The Correspondence of John Dodington (571 letters)

Primary Contributors:

Alexandre J. Tessier

John Dodington (1628–1673)

Although he served as a English diplomatic agent in Venice at the beginning of the 1670s and became Henry Oldenburg’s most instrumental correspondent in Italy, relatively little is known about John Dodington.

He was born into Somerset gentry, the eldest son of Sir Francis Dodington (1604–1669/70), a county sheriff. His father is recorded as a staunch royalist, although stories circulated about his cruelty. Bulstrode Whitelocke records: ‘Sir Francis Doddington, meeting an honest minister upon the way near Taunton, asked him “Who art thou for, Priest?”, who answered “For God and his Gospel”, whereupon Doddington shot the minister to death.’1 Following the battle of Naseby Francis fled to the continent with his close family and appears to have found refuge in France.

The young John was sent to Leghorn and then to Constantinople, where he spent six years as an ‘apprentice’ (perhaps in a merchant’s house), and developed not only an aptitude for foreign languages but also precocious scholarly tastes. As he recalled later: ‘From my first infancy, in a manner, I have binn addicted to bookes’, and while in Turkey he began collecting ‘a great number of meddals, for amongst other litterarie things, I have had a fling at that studie.’2 Beyond these autobiographic details his education remains obscure. Curiously, he returned to England at the beginning of the 1650s to become a secretary in the service of John Thurloe, Cromwell’s secretary of State. The exact nature of his activities is not known, but he may have been valued for his practical knowledge of English networks abroad as well for his linguistic skills. During these years, he translated into English a recent publication of political history, L’histoire du ministère d’Armand Jean du Plessis, cardinal duc de Richelieu, by Charles Vialart (1649). This was a polemical text, which had been condemned by the Parliament of Paris, and Dodington dedicated his version to Thurloe himself. (Later, he would publish also a translation of Francisco de Quevedo’s famous Sueños.) At the same time, he pursued a career in law, being admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in 1655 and called to the bar in 1659.

On the continent, his impoverished father had taken a different path, marrying again after the death of his first wife, starting a new family, and converting to Roman Catholicism. An estrangement between father and son took root and following the Restoration, with Francis back in England and petitioning for compensation with a view to enhancing the inheritance of his younger children, this tension led to disputes and the family was divided by protracted lawsuits. Between July 1663 and April 1664 John was confined in the Tower of London, and exiled thereafter to Hull, allegedly because he had affronted one Mr Wentworth, a Bencher of Lincoln’s Inn, in his own chamber ‘with opprobrious and misbecominge language’.3

In 1660, Dodington had been appointed secretary to Richard, second earl of Carbery, and Lord President of the Welsh Marshes, and in the decade preceding this had married Hester, a daughter of Sir Peter Temple, second Baronet, of Stowe in Buckinghamshire. The match produced at least six children, and John, as his correspondence reveals, held his wife in affection: ‘Wee are one, and have but one interest, and I have a perfect confidence of her just intentions to cooperate with me.’4 Thanks to his wife’s connections — notably her brother, Sir Richard Temple, third Baronet, and a cousin, Sir William Temple, a diplomat and writer — Dodington benefited from influential introductions at the centre of English politics, in particular to Lord Arlington, then senior Secretary of State. This helped to ease his financial situation for, from 1670 — the year his father died — he secured the position of Commissioner of Appeals in the Excise, and in 1669 he was appointed to accompany Thomas Belasyse, third Viscount Fauconberg, to Italy as secretary for an extraordinary embassy. Arlington commended Dodington to his new patron: ‘He is very capable of serving you, being a very good linguist, and besides, a very ingenious gentleman of fine parts.’5 Lord Fauconberg had no hesitation in accepting such a recruit: he himself had married a daughter of Cromwell before rallying to the restored monarchy.

