The Armada of the Strait: James P.R. Lyell and the Relación of Pedro de Rada

The publication of Carla Rahn Phillips’ The Struggle for the South Atlantic ensured that the Relación by the sixteenth-century Spanish clerk Pedro de Rada is now for the first time made available in print. Only acquired by a public institution in 1999, the Relación had a long and still little-known life in private hands. In this blog post, the independent specialist in antiquarian books and Hakluyt Society Council member Anthony Payne sheds light on this story by focusing on the manuscript’s twentieth-century owner, the British solicitor and bibliophile James P.R. Lyell.


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A source of great satisfaction for an antiquarian bookseller is to discover a rarity and to see a major work of scholarship result from its acquisition by a research library. One such instance for me was the Hakluyt Society’s publication in December 2016 of The Struggle for the South Atlantic: The Armada of the Strait, 1581–1584, splendidly translated and edited by Carla Rahn Phillips from the Spanish manuscript Relación of Pedro de Rada, now in the Huntington Library, San Marino, California (MS HM 59416).

The Huntington purchased this from the antiquarian booksellers Bernard Quaritch Ltd in 1999, when I was one of the company’s directors. We had bought the manuscript shortly beforehand from another book dealer in London and, as soon as I had catalogued it, we offered it for sale as item 167 in our Catalogue 1257. It was promptly ordered by Bill Frank, the Huntington’s Curator of Hispanic, Cartographic and Western Historical Manuscripts, and was delivered to the library as soon as we received an export licence.

Professor Phillips has identified the 1742 ownership inscription of one Pedro de Chópite (possibly from the Basque country) in the manuscript, but this apart, nothing is known of its history until the twentieth century when it was acquired by James P.R. Lyell (1871–1948), whose distinctive bookplate is affixed to the margin of the first leaf.

A solicitor by profession, Lyell was a distinguished book collector and bibliographer. He developed an especially close relationship with Oxford’s Bodleian Library, which is marked by the bequest of one hundred of his medieval manuscripts to the library and his endowment of the Lyell Readership in Bibliography at Oxford.

At a talk he gave in 1939 on ‘books and book collecting’, Lyell recalled that ‘I began collecting at school – nibs and postage stamps’. He sold his stamps to eke out his father’s allowance as an undergraduate at University College London, and next, while training to become a solicitor, began to collect books, attending his first auction, at Hodgson’s rooms, in 1891. ‘Book-hunting’, the Oxford historian David Ogg remarked, then became Lyell’s ‘absorbing hobby, and if he parted from time to time with some of his treasures he knew there were always others waiting to be tracked down by the discerning collector’.

Early printed books were Lyell’s first interest. In 1914 he chanced to buy at Hodgson’s a copy of the Complutensian Polyglot, the magnificent six-volume Bible printed in Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic at Alcalá de Henares in 1514–17. When he got home from the sale, Lyell said, ‘I found that I had been fortunate enough to secure at a war-time price one of the most famous books in the world’, and it sparked a deep engagement in all books Spanish that led him to collect almost exclusively in that field for the next dozen or so years.

Not only did Lyell collect, but he learnt Spanish, travelled to Spain, and published a biography of the sponsor of the Complutensian Polyglot, Cardinal Ximenes, Statesman, Ecclesiastic, Soldier and Man of Letters with an Account of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible (London: Grafton, 1917), as well as a major study of Early Book Illustration in Spain (London: Grafton, 1926), which became the standard authority on the subject (in 1997 it appeared in a Spanish edition with updated notes). In time Lyell formed the largest private collection of Spanish books in Britain, but in 1927 he decided to move from London to Oxford and parted with most of its rarities, notably the works illustrated with woodcuts.

An allied bibliophilic pursuit of Lyell’s was his collection of books on the Spanish Armada (‘a very fine one’ he considered it). Research on this was the basis for the B.Litt. thesis awarded to him in 1932, aged sixty-one, as a member of New College, Oxford. He later sold the collection to Thomas W. Lamont, a partner in Pierpont Morgan & Co., who then presented it to Harvard.armada-straits

It can readily be appreciated, therefore, that Lyell’s acquisition of the manuscript of Pedro de Rada’s Relaciónreflected not only his interest in Spanish books but also in the naval history of the 1580s. I have not been able to discover when or where Lyell obtained it – it was perhaps on one of his visits to Spain, or maybe in the London trade, for example, from the leading booksellers, Maggs Brothers, who handled much high-quality Spanish material in the 1920s. Nor is it clear whether Lyell disposed of it during his lifetime or not. From the mid-1930s his focus turned to medieval manuscripts and these constituted the principal element in the collection dispersed after his death in 1948.

