Royal Armouries

Francois Colsoni and The Foreigners’ Guide to London

Images

Francois Colsoni _Le Guide de Londres Pour Les Etrangers Dedié & Offert Aux Voyageurs Allemands & Francois

Title page from Francois Colsoni's 'Le Guide de Londres Pour Les Etrangers Dedié & Offert Aux Voyageurs Allemands & Francois', reproduced with notes by the London Topographical Society, Publications Series No. 83, ed. Walter H Godfrey, 1951

  • Francois Colsoni _Le Guide de Londres Pour Les Etrangers Dedié & Offert Aux Voyageurs Allemands & Francois

    Title page from Francois Colsoni's 'Le Guide de Londres Pour Les Etrangers Dedié & Offert Aux Voyageurs Allemands & Francois', reproduced with notes by the London Topographical Society, Publications Series No. 83, ed. Walter H Godfrey, 1951

  • watercolour of an imagined view of the Tower of London in 1700

    'The Tower in 1700' by Ivan Lapper, 1999.

  • Francois Colsoni _Le Guide de Londres Pour Les Etrangers Dedié & Offert Aux Voyageurs Allemands & Francois_

    The entry for the Horse Armoury, in French, in Francois Colsoni's 'Le Guide de Londres Pour Les Etrangers Dedié & Offert Aux Voyageurs Allemands & Francois', reproduced with notes by the London Topographical Society, Publications Series No. 83, ed. Walter H Godfrey, 1951.

Francois Colsoni and The Foreigners’ Guide to London

Description

In 1693 Francois Colsoni produced the first edition of a guidebook for foreign visitors to London. Written in French, Le Guide de Londres pour les Etrangers followed the pattern of earlier guides to cities such as Rome and Paris. It provided travellers with a practical guide to the attractions of London about fifty years before the first guidebooks to the Tower itself were published.

Colsoni suggested short tours of selected parts of London so that travellers could easily and quickly take in its finest sights. In his first proposed excursion, Colsoni focused mainly on the Tower of London and its various displays, which were already established as one of London’s premier attractions by the late 17th century. His Guide must have proved successful as at least two further editions were published and it was reprinted as late as 1710.

Colsoni described the Crown Jewels, Menagerie and Arsenals within the Tower, including the artillery display, Spanish Armoury and, of course, the Horse Armoury:

‘(in translation)…where you will see several Kings on Horses and the armour of both the Cavalry and the Infantry which are kept there in good condition; you must also give two sous each there on leaving .’

Colsoni stated that his Guide was the product of his experiences while he was guiding tourists around London. His book acknowledged that London could be an expensive city for tourists so he gave guidance about admission fees and gratuities to be paid at sites like the Tower. His book both recognised the Tower’s status as one of London’s most significant attractions and identified the Horse Armoury, which had been re-developed between 1688 and 1691, as a specific attraction for which an admission fee was charged.

Little is known about Colsoni himself, except that he was an Italian teacher who lived near the Tower of London – with which he must have been very familiar. Colsoni was a linguist who claimed not only fluency in French, English, Italian and Spanish, but also the ability to understand Dutch and German. He put these skills to many uses, not only as a teacher and author. He claimed to be an interpreter to many foreign princes and ambassadors in London. He also ran a ‘Chocolate House’, which had billiard tables and attracted good company. He taught foreign languages and wrote several books to help people learn other languages . He also translated text in two or more languages for prints which supported King William III.

When the first edition of Le Guide appeared in 1693 Colsoni lived close to the Royal Exchange, and only a short walk from the Tower, in Bond’s Court, Walbrook. In 1688, when he produced The New Trimagister, or New Teacher of Three Languages, he was styled Francois (Francesco) Caspar (Casparo) Colsoni and described as living near the Royal Exchange in St Christopher’s Alley, Threadneedle Street. In 1696 his address was given as the Paved Alley in Austin Friars near Broad Street. The date and place of Colsoni’s death have not yet been traced.

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