Fauconberg’s embassy (February–November 1670) was ‘extraordinary’ in many respects. After passing through Paris and Lyon, he stopped in Turin, Genoa, and Florence, before arriving in Venice. In the majority of these places there had been no English diplomatic representation for many years. Beyond the conclusion of several political and commercial agreements, such an embassy was a clear signal of a renewal of English interest and influence in Italy. Not only was Dodington expected to fulfil the role of a secretary, but also to make the most of the tour by generating propaganda. He played his part well. Besides manuscript accounts, a book, entitled Ambassade extraordinaire de Mylord Faucomberg, Lieutenant de Sa Majesté Britannique dans la comté d’York, vers quelques Princes & États d’Italie, was published in Amsterdam in 1671 by a mysterious ‘M. de Hauterive’, with parts of the text derived from Dodington’s dispatches. As secretary he sent quantities of letters and reports on a variety of topics, ranging from the best way to travel through the Alps to the complex details of the Venetian political organization. Fauconberg relied upon Dodington for all administrative matters. Sometimes, in his own reports to Whitehall, he seemed almost amused by his subordinate’s eagerness: ‘Though I know you have so voluminous a correspondent of Mr Dodington as nothing can possibly be added to what he writes, yet I cannot satisfy my selfe without sending you this assurance that if by any accident his pen should faile, myne should supply the defect.’6 But Dodington’s pen did not fail, and he was rewarded in autumn 1670, when Fauconberg had completed his mission and returned in England, with the appointment as an English resident to remain in Venice.

This period of Dodington’s life is better known. He continued his work as an indefatigable scribbler of dispatches, political reports, accounts of trade, ceremonies, and memorials, and he acted as an invaluable intermediary between Oldenburg and several Italian scholars, most notably Marcello Malpighi in Bologna and Tommaso Cornelio in Naples. He developed a personal link with Athanasius Kircher, in Rome, to whom he entrusted the supervision of the education of one of his sons, and became involved in the activities of the Royal Society, writing an account of the baths of Abano Terme which was published in the Philosophical Transactions (1672). Were it not for Dodington, the editors of Oldenburg’s correspondence observed, Italy would have seemed for the Royal Society ‘almost as remote in an epistolary sense as Bermuda’.7 In diplomacy, however, Dodington was less successful. Tensions, quarrels, and incidents of various sorts, seemed to multiply around him. As early as spring 1670, a serious incident had been reported in which, with regard to the French king, Dodington was accused of using scandalous words in a Savoyard inn. In Venice, new complaints came from all quarters — the Senate, foreign diplomats, and even from fellow Englishmen — and finally Charles II’s government recalled him. It appears from the sources that a divide existed between ‘the man of paper’ — Dodington’s ethos and the positive image of himself that he was able to build through his writings — and the man himself. The latter was hot-tempered and sensitive, two major defaults in a diplomat. News of his dismissal came as relief for those in Venice and after his departure in November 1672, a English visitor observed: ‘The recalling of Mr Dodington was not a little pleasing to them, whose carriage, should I relate, you would think I wrote romance!’8

Dodington owed his fall to a mixture of indiscreet zeal and absurd pretensions, but in consequence the English court, Oldenburg, and the Royal Society lost a valuable correspondent. His disgrace was not absolute, for he was reappointed a few months later to serve as a secretary to Henry Mordaunt, second Earl of Peterborough, on another brief embassy. But the responsibility of a full diplomatic position did not come his way again. Shortly after his return, around the beginning of December 1673, having drunk wine in a tavern with a few companions, he fell suddenly ‘into high feavers and deliriums’ and died, reportedly of accidental poisoning.9 

He left his widow, Hester, and six children. One, George Dodington (1656–1720), became a member of Parliament and transmitted a self-made fortune and his name to his nephew, George Bubb Dodington, first Baron Welcombe (1691–1762). By his own account, Dodington left a personal collection of more than 6,000 medals and coins (he planned a publication on numismatics) but this was dispersed by his heirs, probably during the eighteenth century, and no inventory survives.

Partners and Additional Contributors

The metadata for the calendar of correspondence between Dodington and Williamson, Arlington, and Sir Richard Temple, with a few related letters — notably those exchanged between Dodington’s wife, Hester, and her brother — was collated by Dr Alexandre J. Tessier, of Évry-Val d’Essonne University/IDHES-Évry (France), primarily in the course of his research on Sir Joseph Williamson and his correspondents. At this early stage, this calendar was based largely on the inventories and notes produced by the archivists of the National Archives and of the Huntington Library (USA), whose important initial contributions should be credited. This work was revised and completed thanks to a doctoral fellow grant from the Cultures of Knowledge project.

Key Bibliographic Source(s)

The Correspondence of Henry Oldenburg, ed. A. R. Hall and M. B. Hall, 13 vols (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press; London: Mansel; London: Taylor & Francis, 1965–86).


