John Florio 1553-1625

From Book Owners Online

John FLORIO 1553-1625

Biographical Note

Born in London, son of Michael Florio, an Italian refugee who settled in London in 1550 but fled abroad after Mary's accession; John spent his early years on the continent, including Switzerland and Germany, but was back in London by 1576. He established a career as a language teacher, spending some time in Oxford, but was also useful to Francis Walsingham as a spy in the 1580s. Given that learning Italian was of interest mostly to the upper echelons of society, Florio developed many contacts and patrons among the aristocracy. He was appointed groom of the privy chamber, and private secretary to Queen Anne, in 1604, and gave language tuition to various members of the royal family. His fortunes declined after Anne's death (and the loss of his court position) in 1619, by which time he was already living in poor circumstances in Fulham. He began publishing Italian language manuals in 1578, with Florio his firste fruites, and went on to issue numerous other manuals, dictionaries and translations, including most notably his Worlde of wordes, an English-Italian dictionary first published in 1598 and reissued (expanded) in 1611, and his translation of Montaigne's Essayes (1603). He is remembered as the leading language teacher in the London of his time and an influence on the wider development of English humanism around the turn of the 17th century, and is also the focus of one of the various nonsensical theories about the authorship of Shakespeare.


Florio's publications, and particularly his dictionary, testify to his extensive reading and use of books, and the 1611 New world of words claims to have referred to 252 Italian books in its compilation. Florio evidently built up a significant library of his own, as his will refers to "about 340" Italian, French and Spanish books, which he bequeathed to William Herbert, 3rd earl of Pembroke. His English books (unquantified) were left to his wife Rose, as part of the goods and chattels. Herbert was asked to place the books "in his library, either at Wilton or else at Baynards Castle in London", and he was also asked to see that unpublished manuscript material was printed with the proceeds given to Rose. Florio's unpublished manuscript translation of James I's Basicon doron survives in the British Library (MS Royal 14 A V); it is not clear whether Herbert accepted any books. The Earl did not undertake the publishing of any manuscript material and it seems some at least of them came into the hands of Giovanni Torriano, another Italian teacher in London, who drew on them in his own publications.

Characteristic Markings

None of Florio's books have been identified.