The Lupos and Shakespeare

Note: This article has been updated and expanded in my essay collection Words Words Words available in print from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

My earliest known ancestor, Ambrose Lupo, was brought to England as part of an ensemble of string players around May of 1540 by Henry VIII. Some scholars believe this was in connection with Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves, but given the timing, Ambrose and colleagues would have arrived as the marriage was waning, rather than being there in time to provide entertainment. Rather, Henry’s decision seems to have been guided by a desire to raise the standards of English music, and the impact these musicians had would be felt for more than a century. The Lupos, along with other families such as the Bassanos, the Laniers, and the Comeys, established musical dynasties that endured throughout the reign of the Tudor monarchs, and into the reign of the Stewarts. Ambrose and his sons, Peter (my ancestor) and Joseph, were among a group of musicians credited with introducing the violin to England.

Joseph Lupo first shows up in household accounts in 1566 and his brother Peter is first listed in 1570. Ambrose Lupo was among the musicians who marched in the funeral procession of Henry VIII and at the coronation of Elizabeth I, and Peter, Joseph, and their sons, each named Thomas, marched at the funeral of Elizabeth I. Ambrose served for over fifty years, ending with his death in February of 1591.

By the time Shakespeare arrived in London in the late-1580s, Peter and Joseph would have been well-established in their positions at court. Both would have been around thirty years older than Shakespeare, but there is evidence that Peter lived in the East End of London, in Aldgate, near the theater district. While it’s hard to say how much the musicians would have interacted with the playwright, there is evidence from Shakespeare’s work that he was acquainted with, and may have even drawn inspiration from the Italian musicians at court. Many of his plays are set in Northern Italian locales, such as Verona, Milan, and Padua, and his work is peppered with musical references, from the Duke in Twelfth Night proclaiming, “If music be the food of love, play on” to Hamlet admonishing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, “Though you may fret me, you will not play upon me.” A recent discovery suggests Shakespeare drew inspiration from the musicians for two of his best known plays.

As an Italian at the English court, Peter’s name was often rendered in many interesting ways. In some documents, he’s listed as Peter, in others he’s Petro, or Pietro. In the listing of New Year’s gifts for 1585, he’s identified as Petruchio Lupo. This discovery was made all the more intriguing by the fact, that, at the time, his wife’s name was Katherine. Petruchio and Katherine (or its Italian equivalent Katerina) are the main characters in The Taming of the Shrew. A look at other characters from this play yields more interesting parallels. In Shrew, Petruchio has a servant named Peter, a servant named Joseph, a servant named Philip, and a servant named Nicholas. “Petruchio” Lupo is better known as Peter, has a brother named Joseph, a son named Phillip, and a colleague named Nicholas Lanier. The similarities extend to a second play by Shakespeare.

Petruchio, in Shrew, claims to be the son and sole heir of Antonio, a wealthy merchant, recently deceased, from Verona. Verona is part of Veneto or Venetia which, in Shakespeare’s time, was in the Republic of Venice. This suggests that Petruchio could be connected to another of Shakespeare’s protagonists, Antonio, the title character from The Merchant of Venice. In that play, Antonio is the benefactor of Bassanio, and more than one scholar has noted the similarity of this character’s name to the family of musicians, the Bassanos. In Merchant, however, Antonio is presented as a bachelor without a son. Venice is notable in the history of the musicians, as it was Venice where the Lupos, Bassanos, and other musical families were recruited into royal service by Henry’s agents.

Peter’s brother, Joseph, married Laura Bassano, and Laura was cousin to Emilia or Aemilia Bassano, who married Alfonso Lanier the brother of Nicholas. Emilia Lanier is believed by a number of scholars to have been the Dark Woman of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Unfortunately, much of the evidence connecting Emilia to Shakespeare comes from a questionable source, Simon Forman, an astrologer with designs on Emilia. Forman states she was the mistress of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, who, as Lord Chamberlain, was the patron of Shakespeare. The facts that can be verified about her, however, make Emilia an ideal candidate for the model on which Shakespeare based Katerina in Shrew, not least of which being the fact that she’s the daughter of Baptist Bassano. Baptista Minola is the name given to the father of Katerina in Shrew.