Items not bequeathed to the Bodleian, or bought from Lyell’s executors by the Bodleian (and a few by the National Library of Scotland), were acquired by Quaritch in 1951 and many, but not all, were included in Quaritch’s Catalogue 699, issued in 1952. Rada’s manuscript is not among those in the catalogue. It is possible that it was among Quaritch’s other, uncatalogued, purchases from Lyell’s collection, but this cannot be established from the firm’s surviving records for this period. It seems equally likely that Lyell sold it during the 1930s as his collecting interests developed in new directions.*


Anthony Payne is an antiquarian bookseller and past Vice-President of the Hakluyt Society. Besides his work in the antiquarian book market, Anthony Payne is engaged in historical research and has lectured at Princeton University, the University of York, the Warburg Institute, the National Maritime Museum, Gresham College and University College London. He is currently working on a major bibliographical study of Richard Hakluyt (1552–1616) and has previously published a short introductory survey, Richard Hakluyt: A Guide to His Books and to Those Associated with Him 1580–1625 (London: Bernard Quaritch Ltd, 2008).

* In compiling this blog I have referred to the biography of Lyell by Dennis E. Rhodes in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which concludes that ‘he was a self-taught bibliophile and scholar of extraordinary enthusiasm and discrimination, and one who deserves to be remembered not only by Oxford but by the whole bibliographical world’. I have also drawn on Lyell’s posthumously published talk, ‘Books and Book Collecting’, Bodleian Library Record, vol. 3 (1951), pp. 278–81; R. W. Hunt, ‘The Lyell Bequest’, Bodleian Library Record, vol. 3 (1951), pp. 68–72; Maurice L. Ettinghausen, Rare Books and Royal Collectors: Memoirs of an Antiquarian Bookseller (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966), pp. 76–8; and Albinia de la Mare’s introduction to her Catalogue of the Collection of Medieval Manuscripts Bequeathed to the Bodleian Library Oxford by James P. R. Lyell (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971).

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Looking back on Hakluyt@400

The two-day international conference held to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of Richard Hakluyt has been an appropriate highlight in a packed Hakluyt Quatercentenary programme  with events in Oxford and Wetheringsett. Thanks are due to the excellent organisation by Claire Jowitt, Daniel Carey and Anthony Payne, as well as to our generous hosts, the Bodleian Library, the Museum for the History of Science, and Christ Church, Oxford. In this blog, Dr Lauren Working, research associate on TIDE (Travel, Transculturality, and Identity in England, 1550-1700), an ERC-funded project led by Hakluyt Society Council member Prof Nandini Das, looks back on  #Hakluyt400.

The geographer and clergyman Richard Hakluyt died in good company: 1616 also marked the death of two internationally-renowned writers, William Shakespeare and the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes. Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter and Cervantes’s re-working of chivalric romance have continued to grace school curricula and playhouses around the globe; by comparison, Hakluyt’s impact is less immediately apparent.

The Hakluyt Society, in conjunction with the Bodleian Library Museum for the History of Science and Museum for the History of Science in Oxford, held a two-day conference in November 2016 to examine Hakluyt’s legacy at the four-hundredth anniversary of his death. His two editions of The Principal Navigations, Traffiques, and Voiages of the English Nation (1589, enlarged 1598-1600), have long been considered some of the most important collections of English travel writing ever published, and the conference assembled an international cohort of speakers who presented current research on their work for the forthcoming 14-volume critical edition of The Principal Navigations.


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A number of scholars discussed the particularities of English interactions with indigenous peoples, from Africans in Guinea to the Algonquians in Virginia. Mary Fuller examined the casualties of Anglo-Inuit exchange in the English search for the Northwest Passage, and complicated the “us” vs. “them” mentality of English voyages by highlighting the heterogeneity and factions among ship crews.

Other papers engaged with the continuity between state policy and trade in the late middle ages and early modern period through Hakluyt’s inclusion of a fourteenth-century poem; the importance of naval history and the experience of seamen in effecting expansion; the mercantilist emphasis of Hakluyt’s second edition; and the English desire to exploit global markets, such as Indian cotton. Joyce Chaplin delivered a keynote lecture that argued that English attitudes towards natural resources and climate-based notions of human physiognomy set the groundwork for the enslavement of non-European peoples, to disastrous consequences.

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Prof Nandini Das presenting on the place of India in Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations. Hakluyt and the Renaissance Discovery of the World conference, Oxford.

 

The discussions that emerged from the papers centred around several key aspects of early modern global historiography, suggesting future avenues for research. One is the continuing development of environmental studies and ecocriticism as important approaches in the history of expansion, which was, after all, fundamentally about land and the exploitation of its resources. As Joyce Chaplin put it, pro-imperial authorities and their agents saw a relationship between economies and ecosystems. The Greek oikos and the Latin oeco were terms that denoted households, but also the management of the estates themselves.

Secondly, papers highlighted the need to reconstruct the experience of non-European peoples, especially their capacity to dictate the terms of Anglo-indigenous exchange. Surekha Davies pointed out that instances of the passive voice in Hakluyt might offer hints as to moments when indigenous peoples dominated colonial encounters, at times when Europeans struggled to successfully dictate the terms of the exchange.

Related to attempts to recalibrate approaches to intercultural encounters, other papers emphasised the value of using non-English-language sources to enhance and complicate global historiography. Persian accounts of English diplomatic missions, such as Anthony Jenkinson’s in the 1560s, both offer correctives to the source manipulation of Safavid chronicles while offering new perspectives on English writings about diplomatic encounters in the east.

