The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography informs us that “William Davies, traveller, was born in Hereford, and states himself to have been a barber–surgeon, although no trace can be found of him in the register of admissions to the freedom of that company. He states that he was a gentleman by birth and had served in many naval and military operations. His family may have had Cornish connections since he sailed from there and his brother settled there. On 28 January 1598 he sailed in a trading ship (the Francis) from Saltash, Cornwall, and reached Civitavecchia, the port of Rome. He subsequently visited Algiers and Tunis. On leaving Tunis his ship was attacked by six galleys of Ferdinand de’ Medici, grand duke of Tuscany. Davies was captured and taken to Leghorn, where he worked as a slave for eight years and ten months. For much of his time he was a galley slave and he recounts the extreme miseries of such a state. Indeed, of thirty-six men taken with him only thirteen remained alive nine years later.
In 1608 an Englishman, Robert Thornton, who had entered the duke’s service after absconding with his English ship, was appointed captain of the Santa Lucia, one of three ships fitted out by the duke for an expedition to the West Indies. The voyage seems to have been conceived by Robert Dudley, the illegitimate son of the earl of Leicester, who provided Thornton with maps and charts. Thornton asked the duke’s permission to take Davies with him as surgeon and physician, in which capacities he was said to be experienced. The duke demanded 500 crowns as security for Davies’s working under Thornton’s orders, and the money was paid by William Mellyn of Bristol, who happened to be in Italy.
Davies spent ten weeks in the Amazon delta area, mainly on the north shore, but his description of it is tantalizingly brief. The explorers found none of the silver or gold that the duke hoped for and Davies evidently considered the region more of a curiosity than a place which would repay further exploration or exploitation or settlement.
On returning to Italy in June 1609 Davies’s ship was attacked by an English pirate, and an English sailor, Erasmus Lucas of Southwark, was fatally wounded. Davies landed with the body at Leghorn, and finding that Lucas would be denied burial in sacred ground because he was not a Roman Catholic, Davies proceeded to bury the body himself according to protestant rites. While thus engaged he was arrested by agents of the Inquisition. He lived on bread and water in an unlighted underground dungeon for sixteen days, and after a first examination was moved to a large open prison, the charge against him, that he had buried a Catholic according to protestant rites, having been dropped. An English shipowner, Richard Row of Milbroke, Cornwall, who knew Davies’s brother in Plymouth, helped him to escape, and after sailing in the Mediterranean in the Porrion he reached London in 1614 and wrote an account of his travels, published that year as A True Relation of the Travailes … and Captivitie of William Davies. It was reprinted in 1746 in Osborne’s Travels and Voyages, volume 1. This was the fullest account of the voyage, though only two brief chapters concern the Amazon and the Caribbean. Other information brought back by Thornton was recorded by Robert Dudley on a manuscript map, which was a revised version of that which Dudley had supplied him at the outset. The voyage did not stimulate further Tuscan interest, Ferdinand having died while the expedition was underway, although it may have helped to keep English interests in the area alive. Nothing further is known of Davies.”
The following very interesting excerpt from his book “A True Relation of the Travailes…” reveals important details about the burial rite of a non-catholic in Early Modern Livorno, well before the creation of an English burial ground (probably by 1643-1646).