The corpus compiled by Alexandre J. Tessier consists at present of 571 letters, which may be divided into two distinct groups. The primary group is made up of 488 letters, ranging from 24 July 1663 to 30 July 1673, and the bulk (476 records) dates from February 1670 to November 1672, when Dodington followed Fauconberg’s embassy to France and Italy, and remained in Venice as a English resident. It is made up of his diplomatic correspondence exchanged with the Southern Secretary of State office, then located at Whitehall. Most of the dispatches were addressed either to Arlington, then senior Secretary of State (193 letters) — and opened invariably with the traditional ‘May it please Your Lordship’ — or to Williamson (277 letters), who was then Arlington’s under-secretary. In this case, Dodington used the title ‘Sir’, and his style was significantly less formal, hinting either at a form of friendship between himself and Williamson, or at an attempt to cultivate some sort of intellectual proximity. Occasionally Dodington forwarded to Whitehall the originals or copies of some of the letters that he himself exchanged with various correspondents, for example with Sir Clement Harby and George Hayles, the English consuls in Zante and Venice, and with a number of English merchants. Once such a classification according to the addressees has been noted, however, it must be remembered that the correspondence is formal and falls within a diplomatic context. Williamson, as under-secretary of the Southern Secretary of State, was in charge of all correspondence addressed to his department and may be seen as a kind of general recipient and filter. In reality, this administrative correspondence is remarkable for two other reasons: its abundance, and the fact that it includes many special reports.

These characteristics resulted largely from Dodington’s habits as a diplomatic agent: he was indefatigable and eager to display his skills. He never failed to write each week to Whitehall by every available mail service, but when he wrote he would often sent several dispatches to Williamson and to Arlington. Even this habit does not explain why his letters to the English Government number almost 500 in less than three years, however, and the reason for this concerns the European postal organization of that time. As a English diplomat in Venice, Dodington had at his disposal two regular mail services each week to communicate with the British Isles: he could use either the German post, or the French post. The problem was that the French post left one day after the German, but usually was slightly quicker. Therefore Dodington tended to send duplicates of all his important dispatches, with an original going via the German post and the following day a duplicate via the French post. These diplomatic duplicates may be distinguished clearly from ordinary copies: they are not scribal copies or extracts, or attached documents, and they had exactly the same official value as the originals, often arriving in London before them, and sometimes including additions, alterations, and comments. Exceptionally in EMLO, it has been decided to treat these ‘duplicates’ as separate letters and to provide links between the originals, the ‘duplicates’, and the variants made and sent by Dodington.

Dodington’s special reports — on such subjects as the government of Venice, ceremonies to welcome Fauconberg’s embassy, the trip through the Alps, grandees at the Court of Savoy, and archaeological remains in Athens — pose a second problem. It might seem logical to consider them as documents attached to certain dispatches, but in most cases it is not possible to say which (since Dodington used to send so many letters and versions of letters). When these documents are considered in detail, however, most of them bear a date and Dodington’s signature, and are clearly directed to Williamson (who is referred to by the words ‘Sir’ and ‘you’). In consequence, they have been treated as letters and their original titles, where these exist, noted. Besides these special reports composed purposely for Williamson and the Secretary of State office, Dodington sent many other pieces, such as speeches he pronounced before the Senate, answers from the Venetian authorities, copies of complaints he submitted to them, and English translations. These texts are routine attachments and have not been calendared for EMLO.

The second, smaller group of the corpus made up of eighty-three items that range from April 1652 to May 1673 is, essentially, a family correspondence. The majority of the preserved letters were sent by Dodington to his brother-in-law, Sir Richard Temple. Most date from 1670, 1671, and 1672, when Dodington occupied his diplomatic position. During these years, it became apparent that Temple was involved in the defence of Dodington’s interests. He tried to support his absent relative as much as possible at Court, and helped to solve his chronic financial difficulties. Seven letters sent from Hester Dodington to Temple have been included which concern, in the main, Dodington’s career.

As a whole, the collection offers three points of interests. For those interested in intellectual history, it is an important complement to the scholarly correspondence exchanged with Oldenburg (which may be consulted in the Halls’ Oldenburg edition) and, in many instances, it conveys echoes of the cultural life in Venice and more generally in Italy, for Williamson himself was particularly curious about these matters. Secondly, for the students of seventeenth-century northern Italian and international-relations history, it proves valuable source material. In particular, the richness of the special reports composed by Dodington deserves to be better known. Last, but by no means least, historians of diplomacy might benefit from a unique insight into early modern diplomatic habits, day-to-day life, and associated complications. Not only is there information in Dodington’s own prolific accounts and the many incidents and complaints that his behaviour occasioned, but unusually the letters offer dual perspectives on the same matters in both the official correspondence sent to Whitehall and the private, family letters between John and Hester Dodington and Sir Richard Temple.