Early in the 1600s, Emilia Lanier published a volume of poetry under her own name, something unheard of for a woman during this era. There are only a few known examples of women who published during this time. The theme of Emilia’s work was that women were every bit the equals to men, and she highlights a number of notable women throughout history, including Elizabeth I. She also focuses on the women surrounding Jesus, claiming they were better apostles, since his disciples all ran away when Jesus was arrested, while the women stayed with him throughout the crucifixion and later returned to prepare his body after he’d been laid in the tomb.

Evidence exists that suggests that the Lupos and possibly the Bassanos were Jews. Notably, Ambrose and colleagues appear to be among the “secret Jews” rounded up by Henry’s men early in 1542 and held in the Tower for a period of time before being allowed to quietly leave England. The Spanish ambassador, Eustice Chapuys alludes to this incident in a letter to a colleague, and hints at the musical background of the prisoners, “however well they may sing, they will not be able to fly away from their cages without leaving feathers behind” and in household accounts, the string players are listed with the notation, “they be gon to their contry.” Later, Ambrose shows up among records of the Inquisition in Venice, in testimony from a young singer named Orazio Cogno, identified as someone responsible for letting Orazio read material the Church deemed heretical, while Orazio was in England.

The Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew are among Shakespeare’s most controversial plays, Merchant for it’s harsh portrayal of Jews, and Shrew for it’s treatment of women. However, an important parallel can be drawn from Merchant, given that Shylock is forced to convert to Christianity, and the musicians, if they were Jews, had to convert, or at least pretend to convert, to avoid repercussions in a hostile society. The purpose of the Inquisition, in fact, was to ferret out Jews who held to their faith while professing Christianity in public.

As stated, Peter Lupo was considerably older than Shakespeare, and his identification as “Petruchio” has only been found in this one place. The fact that he’s recorded as such, however, suggests he was sometimes known by this name, though whether or not Shakespeare heard him called this is unknown. Wikipedia identifies “Petruchio” as an English version of the name “Petruccio” but the main reference is to the character in Shrew. It may be Shakespeare drew nothing more than a few names from those around him. His other play set in Venice, Othello, does have a character named Emilia, though.

Still, it is nice to imagine Shakespeare’s work being performed with background music provided by my ancestor and his family. Peter would have been well-known around London, given his placement at court, and he did inhabit the same section of London Shakespeare would have frequented. In later life, Peter retired to Kent, where he died around 1608. His son Albiano was among the earliest settlers of Virginia, and his son Phillip, through a son by the same name, was the father of the earliest branch of the Lupo family in America.


Ashbee, Andrew, Records of English Court Music, Vol. VI, 1558-1603, Aldershot, England, Scolar Press, 1992.

Holman, Peter, Four and Twenty Fiddlers: The Violin at the English Court 1540-1690, New York, Oxford University Press, 1993.

Holman, Peter, “The English Royal Violin Consort in the Sixteenth Century”, Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, Vol. 109 (1982/83).

Lupo, G. M., “The Lupo Family of Early Virginia“, The Virginia Genealogist, Vol. 36, No. 4, October – December, 1992, pgs. 281-288.

Prior, Roger, “A second Jewish community in Tudor London”, Jewish Historical Studies, Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England, Volume XXXI (1988-90).

Prior, Roger, “Jewish Musicians at the Tudor Court”, The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 69 (1983).

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic of the Reign of Henry VIII, Vol. XVII, 1542, Printed for Her Majesty’s Stationery Office by the “Norfolk Chronicle” Company, Ltd., Norwich, London, 1900.

Testimony of Orazio Cogno before the Venice Inquisition on August 27th, 1577, The Ever Reader, Number 5, Spring/Summer 1997.

Wikipedia entry on Emilia Bassano.

Special thanks to Michael Dale Lupo from Dahlonega, Georgia for first pointing me to a recording by The Parley of Instruments featuring music by Thomas Lupo and the work of Peter Holman into the background of the Lupo musicians.