“(…) Then receiuing this hundred Crownes, which the Duke had giuen me, I left his Court, comming presently to Ligorne, where the Ship lay, indeauoring of my selfe, by my labour, and industrie, for the fitting of all things necessary for the good of the Uoyage, vpon the Dukes charge, besides this hundred Crownes: for they were giuen mée to spend at my owne pleasure, which I did, to the comfort of many English-men that lay in chaines, that were taken with mée: they wanted neyther meate nor drinke as long as my money lasted, as many of them as were left aliue, for of seuen and thirtie of vs that were taken at the first, there remayned then but thirtéene, whereof tenne continued in chaines, and two were deliuered with me. By this time all things were prepared and made readie for the performance of our pretended Uoyage, now being bound to serue in the good Ship called the Santa Lucia, with a Frigot, and a Tartane, well victualled, and well manned, and chiefely bound to the Riuer of Amazones, with other seuerall Riuers, the which the Duke would haue inhabited, hoping for great store of gaine of Gold, but the Countries did affoord no such thing, as hereafter shall be spoken of. Upon this Uoyage we were fouretéene moneths, making little gaine, or benefit for the Duke, for there was nothing to be gained. Now are we homewards bound, and recouering the straits againe, & being within three or foure dayes sayle of our owne Port, Ligorne: in the night season we met with an English Pirate, who would haue taken vs, but was not able, yet held vs fight all the whole night, and kild vs a man, and hurt other two: whereof one was an Englishman, who died within two dayes after we recouered Ligorne, and being dead I went to the Captaine and demaunded of him where he should be buried, but he had him goe aske of one father Sherwood an Englishman, so he told mée that if he were a Romane Catholike they would burie him in the Church, but if he were not, I should bury him out in the fields: But yet for my better assurance I went and asked of the Friers of the Misericordia, who also gaue their aduise, and counsell that he should be buried in the fields, because he was no Romane Catholike, whereupon I buried him in this manner. I intreated the company of many Englishmen that were Protestants to helpe me to shroud him, and also to accompany me to the burying of him, which they did in this manner. We put him vpon a Beare, being shrowded with a couering ouer him, and carried by foure men, many Englishmen that were Protestants followed him, bearing euery man a branch of Rosemary in his hand to the place where we buried him, reading Prayers ouer him after the English manner. His name that was buried was Erasmus Lucas, and borne in Southwarke néere vnto London. Two daies being spent after his buriall, & was sought for by an Italian Fryer, who finding of me, demaunded of me my name, which presently I told him, then he replied, thou art he that I looke for, for thou hast buried a good Christian, and a Romane Catholike out in the fields, like to a Dog and a Lutheran as thou art thy selfe: therefore I charge thée in the Dukes name to goe along with mée, which command I durst not denie, but went with him, where he brought me before thrée or foure aged Friers of the Inquisition, & they asked of me whether I were that Lutheran that buried a good Christian in the fields, for he was a Romane Catholike, and confest, and receiued the Sacrament like to a good Christian, and therefore thou shalt be burned, for thou hast done contrary to the Law of Rome. I answered that I had buried a good Christian, but not a Romane Catholike, neither was he confest, nor receiued the Sacrament: they replied, if this be not true which thou hast said thou shalt surely die for it. Therefore take him, and put him into the secret, whither vnto I was brought, which is a prison in this manner: Many double doores being opened, I passed through two or thrée outward prisons then comming to the doore of the secret, whereinto I was thrust, it was so darke that I could sée no part of my body, then féeling round about me with my hands, I found it to be very short in length, & lesse in breadth, but of height I know not how high, because I could neither sée nor féele the top. In this place I was almost ouer shoes in the filth of other men that had died there before, who neuer liued aboue eight or ten daies there at the most: Then wrapping one arme within another, and leaning against the wall, calling to minde Iobs miseries and Daniels afflictions amidst the Lions, and incouraging my selfe in Gods mercy, sung a Psalme very chéerefully to the praise and glory of God, wherein I was greatly comforted. Then did I draw off my shoes and stockings, & with my bare féete swept all the trash and filth into one corner. In this manner I liued fortie houres before any sléepe possest me, and then being desirous of sléepe, I sate downe and leaned my head against the wall, and slept very soundly, being altogether comforted with a liuely hope in the Almighty God, that he would deliuer me (according to my trust) as he had done before. And when most