Popularization of the Grand Tour Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The publication of Richard Lassels’s The Voyage of Italy marks the first use of the term “Grand Tour” to describe the education that young Englishmen, and sometimes Englishwomen, could gain through a tour of Europe.

Summary of Event

Some aspects of what would come to be known as the Grand Tour had been features of upper-class English life since the sixteenth century, but the inclusion of Italy in the tour became common only in the 1630’s and 1640’. The phrase itself appeared in print in the first important guidebook in English, The Voyage of Italy Voyage of Italy, The (Lassels) (1670), by Catholic priest Richard Lassels Lassels, Richard . Lassels had traveled widely and was typical of the tutors and scholars guiding their patrons through Europe in the mid-seventeenth century. Literature;travel [kw]Popularization of the Grand Tour (1670) [kw]Grand Tour, Popularization of the (1670) Cultural and intellectual history;1670: Popularization of the Grand Tour[2380] Education;1670: Popularization of the Grand Tour[2380] Literature;1670: Popularization of the Grand Tour[2380] Europe;1670: Popularization of the Grand Tour[2380] Grand Tour, popularization of Education;Grand Tour

Lassels was born about 1603, probably in the English county of Lincolnshire. This was a period of religious persecution, and the Catholic family into which Lassels was born had lost much of its wealth through fines for boycotting the services of the Church of England, which had supplanted Catholicism as the established church during the reign of English monarch Henry VIII. Lassels attended Douai College in the Spanish Netherlands and was ordained a priest in 1632. Because of his faith, he was destined to spend much of his time abroad, making a living as one of a growing number of traveling tutors. In this capacity, Lassels became familiar with most of the major European countries, including Italy, which he visited five times.

Since the Italian city of Rome was the seat of the Catholic Church, it was natural that Lassels gravitated to the southern European country. He made his first visit in 1637-1638 as an agent representing Anglo-Catholic interests and seems to have made a conscious decision to begin accumulating the knowledge of ancient and modern Italy that he would later display in his travel works. A second trip came in 1649-1650, during which Lassels accompanied his friend Thomas Whetenhall Whetenhall, Thomas and his wife, Catherine Whetenhall Whetenhall, Catherine . Traveling via Paris, the group visited Turin, Rome, Venice, and Padua, where Catherine Whetenhall died unexpectedly on July 6, 1650. Soon afterward, Lassels wrote Voyage of the Lady Catherine Whetenhall from Brussels into Italy in the Holy Yeare, 1650 Voyage of the Lady Catherine Whetenhall from Brussels into Italy in the Holy Yeare, 1650 (Lassels) . Lassels would travel again to Italy in 1651-1652 and 1658.

Meanwhile, knowledge of Lassels’s expertise was growing. In 1654, Scottish aristocrat David Murray Murray, David asked Lassels to accompany him to Italy, but Lassels seems to have been involved as tutor with another household at the time. Upon Murray’s request, he instead produced a guide based loosely on the account he had written after his trip with the Whetenhalls. Dedicated to Murray, the result was called Description of Italy Description of Italy (Lassels) (1654).

Lassels wrote at least two versions of his crowning work, The Voyage of Italy (1670), the first in 1660-1661 and the second in 1664. The first was based on Lassels’s first four trips to Italy and described four possible itineraries. Prepared after a fifth, brief trip to Italy in 1663, the 1664 version allowed Lassels to expand upon his earlier manuscript and to add an additional itinerary. The extended title that Lassels gave his manuscript, here set out in its original spelling, indicates its scope: The Voyage of Italy; or, A Compleat Journey Through Italy; With the Characters of the People, and the Description of the Cheif Townes, Churches, Monasteryes, Libraryes, Pallaces, Gardens, Tombes, Villas, Antiquities, Pictures, Statues: As Also of the Interest, Government, Riches, Strength &c of the Princes.

Although not the first guidebook in English, it was the first to use the phrase “Grand Tour” in print: “And no man understands Livy and Caesar . . . like him who hath made exactly the Grand Tour of France and the Giro [tour or excursion] of Italy.” Lassels’s references to Roman historian Livy and statesman and writer Julius Caesar underscored his belief that a clearer grasp of the classical world could be gained by seeing firsthand the lands that were its setting. He did not, however, neglect the artistic achievements of the Renaissance, that period of European history marked by its rediscovery of classical Greece and Rome, or ignore Italy’s current political situation. This combination of ancient and modern concerns became standard in the decades to follow, as the Grand Tour became a familiar fixture of life among the wealthy.