Finally, presenters stressed the ongoing importance of tracing the intimate networks between patrons, merchants, gentlemen, and travel writers who produced knowledge about, and effected, empire, which was nothing if not a collaborative effort.

The conference concluded with a public lecture by the historian and BBC broadcaster Michael Wood, who used early modern travel narratives from Asia and South America to question the very idea of discovery: who, he asked, really “discovered” whom in any given exchange?

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Michael Wood delivering the public lecture ‘Voyages, Traffiques, Discoveries’

Scholars today are wary of celebrating Hakluyt’s use of geography, given his imperial aims, but Principal Navigations remains a rich source for accessing the lives of individual agents, and for understanding large-scale historical change. To Hakluyt, the English would not thrive from insularity, and could only find themselves by engaging with the rest of the world.


Lauren Working is a historian of sixteenth and seventeenth-century English politics and culture. Her research examines the convergence between expansion and state formation, drawing on textual and archaeological sources to reconstruct the impact of colonization on the social and discursive worlds of Jacobean London. Lauren is a research associate on TIDE (Travel, Transculturality, and Identity in England, 1550-1700),  a five-year, ERC-funded project that aims to investigate how mobility in the age of travel and discovery shaped English perceptions of human identity based on cultural identification and difference. The project is headed by Professor Nandini Das at the University of Liverpool.


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Richard Hakluyt, Jacques le Moyne, and Theodore de Bry’s 1591 Engravings of Florida Timucua Indians Part 2: The Florida Book

In this stimulating follow-up to his recent guest blog on Theodore de Bry, Richard Hakluyt and the Business of Books, Emeritus Professor Jerald T. Milanich continues to explore Richard Hakluyt‘s international network. In the present blog, his focus is on establishing the origin of Theodore de Bry’s 1591 engravings of Florida Timucua Indians, taking his readers on a grand tour of the sixteenth-century world of art, print, and publishing.

In his The Representation of the Overseas World in the De Bry Collection of Voyages (1590-1634),Michiel van Groesen points out that the 1591 Florida volume, among all the volumes, is peculiar for several reasons. First, the text is the only one of the 50 narratives that does not have a version published elsewhere. The narrative instead combines portions of René de Laudonnière’s account, previously published by Richard Hakluyt, with other sources, perhaps including information provided by Jacques le Moyne.

The title pages of both the Latin and German editions mention Le Moyne and Laudonnière while the German edition that was translated from the Latin edition also lists Jean Ribault and Dominque de Gourges as contributors. In 1568 De Gourges had avenged the 1565 Spanish attack on Fort Caroline (the French colony on the St. Johns River) with his own attack on the Spaniards. An account of the raid later was published in English by Hakluyt.


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The 1591 Florida text may also contain information from another of the Fort Caroline colonists, Nicholas Le Challeux. Le Challeux’s Florida account was first published in France in 1566 (later published by De Bry in 1596 in a book with narratives about Peru and the Canary Islands). In reality the 1591 Florida volume, often mistakenly attributed solely to Le Moyne, is a composite of multiple accounts all of which are known from other sources except for Le Moyne’s own contribution, whatever that might have been.

Another peculiar thing about the Florida volume is that De Bry states that in order to publish the text it needed to be translated from English into Latin, not from French into Latin. Did someone other than Le Moyne or de Bry put the text together, somewhat like Hakluyt who had the English versions of Laudonnière, Ribault, and the others?

The Florida volume also is the only one of De Bry’s 27 books for which the engravings cannot be directly correlated with published or extant first-hand images, such as John White’s paintings or Hans Staden’s published drawings of Brazil. Making up images, however, was a common practice of De Bry. Van Groesen has shown that about 45% of the nearly 600 engravings in the 27 volumes were invented in De Bry’s shop. Many others are composite images that draw on multiple sources.

Van Groesen goes on to say that when De Bry invented an image, basing it on written accounts, he often included in the caption a phrase that went something like: “The history recounts that” or “derived from the account.” According to Van Groesen, at least 22 of the 42 Florida engravings were invented by De Bry, who drew their artistic muse from the accounts of Ribault, Laudonnière, possibly Le Moyne, and others.

How about the other engravings in the Florida volume? Did De Bry indeed acquire information, drawings, or paintings from Jacques le Moyne or his widow in London and, if so, were any of the latter as models for the engravings? De Bry states in the introductory remarks to the Florida volume that he did receive drawings from Le Moyne’s widow in 1588 (after Le Moyne had died in May of that year). An earlier attempt to acquire information from Le Moyne in 1587 had not been successful, though De Bry and Le Moyne (and Hakluyt?) may have had conversations about Florida.

What exactly did the art that De Bry received from Le Moyne’s widow in 1588 consist of? We don’t know. Some or all may have been the paintings and drawings Le Moyne did of European plants and animals, nearly a hundred of which are extant in archival collections in London and in New York.