46 thoughts on “The Lupos and Shakespeare

  1. I did want to clarify that the only places I’ve ever seen the name Petruchio are in The Taming of the Shrew, and in the listing of New Year’s gifts from 1585, referencing Peter Lupo. Wikipedia lists an engraver in Italy with the name Petruccio. Google searches for the name lead back to online transcripts of Shrew.

  2. Thanks for your research Matt. I have signed up as an indexer on Ancestry so I could help with the Italian part of the family, bit what I didn’t think about was that I don’t know Italian. I got the post from Richard about it. I have been focusing on the states where our family is from and have found one possible match with someone on my mother’s side of the family. It’s lots of fun and who knows, I may find something from the Lupo’s. Keep up your good work for our family. God’s blessings for the coming year.

    1. Thanks, Brenda. Italian and Spanish are very similar grammatically, so if you know one, you can usually sort out the other. I’m not fluent in Spanish, but took some classes in college, and, with the help of an Italian dictionary, was able to make some sense of a letter written by Peter Lupo in 1578. Good luck!

  3. I am a descendent of Elizabeth Bassano, (who`s first husband was Albiano Lupo), and her second husband John Chandler.

    In researching these families, and other suspected Jewish converso family’s in my tree, I came across some information on the arrests of the court musicians by Henry VIII, from books on Gracia De Nassi (also Gracia De Luna, Gracia Mendes), who inherited the Mendes family bank after both her husband and her brother in law passed away.

    The records show the the Musicians were denounced by an agent of the Mendes Bank, who was arrested in Milan, and after being “questioned”( tortured most likely), by the inquisition. At this time Gracia De Mendes was running a ‘underground railroad’ , smuggling converso Jews out of Portugal and other places in the western Mediterranean area, to Turkey, where they could live as Jews outwardly .

    Well it seems that the Mendes Bank was the source at that time, for loans for Henry VIII , the King and Queen of Portugal and other royalty. When Gracia heard of the arrests in London, she threatened to cut off all the loans, unless these Musicians were released. So pressure was then put on Henry VIII to quickly release these Jewish Musicians.

    I is very likely that some of these Musicians were cousins to Gracia De Mendes or her husband, as well or, or agents of the Mendes Bank and /or the ‘underground railroad’.

    So this connection is further proof than many/most/all of these musicians were indeed ‘secret Jews’

    1. Very interesting. Where did you uncover this information? I had heard that after being arrested, Henry released them after being pressured by outside parties, including the King and Queen of Portugal but haven’t found the source yet. I’m also interested in how you determined Elizabeth, Albiano’s wife, was a Bassano. I know Joseph, Peter Lupo’s brother, married Laura Bassano, but haven’t found evidence that other Bassanos married Lupos. I’ve had my DNA analyzed by the National Geographic Genographic project, and FamilyTree DNA, and it shows I have a marker common to several Jewish Diaspora groups on the Y chromosome.

      1. The information on the connection to the arrests of the musicians with Gracia de Mendes comes form some of the books i have on her life. I will have to look up the passages in these books to quote them for you. I am the first person that I know of to make the connection between the Musicians and the Mendes Bank. I did it by simply remembering the story from her biographers, when i read about the uncovering of th eidenties of these musicians.

        Elizabeth (Widow Lupo ,she is recorded as), is not identified by her maiden name in any records, but I have looked at any likely suspect for who she was, and found Elizabeth Bassano, listed as being born in London, at the right time, with no mention of a marriage in London, and with no notation of a death in London either. So, I can not prove it, but some interesting things are recorded about John Chandler and events that happened when he was young, and some generations latter, that makes me think that he was also a converso. In 1608-09 there was an uproar in the hidden Jewish community in London, with one group denouncing the other, in response all the recent arrivals of “Portuguese Merchants” or Merchant Strangers”, were expelled form London. And in 1609 young John Chandler was sent to Jamestown , when children were technically not allowed. then some generations latter, the orignal homestead of John Chandler and Elizabeth (Widow Lupo), was given to the Hampton Roads Jewish community, for their first Jewish cemetery there.

