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   IN BRIEF > BIOGRAPHIES > Don Pedro de Zuñiga, the Spanish ambassador to England (fl. 1605–1612)
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© June 2006
revised 7 March 2007

The following biography of the Marques de Villa Flores et Avila, Don Pedro de Zuñiga (also Cuñiga, Quñiga) is copied from Alexander Brown’s The Genesis of the United States, vol. 2, pp. 1067–8.

Zuñiga actively engaged in espionage while serving as ambassador to England, sending various reports and maps concerning the English colony in Virginia to the Spanish court, many of which are our sole surviving record of contemporary events. On 8 November 1608, we find Zuñiga writing from London to Philip III, carefully advising his majesty to put an end to the English enterprise in Virginia:

It is very important, Your Majesty should command that an end be put to those things done in Virginia; because it is a matter of great importance — and they propose (as I understand) to send as many as 1500 men there; and they hope that 12,000 will be gotten together there in time. It is a matter which it might be well should be clearly understood.

(repr. as item LXI in Brown, I:196)

Zuñiga’s intense interest in the Virginia colony and related espionage would be continued by his successors, Don Alonso de Velasco, Ambassador from Spain to the court of London, 1610–13, and Don Diego Sarmiento de Acuña, Count de Gondomar, Spanish ambassador from 1613–1618.

Zuñiga, Velasco, and Acuña were all three colorful figures and celebrities while in London. Zuñiga was caricatured in Ben Jonson’s popular play, The Alchemist. A Comoedie. Acted in the yeere 1610. By the Kings Maiesties Seruants. And we know that Gondomar’s engraved portrait was stocked and sold in London by the Commonwealth print dealer, Thomas Jenner, active from 1618–1672.

Don Pedro de Zuñiga (fl. 1605–1612)

“He came as ambassador to England in the autumn of 1605, succeeding in that office Juan de Taxis, Count of Villa Mediana, who sailed from Dover, September 1, 1605, with Sir William Monson, for Flanders. The new resident ambassador is said to have found in England seven pensioners of Spain, namely: Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton; Charles Blount, Earl of Devonshire; Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset; the Lady Suffolke; Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury; Sir William Monson; and Mrs. Drummond, the first lady of Queen Anne’s bedchamber.

“‘On the morning of November 5, 1605, the news of the great deliverance from the Gunpowder Plot ran like wildfire along the streets of London,’ and it was necessary to take prompt measures to protect Zuñiga from the fury of the people. He seems to have kept very close afterwards; I [i.e., Alexander Brown] do not find his name in the Calendar of State Papers, 1605–10. The celebrated Italian jurist, Alberigo Gentilis, was advocate to the Spanish embassy from the autumn of 1605 to his death, June 19, 1608. Zuñiga was succeeded by Velasco about May, 1610. Some time after his return to Spain he was created ‘Marques de Villa Flores et Avila.’ In 1612 he was sent as ambassador extraordinary to James I., with private instructions, if he saw fair prospect of success, to offer the hand of Philip III. (then a widower) to the Princess Elizabeth of England; but ‘he found that the marriage with the Elector was irrevocably decided upon.’ He had his first audience with James I. on July 6, 1612. He was soon dismissed; but continued to linger in England, which was not much liked. On July 22, 1612, Archbishop Abbot wrote to James I., ‘The lingering in England of the Spanish ambassador, Zuñiga, is very suspicious. He has secretly dispersed £12,000 or £13,000 already in England, and tampers by night with the Lieger ambassador from France. He was in England at the time of the Powder treason, and God knows what share he had in that business.’ (See also Abbot’s letter of August 3, 1612, in sketch of Velasco.) George Calvert wrote to Sir Thomas Edmondes on August 1: ‘Zuñiga is yet here, no man knows why, for he hath taken his leave of the king. But to show that he is unwelcome, as he was riding in his carrosse with his six mules over Holborn Bridge the other day, with his great lethugador about his neck and coming upon his elbow, at the side of the carrosse, comes a fellow by him on horseback; and whether de guetapens or otherwise, I cannot tell, but he snatches the ambassador’s hat off his head, which had a rich jewel in it, and rides away with it up the street as fast as he could, the people going on and laughing at it.’ Chamberlain says, ‘The ambassador, observing a well-dressed cavalier approaching his carriage, pulled off his hat out of the window, which was enriched with a handsome band and Jewel, when the fellow snatched it out of his hand and rode off.’ James I. instructed [Sir John] Digby to find out the reasons for his stay [item CCXXVIII. in Brown]. He was still in England in the first part of October, 1612, when he was complaining ‘of the opening by the custom-house officers of a chest of his.’ He probably left soon after.