I believe, after studying the 42 Florida engravings, that if Le Moyne supplied De Bry with sketches or drawing or paintings, it was not much. And I am not alone in that hypothesis. Of the 20 Florida engravings not overtly designated by De Bry to have been invented, Van Groesen has shown that 10 contain elements from other images, such as adding backgrounds. I would note that a large number of those 20 also contain elements taken from Staden’s Brazil images, which the De Bry’s later engraved.

De Bry also borrowed from André Thevet who in turn borrowed from Staden and others. In the late 16th and 17th centuries, attributing Brazilian Indian traits to images of North American Indians was a common practice.

Did De Bry have any idea of what the Timucua Indians looked like? I think he did, but I don’t think it came from Jacques le Moyne’s art. I think the images he used to engrave Timucua Indians came from John White.

Perhaps having not gotten what he needed from Le Moyne—who was dead—De Bry or more likely Hakluyt got John White to paint a Timucua man and a woman. I believe that White used his first-hand knowledge of American Indians and the narratives of Jean Ribault (published by Hakluyt) and René de Laudonnière to inform his two portraits of Timucua Indians. For instance, Jean Ribault wrote:

“The most part of them cover their waists and privities with hart [deer] skins painted most commonly with sundry colors; and the forepart of their bodies and armes, be painted with pretty devised works of [blue], red, and black…. The women have their bodies painted with a certain herb like unto moss whereof the cedar trees and all other trees be always covered. [The men are] naked and painted…; their hair … long and trussed up, with a lace made of herbs, to the top of their heads.”

And that is what White painted and what, I believe, found its way into de Bry’s engravings.

It is likely that Le Moyne never painted or drew a single Florida scene, but he may have provided information orally to De Bry and/or Hakluyt or in written notes that De Bry received in 1588 after Le Moyne’s death. Hakluyt may have played a role in combining such information with the accounts of Ribault, Laudonnière, and others to make up the text published in the Florida volume.

There is still work to be done, but what seems certain is that the Florida engravings cannot be accepted at face value as ethnographically accurate. They did, however, sell books and they continue to do so today.

Did you miss part 1 of this blog? Read it here


Jerald T. Milanich is Emeritus Professor at the University of Florida. He is the author of more than twenty books describing the Indian societies of the Americas and their interactions with Europeans during the colonial and post-colonial periods. Presently he divides his time between New York City and the Catskill Mountains.


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Theodore de Bry, Richard Hakluyt, and the Business of Books: De Bry’s 1591 Engravings of Florida Timucua Indians

Richard Hakluyt (1552-1616) was well connected to an international network of voyagers, printers, and publishers, and he liaised between German publisher Theodore de Bry and English artist John White for the sale of the latter’s watercolour drawings of Amerindians. This much is well-known. In this fascinating example of historical detective work – the first of two blog posts on De Bry’s 1591 engravings of Florida Timucua Indians – Emeritus Professor Jerald T. Milanich goes further to unravel the links between Hakluyt, De Bry, White, Jacques le Moyne, and Sir Walter Raleigh.

In his 1946 book The New World, the First Pictures of America Stefan Lorant reprinted Theodore de Bry’s engravings of Florida Timucua Indians first published in 1591. Lorant included an English translation of the narrative that had accompanied the engravings in 1591. Lorant maintained that the images were based on paintings done by Jacques le Moyne, a member of a French colony on the St. Johns River in Northeast Florida in 1564-1565. He also attributed the narrative to Le Moyne.


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Since 1946 scholars, museum exhibition designers, and others have treated the engravings as accurate renderings of the Timucua Indians and their material culture. More than one person has referred erroneously to the engravings as having been done by Le Moyne. It is highly likely, however, that De Bry, whose book company published 27 illustrated volumes on the Americas, Africa, and Asia, simply made up the engravings, basing them on his imagination, written accounts, and borrowings from extant images.[i]

Jerald T. Milanich, Emeritus Professor at the University of Florida, is the author of more than twenty books describing the Indian societies of the Americas and their interactions with Europeans during the colonial and post-colonial periods. Presently he divides his time between New York City and the Catskill Mountains.

The story of the images and text involves Sir Walter Raleigh, Richard Hakluyt, English investors, a dead French artist, a live English artist, the lost Roanoke colony, and two French noblemen (one murdered, the other deceased). Events played out from Florida to London to Frankfurt.

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Scheme (somewhat tongue in cheek) of the relationships among the principle actors in the story of the Florida engravings. By Jerald T. Milanich.

Those of us across the Atlantic, myself included, now realize that the De Bry Florida engravings are bogus. They are not accurate ethnographic depictions of the Timucua Indians.

De Bry, Hakluyt, and the Business of Books

In the sixteenth century, books about the Americas were hot sellers in Europe. Among them are Hans Staden’s 1557 account of living among the Tupinambá Indians in Brazil (in English: True Story and Description of a Country of Wild, Naked, Grim, Man-eating People in the New World); André Thevet’s three volumes (1557, 1575, and 1584; the 1557 title is: Les Singularitez de la France antarctique); and Richard Hakluyt’s 1582 Divers Voyages.

