Sunday, 15 December 2013

Tudor time translator

John Russell (1485-1555) spoke French, Spanish, Italian and German. He had spent several years abroad studying and learning languages, and returned to England in 1506 upon the death of his father and grandfather.
By contemporaries he was described as;
"had a moving beauty that waited on his whole body, a comportment unaffected, and such a comeliness in his mien, as exacted a liking, if not a love, from all that saw him; the whole set off with a person of a middle stature, neither tall to a formidableness, nor short to a contempt, straight and proportioned, vigorous and active, with pure blood and spirits flowing in his youthful veins"

John Russell, Earl of Bedford, 1555
On the 11th January 1506, King Philip of Castile and his wife Joanna - the elder sister of Catherine of Aragon - were aboard a ship headed for Spain from Flanders which, due to a storm, had to make an unexpected stop at Weymouth. Upon their arrival the royal couple were greeted and entertained by the local Dorset gentry, in particular by the household of Sir Thomas Trenchard at Wolveton Hall; a family which John Russell had familial links with.

Wolveton Hall
It is unlikely that Philip or Joanna spoke any English, nor had among their party any that did as they had not expected to land in England, therefore a translator was needed.
John Russell came forward due to his skill with languages and stepped into the role as translator for King Philip, and then traveled with the Spanish king to London and arrived on the 31st January. Juana traveled to London at a slower pace and arrived a week after her husband on the 10th February, where she was reunited for only a few hours with her younger sister Catalina, whom she had not seen for ten years, and would never see again after this visit. It seemed that the two kings worked to keep the sisters apart, and King Philip publicly snubbed his young sister-in-law during the court celebrations when he refused to dance with her. Philip was trying to maintain control over Juana's inherited lands and used her fragile mental health as his reason for his, therefore to maintain this excuse it was necessary for him to keep her from her family members who might convince her to take an active role in ruling her territories. However, for Henry and Philip the visit was successful as they made several political, economical and dynastic agreements.  Philip and Juana did not leave England until April that year, with Philip staying at the royal court and his wife Juana waiting in Dorset.
The following year Catherine wrote to her sister Juana and mentioned this visit;
"I have to express the very great pleasure it gave me to see you in this kingdom, and the distress which filled my heart, a few hours afterwards, on account of your sudden and hasty departure"

The Spanish couple praised his skills so highly that in 1507 Russell became a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber under King Henry VII, and then under Henry VIII. Russell's political continued to gain momentum throughout his life, and peaked when he was made Lord High Admiral in 1540, which he resigned two years later, and became Lord Privy Seal. It was this fortuitous accident which left the Spanish monarchs washed up on a Dorset coast that led to a successful political career for John Russell who served, and held high offices, under all consecutive Tudor monarchs of England from Henry VII to Queen Mary I.

John Russell, Earl of Bedford, by Hans Holbein the Younger.jpg
John Russell by Hans Holbein

1 comment:

  1. Funny how some people find their lives changed all through unexpected circumstances! Great story.