1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gondomar, Diego Sarmiento de Acuña, Count of

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 12
Gondomar, Diego Sarmiento de Acuña, Count of by David Hannay

GONDOMAR, DIEGO SARMIENTO DE ACUÑA, Count of (1567–1626), Spanish diplomatist, was the son of Garcia Sarmiento de Sotomayor, corregidor of Granada, and governor of the Canary Islands, by his marriage with Juana de Acuña, an heiress. Diego Sarmiento, their eldest son, was born in the parish of Gondomar, in the bishopric of Tuy, Galicia, Spain, on the 1st of November 1567. He inherited wide estates both in Galicia and in Old Castile. In 1583 he was appointed by Philip II. to the military command of the Portuguese frontier and sea coast of Galicia. He is said to have taken an active part in the repulse of an English coast-raid in 1585, and in the defence of the country during the unsuccessful English attack on Corunna in 1589. In 1593 he was named corregidor of Toro. In 1603 he was sent from court to Vigo to superintend the distribution of the treasure brought from America by two galleons which were driven to take refuge at Vigo, and on his return was named a member of the board of finance. In 1609 he was again employed on the coast of Galicia, this time to repel a naval attack made by the Dutch. Although he held military commands, and administrative posts, his habitual residence was at Valladolid, where he owned the Casa del Sol and was already collecting his fine library. He was known as a courtier, and apparently as a friend of the favourite, the duke of Lerma. In 1612 he was chosen as ambassador in England, but did not leave to take up his appointment till May 1613.

His reputation as a diplomatist is based on his two periods of service in England from 1613 to 1618 and from 1619 to 1622. The excellence of his latinity pleased the literary tastes of James I., whose character he judged with remarkable insight. He flattered the king’s love of books and of peace, and he made skilful use of his desire for a matrimonial alliance between the prince of Wales and a Spanish infanta. The ambassador’s task was to keep James from aiding the Protestant states against Spain and the house of Austria, and to avert English attacks on Spanish possessions in America. His success made him odious to the anti-Spanish and puritan parties. The active part he took in promoting the execution of Sir Walter Raleigh aroused particular animosity. He was attacked in pamphlets, and the dramatist Thomas Middleton made him a principal person in the strange political play A Game of Chess, which was suppressed by order of the council. In 1617 Sarmiento was created count of Gondomar. In 1618 he obtained leave to come home for his health, but was ordered to return by way of Flanders and France with a diplomatic mission. In 1619 he returned to London, and remained till 1622, when he was allowed to retire. On his return he was named a member of the royal council and governor of one of the king’s palaces, and was appointed to a complimentary mission to Vienna. Gondomar was in Madrid when the prince of Wales—afterwards Charles I.—made his journey there in search of a wife. He died at the house of the constable of Castile, near Haro in the Rioja, on the 2nd of October 1626.

Gondomar was twice married, first to his niece Beatrix Sarmiento, by whom he had no children, and then to his cousin Constanza de Acuña, by whom he had four sons and three daughters. The hatred he aroused in England, which was shown by constant jeers at the intestinal complaint from which he suffered for years, was the best tribute to the zeal with which he served his own master. Gondomar collected, both before he came to London and during his residence there, a very fine library of printed books and manuscripts. Orders for the arrangement, binding and storing of his books in his house at Valladolid take a prominent place in his voluminous correspondence. In 1785 the library was ceded by his descendant and representative the marquis of Malpica to King Charles III., and it is now in the Royal Library at Madrid. A portrait of Gondomar, attributed to Valazquez, was formerly at Stowe. It was mezzotinted by Robert Cooper.

Authorities.—Gondomar’s missions to England are largely dealt with in S. R. Gardiner’s History of England (London, 1883–1884). In Spanish, Don Pascual de Gayangos wrote a useful biographical introduction to a publication of a few of his letters—Cinco Cartas politico-literarias de Don Diego Sarmiento de Acuña, Conde de Gondomar, issued at Madrid 1869 by the Sociedad de Bibliófilos of the Spanish Academy; and there is a life in English by F. H. Lyon (1910).  (D. H.)