“Our [i.e., U.S.] histories do not mention him; but it can be safely said that the English would never have succeeded in establishing Protestant colonies in America, if the matter could have been controlled by Don Pedro de Zuñiga.”

(Brown II:1067–8)


more discussion of Don Pedro de Zuñiga in the two GALLERY exhibits, The “Zuñiga Chart” of Virginia and also Powhatan’s Deerskin Mantle with Shell Map

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further discussion of Don Alonso de Velasco in the GALLERY exhibit on the “Velasco Map” of 1610/11

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an IN BRIEF biography of Sir Robert Cecil, secretary of state under Elizabeth I and James I, and a “pensioner” of the Spanish court, receiving payouts from the Spanish ambassadors, Zuñiga and Velasco

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an IN BRIEF biography of England’s King James I

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an IN BRIEF biography of Don Diego Sarmiento de Acuña, Count de Gondomar, Spanish ambassador to the court of James I of England from 1613–1618

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more on Margaret Cavendish in the PLAYERS section

“caricatured in Ben Jonson’s popular play”

Margaret Cavendish makes the identification in her work of science fiction, The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing World (1666, 1668):

... and since she had a great desire to know the condition of the World she came from, her request to the Spirits was, To give her some Information thereof, especially of those parts of the World where she was born, bred, and educated; as also of her particular friends and acquaintance: all which, the Spirits did according to her desire. At last, after a great many conferences and particular intelligences, which the Spirits gave the Empress, to her great satisfaction and content; she enquired after the most famous Students, Writers, and Experimental Philosophers in that World, which they gave her a full relation of: amongst the rest she enquired, Whether there were none that had found out yet the Jews Cabbala? Several have endeavoured it, answered the Spirits, but those that came nearest (although themselves denied it) were one Dr. Dee, and one Edward Kelly, the one representing Moses, and the other Aaron; for Kelly was to Dr. Dee, as Aaron to Moses; but yet they proved at last but mere Cheats; and were described by one of their own Country-men, a famous Poet, named Ben. Johnson, in a Play call’d, The Alchymist, where he expressed Kelly by Capt. Face, and Dee by Dr. Subtle, and their two wives by Doll Common, and the Widow; by the Spaniard in the Play, he meant the Spanish Ambassador, and by Sir Epicure Mammon, a Polish Lord. The Empress remembred that she had seen the Play, and asked the Spirits, whom he meant by the name of Ananias? Some Zealous Brethren, answered they, in Holland, Germany, and several other places. Then she asked them, Who was meant by the Druggist? Truly, answered the Spirits, We have forgot, it being so long since it was made and acted.

(The Blazing World 65–6)

Since Jonson’s Alchemist dates from 1610, I suspect the Spanish ambassador referred to was Zuñiga (Velasco succeeded Zuñiga as ambassador about May, 1610).

return to introductory note

“(See also Abbot’s letter of August 3, 1612, in sketch of Velasco.)”

Brown here refers to the brief biographical sketch of Don Alonso de Velasco, which reads in full:

Ambassador from Spain to the court of London, 1610–13. August 3, 1612, George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote from Croydon to King James: “Zuñiga has removed to the house of the Lieger Ambassador, Alonzo de Velasquez, in the Barbican, that he may more freely transact his secret business. Velasquez [Velasco] has been more free with his masses, having a bell rung and holding several in the day. He sends scandalous reports of English affairs to Spain and Italy. The King of Spain has an advantage in England, because he can avail himself of discontented Catholics. The proffered courtesies of the Queen of France should be received with suspicion, as she is guided by Villeroy and Sillery, both under Spanish influence.”

(Brown, II:1037)

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