The first guidebook: A Voyage of Italy by Richard Lassels, c.1663

Within the Lawson of Brough archive is a small book, one of only four surviving manuscript copies of a guidebook to Italy, handwritten in the mid-17th century by Richard Lassels (c.1603-1668) [ZRL 9/6/1]. Considered the first comprehensive guide to Italy, this became the most influential English guidebook of its day.

Title page of the handwritten version of A Voyage to Italy, c.1663 [ZRL 9/6/1]

The younger son of William Lascelles of Breckenborough, near Kirby Wiske in North Yorkshire, Richard Lassels was a Roman Catholic priest, who travelled through Italy five times as a tutor to English gentry.

A note written in pencil on the inside cover tells us that it was written by Lassels for Ralph Lawson of Brough. The exact year of writing is not known, but it can be dated to c. 1663 from references in the text to Pope Alexander VII, who was Pope from 1655 to 1667.

At the end, there is an index to ‘The most remarkable things contained in this book‘, with their corresponding page numbers. These remarkable things include many churches in Rome, such as St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Several Roman monuments are mentioned, for example the Colosseum, the Triumphal Arch of Constantine, Trajan’s Column, and the Baths of Diocletian. Rome is described as ‘a fine place to live and dye in‘.

Naples is listed as ‘An ancient New Citty’. At that time, in the 17th century, neither Pompeii, Herculaneum nor Paestum had been rediscovered, but there is reference to Mount Vesuvius and other ancient sites in the area, such as Virgil’s Tomb and the Sybil’s Grotto.

Index pages of the handwritten version of A Voyage of Italy, c.1663 listing ‘The most remarkable things contained in this book’ [ZRL 9/6/1]

Published in 1670 in Paris and London after Lassels’ death, the guide was subsequently translated into both French and German and was still being reprinted into the early 1700s. In it, the term ‘Grand Tour’ was coined for the first time, describing the journey through France and Italy.

The Voyage of Italy, or, A compleat journey through Italy. In two parts. With the characters of the people, and the description of the chief towns, churches, monasteries, tombs, libraries, pallaces, villa’s, gardens, pictures, statues, and antiquities : as also of the interest, government, riches, force, &c. of all the princes : with instructions concerning travel By Richard Lassels, Gent. who travelled through Italy five times, as tutor to several of the English nobility and gentry.

Fronticepiece of the published version of A Voyage of Italy, 1686 (public domain)