is doing the shopping: ‘It is the fashion of Italy that only men, and indeed the Masters of the family, go into the market and buy victuals, for servants are never sent to that purpose, much less women, which if they be chaste [respectable], rather are locked up at home, as it were in prison.’

For the convenience of such worthy shoppers, ‘in all Market-places stand little boys with baskets, who for a sol will carry home the meat you buy, which they easily find, knowing all streets and alleys. And [they] never fail to perform this honestly, though the buyer leave them, and (according to their custom) goes about his other affairs; for if they should fail, they cannot escape punishment, being easily to be found in the Markets where they use daily to stand, and well known by face and name. Yet in truth the Italians diet is so sparing, as almost strangers alone use these little Porters, and the very Gentlemen of Venice… carry home what they buy to eat, either in the sleeves of their gowns, or in a clean handkercher.’

Cash and carry

I can no longer put off a short discussion of Italian moneys. The basic currencies on the streets – but this is just in Venetian territory – were the soldo and the lira. 20 soldi made a lira — as with English shillings and the pound. But, at this time, the Venetian lira was worth less than an English shilling; according to Moryson, ‘5 shillings English are given for 7 lires of Venice.’ Since there were 12 pennies to the shilling, the sol(do) was equivalent to a bit less than a halfpenny in English money. According to Mortimer (150), ‘A day labourer [in England] in the 1590s normally earns 4p per day.’ So maybe carrying a gentleman’s shopping could have been a nice little earner?

Moryson’s price check

But what of the specific goods on display?

‘The Italians are sparing in diet, but particularly at Padua the markets abound rather with variety than quantities of meat. Some hundreds of turkeys’ – this seems somewhat to contradict the previous sentence – ‘hang out to be sold, for 6 or 7 lire each, according to the goodness. And this territory yielding better corn than other parts, they have very white bread, light & pleasant in taste, especially that which is called Pan-buffetto.’

And there’s more, much more. ‘I remember,’ Moryson says, ‘I bought:

a pound of mutton for 5 sols and a half, of veal for 8, of pork for 8;

Bartolomeo Passerotti (1529-92), The Butchers’ Shop (1580s), Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica.

a fat hen for 2 lires, eight little birds for 6 sol, a great and fat pigeon for 2 lires, a pullet for 35 and sometime 40 sols;

an Eele after tens sols the pound, krevises [crayfish] the pound 3 and sometimes 6 sols, a pike the pound 7 or 8 sols, round cockles the hundred 3 sols, the longe, (which we call rasers [razor-shells],) the hundred twenty sols, the skalops, which they call holy cockels, 12 for a lire, Cheverns [chevins or chub?] the pound 4 sols, a  plaise 6 sols, tenches the pound 8 sols;

Vincenzo Campi (c.1530/35-1591)i, Pescivendoli (Fishmongers), 1579. La Roche-sur-Yon museum.

sawsages the pound 10 sols, 6 egges 8 sols, butter the pound 14 sols, piacentine cheese the pound 6 sols, and parmesan the pound 10 or 12 sols;

a measure of salt for the table 4 sols, rice the pound 3 sols, ten snailes 4 sols;

Vincenzo Campi (c.1530/35-1591), The Fruit Seller (detail), 1580. Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

apples the pound 2 sols, peares and wardens [an old variety of baking pear] the pound 4 sols, chesnuts the pound 3 sols, dry grapes the pound 2 sols sometimes 3; almonds the pound 5 sols, 6 oranges for one gaget[?], a pomegranate 1 sol;

oyle the pound 10 sols, a secchio [bucket!] of wine 35 sols, or the pound thereof 8 sols;

waxe candles the ounce 2 sols, and 10 small waxe candles 22 sols, other candles the pound 16 sols, or 14 if they be little; a quire of writing paper for 5 sols.’

Nothing if not thorough, Moryson. Interesting that, despite his frequent admiring reference to the Italian salad, he makes no mention of salad or any other vegetables? But we shall have to return to his experience of diet and dining at a later date.

Sources and reading

Moryson’s account of his travels: 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.)

Heilbron, J.L. Galileo. (Oxford, 2010).

Mortimer, Ian. The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England (London, 2012). A wealth of useful information, coherently and thoughtfully presented.

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Mostly I use the 2nd edition (Oxford, 1936, reprinted with corrections 1967). This has the great advantage that you get all 2515 pages in one volume, if you can pick it up.

Welch, Evelyn. Shopping in the Renaissance. Consumer cultures in Italy, 1400-1600 (Yale, 2005).

  1. i.e. zecchino, a gold coin named after the Zecca, the Venetian mint; otherwise known as a ducat; its value maybe about 12 lire (or some 9 shillings English).
  2. But your fellow guests may be a bit touchy: ‘it is no courtesie for one to offer another part of his meate, which they rather take to be done in pride, as if he thought that he that had sallet or egges could not have a hen or flesh for want of money.’