Hakluyt published additional narratives in his multi-volume opus Principall Navigations of the English Nation, including one by Thomas Harriot about the ill-fated Roanoke colony in coastal North Carolina. Hakluyt also was instrumental in the 1586 publication of René de Laudonnière’s Histoire Notable de la Florida (publishing an English edition the next year; Laudonnière had died in 1574).

How does Theodore de Bry fit into all of this? A successful goldsmith and metallurgist, De Bry was earning an international reputation as a skilled engraver who could create wonderful printed images. Up into the 1560s books had featured wood block prints. The newest rage, copper engravings like those being produced by De Bry, resulted in clearer, more complex images.

In September 1588 De Bry and his family moved to Frankfurt and beginning in 1590 and continuing well into the 1620s they ran a book publishing business that took advantage of copper engravings. At the time Frankfurt was the center of book production in Europe and for nearly four decades the De Bry firm was what Michiel van Groesen calls “one of the most remarkable publishing houses of early modern Europe.”

Prior to moving to Frankfurt, Theodore de Bry spent more than three years in London with his family, having moved there in 1585 from Antwerp. It was in London in 1587 that De Bry celebrated his 60th birthday and where he came into contact with Richard Hakluyt and Jacques le Moyne, whom Hakluyt had met previously and who would apparently provide De Bry (and Hakluyt?) with firsthand knowledge of the French settlement in Florida.

In London, Hakluyt and other Englishmen convinced De Bry to publish a series of illustrated books containing accounts by Europeans who had visited the Americas, many of which Hakluyt had already published or would publish. Hakluyt had access to John White’s paintings of Algonquian Indians in North Carolina and he had the account by Thomas Harriot of the unsuccessful Roanoke colony. Hakluyt also was working on Le Moyne to produce paintings of Florida, suggesting that Sir Walter Raleigh would pay him.

Hakluyt and others, all Protestants with ties to Sir Walter Raleigh, were willing to financially back De Bry in the new publishing venture. De Bry’s first volume was to feature Harriot’s Roanoke narrative illustrated with engravings of John White’s paintings. There were to be English, French, Latin, and German editions.

The four editions of that first volume issued in 1590 were a financial success. The second volume, the account of the French in Florida which Hakluyt also had suggested to De Bry, was published in 1591 in Latin and German editions, and a third volume, with Hans Staden’s account of Brazil appeared in Latin in 1592 and German in 1593. Likely all three volumes were planned with Hakluyt while de Bry was in London.

In subsequent years the De Bry firm published other volumes on the Americas, and then went on to publish books on Africa, southern Asia, and the Far East. Ultimately there would be 13 volumes on the Americas and 14 on Africa and Asia.

Part 2 of this blog will follow shortly


Jerald T. Milanich is Emeritus Professor at the University of Florida. He is the author of more than twenty books describing the Indian societies of the Americas and their interactions with Europeans during the colonial and post-colonial periods. Presently he divides his time between New York City and the Catskill Mountains.


[i] European researchers like Michiel van Groesen, Christian Feest, and others have done much to clarify the sources of de Bry engravings and the le Moyne-de Bry connection. See van Groesen, The Representations of the Overseas World in the De Bry Collection of Voyages (1590-1634) (Leiden: Brill, 2012); Feest, “Jacques Le Moyne Minus Four,” European Review of Native American Studies 1(1):33-38; 1988; John Faupel, “An Appraisal of the Illustrations,” in A Foothold in Florida, The Eye-Witness Account of Four Voyages made by the French to that Region, by Sarah Lawson (East Grinstead, West Sussex, England: Antique Atlas Publications, 1992), pp. 150-178.

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Abraham Lawse (c.1559-1613) – Case Study of a Tudor-Stuart Shipmaster

In this guest blog, Dr Cheryl Fury (University of New Brunswick), a recipient of this year’s Hakluyt Society Research Grants for her work on “The Human Dimension of the Early Voyages of the English East India Company”, talks about her quest to unearth biographical details about one remarkably colourful individual, the Tudor-Stuart shipmaster Abraham Lawse (c. 1559-1613). Fury’s study reveals how much historical detail can be recovered about ordinary lives through careful archival research.

When I was working on my PhD dissertation on the social history of Elizabethan seamen in the 1990s, I spent a great deal of time combing through High Court of the Admiralty cases, parish records, wills, and whatever else might yield information about the personal and professional lives of late Tudor seafarers. The highest-ranking men in the English maritime community were the most likely to leave a paper trail in the historical records, affording researchers the opportunity to “meet” them at various junctures of their lives: shipmaster Abraham Lawse (c. 1559-1613) was one such man.

I first encountered Lawse in parish records from 1584, when he was a young man getting married to Sara Laikyn. Abraham and Sara lived in Ratcliffe, Stepney – a Thames-side parish populated with many families connected to London’s maritime trades. Because shipmasters were skilled navigators who shouldered great responsibility, Lawse and his ilk commanded significantly higher wages than most of their crews: this meant Lawse had the wherewithal to marry in his mid-20s and support a family early in his career.

We don’t know what his wife brought to the marriage but Lawse would have been a “good catch” in the local marriage market.


