Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Meaning of Words

Fatti Maschii Parole Femine

Strong Deeds Gentle Words?

Source: Huntingfield Corporation Map Collection, Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1399-1-526

The earliest known public printing of the George Calvert family coat of arms with the family motto was in 1635. It appeared on a map of Maryland that accompanied a pamphlet written to promote the new colony that George Calvert’s son, Cecil Calvert, had begun on the shores of the St. Mary’s River in what is today St. Mary’s County, Maryland.

Engraving of the west range of the stableyard ("aula") of Arundel House by Adam Bierling, 1646, after a drawing by its tenant Wenceslas Hollar. Source:

The motto on the coat of arms, Fatti Maschii: Parole Femine, is not associated with George Calvert until 1622, the year his wife, Anne Mynne Calvert died in childbirth with their 11th child. Anne died in August and George retired disconsolate to Arundel House, the Roman Catholic household of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel.[1] On August 12, 1622, George Calvert wrote William Cecil, the son of his patron, the second Earl of Salisbury:

1622, August 12.

I am much bound to you for the sense you have of my sufferings, and for the wise advice you give me to bear it patiently. I shall strive to do it, but there are so many images of sorrow that represent themselves every moment to me in her loss, who was the dear companion and only comfort of my life, as I doubt I shall not so easily forget it as a wise man should; for which God forgive me if I offend, who for my sins only has laid this heavy cross upon me, and yet far lighter than I deserve, though to my weak heart it be almost insupportable. St. Martin's Lane, 12 August, 1622.

Holograph. 1 p. (130. 59.) [2]

The following December someone annotated his request for official recognition of a coat of arms with the marginal note “Fatti Maschii Parole Femine”.[3] By 1632, the year of his death, he was sealing his documents with wax, embossed with a signet ring that contained the motto.[4]

Anne Mynne Calvert’s tomb, St. Mary’s Huntingfordbury, courtesy of Tom and Jane Coakley

Anne Mynne Calvert was temporarily buried at St. Martin-in- the-Fields, until her elaborate italianate tomb was completed in St. Mary’s church, Hertingfordbury.[5] The plaque beneath her reclining marble figure is a glowing tribute, apparently in Italian, and the Calvert family shield is merged into one with that of the Mynne’s, a combination reflected in Maryland’s flag today.

George Calvert was always a man of words which he attempted to translate into action first as secretary to a powerful politician, Sir Robert Cecil, and then as Secretary of State for King James the First, where he demonstrated a mastery of Italian, French, and Spanish. It was said of him “he is so well instructed in all things, as that he is able to make a large comment upon any text you should propose.”[6]

George Calvert was not always successful at verbal or written persuasion, particularly in attempting to defend the King before parliament, and in negotiating a marriage between James’s son and future King, with a Spanish princess.[7] Worn down by the effort and devastated by the loss of his wife, George Calvert, by then Baron Baltimore, as a reward from a grateful sovereign, returned to the faith of his mother and father, and sought further refuge in establishing a colony in Newfoundland that offered religious freedom, the grant for which he received on December 31, 1622.[8] The “Sad Face of Winter” proved too much for him there, and he successfully convinced the King to grant him land north of Virginia in a more accommodating climate.[9] He did not live to see the new colony, but his shield and family motto were incorporated into the great seal of Maryland which today is used to authenticate the acts of the legislature and official documents.

Since at least 1886, scholars have attempted to puzzle out the most appropriate translation of Fatti Maschii Parole Femine. One scholar suggested ‘courage and courtesy’, while the most widely touted translation in 1886 proved to be “manly deeds womanly words” based on the 17th century common translation of variant forms of an Italian or Tuscan proverb.[10] In 1886, however, they did not have the benefit of the careful research of Thomas M. Coakley, John D. Krugler, Henry Miller, and others into the lives of the Calverts. Their research uncovered new sources, and provided access to documentation that offered a new approach to the meaning of the Calvert motto. Still, as late as 1993, William Safire the noted wordsmith of the New York Times ridiculed the motto as sexist in one of his columns. Even though he generously included two letters that challenged his point of view when he published the best of his columns as a book in 1997 entitled Watching My Language, efforts to change the English interpretation of the motto in the Maryland State Code faltered.[11]

George Calvert by Daniel Mytens

Source: Jackson-Stops, Gervase. 1985. The Treasure houses of Britain: five hundred years of private patronage and art collecting. Washington [D.C.]: National Gallery of Art., p. 137.

