A Venetian at the court of Savoy

March 1615. Renier Zen, Venetian Ambassador in Savoy, reports to the Doge and Senate on a state banquet he gave for the Duke of Savoy. Charles Emmanuel I (Italian: Carlo Emanuele di Savoia; 12 January 1562 – 26 July 1630), known as the Great, was the Duke of Savoy from 1580 to 1630. He was nicknamed Testa d’feu (“the Hot-Headed”) for his rashness and military aggression.

The other day the duke sent to say that he would like to come on Sunday evening to the feast in this house. I prepared a banquet, and the duke sent me a barrel of oysters from Nice, saying that he would come and eat them with me. Prince Thomas sent me a wild boar taken by him that day, and I learned that the duke wished to come to dine with all the ambassadors and a party of ladies, and afterwards he proposed to honour the house with a magnificent masque, as you shall hear. I therefore proceeded to gratify the duke’s wishes. Accordingly on Sunday this house was honoured by the company at dinner of thirty ladies, the duke, Prince Thomas, and all the ambassadors except England. He was invited, first by me and afterwards by the duke, but was unable to come except to the supper afterwards, at which practically the whole Court was present. The duke paid exceptional honour, such as possibly has never been rendered to an ambassador’s house, as after the banquet he went into the upper apartments and masked himself with Prince Thomas, the Baron of Tornon, Count Guido Villa, the Baron of Lolin and his other court favourites, all dressed in most sumptuously embroidered liveries, with more than forty persons in livery, pages and court music. His Highness, with the Prince and the others named, performed a magnificent dance in figure of eight, after ordering a dance by twenty pages, lighted by two torches and accompanied by weird music, the whole executed so daintily that the English ambassador was amazed. He told me that it did not seem possible it could be the same person who had been so wonderfully grave the other day, who shortly before had conferred seriously with us about these current difficulties, and who told us among other things that news came from Spain that his son Filiberto was sick, and the doctor could not diagnose the disease, that he had sent one to that court and he did not know what would become of him, and left suddenly without saying another word, apparently wrapped in thought.

The masque lasted until two o’clock in the morning. I accompanied the duke to the door, and he departed still masked, with the prince. He afterwards invited me to the feast at the Castle on Tuesday, where he proposes to give a grand banquet with the prince and princesses, the ambassadors and a number of ladies; thus, though the drums and trumpets are proclaiming war, the nights are passed with music and feasting.

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