 

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Lawse’s early prospects dimmed considerably when he was caught up in the rising tide of maritime violence of the late sixteenth century. As the master of the Harry of London, Lawse had been captured by Dunkirker privateers on a voyage from London to Danske and imprisoned for seven months until his “great ransom” was paid by London merchants.  Lawse employed a number of strategies to restore his fortunes.

In 1587 Lawse petitioned the Crown and was granted a begging license because he was “utterly impoverished” and on the verge of going to jail for debt. This license allowed him to seek donations from London parishes for three months.  He also applied to the Admiralty for letters of reprisal as the Captain and master of the Greyhound of London to seek compensation for his losses through privateering. Lawse was fortunate that he seems to have returned to England in good health, able to resume his seafaring career and work towards restoring his young family’s financial wellbeing.

Lawse was visited by misfortune again in 1604, when he and his men were attacked by Captain John Ward and his pirate crew. During this ordeal, Lawse told the Admiralty court that one of the pirates threatened to put him in an old sail and throw him overboard – doubtless a technique for soliciting all shipboard items of worth with a minimum of resistance.  Lawse was eventually allowed to depart with his ship although the pirates took his lading and provisions. Once again, Lawse seems to have escaped unharmed.

As a grateful recipient of a research grant from the Hakluyt Society, I went to London recently to investigate the early voyages of the East India Company. I was delighted to meet with Abraham Lawse once again: this time in an account of the Company’s sixth voyage (1610-1613). Lawse was serving as the master of the Peppercorn in a small EIC fleet under Sir Henry Middleton. The Company hired respected seamen and a veteran mariner like Lawse had been tested by fire. Given what I knew of his life, I wasn’t surprised Lawse was in a dire situation once more.

EIC voyages were extremely taxing physically and mentally. Morbidity and mortality were very high. Hostilities often turned violent between the English and rival traders from Europe and Asia. Lawse survived over 3 years, from the fleet’s departure from England in April, 1610 until July, 1613, when his luck well and truly ran out.

Nicholas Downton, captain of the Peppercorn, recorded in his journal that “we had many men sick of the scurvy god sent us”. Abraham Lawse was among the sick but the master made a startling claim: he believed that his ailment was not scurvy but rather he was “poisoned by reason of his stomake failing him and hauing often inclination to vomit”. He maintained his symptoms were the same as when he had been poisoned in Venice previously.

Such accusations were sure to send ripples of distrust throughout the small fleet during an already tense voyage. In his journal, Downton criticized Lawse for stirring up mistrust without naming possible suspects, “and soendevors to leave a scandal”.

When Lawse died on July 27, 1613, the ship surgeon did an autopsy –a first on an East India Company vessel, to my knowledge.  In order to quell this suspicion, Downton records that in the presence of diverse witnesses, the surgeon opened Lawse’s corpse and “took notice how his innard partes were conditioned.” Presumably the witnesses were satisfied that Lawse had not been poisoned as there were no further accusations, investigation, nor a trial in the wake of his death.

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East India Company journals. The British Library, London.

Lawse provides an interesting case study in the occupational lives of Tudor-Stuart seamen. As a young shipmaster, Lawse had excellent career prospects. However, this was no guarantee of success in the rough and tumble world of early modern seafaring. The Elizabethan period, and the Anglo-Spanish war (1585-1604) in particular, was a time of increased maritime violence: Lawse was a victim of pirates and privateers at least twice in his career. He was fortunate to escape with his life and his health.

Personally and professionally, Abraham Lawse was a man who knew loss. He was also a tenacious mariner intent on using multiple means to reverse his misfortunes: he had connections to London merchants who paid his ransom, he petitioned the Crown successfully for a begging license, he collected donations from local parishes to repay his debts, he sought and obtained letters of reprisal from the Admiralty to engage in privateering, and in general, Abraham Lawse worked to rebuild his fortunes by going to sea and diligently plying his craft.

His earlier run-ins with danger do not seem to have convinced him to confine himself to less risky voyages closer to home even in his advancing years. Lawse was born circa 1559, making him around 54 when he died. This is a very respectable life-span for someone in Tudor-Stuart times; it is doubly so for someone who had survived a lengthy and dangerous career at sea of over 30 years. Because privateers were compensated only with shares of any prizes taken, it was a risky venture for Lawse to undertake when his fortunes were at their lowest ebb. To sign up for a punishing voyage to the East Indies while in his early 50s also says much about Lawse.

This case study demonstrates that an individual who has no particular claim to be remembered 400 years after his death has left quite a number of footprints in the pages of surviving sources. Although there is nothing near a complete biography, by consulting a range of historical records, it is gratifying to see the broad strokes of this tenacious London shipmaster’s colourful life emerge to those who are willing to dig around in the archives

Cheryl Fury is an Associate Professor of History at the University of New Brunswick (Saint John) in Canada as well as a Fellow and Associated Faculty of the Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society. She has published extensively on the social lives of Elizabethan seamen. Her current work is on the first twenty-five years of the English East India Company.