Lassels was to die, appropriately enough, on his way to Italy once again—in this case accompanying his patron, Richard Lumley, Lumley, Richard and a friend, Simon Wilson Wilson, Simon . He became ill in southern France and died in September, 1668, in the city of Montpellier. Lassels bequeathed a manuscript of The Voyage of Italy to Lumley, and it was printed in Paris under the supervision of Wilson, who edited Lassels’s manuscript and inserted some of his own material.


By the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth, the Grand Tour came to be accepted as an integral part of a gentleman’s education. Participants usually ranged in age from eighteen to twenty and were guided by such tutors as Richard Lassels. No matter how well informed the tutor, however, the group was likely to carry one or more guidebooks, of which The Voyage of Italy, if not quite the first, came to be one of the most popular. It was reprinted in London and Paris and soon appeared in German and French translations.

The itinerary of the Grand Tour would normally include Paris, Switzerland, and the Italian cities of Milan, Florence, Naples, Venice, and particularly Rome. Next came Austria, Germany, and the Low Countries known today as Belgium and the Netherlands. A typical Grand Tour might last from two to four years, during which time participants were expected to polish their languages and broaden their appreciation of art, architecture, and music. They might also meet the future leaders and administrators of the countries through which they passed—contacts sure to be of value when they themselves assumed the reins of leadership. In addition, the tour offered its participants an opportunity for sexual adventure and general dissipation, a fact not lost on scandalized critics.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Black, Jeremy. Italy and the Grand Tour. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003. A re-creation of “ordinary” British tourists’ experiences based on diaries and letters.
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    xlink:type="simple">Burgess, Anthony, and Francis Haskell. The Age of the Grand Tour: Containing Sketches of the Manners, Society and Customs of France, Flanders, the United Provinces, Germany, Switzerland and Italy in the Letters, Journals and Writings of the Most Celebrated Voyagers Between the Years 1720 and 1820, with Descriptions of the Most Illustrious Antiquities and Curiosities in These Countries. New York: Crown, 1967. A lavish, oversize volume emphasizing the eighteenth century and made up largely of selections from the works of authors on the tour. Black-and-white and color illustrations, notes on authors and artists.
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    xlink:type="simple">Chaney, Edward. The Evolution of the Grand Tour: Anglo-Italian Cultural Relations Since the Renaissance. Rev. ed. Portland, Oreg.: Frank Cass, 2000. Essays dealing specifically with the tour in Italy as well as with the evolving cultural interrelationship between England and Italy.
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    xlink:type="simple">Chaney, Edward, and Richard Lassels. The Grand Tour and the Great Rebellion: Richard Lassels and “The Voyage of Italy” in the Seventeenth Century. Geneva: Slatkine, 1985. Chaney provides a lengthy introduction to Lassels’s 1654 Description of Italy, reprints its text for the first time, and supplements it with a series of appendices. A scholarly work, but the only practical source for details of Lassels’s life. Extensive notes, bibliography.
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    xlink:type="simple">Hibbert, Christopher. The Grand Tour. New York: Putnam, 1969. A popular account. Black-and-white and color illustrations, list of sources.
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    xlink:type="simple">Redford, Bruce. Venice and the Grand Tour. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1996. Explores the artistic and intellectual impact of the Italian city on participants in the Grand Tour. Illustrations.
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    xlink:type="simple">Stoye, John. English Travellers Abroad, 1604-1667: Their Influence in English Society and Politics. Rev. ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989. Discusses English travelers (including Lassels) in Italy, Spain, France, and the Low Countries. Notes, bibliography, illustrations.
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    xlink:type="simple">Wilton-Ely, John. “’Classic Ground’: Britain, Italy, and the Grand Tour.” Eighteenth-Century Life 28 (2004): 136-165. A lengthy review article dealing with, among other works, The Evolution of the Grand Tour by Edward Chaney.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Nathaniel Bacon; Nicholas Ferrar; William Penn; Sir John Suckling. Grand Tour, popularization of Education;Grand Tour

Categories: History