Oxford and Orazio Cogno, the Italian Choirboy

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In 1580-81, in letters directed to members of the Privy Council, Henry Howard and Charles Arundel accused Oxford, among numerous other crimes including multiple instances of pederasty, of having sodomized an Italian servant of his named Auratio or Horatio, who, they reported, had left Oxford's employ without Oxford's permission, citing sexual abuse as his reason.

The identity of this Italian servant and many details of his life with Oxford are verified by a deposition which he gave to the Inquisition on 27 August 1577, shortly after his return to Venice. He was then seventeen, which means that when Oxford picked him up in early 1576, he was fifteen or sixteen.

The deposition reveals that the servant's full name was Orazio Cogno. "Millort de Voxfor," who attended the Greek Church in Venice (not a Greek Orthodox church, but rather a church known as a haven of unorthodoxy), first noticed Orazio singing at the church of S. Maria Formosa. Orazio consulted his father (Francisco Cogno) and his mother about the earl's subsequent invitation to accompany him back to England, and they advised him to accept. Orazio moved into Oxford's house in Venice on "Zuoba Grassa," the Thursday before the beginning of Lent, which in 1576 fell on 1 March; the party left Venice for England on the following "luni de carneval," or Monday before Ash Wednesday, that is, on 5 March.

Orazio spent 11 months in England, presumably from April 1576 to March (or perhaps only February) 1577, living in Oxford's house in London "per Paggio" (as a page). Since Oxford let everyone in his household live as he wished ("el lassava viver tuti a suo modo"), Orazio could live as a Catholic, attending mass "in the houses of the ambassadors of France (the famous Michael de Castelnau, Seigneur de Mauvissiere) and of Portugal."

In Venice and on the outbound journey through Italy and France, Oxford's entourage ate fish on Catholic fast days. In England, Oxford and his household ate meat on fast days, but Orazio was allowed to eat fish, as were 2 other servants in the household who were Catholics. (According to Orazio, Oxford "does not live as a Catholic.")

Although Orazio served Oxford officially as a page, he was by profession a musician. On one occasion he sang before Queen Elizabeth, who urged him to convert to the reformed religion. In London he made the acquaintance of "Ambroso da Venetia," "che e musicho della Regina de ingelterra" (who is a musician to the queen), and with five brothers from Venice who were "musici della Regina et fano flauti et viole" - evidently members of the extensive Bassano family.

Orazio reported that Oxford "speaks Latin and Italian well."

Orazio was being interrogated on suspicion of heresy; the question of sodomy did not arise during the trial. Nevertheless, the general circumstances of Orazio's residence in Oxford's house during Oxford's complete separation from his wife, Ann Cecil, are fully compatible with the testimony of Henry Howard and Charles Arundel.

In one particular the fit is exact. Orazio was asked by the inquisitors, "Did you obtain the conte's licence to leave?" Orazio replied (without further elaboration), "No: he would not have allowed me to leave." This statement correlates perfectly with the testimony of Howard and Arundel that Orazio had left Oxford's employ without Oxford's permission, citing sexual abuse as his reason. Oxford may have had a psychological need, but he had no legal right to deny Orazio permission to leave his employ at any time.

The Orazio trial is recorded in Venice, Archivio di Stato, Santo Uffizio, busta 41, fasc. 'Cocco Orazio'; this present summary is based on notes, as the original is currently (August 1996) not accessible for inspection.

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