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Essay Prize Series part 4: European Conceptualisations of Southeast Asian Sexual Diversity, c. 1590–1640

The 2016 edition of the Hakluyt Society Essay Prize competition attracted submissions from the UK, US, Australia, Russia, and Luxembourg. The academic committee, consisting of Professors Daniel Carey, Felipe Fernández­ Armesto, Peter Hulme, Claire Jowitt, Joyce Lorimer, and Sebastian Sobecki, has selected Nailya Shamgunova‘s essay European Conceptualisations of Southeast Asian Sexual Diversity, c. 1590–1640 as this year’s winning entry Ms Shamgunova will receive the award worth £750 at the Hakluyt Society’s 2016 Annual General Meeting, held in London on 22 June. Ahead of this event, she is glad to share the main conclusions of her prize-winning research on this platform, focusing on the contested issue of “sodomy” in seventeenth-century Anglophone travel writing. 


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** Missed this year’s competition? Watch the Hakluyt Society’s website and social media channels, as the call for submissions for the 2017  Hakluyt Society Essay Prize will be announced shortly **

My research focuses on the study of sexual diversity in a transcultural context. The ways in which people from different cultures understood each other’s sexual practices are fascinating. I used Anglophone travel accounts that refer to ‘sodomy’ in Southeast Asia in order to uncover some of the processes through which knowledge of Southeast Asian sexual practices was disseminated and adapted to an Anglophone worldview. I read primary travel accounts alongside other writings referring to sodomy – from medical texts and legal acts against sodomy to new editions of Aristotle and general cosmographies.

The broader context of my study is the issue of contact between ‘European’ and ‘non-European’ societies and how European understandings of those ‘non-European’ societies were constructed. Although its definition goes beyond Edward Said’s original thesis, the term ‘Orientalism‘ has been used to label the argument that European observers constructed an image of a non-European society to deliberately present it in a negative light.  I would like to counter and nuance these arguments in relation to the supposed ‘exoticising’ of non-European bodies (see Schmidt: 2015).

This study of Anglophone views on Southeast Asian sexual diversity offers the hypothesis that Anglophone observers of the region did not use ‘sodomy’ as a tool to represent local societies as inferior nearly as much as they could have done in the context of the realities of regional sexual diversity. Placing their works in the context of the wider Anglophone discourse on the connection between sodomy and nature in discussions of both the human body and political authority shows that that discourse possessed the necessary tools to read local sexual practices in a more negative light. Rather, a process of cultural translation of local practices into notions and anxieties about sodomy in wider Anglophone discourse took place.

My argument can be demonstrated using a case study of Anglophone explanations of practices of genital modification among men in Pegu and Siam. A large number of travel accounts pay special attention to ‘penis bells’, which the local men supposedly wore. The chief way of conceptualising penis bells was as a measure of prevention of sodomy, sanctioned by the local authorities. Both Ralph Fitch [See: Hakluyt Society Extra Series, 1-12] and Jan Huygen van Linschoten [See: Hakluyt Society First Series, 71-72) stated that the custom was ‘ordained’, and Francis Pretty elaborated, saying that ‘this custome was granted at the request of the women of the Countrey, who finding their men to be giuen to the fovvle sinne of Sodomie, desired some remedie against that mischiefe, and obtained this before named of the Magistrates’.  A later account by Thomas Herbert explained that ‘they haue beene (in foregoing times) wicked Sodomites; which filthy sinne was since corrected by a Queene Rectrix’, who, ‘vpon paine of death’, commanded her subjects to wear the bells.

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The inhabitant from Pegu is the seated figure on the far left. Source: Linschoten, Itinerario, voyage ofte schipvaert van Jan Huygen van Linschoten, naer Oost ofte Portugaels Indien (Amsterdam: 1596)

These accounts share the idea that some form of legislation was implemented by local authorities and rulers to prevent sodomy, and that it was effective, rather than the fact that Southeast Asian people were simply ‘sodomites’ and thus somehow inferior. Elsewhere in European discourse, such legislation was associated with ‘civilization’. As Richard C. Trexler argues, Garcilaso de la Vega [See: Hakluyt Society 1st Series, 41 and 45] and Antonio de Calancha presented the Incas as a civilizing imperial force, which stamped out previously prevalent sodomy in the Andes.  By representing a local authority as opposed to sodomy, Europeans could both emphasise that the role of civilization is to eradicate vice and that eradicating vice validated a society’s claim to be civilized. A similar process was happening in the descriptions of Southeast Asia. As there are no known indigenous sources that confirm the role of bells as measures for preventing sodomy, it remains unclear whether Anglophone authors were trying to translate local sexualities into their own terms or simply provide a rationale behind an unfamiliar practice.

However, the emphasis on the role of authority in eradicating sodomy, rather than on sodomy itself, is significant. It is a way of presenting the society in question in a less negative light.  A different explanation behind the practice, such presenting it as a marker of social identity, would have been more damaging to Pegu in Anglophone eyes. Prevention of sodomy allowed Anglophone authors to rationalise the practice in a way which was sensitive towards the local people.

