Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts and descriptions of the historic City of London, this one taken from the Venetian Andreas Franciscus’s “Itinerarium Britanniae”, written in 1497 …
“The town itself stretches from East to West, and is three miles in circumference. However, its suburbs are so large that they greatly increase its circuit. … Throughout the town are to be seen many workshops of craftsmen … . This makes the town look exceedingly prosperous and well-stocked … . The working in wrought silver, tin or white lead is very expert here, and perhaps the finest I have ever seen. There are many mansions, which do not … seem very large from the outside, but inside … are quite considerable … .
All the streets are so badly paved that they get wet at the slightest quantity of water, and this happens very frequently … . A vast amount of evil-smelling mud is formed, which does not disappear … but lasts … nearly the whole year round. The citizens, therefore, in order to remove mud and filth from their boots, are accustomed to spread … rushes on the floors of all houses … .
Merchants not only from Venice but also Florence and Lucca, and many from Genoa and Pisa, from Spain, Germany, … and other countries meet here to handle business with the utmost keenness … . Londoners have such fierce tempers and wicked dispositions that they not only despise the way … Italians live, but actually pursue them with uncontrollable hatred, and whereas at Bruges foreigners are hospitably received … by everybody, here the Englishmen use them with the utmost contempt and arrogance, and make them the object of insults. They eat very frequently, at times more than is suitable … ”.
It is interesting to note how closely Franciscus’s description follows the Venetian senate’s written instructions to its ambassadors on intelligence-gathering, which read as follows:
“I. These things are required for making a relation [report]. First to describe the situation of the province … and in how many lesser regions … it is divided, not omitting to name the principal cities.
II. It is necessary to treat the quality of that province, that is to say the temperature and value of the air, likewise of the value of the waters, of the fertility or sterility of the crops.
III. It is customary to discuss the inhabitants, showing their customs, and ways, colour, stature, and character …
IV. It is necessary to come to particulars of the prince … his person, life, and customs, … his revenues and expenses”