Translating from one language to another is never easy, particularly when the matter of intent and usage is concerned. There is no question that the prevailing translation of the Italian proverb Le parole sono femine e i fatti sono maschi(i)! in Lord Baltimore’s day was “words are women deeds are men.” The great scholar and book collector Thomas Bodley after whom the Bodleian Library at Oxford University is named, used that translation disparagingly in 1605 to mean associates who did not live up to their word[12], while over two centuries later Elizabeth Herzogenberg would flirt with the composer Johannes Brahms in a long letter praising his songs and passing on gossip:

I already know a few Tuscan proverbs, one of which I will quote, because it will both bring grist to your wicked mill and serve to excuse me for sending nothing better than a gossiping epistle by way of thanks for your songs: Le parole sono femine e i fatti sono maschi![13]

George Calvert was a linguist who began his college education as a poor 14 year old Yorkshire lad admitted to Trinity College Oxford in 1593.[14] As his biographers found, his mastery of language and his ability to write, provided him with a path to wealth and employment by the Crown where he served as the King’s chief diplomat, fluent in Italian. His marriage to Anne Mynne joined him to a wealthy family whose resources he would draw upon for his colonial ventures, and provided them with eighteen years of marital happiness.[15]

It is not known if George Calvert knew of John Florio, an Italian Scholar, when he was at Oxford, but it is safe to assume that he knew his publications. He also would have known him through his friend Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, one of Florio’s students, and through his contacts with Queen Anne, wife of James I. Queen Anne proved to be Florio’s most influential patron, having been introduced to him by George Calvert’s patron and first employer, Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury. It was to Queen Anne to whom Florio dedicated his second edition of the Worlde of Words (1611), the first Italian/English dictionary, a work George Calvert would have relied upon in his use of Italian.[16]

Title page to the second edition of Worlde of Wordes, 1611

John Florio did his best to convince the world that Fatti Maschii Parole Femine should be understood gender neutral, without deprecating, sexist overtones that gave weight to deeds as masculine and disparaged words as exclusively feminine.

John Florio, possibly from a painting by Daniel Mytens

who also painted a portrait of George Calvert at about the same time.


In the dedication to the first edition of Worlde of Words published in 1598, Florio wrote:

… as our Italian’s saie, Le parole sono femine, & i fatti sono maschii, Wordes they are women, and deeds they are men. But let such know that Detti and fatti, wordes and deeds with me are all of one gender...[17]

Considerable scholarship over the past several years, especially by Stephen Greenblatt at Harvard, and Clare Asquith, the Countess of Oxford, has demonstrated that in Shakespearean England, words and phrases were coded. Their meanings contained multiple interpretations depending upon the audience. Both Greenblatt and Asquith conclude that Shakespeare’s words sent secret messages to fellow Roman Catholics, interpreted one way by his Protestant audiences, and another by Catholics.[18] The same could be said about portraits. For example take this remarkable portrait of John Florio’s Patron, Queen Anne (Anna) of Denmark in which the brooch containing the monogram symbolic of the Roman Catholic church, IHS, is prominently displayed:[19]

Anne of Denmark, after Paul van Somer, 17th century (circa 1617) - NPG 127 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

Anne of Denmark after Paul van Somer

oil on canvas, feigned oval, 17th century (circa 1617)

24 3/4 in. x 21 in. (629 mm x 533 mm)

Purchased, 1861

Primary Collection

National Portrait Gallery, 127

It is time to approach interpreting the Calvert family motto as being a coded message, utilizing a gender neutral meaning that George Calvert intended for family and friends, one that he adopted shortly after Anne Mynne Calvert’s death in the spirit of John Florio’s interpretation.

Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel, 4th Earl of Surrey and 1st Earl of Norfolk, by Daniel Mytens, circa 1618 - NPG 5292 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel, 4th Earl of Surrey and 1st Earl of Norfolk

by Daniel Mytens, oil on canvas, circa 1618

81 1/2 in. x 50 in. (2070 mm x 1270 mm)

Accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and allocated to the Gallery, 1980

Primary Collection

National Portrait Gallery, 5292

When his diplomatic career ran into great difficulties and his beloved wife Anne died on August 8, 1622, George Calvert sought refuge in the Roman Catholic household of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, that had learned the gender neutral meaning of Fatti Maschii Parole Femine from John Florio. In December of that year, George Calvert incorporated the Tuscan motto into his coat of arms, while at the same time he sought to found a colony that would provide religious freedom. Indeed by 1625 he no longer needed to use coded language, openly declaring himself to be of the faith of his parents and his wife.[20]

This is not to suggest that the gender neutral translation that is offered here once again as a substitute for “manly deeds womanly words” in the Maryland Code was meant exclusively for a Roman Catholic audience. It was meant as a tribute to both virtues of strength and gentleness, characteristics of Anne Mynne who, as George Calvert had inscribed on her tomb, was “a woman born to all excellent things, incomparable for honesty, cleanliness of life, wisdom, wit, and knowledge.”[21]

It is only fitting that in reflecting what George Calvert intended as a tribute to his wife, and the followers of John Florio’s Worlde of Wordes, as well as to his own public career of putting words into action on behalf of his sovereign, that the Calvert family motto at last be officially interpreted in English as “Strong Deeds, Gentle Words.”

Edward C. Papenfuse

Maryland State Archivist, Retired


The words on Anne Mynne Calvert’s tomb: Pietate, Pudicitia Prudentia Incomparabilis Feminae as found in Florio’s Italian/English dictionary, 1611 edition:

Lord Baltimore’s Map of Maryland, 1635:

Source: Huntingfield Corporation Map Collection, Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1399-1-526

[1] John D. Krugler, English & Catholic. The Lords Baltimore in the Seventeenth Century, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004, p. 70.

[3]the annotation could be in George Calvert’s own hand, although no one has studied his surviving letters to identify his actual handwriting. King Charles and the Duke of Buckingham permitted him to dictate or have his letters copied into legible script by a secretary. From Newfoundland in 1628 he explained to the Duke of Buckingham: I remember that his Majestie once told me that I write a fairer hand to look upon a farre as any man in England, but that when any man came neare it they were not able to read a word! Whereupon I got a dispensation both from His Majestie and your Grace to use another man's pen when I write to either of you, and I humbly thank you for it, for writing is a great pain to mee nowe. August 25, 1628, Ferryland, to the Duke of Buckingham from George Calvert, transcribed in Michael Francis Howley, Ecclesiastical History of Newfoundland, London: Burns and Oates, 1888, p. 112. By December 9, 1622, Calvert was back at work at the King’s chief diplomat attempting to resolve a problem with the late Polish Ambassador.. See the privately owned letter reproduced at,_First_Lord_Baltimore_%28c._1580-1632%29, which is probably not in Calvert’s hand. By May of the following year he appears to have been using a secretary for the letters he wrote from his home in St. Martin’s lane, See his letter to the Earl of Huntington, 29 May 1623, in the collections of the Huntington Library where the closing in his own hand is virtually illegible, provided for reference only at:,_First_Lord_Baltimore_%28c._1580-1632%29.

[4] Thomas M. Coakley, “George Calvert, First Lord Baltimore: Family Status, Arms”, Maryland Historical Magazine, 79, no. 3, Fall 1984, pp. 255-269.

[5] communication from Henry Miller, 2016/01/18. See 1936 Register of St. Martin-in-the Fields. Translated and edited by J. V. Kitto. Harleian Society Publication, vo. 66, p. 173.

[6] London, June 26, 1619 John Chamberlain, Esq. to Sir Dudley Carlton, in The Court and Times of James the First (1848), edited by Thomas Birch, vol. ii: 175.

[7] Samuel Rawson Gardiner, Prince Charles and The Spanish Marriage, 1617-1623, London: Hurst and Blackett, 1869, Volume II.

[8] 1622, Dec. 31. Grant to Sir Geo. Calvert and his heirs of the whole country of Newfoundland. [Grant Bk., p. 351.],

[9] Great Britain, PRO, Colonial Office, CO 1/5 (27), 75. “...For here, your Majesty may please to understand, that I have found by too dear bought experience, which other men for their private interests always concealed from me, that from the middest of October to the middest of May there is a sad face of winter upon all this land, both sea and land so frozen for the greatest part of the time as they are not penetrable, no plant or vegetable thing appearing out of the earth until it be about the beginning of May, nor fish in the sea, besides the air so intolerable cold as it is hardly to be endured.” See Baltimore, George Calvert, Francis Cottington Cottington, and Lawrence C. Wroth. Tobacco or Codfish, Lord Baltimore Makes His Choice. New York: New York Public Library, 1954.