One of the most interesting things to come out of my research was that when it comes to ‘sodomy’, it is very difficult to establish the boundaries of ‘Europe’ vs ‘non-Europe’ in the first place – for example, the most ‘sodomitical’ nations in Anglophone discourse were the Italians and the Ottomans. However, the role of religion in the process of formation of these stereotypes is ambiguous. Establishing the cultural boundaries of ‘sodomitical nations’ offers an alternative view of the notion of Europeans necessarily exoticising ‘non-European’ bodies and sexual practices. Exploring these notions further is the main purpose of my future research.


Nailya Shamgunova (University of Cambridge) did her B.A. in History and M.Phil in Early Modern History at the University of Cambridge, where she is due to start a PhD on Anglophone concepts of Ottoman sexual diversity this October. She is interested in various aspects of the early modern period in a transcultural context and has presented her work at a variety of academic venues. Nailya has volunteered for a Russian LGBT organisation and enjoys reading contemporary world literature in her spare time.


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Essay Prize Series part 3: This Year’s Result and Last Year’s Winner

The Hakluyt Society is pleased to announce the award of its 2016 Essay Prize. From a range of impressive submissions, the committee selected European Conceptualisations of Southeast Asian Sexual Diversity, c. 1590–1640 by Nailya Shamgunova (University of Cambridge) as the prize-winning essay. The Prize will be awarded to Ms. Shamgunova at the Society’s Annual General Meeting on 22 June 2016. Last year, Owain Lawson (Columbia University) received the first ever Hakluyt Society Essay Prize for his essay Constructing a Green Museum: French Environmental Imaginaries of Syria and LebanonMr. Lawson reflects on the research leading to his prize-winning essay below.


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Owain Lawson (right) receiving the inaugural edition of the Hakluyt Society Essay Prize from the Society’s President, Michael Barritt. June 2015, London

In September 1922, Abbé Émile Wetterlé arrived at the port of Beirut as part of the French Mandate for Syria and Lebanon’s agricultural commission. In his subsequent publications, he remarked on the astonishment he felt upon seeing for the first time the gentle rangeland of the Lebanese littoral. Steeped in biblical and orientalist representations of Lebanon, Wetterlé expected to see the dense Lebanese cedar forests described in the Bible. The absence of these forests implied to Wetterlé that Ottoman mismanagement and Arab indolence had devastated Lebanon’s natural splendour, and that France must rehabilitate the Lebanese environment.

My essay, which to my great surprise and deep gratitude won the Hakluyt Society’s essay prize, inquires into what forces shaped Wetterlé’s expectations. It investigates the diverse intellectual, scientific, and cultural sources of his belief in a degraded Arab environment and traces its trajectory through nineteenth-century scientific and travel writing to its influence in legitimating French Mandatory rule in Syria and Lebanon following World War I. I originally prepared this essay as part of my MA thesis at the American University in Cairo. It owes a great debt to the work of Richard Grove and Ussama Makdisi, but most importantly to Diana K. Davis and her concept of the “environmental imaginary.” This term is useful to capture the confluence of scientific, economic, religious, intellectual, emotional, and ideological forces at work in descriptions of nature.

Nineteenth-century visitors such as Ernest Renan, the Comte de Volney, and Alphonse de Lamartine, and later Mandatory officials such as Wetterlé and General Gouraud, had access to a great variety of textual and artistic representations of Greater Syria. These included classical and Arabic geographies, biblical accounts, and contemporary archaeological, climatological, and ethnographic science. They mobilized these sources to not only describe the Lebanese environment but to imagine its ancient natural state and prescribe methods to return Lebanon to that idealized condition. Biblical Lebanon’s dense cedar groves epitomized that ideal. Through a century of travel, writing, painting, and research, rehabilitating Mount Lebanon’s forests became part of France’s mission civilisatrice in the Levant and contributed to justifying their occupation and Mandatory rule. Syrian-Lebanese intellectuals did not passively receive this narrative, but rather contributed to its production and actively contested, negotiated, and reaffirmed it for their own purposes.

My interest in this subject emerged from my own work in reforestation, which provided a unique window into the relationship between efforts to extract natural resources and to preserve natural landscapes. Profound technological, economic, and scientific transformations over the last centuries have rearranged how most humans engage with the natural world. Indeed, many of us, myself included, can now only imagine nature as diminishing and fragile. In this light, environmental conservation efforts appear to be unambiguously positive practices. How then can we understand the discrepancy between these apparently noble intentions towards nature and the ease with which colonial officials translated them into a justification for colonial domination and violence? My intention with this essay was not to simply expose colonial conservation efforts as hypocritical, or debunk the nineteenth-century science that informed them, but to think about the longer trajectories of this relationship between nature and power.


Owain Lawson is a PhD student at Columbia University’s Department of History. His research focuses on the history of science, technology, and the environment in Lebanon and Greater Syria during the early twentieth century. He is in the early stages of developing a dissertation that explores the history of Lebanese hydroelectricity. Born in Ottawa, Canada, Owain received a B.A. from Concordia University in Montréal and an M.A. in Middle East Studies from the American University in Cairo.

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Tancrede R. Dumas, “Beirut Port”, Beirut, 1860-1870, Nawaf Salam Collection, Arab Image Foundation, Beirut.

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