Preface to John Dodington’s translation of Francisco de Quevedo’s Sueños (London, 1668). (Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, Vet. A3 f.690)


At present, the larger group of letters calendared for this collection comes from the National Archives, where they are preserved in the State Papers, Foreign Series, especially France, Genoa, Savoy, Tuscany, and Venice (SP 78, 79, 92, 98, 99), and also, for a few of them, in the Domestic Series (SP 29). Since their receipt in the Southern Secretary of State office, they have not left the public records, for their main recipient, Sir Joseph Williamson, amongst his many responsibilities, happened to be Keeper of the State Papers from 1661 until his death in 1701, and duly he used to stock this repository he controlled with the correspondences he received as a diplomat and statesman. The second, smaller group of letters consists of a portion of the correspondence received by Sir Richard Temple. From the second half of the seventeenth to the twentieth century, these letters were preserved at Stowe House, Buckinghamshire, the country seat of the Temple-Grenville family. In 1925, a few years after the sale of the Stowe estate with its contents, they were acquired by the Huntington Library (San Marino, California), where they are preserved today as part of the Stowe-Temple manuscripts (STT).

Further resources


Howard B. Adelmann, ed., The Correspondence of Marcello Malpighi, 5 vols (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1975).

Davide Arecco, ‘Scienza, astrologia e arte muratoria nell’Inghilterra di William Lilly e Robert Moray’, Hiram. Rivista del Grande Oriente d’Italia, no. 1 (2002), pp. 65–71.

Philip Aubrey, Mr Secretary Thurloe, Cromwell’s Secretary of State, 1652–1660 (London: Athlone Press, 1990).

W. Paley Baildon, P. V. Baker, and Sir Ronald Roxburgh, eds, The records of the Honorable Society of Lincoln’s Inn: the Black Books (London: Honorable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, 1897–), vol. III (1899), pp. 28–9.

Lord George Bentinck, Rawdon Brown, Horatio F. Brown, and A. B. Hinds, eds, Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts Relating to English Affairs, Existing in the Archives and Collections of Venice and in Other Libraries of Northern Italy (London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts and Green, 1864–1947), vols XXXVI–XXXVII, passim.

Marie Boas Hall, ‘The Royal Society and Italy (1667-1795)’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, vol. XXXVII, no. 1 (1982), pp. 63–81.

Marie Boas Hall and Alfred Rupert Hall, eds, The Correspondence of Henry Oldenburg (Madison, 1965–1986), vols VI–IX and XIII, passim.

John Collinson, The History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset, Collected from Authentic Records, and an Actual Survey (Bath, Bristol, London, and Oxford: 1791–2), vol. III, pp. 518–19. [Very inaccurate.]

Tommaso Cornelio, ‘An Extract of a Letter, Written March 5 1672 by Dr Thomas Cornelio, a Neapolitan Philosophe and Physician, to John Dodington, Esquire, His Majesties Resident at Venice, Concerning Some Observations Made of Persons Pretending to be Stung by Tarantula’s: English’d out of the Italian’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, vol. VII (1672), pp. 4066–7.

G. Cosentino, ‘Costruttori italiani di telescopi e la Royal society. Osservazioni su cinque lettere di John Doddington ad Attanasio Kircher’, in Studi in onore di Francesco Cataluccio = Miscellanea storica ligure, anno XV (1984). [Non vidi.]

Charles Edward Doble, David Watson Rannie, and H. E. Salter, Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearne (Oxford: Oxford Historical Society, 1885–1921), vol. VII, p. 162.

John Dodington, ‘An Account of the Aponesian Baths near Padua, Communicated by the Foremention’d Inquisitive Gentleman, Mr Dodington, in a Letter Written to the Publisher from Venice, March 18 1672’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, vol. VII (1672), p. 4067–8.

John Dodington, ‘Letter-books of John Dodington, Resident at Venice, with copies of various letters and papers concerning his post’, British Library, London, add. mss 4716–4718.

Sir Henry Ellis, ed., ‘Relation of the Lord Fauconberg’s Embassy to the States of Italy in the Year 1669, Addressed to King Charles II’, Archaeologia, or Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity, Published by the Society of Antiquaries of London, vol. XXXVII (1857), pp. 158–88. [Some passages of this text clearly derive from Dodington’s diplomatic dispatches.]