[10] Maryland Fund-Publication, No. 23. The Great Seal of Maryland, by Clayton C. Hall, (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1886).

[11] William Safire, Watching My Language, Adventures in the Word Trade, (New York: Random House, 1997, pp. 37-38.

[12] Thomas Bodley, Thomas James, and George William Wheeler. 1926. Letters of Sir Thomas Bodley to Thomas James first keeper of the Bodleian library. Oxford: Clarendon press., letter 129, p. 136, “Sir Io. Parker hath promised more then yow have signified: but wordes are women, and deeds are men.”

[13] Brahms, Johannes, Heinrich von Herzogenberg, Elisabet Stockhausen Herzogenberg, Max Kalbeck, and Hannah Bryant. 1909. Johannes Brahms the Herzogenberg correspondents. New York: J. Murray., p 166.

[14]Henry Miller is the authority on George Calvert’s Oxford education. His blog entries from his research trip to England in 2012 are a well written and scholarly journey through the surviving records. He finds George Calvert enrolled in Trinity College in 1593 at the age of 14 and graduating in 1598, the year John Florio’s Worlde of Words was first published. See: and

[15] Thomas Coakley, “George Calvert and Newfoundland: “the Sad Face of Winter,” Maryland Historical Magazine, Volume 100, No. 1, (Spring, 2005), pp. 7-28. “A more probable explanation of Calvert's financial means in undertaking this venture is that he used his personal and family resources and such loans, secured by his real and personal property, as he could make. The sole piece of evidence as yet available to support this hypothesis dates from 1629, when the Avalon venture was in serious trouble. In that year Calvert's brother-in-law, George Mynne, transferred £4,000 of East India Company stock entered in his own name and £2,000 of the same stock in Calvert's name to Philip Burlamachi, the merchant-financier.” Ibid., p.13.

[16] According to John Florio’s biographer, Frances Yates, Florio left Oxford for London in 1583, ten years before George Calvert arrived, Yates does not mention Calvert, but Florio’s patron was Anne of Denmark (d. 1619) in whose household he spent considerable time. Where George Calvert learned Italian is not known for certain, but he would have known Florio in Queen Anne’s household and as the tutor to the Earl of Arundel, a good friend. As John Krugler points out, Anne of Denmark, James the First’s Queen, was committed to Roman Catholicism which the king “considered “as madness” but could only caution “her to be discreet in worship.”” Frances Amelia Yates, and John Florio. 1934. John Florio. Cambridge: Univ. Pr.. John D. Krugler, English & Catholic. The Lords Baltimore in the Seventeenth Century, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004, p. 42.

[17] Michael Wyatt in The Italian Encounter with Tudor England, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 244 ff, discusses Florio’s ‘proto-feminist’ assertion in his preface to the first edition of Worlde of Wordes (1598) that Fatti Maschii Parole Femine is and should be considered gender neutral. “Florio fashions himself quite a different type of “grammarian,” one dedicated to the potential of language for opening up entirely new horizons,” in which women are the equal of men in words and deeds. Wyatt points to the final dialogue in Florio’s Second Frutes (1591) in which Silvesto, who aims to defend the dignity of women, successfully engages in a debate over gender with the misogynist Pandolpho, refuting the sexist interpretation of the proverb fatti maschii parole femine.,

[18] Stephen Greenblatt, Will in the World, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004, and Clare Asquith, Shadowplay The Hidden Beliefs and coded Politics of William Shakespeare, New York: Public Affairs, 2005. Richard Fawkes raises the possibility that music carried coded messages in “Protest songs: were there coded messages in Byrd’s sacred works?”, Classical music (23 March 1991), p. 33.

[19] For the most recent scholarly work on Anna of Denmark and her devotion to both the arts and Roman Catholicism see Anna of Denmark and the Arts in Jacobean England by Jemma Aeronny Jane Field, University of Auckland, 2015 at:

[20] Krugler, op. cit., p. 70.

[21] see below for the definitions of the words on Anne Mynne Calvert’s tomb taken from the Worlde of Wordes..

No comments: