Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bonvisi, Antonio
BONVISI, ANTONIO (d. 1558), merchant, belonged to an ancient family of Lucca, which was descended from a councillor of Otho III in the tenth century, and members of which had held the post of gonfaloniere in their native town. The coat borne by them was on a field azure, an estoile of eight points, surmounted by an inescutcheon, parti per saltire argent and gules; crest an angel affronté. His family was settled in England before his time, and he perhaps was born here, as his denisation does not appear to be on the patent rolls. In 1513 he was already a thriving merchant, and laying the foundation of the great wealth for which he was famous. In that year he received from the king (Henry VIII) a remission of customs for five years in repayment of a loan to the crown. He dealt largely in wool, and also imported jewels and other foreign articles, for which Cardinal Wolsey was one of his principal customers. He acted also as banker for the government, transmitting money and letters to ambassadors in France, Italy, and elsewhere, and sometimes through his correspondents succeeded in obtaining earlier news of foreign events than the government did. He was a patron and friend of learned men, more especially of those who had visited and studied in Italy. Thomas Starkey, Thomas Winter, Florence Volusenus, and others express their obligations to him. Sir Thomas More, in one of his last letters from the Tower, speaks of himself as having been for nearly forty years 'not a guest, but a continual nursling of the house of Bonvisi,' and styles Antonio the most faithful of his friends. He sympathised with More from principle, as well as for friendship's sake, and was courageous enough to help Friar Peto, who had fled to the Low Countries after preaching a violent sermon against King Henry VIII. Cardinal Pole speaks of him in much the same terms as More does, as 'a special benefactor of all catholic and good persons, whom I will not leave unnamed, for worthy is he of name, and I doubt not but his name is in the Book of Life. It is Anthony Bonvyse, whom I think you all know, dwelling from his youth up among you (i.e. in London), being now a very old man.'
He resided at London, in Crosby Hall, Bishopsgate Street (Crosbyes Place it was then called), which he at first leased from the priorv of St. Helen's, and after the dissolution of that monastery purchased from the king, together with a house in St. Mary Axe and the site of a friary in Moulsham, near Chelmsford. This was in 1542. The house in St. Mary Axe he sold to Balthazar Guercy, a distinguished fellow of the College of Physicians, and formerly medical attendant to Queen Catherine of Arragon, who had already resided there for some time. His well-known aversion to the principles of the Reformation ('a rank papist' Wriothesley calls him) gave him a sense of insecurity in England, and in the beginning of the reign of Edward VI he obtained license to convey Crosby Hall to Ric. Heywood, in trust for himself and others after his death, and about the same time he procured a release and quittance for all sums of money paid to him by officers of the crown since 1544. Having thus settled his affairs, he fled to the continent, His house, with those of Drs. Clement and Guercy, was seized by the sheriffs of London 7 Feb. 1550, and in the general pardon which concluded the acts of the parliament of 7 Edward VI (1553) he was specially excepted, together with Cardinal Pole, the two doctors above mentioned, Dr. Story, who was executed for treason in the reign of Elizabeth, and a few others. Story, who made his will while in exile, appointed Bonvisi as his executor. He died on 7 Dec. 1558, and was buried at Louvain, leaving Benedict Bonvisi, son of his brother Martin, to inherit his English property, which he had recovered during the reign of Queen Mary. Among the state papers at the Public Record Office there are several letters signed 'Antonio Bonvisi,' but probably only two are by him; these are dated 1533. In the others written in 1536 the signature does not appear to be by the same writer.[Tettoni e Saladini, Teatro Araldico, vi.; Cal. of State Papers of Hen. VIII, vols. i.-vii.; Venetian Calendar, vols. ii. iii.; State Papers of Hen. VIII, vols. i. vii. viii. ix.; Sir Thos. More's English Works, 1455; Strype's Mem. ii. ii. 67, iii. ii. 491-3; Annals, ii. ii. 453; Wriothesley's Chronicle (Camd. Soc), ii. 34; Patent Rolls Hen. VIII (besides those referred to in the Calendar); 34 Hen. VIII, pt. 1, m. 13; 35 Hen. VIII, p. 13; 36 Hen. VIII, p. 28; 38 Hen. VIII, p. 7 m. 6; 1 Edw. VI, p. 7. m. 28. p. 9, m. 3; Inq. p. m. 1 Eliz. pt. 2, No. 117.]