        So, very possibly John Chandler was also of Jewish origin.

        So far no one in the Chandler family or Bassano /Lupo family have found any other fate for Elizabeth Bassano, other than her moving to Jamestown. So it is still an educated guess, on my part, but so far not disproved.

        My DNA tests with Family Tree, Ancestry and DNA Tribes all show my Jewish ancestry to different degrees. My Sum total results from DNA-Tribes classifies me as Overwhelmingly Hispanic, due to my combination of Native American, Iberian/ North African /Middle Eastern and Northern European ancestry.

      1. I’m the Matt Lupo who set up and the mailing list. I haven’t done a lot of hands on research recently, but I’m always interested in corresponding with anyone about the family.

      2. I have done research in books and on websites for many years now, piecing together information as i find it. . When I get a chance I will try to find the mentions in the books Abbot Gracia Mendes, of the arrest of their agent in Milan. She did run an underground railroad, smuggling Jews out of Portugal to Turkey for a number of years.

      3. I read about her on Wikipedia and it sounds like she was in many places the Lupos ended up, notably Antwerp and Vienna. Ambrose Lupo was identified as coming from Milan but was recruited in Vienna. I’d be interested if Gracia Mendes had any connection to the tribe of Benjamin, because I believe the Lupos identified with Benjamin, who’s called a ravening wolf in Genesis. One scholar suggested Benjamin may have carried a standard bearing the picture of a wolf.

  4. One this that I now note, regarding Elizabeth Widow Lupo, (Bassano), is that on Ancestry, my guess as to who she was, has been added as a fact to many many Chandler descendents family trees. It seems to now have become a proven fact, when it is still actually not proven. Elizabeth Bassano is a likely possibility, with the two families intermarrying before, and maybe hard documented proof will be found or translated form the records of the time, in the future.

    I have found that many of my posts to message boards have been gathered by Google-bots, and are now ‘source’ material. I have tried to be careful to say what is decremented or not, but a lot gets picked up as ” True”, when it is still in flux. I apparently have been asking questions and providing possible answers, long enough that I have become a fixture on some of these topics !!:-)

    One item i would really like to track down, to see if it is really true, is something I saw one day online, regarding Gracia Mendes using Carmelite Convents as “Safe Houses”, for her Jewish Under ground Railroad. I saw it, and have never found it again since !!:-)

    1. I know what you mean. Probably 90% of the stuff posted on Ancestry about the Lupos came from, and in many cases is presented without attribution, so no one will know where it came from. A guy on one of the early music sites lifted a lot of material verbatim from my site on the family and when I contacted him about it, he gave me a very snotty answer about how I should just be glad someone’s trying to get the word out on the musicians. Since then, he’s changed a lot of what he posted so it sound less like what I have on my site. I document every source I use, and when someone copies and pastes the article without the notes, the attribution gets lost. If I suspect someone’s spouse is a given person but don’t have documented proof, I put a question mark after the names, then I turn around and find the names being passed around as fact with no question marks. Also, people grab pictures of generic musicians from around the era and post them as pictures of Ambrose or one of his sons. A lot of people are still quoting stuff I’ve updated on the site.

  5. It now is hard to find any info on Ancestry that might actually come form orignal sources, as things get added to trees without being verified. The funnest thing I have seen is when someone is listing their supposedly ancient Roman ancestors, and apparently someone in the past wrote B.C. with the names, and now many many trees have those initials as “British Columbia” !!:-)) LOL

  6. I am workign on a project for a possible novel, based in the 1500`s, and mainly set in Genoa, but also including the whole of the Sephardic world, from England to Portugal and on to India. I want to ‘hang’ it on some of my ancestral fmaily, different branches, who were in these areas, and so at some point may wish to ask you for some info on the Bassano & Lupo families, to make sure that I cover real people/ancestors accurately !:-) The period form 1509 to 1569 is rich in real wild historical people !!:-)
    My protagonist will be a hypothetical ancestor, from the Mendes branch of my Anthony/Mendes family.