John Edward Fletcher, A Study of the Life and Works of Athanasius Kircher, ‘Germanus Incredibilis’, with a Selection of his Unpublished Correspondence and an Annotated Translation of his Autobiography (Leiden: Brill, 2011), pp. 258–9.

Michael J. French, ‘Sir Francis Dodington (1604–1670). A Prominent Somerset Royalist in the English Civil War’, Somerset Archaeology and Natural History, vol. CLVI (2012), pp. 112–26.

Michael John Gorman, ‘The Scientific Counter-Revolution: Mathematics, Natural Philosophy and Experimentalism in Jesuit Culture (1580-ca. 1670)’, unpublished PhD dissertation (Florence: European University Institute, 1998), pp. 229–33.

Alfred Rupert Hall, ‘Henry Oldenburg et les relations scientifiques au XVIIe siècle’, Revue d’histoire des sciences et de leurs applications, vol. XXIII (1970), pp. 301–02.

Hauterive, Sieur de [=pseudonyme for John Dodington?], Ambassade extraordinaire de Mylord Faucomberg, Lieutenant de Sa Majesté Britannique dans le comté d’York, vers quelques Princes & États d’Italie (Amsterdam: H. & T. Boom, 1671). [Some passages of this text clearly derive from Dodington’s diplomatic despatches.]

Historical Manuscripts Commission, Report on the Manuscripts in Various Collections. Vol. II: The Manuscripts of Sir George Wombwell, the Duke of Norfolk, Lord Edmund Talbot, Miss Buxton, Mrs. Harford and Mrs. Wentworth of Woolley (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1903), passim.

Stuart Handley, ‘Temple, Sir Richard, third baronet (1634–1697)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004).

Rob Iliffe, ‘Making Correspondents network. Henry Oldenburg, Philosophical Commerce, and Italian Science 1660–72′, in Marco Beretta, Antonio Clericuzio, and Lawrence M. Principe, eds, The Accademia del Cimento and its European Context (Sagamore Beach, MA: Watson Publishing, Science History Publications. 2009), pp. 211–28.

Linda Levy Peck, Consuming Splendor: Society and Culture in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge: University Press, 2005), p. 307.

Robert W. Ramsey, Studies in Cromwell’s Family Circle and Other Papers (London: Longmans, Green and Co. 1930), especially ‘John Dodington’, pp. 118–70.

Francisco de Quevedo Villegas, The Visions of Dom Francisco de Quevedo Villegas, Knight of the Order of St James, tr. John Dodington (London, 1668).

Alexandre J. Tessier, Réseaux diplomatiques et Républiques des Lettres. Les correspondants de Sir Joseph Williamson (1660–1680) (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2015), p. 411–18.

Charles Vialart, The History of the Government of France, Under the Administration of the Great Armand du Plessis, Cardinall and Duke of Richelieu, tr. John Dodington, (London: printed by J. Macock for Joshua Kirton, 1657).

Bulstrode Whitelocke, Memorials of the English Affairs, or, An Historical Account of What Passed from the Beginning of the Reign of King Charles the First, to King Charles the Second His Happy Restauration (London: Nathaniel Ponder, 1682), p. 96.

Online resources and biographical information

Dodington, George (c.1658–1720), of Eastbury, Dorset, entry in The History of Parliament Online.

Information concerning the Stowe Papers, preserved at the Huntington Library.

All letters in EMLO from, to, or mentioning Dodington

Dodington’s letters in Alexandre J. Tessier calendar

Dodington’s letters in Halls’ Oldenburg edition

Dodington’s letters in Kircher calendar

Please see our citation guidelines for instructions on how to cite this catalogue.


Bulstrode Whitelocke, Memorials of the English Affairs, or, An Historical Account of What Passed from the Beginning of the Reign of King Charles the First, to King Charles the Second His Happy Restauration (London: Nathaniel Ponder, 1682), p. 96.

2 NA, SP 99/51, fol. 137.

3 Baildon, Baker and Roxburgh, Records of the Honorable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, vol. III, pp. 28–9.

4 Huntington Library, STT 682.

5 HMC, Report on the Manuscripts in Various Collections, vol. II (1903), p. 128.

6 NA, SP 92/24, fol. 219.

7 The Correspondence of Henry Oldenburg, vol. III, 1666–1667, ed. A. Rupert Hall and Marie Boas Hall (Madison, Milwaukee, and London, 1966), p. xxv.

8 NA, SP 99/52, fol. 116.

9 NA, SP 29/338, fol. 58.