Emilia Bassano Lanyer's Jewish family tree and history can be traced back to the 1300s and Sephardic  scholars in Morocco. Her name is also spelled Amelia Bassano Lanier.

1300s: Amelia's ancestors moved from Morocco to Lorqui, Castile (SE Spain today)

First known ancestor: Joseph ben Joshua (died in 1372). He revised Tibbon’s translation of Maimonides’ work Millot Higgayon.

  • —Son: Joseph ibn Vives al-Lorqui
  • —Son: Joshua ben Joseph al-Lorqui (1400-1440)


Joshua ben Joseph al-Lorqui was not a rabbi but was well versed in Talmud and rabbinic literature.
—He became a converso and took the name Maestro Geronimo de Santa Fe (on SE coast).

—Geronimo (Joshua ben Joseph) had two sons: Pedro and Andrea

Pedro was imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition. He committed suicide in prison to avoid burning at the stake.

—Andrea had a son named Jeronimo (c. 1480-1545), Together, they left Spain either prior to or just after the Edict of Expulsion. They traveled to Crespano del Grappa in the province of Treviso, Veneto, in today's northern Italy. Andrea takes de Crespano as a surname but dies soon after arriving in 1492.

—Jeronimo moves to Bassano del Grappa, a small town 9 miles southwest of Crespano, 45 miles northwest of Venice. Jeronimo is Amelia Bassano's grandfather. 

  • —Jeronimo starts a musical instrument making business (bassoons, bassonellas, lutes, pivas)
  • —Six sons:Alvice, Jacomo, Jasper, Anthony, John, and Baptista (Amelia’s father)


Baptista (c. 1515-1575), so named to make it easier to pass as a Christian, is nicknamed  “Piva” – small bagpipe. He was an accomplished musician. 

—1516: Jews are expelled from Bassano del Grappa. The family moves to Venice, expand their business, and sell to the Doge’s musicians and into Austria and Bavaria.
—All of Baptista's sons become skilled musicians, play for the Doge.

1516: Most Venetian Jews forced to live on Il Ghetto island.

—1528-30: Henry VIII sends Edmond Harvel to Venice to acquire theological justification from rabbis for divorcing Catherine of Aragon. Harvel hears the Bassano brothers performing at the Doge’s palace and tries to recruit them to play in Henry VIII’s court.

—1531: Alvise goes to London.

—1539: Baptista and his brothers move to England and start playing for Henry VIII's court. 

—About 1560, Baptista introduced to Margaret Johnson (1545-1587), sister of a fellow court musician, John Johnson.

  • —Margaret becomes Baptista’s common-law wife, but they never officially marry. 
  • —Amelia born in 1569. (Jewish father, probably Christian mother)


1576: Baptista dies, Emilia (age 7) taken in by Duchess Katherine Willoughby and daughter, Countess Susan Bertie.

My conclusion: There is clear proof of Amelia's Jewish lineage. Orthodox Jews would not consider her Jewish because of her likely Christian mother. To them, biological Jewishness is matrilineal. Reform Jews, and I believe many Conservative Jews as well as others, would accept her Jewishness. 

Could the portrait of the Semitic-looking "Unknown Lady" at the top of this page, painted by Isaac Oliver (c. 1595-1600), be of Emilia Bassano Lanyer? She would have been between 26 and 31 years old at the time. (Thanks to Lev Verkhovsky for finding it and suggesting the possibility.)

shakespeare's conspirator

Did a Jewish woman of color write many of Shakespeare's plays?

Did she embed clues in the scripts pointing to her identity and authorship?

Explore the Shakespeare Authorship Question and the Evidence Pointing to Emilia Bassano Lanyer