extreames would oppresse me, then would I be most ioyfull, finding alwaies an inward motion, saying, be of good comfort, the Lord will deliuer thée: In this manner I liued sixtéene daies, my food being bread & water, and my lodging vpon the cold stones, and being yet aliue, they held it a miracle that I should liue there so long, saying, this Lutherane hath a Lions heart, for we neuer knew any to liue aboue ten daies, wherfore let vs haue him forth to be examined. Then was I brought before the high Inquisitioner, who demanded of me, whether he that I buried had receiued the Sacrament & confest, according to the Romane order or no, I answered no; he was a good Christian, but receiued not the Sacrament, nor was not confest, after the order of Rome: then he said that he was, by a Frier of the Mesericordia, & therefore thou shalt be burned. Then I intreated that I might but speake, and he said speake on: then I asked them this, whether the Frier that confest him could speak any English or no, he answered that he could speake none: then tell me quoth I, how an Italian Frier (can confesse an Englishman speaking no English, nor the Englishman speaking no Italian, nor other language but his mother tongue? for you know wel there must be no interpreter in confession, & if the Sacrament were ministred vnto him, the house where he died can iustifie it. Then the Inquisitioner hearing this, scratched his head, saying, this fellow hath spoken the truth, wherfore take him and put him out into a large prison, whether I was brought, where I liued ten wéeks being well, and often relieued by English Protestants, who reioyced much to see me aliue. These malicious Friers, there reason wherefore they sought my life was, because they would haue the dead mans pay to themseles, which if he had béene a Roman Catholik had bin their due, & in respect he was not, they mist of the pay, & of their wicked pretence against me, (God I giue him thanks) by reason I could speak the Italian tongue, for if I had had an interpreter in this, though my cause was iust, yet I had surely died. Ten wéeks being spent in this prison, it was the fortune of one M. Richard Row of Milbrooke, in the countie of Cornwel, to ariue at Ligorne, in the good ship called the Portion he being owner & Marchant of the said ship, & one day comming to the Prison grate demaunded of me what Countrey-man I was, I told him I was borne in the Citie of Hereford. He asked my name: I answered William Dauies. Said he, know you one Master Dauies in Plymmouth. I said I was an vnfortunate brother of his. With that he was very sorely grieued, in respect he knew my brother very well, and loued him directly, and told me if all the meanes that he could vse could deliuer me, he would: therefore said hée, thinke with your selfe, how I may deliuer you, and I will be backe againe with you within these two or thrée houres: whereupon he deliuered me sixe Crownes, and bid me spare for no money, for he knew my brother would repay it againe: then leauing me, I sate downe and leaned my head vpon my hand, setting my elbow vpon my knée, intreating my Almightie God, to shew me some direct course whereby I should be deliuered. Then presently came into my head, to send for a Frenchman, in whose house I had alwaies layne before, who presently came vnto me, vnto whom I imparted my minde, telling of him that if he would faine a matter of debt against me, I would giue him ten Crownes for his labour, though I ought him nothing: but he answered and said it was dangerous, for it was a Gally-matter, but I vewed it should neuer be made knowne by me: Whereupon he gaue consent, and went to the Gouernour and told him, that in the Prison where debters are, there is an Englishman who oweth me money, and we were agréed, then said the Commissarie if thou art content, let him pay the charge of the house, and be gone: which charge I paid presently, and was fréed, departing away with the Frenchman, and brought him to Master Hunts [Thomas HUNT] house, the English Counsell, where I gaue him his tenne Crownes. So leauing one another, I went presently aboord of Master Rowes Ship, being then bound for Naples, vnto which place wée came, whose description followeth. (…)”
- W. DAVIES, A True Relation of the Travailes and most Miserable Captivitie of William Davies, Barber-Surgeon of London, under the Duke of Florence, London, 1614 on Early English Books Online
- A. NERI, Uno schiavo inglese nella Livorno dei Medici, Pisa, ETS, 2000.
- S. VILLANI, «“Una piccola epitome di Inghilterra”. La comunità inglese di Livorno negli anni di Ferdinando II: questioni religiose e politiche», Cromohs, 8 (2003): 1-23
- M. D’ANGELO, Mercanti Inglesi a Livorno 1573-1737. Alle Origini di una “British Factory”, Messina, Istituto di Studi Storici Gaetano Salvemini, 2004.
- Elizabeth Baigent, ‘Davies, William (fl. 1598–1614)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
- For the title image: Wood engraving from 17th century book entitled ‘London’s Lamentation’, see British Library Online, cit. in C. GITTINGS, Death in England: an illustrated history, Manchester University Press, 2000.