F is for Ferrabosco

Isn’t that a great name? Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder. He was a handsome guy, too, and a court composer to Elizabeth I.

Stories about people like Alfonso are why I became a historian.

If you never get past names-dates-events in history, if you never get to the human stories, the people, the personalities that are larger than life and stranger than fiction, then you missed the whole point.

I became acquainted with Ferrabosco through one of the characters in my novel series, Cardinal Gabriele Paleotti, Bishop of Bologna. Paleotti was from a noble family who had ties with the Ferraboscos in his youth.

The Ferraboscos has been a musically talented family. Alfonso’s father, Domenico, taught the Paleotti brothers to play. Alfonso himself traveled throughout Europe with his uncle, ending up in England.

Except, Protestant Elizabethan England wasn’t a particularly safe place for a young, Italian, Catholic musician.

Nonetheless, the Earl of Leicester maintained a circle of Italian intellectuals at Oxford University, and Alfonso was among them. In fact, he was the first to bring madrigal vocal music to England, though it would take another ten years after he left before it caught on.

Okay, but here’s where it gets good. While Alfonso was writing music in England, the Pope was hoping he could, you know, just keep an eye on things–political things–while he was in England.

And Queen Elizabeth wanted him to, you know, check things out in the Catholic world, too. He was paid quite handsomely for his position as a court musician. Entirely too handsomely.

Meanwhile, Ferrabosco got involved with a Flemish woman, Susanna Symons, a Protestant. But he traveled back and forth between Catholic Italy and Protestant England. He got in trouble for attending a Catholic mass with a French envoy. Heck, he even associated himself with the Earls of Leicester and Sussex, who were political rivals to each other.

He was burning his candle at every conceivable end. I really want to know how he did this!

By the time Ferrabosco enters the world of the Journeymen, he is fleeing England with his now wife, Susanna, leaving his two young children behind at Elizabeth’s request. He is picked up in France with all sorts of prices on his head, and in my story, my fictional characters are smuggling Susanna back to Bologna for safekeeping. Alfonso soon arrives back in Italy, imprisoned by the Pope. Even Catherine de Medici makes an appeal on his behalf. Eventually, he is turned over to Cardinal Paleotti, who keeps him comfortably imprisoned in Bologna.

How can I resist this story?

I can hardly wait to share a bit of the story between Alfonso and Susanna, and how their shared trials bring them into a deeper love with each other. Watch for La Dotta, my second Journeyman novel, early next year.  I’ll be working diligently on it this weekend.



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