    1. I’m working on a dramatic project on Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves, which was the historic event that coincided with my ancestors coming to England. It’s a comedy, but will include most of the relevant details of Ambrose and colleagues early days in England.

      Glenn, what are some of the books you have on Gracia Mendes? I’d like to look them up.

  7. Hi again ! Here is a link to a page with some of the books about her.

    In addition there is this one “The long Journey of Gracia Mendes” by Marianna D. Birnbaum

    This last one has extremely detailed fmaily tree background, and quotes from all kinds of obscure source documents.

    The book “The woman who defied Kings”, by Andree Aelion Brooks, on page 153 details the interconnection between the secret Jewish community in London and Gracia Mendes Jewish escape network, the arrest of an agent of the Bank, a cousin, in Milan, and the fallout of the arrests in London, and the release of the surviving prisoners by Henry VIII.

  8. I think I may have solved the mystery of just who my ancestor Mark Anthony was, or at least I have an interesting possibility. I descend from his Granddaughter Mary Mendes Anthony ( her middle name is also written as mengus), and i have wondered about the strange middle name for some years. I searching of possible Mendes family connections I have found some interesting info.

    It might be that Mark Anthony, was born as Anthony Mendes, in 1678, the son of the physician to the Queen Catherine of England. He was a known Marrano, Dr Fernado Mendes1647 Portugal-1724 London. Mark(Anthony), indeed may have been captured by Barbary Pirates, as reported, after he somehow went to sea, and ended up in Virginia. These pirates were active in the English Channel, as well as all over the Mediterranean Sea.

  9. I descend from the Bassano/Laniers. Would like to introduce you to Dr. Peter Matthews, author and philospher of Australia who has written “Shakespeare Exhumed The Bassano Chronicles”.
    His next book re the ID of the true “Shakespeare” will be out early next year.

    Well documented, and based on years of traveling in their area and lists many allied families.

    I was updating my Lupo Bassano genealogy and found your interesting site.

    John Hudson’s book “Shakespear’s Dark Lady” will interest you too.

    Margaret Louise Drody Thompson
    Family Genealogist over 50 years

    1. Thanks for the note, Margaret. Glad you found the information helpful. I’ve recently run across The Dark Lady Players and John Hudson and have been checking out their online endeavors. Do you know Brennan Nelson. He is on Lupo Family Gathering at Facebook and descends from the Lupos and Bassanos.

      I have some interesting connections to Australia. My first post on the Internet back in 1993 was a genealogical post and the first respondent was from Australia. I later worked with several individuals in Tasmania who translated and did a rendering of the coat of arms issued to Ambrose Lupo and his sons.

      I’ll try to find the resources you mentioned. They sound fascinating.

      1. Don’t know Brennan Nelson.

        Was also interested in your Atlanta connection.

        I lived there for a bit, married my brilliant Ga. Tech Electrical Engineer there:
        Kenneth Reed Thompson, b. Alma, Ga.

        I have been told by Dr. Matthews that I am the oldest living Bassano descendant at upcoming 85 years of age.

        Been our family genealogist for over 50 years, and really appreciate the endeavors of others: Barbara Harrison of California and Dr. Mathews of Australia, LaSocki and Prior and others.

        My Mother and all her descendants are musicians, some poets: Bernice Alice Floyd of Jacksonville, Florida. (Mrs. Harold Orsan Drody).

        Enjoyed reading the books re Gracia and Uncle. Very interesting to be able to connect to such ancient history – especially that of Elena de Nassi who married Anthony Bassano.

        Margaret Louise Drody Thompson.

      2. I corresponded with Roger Prior in the late-90s and early-00s, while he was still at Queen’s University. He sent me a copy of his article on Emilia Bassano Lanier.

        It just so happened he and Peter Holman were writing articles and books about the Tudor musicians at the same time I was heavily into researching my family, so I learned a lot from them.

      3. I’ve also heard that a number of Lupo descendants are musicians as well. My great-great-grandfather, Nathaniel G. Lupo, died in the American Civil War and our connection with the larger family was severed for a number of years. My aunts and uncles reported knowing of other Lupos in their area who would have been their second and third cousins in some instances, but had no idea how or even if they were related.

  10. I am sure those Lupo musical and writing genes have perked down through the ages as have the Bassanos apparently. You will find Dr. Peter Bassano, renown London conductor and Trombonist on line. You will enjoy reading about him and his wife, also renowned musician in her own right.

    This genetic trail is of particular interest to Dr. Peter Matthews research.

    Barbara Harrison did most of her research abroad and had personal contact with Roger Prior.
    I bought her books and this was my first introduction to what she had discovered re the Bassano/Lanier history.

    I find it most interesting that you are engaged in writing for the theatre. This is also an inheritance from way, way back.

    When I was a music major in College I read about Heironymous Bassano in my theory books, and had no idea he was an ancestor. Glad my family now knows from whence we have sprung.
    While none of us in America have engaged in the religious ceremonies of our Jewish ancestors we are all interested in this history.

    Be on the lookout for Dr. Matthews next publication. You will be astounded by what he has to share.

    Wish you bushels of success in your endeavors,
    Margaret Louise Drody Thompson

  11. So sorry Dr. Matthews message got posted twice. When I didn’t see it go through after a while sent it again to be sure you got it. Hope there is a way you can delete one of them.

    We will stay in touch. Have let Atlanta family know to look out for your stage plays in case they can attend.

    I am always pleased to find gifted living descendants of our ancient alliances.
    It brings all our ancient delvings into perscpective.

    You will enjoy swapping ideas with Dr. Matthews. I sure have. He finds such vital details.

    Good day,
    Margaret Louise Drody Thompson

    1. Heard from Dr. Matthews you two have made good contact.
      Do you have an e mail address I can use? I’m not hip to twitter and facebook, etc.


  12. G.M., Glenn, and Margaret, I am the 9th great granddaughter of John Chandler and Elizabeth possibly-Bassano. I read in one of the posts that Elizabeth may or may not have been a Bassano. I hope that some day someone will be able to make a definitive connection.
    It is interesting that there may be some Jewish ancestry for the Bassano’s and possibly even for John Chandler. I have done the Ancestry DNA testing and my results came up as 32% Western European, 23% Scandinavian, some Irish/Scottish/Welsh, and 10% Iberian Peninsula. My NatGeo results showed that I was in Haplogroup K, Superhaplogroup U1-U7. I haven’t seen any information on Jewish ancestry, but I would love to know.
    Glenn, we must be cousins!

    1. I know a number of people identify Elizabeth as a Bassano, but I have seen no evidence to support that, other than a christening record for an Elizabeth Bassano who appears to have been the right age. My belief is Elizabeth was the Elizabeth Hayden Albiano sponsored as an emigrant to the colonies. It wouldn’t have been the first time a man sponsored the woman he married. Albiano was indentured to Stephen Sparrow for nine years when he came to the colony, and released around 1619.

  13. G.M. I forgot to add in my previous post… do you know about the Shakespeare “The Tempest” connection with Jamestowne?

  14. One interesting fact I came across in reading some of the books about Gracia Mendes/De Nazzi, was a mention of an agent of the Mendes family bank being arrested by the Inquisition in Milan Italy. This agent was apparently accused of being a “secret Jew” and was tortured or threatened with same, and so he “named names” of other secret Jews who were in London ( and maybe elsewhere), and as a result these Jews , the same musicians, were arrested and thrown in provision, where two of them died. The source I was reading went on to state that they were released when the Mendes Bank put pressure on various crowned heads in Europe. This may have been threatening to cut off the lines of credit that these leaders relied upon, supplied by the Mendes Bank.

    I will need to go back and check which book about Gracia Mendes tells this story, but it is documented, and to my mind makes a clear connection to the Jewish Mendes family and these Court Musicians.

    I am a descendant of Elizabeth (Widow Lupo) possibly Bassano and John chandler.

      1. aelion BrooksIt is from “The Woman Who Defied Kings” by Andree

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