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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The Armada of the Strait, 1581-1584: Disastrous beginnings of an ill-fated enterprise

The latest Hakluyt Society publication, The Struggle for the South Atlantic: The Armada of the Strait, 1581-84, edited by Professor Carla Rahn Phillips, documents the story of The Armada of the Strait which sailed under Don Diego Flores de Valdés in 1581–4. The armada set out from south-western Spain in the fall of 1581, with twenty-three ships and 3,500 people on board. During its three years’ voyage, hundreds of people would drown in shipwrecks and hundreds more perished from disease and privation.

The first of such shipwrecks occurred in October 1581, just a few days after the departure of the armada from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, bound for Brazil. In this post, Professor Rahn Phillips introduces us to one of the most thrilling passages of the Relación of chief scribe Pedro de RadaThe excerpt is a translation from fols 4r–5r of the original manuscript, now held in the Huntington Library [1].


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[f. 4r] … Tuesday, the 3rd of October [1581], the eve of San Francisco, when we had sailed about 35 leagues from San Lucar, there began to be such strong wind from the south and south-west, with much shifting of the cargo, and things looked bad, so that it was indispensable that the armada take down its sails and heave to, until Friday, the 6th of the aforesaid, when the weather had such force that the galeaza capitana had to jettison some things, which was done.

And the weather worsened so much on this day that eight navios from the armada could not be seen. And the next day, Saturday the 7th, we found ourselves so off course that, though we were not ten leagues from the Baya de Cadiz, the pilots did not know where they were, and thus there were a thousand variations amongst them, until the capitana saw the land of Rotta downwind, and we found ourselves blown so far to leeward that, given the force of the weather, it was greatly feared that we would not be able to enter the Bayya de Cadiz.

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And thus we sailed toward it with great difficulty, close to the wind because the wind and sea were excessive, the galeaza capitana entering with another fifteen naos that were going with her. In sight of the city of Cadiz, the nao named Nuestra Senora de Guia whose captain was Martin de Quiros, went to the bottom in a trice, and all who were on her drowned, which was the greatest misfortune to see without being able to succour even a single man, although it was four in the afternoon; and 150 men and some women and children settlers were on this nao.

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[f. 4v] This day, the navio named Nuestra Señora de Buena Esperanza, on which Pero Estebanez de las Alas sailed as captain, was lost near Roctta, which it could not get round. The captain himself and one hundred other persons from this navio were drowned. This same day the navio named San Miguel was lost, whose Captain Hector Abarca was drowned with another eighty persons. This same day the nao named Sancti Yspiritu was lost near the Rio del Oro in El Picacho. The captain and owner was Juanes de Villaviciossa Lizarza, who had remained in San Lucar and did not go on the expedition, because he was given too little money as subsidy; and Captain Alvaro Romo sailed in her and was drowned with another 120 persons.

The nao almiranta, in which Diego de la Rivera sailed, entered into the bay the next day, Sunday the 8th of October, after nearly being lost next to Arenas Gordas. Another two naos entered San Lucar with great difficulty, one in which Don Alonso de Sotomayor sailed, and the other with Captain Gutiere de Solis. The latter was taken to the Cassa de la Contratacion in Seville under arrest, because he had left the nao before it entered into the port. Another nao entered Guelba, with its captain Jodar Alferez.

This incident and misfortune caused great pain and grief to all in the armada, and General Diego Florez felt it very much, because, besides the loss of so many people, provisions, artillery, and other munitions, many captains and [f. 5r] high-ranking dependents of his were drowned.

[1] Note that the spelling of place names, etc. follows the original manuscript. Spanish words that should have accents do not have them in the original text, so they are not added in the translation. Ship names and types are, however, placed in italics, for the sake of clarity if not consistency.

Carla Rahn Phillips, Union Pacific Professor  in Comparative Early Modern History (Emerita), retired from the University of Minnesota in 2013. She has  published numerous books, articles, and book chapters on the social and economic history of Spain and its maritime connections in the early modern world, including Six Galleons for the King of Spain (1986)The Treasure of the San Jose (2007), and (with William D. Phillips Jr.)The Worlds of Christopher Columbus (1993), and A Concise History of Spain (2010, 2nd ed. 2015).


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Personal conflict in the Armada of the Strait: Sarmiento versus Flores

In The Struggle for the South Atlantic: The Armada of the Strait, 1581-84, Professor Carla Rahn Phillips provides the first edition in any language of Pedro de Rada’s Relación, the hitherto unknown report written by the chief scribe of the Armada of the StraitThe Struggle for the South Atlantic contains a detailed eyewitness description of this ill-fated expedition, yet it contains more. In a recent interview, the Hakluyt Society Blog asked Professor Phillips about the troubled relationship between Don Diego Flores de Valdés, the Captain General of the Armada, and Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, governor-designate of the future colony at the Strait, as well as about the importance of the discovery of Rada’s manuscript.


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To start, could you say something about the personal conflict at the heart of the Armada of the Strait?

CRP: Like any large enterprise, the Armada of the Strait was bound to have a range of personalities and a certain amount of disagreement and friction among its participants. Nonetheless, one ongoing clash all but defined the Armada of the Strait: the enmity between Pedro Sarmiento, governor-designate of the colony to be planted at the Strait, and Don Diego Flores de Valdés, captain general of the armada as a whole. Their continual wrangles began during the planning stages of the armada in 1581 and continued after the expedition ended in 1584.

Historians know quite a bit about their disagreements, and virtually everyone who has written about the voyage has taken the side of Sarmiento. The likely reason is that Sarmiento wrote much of the documentation published up to now, endlessly arguing his own side of the story; praising his own actions; and accusing Flores of numerous character flaws, mistaken judgment, evil intent, incompetence, and fraud. In the published historical accounts that mention the voyage and the attempt to plant a colony at the Strait, Sarmiento emerges as a hero — flawed, as all heroes are — but a hero nonetheless. Flores emerges as a villain — or at best, as an inept foil for Sarmiento’s heroic actions.

Yet until recently Pedro de Rada’s ‘Relación’ has remained unknown..

CRP: Exactly! As the expedition’s chief scribe, Pedro de Rada wrote thousands of pages of official documentation. Philip II requested all of these records shortly after Flores returned to Spain in July 1584. However, Rada had also written a Relación or report covering the entire voyage, with copies of various official documents appended. This detailed first-hand account remained in private hands until 1999, when it was acquired by the Huntington Library and made available to the research community. 

Rich in detail and human drama, Rada’s Relación provides a unique perspective on the events and personalities involved in the Armada of the Strait. Until it surfaced, the Armada  was known largely from the point of view of Sarmiento, whose version of events overwhelmed all other voices regarding the armada and influenced generations of historians. Important in this respect was that, in 1895, the Hakluyt Society published translated excerpts from Sarmiento’s voluminous writings, edited by Clements R. Markham. By contrast, Pedro de Rada’s Relación provides the reader with an official, dispassionate voice to contrast with the self-serving accounts by Sarmiento.

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Luís de Texeira, Map of the Captaincies of Brazil (c. 1574). Biblioteca de Ajuda, Lisbon

Reading Rada’s Relación against existing documentation, what new conclusions can be drawn about the Armada of the Strait?

CRP: Rada’s Relación clearly shows how the most meticulous plans for overseas ventures could be wrecked by the hazards inherent in sailing into largely unknown waters, yet also how those plans could  be jeopardized by personal conflicts that had entirely human causes. In modern histories of early exploration and colonization, mention of personal antagonisms is generally avoided as a petty distraction from the central, heroic narrative. Likewise, Rada’s laconic account only hints at the ongoing clash between Flores and Sarmiento. Nonetheless, by reading Rada’s journal in the light of the extensive Spanish documentation about the preparations for the voyage, we can understand the difficulties posed by the enmity between Sarmiento and Flores and appreciate what the expedition was able to accomplish despite that enmity.

The Relación chronicles an expedition that was launched with extraordinary effort at a critical period in Spanish exploration and colonization. Despite all the careful planning that preceded its departure, the armada suffered more calamities than many other expeditions, partly due to chance, but also due to the irrational schemes of Pedro Sarmiento, whom so many historians have praised as a visionary hero.

Pedro de Rada’s Relación, together with a selection of instructions and reports pertaining to the Armada of the Strait, are now made available for the first time, in English translation, by Professor Carla Rahn Phillips for the Hakluyt Society. Order your copy here.


Carla Rahn Phillips, Union Pacific Professor  in Comparative Early Modern History (Emerita), retired from the University of Minnesota in 2013. She has  published numerous books, articles, and book chapters on the social and economic history of Spain and its maritime connections in the early modern world, including Six Galleons for the King of Spain (1986)The Treasure of the San Jose (2007), and (with William D. Phillips Jr.)The Worlds of Christopher Columbus (1993), and A Concise History of Spain (2010, 2nd ed. 2015).


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New Hakluyt Society Publication: The Struggle for the South Atlantic: The Armada of the Strait, 1581-84

To start 2017 in great spirits, the Hakluyt Society has just released its latest publication: Carla Rahn Phillips (ed.), The Struggle for the South Atlantic: The Armada of the Strait, 1581-84, which has been distributed to Hakluyt Society members free of charge. The Struggle for the South Atlantic documents the story of that little-known ‘other Armada’, the Armada of the Strait, whose eventful journey was hardly less desastrous than that of the Armada of 1588. Professor Carla Rahn Phillips (University of Minnesota) presents us with the first edition ever to appear in print of the chronicle kept by Pedro de Rada, the official scribe of the armada. Her expert English translation is preceded by an extensive critical introduction. In this first of three blog posts, Professor Phillips introduces the new volume.


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The Armada of the Strait under Don Diego Flores de Valdés in 1581–4 came at a crucial juncture in global politics. Philip II of Spain had assumed the crown of Portugal and its overseas empire, and Francis Drake’s daring peacetime raids had challenged the dominance of Spain and Portugal in the Americas. Drake’s attacks had demonstrated the vulnerability of both Spanish and Portuguese colonies, and intelligence reports indicated that other English adventurers hoped to replicate Drake’s successful melding of trade and plunder.

It was clear to Philip and his councillors that something had to be done quickly to safeguard the Americas. The armada was intended to ensure the loyalty of Portuguese Brazil; bolster its defences against hostile native peoples as well as English and French pirates and interlopers; and fortify and settle the Strait of Magellan to prevent further incursions into the Pacific.

The Armada of the Strait under set out from south-western Spain in the fall of 1581, with twenty-three ships and 3,500 people, including officers, royal officials, sailors, soldiers, and settlers with their families. Despite careful planning, the expedition suffered terrible losses from the very beginning and hardships throughout. Hundreds of people drowned in shipwrecks and hundreds more perished from disease and privation.

Several ships were lost or so damaged by storms that they could not continue. A contingent of the armada finally was able to establish 338 persons at the Strait, following two earlier failed attempts.  Other contingents from the armada skirmished with an English expedition under Edward Fenton, expelled French interlopers from north-eastern Brazil, and improved the defences of several coastal regions. The armada officially ended when Flores arrived back in Spain with five ships and some 600 men in July of 1584. In September of that year, another three ships and 200 men arrived with the armada’s second in command, Almirante Diego de la Rivera, who had carried the colonizers to the Strait.

Pedro de Rada, the official scribe of the armada, kept a detailed, neutral chronicle of the venture which remained in private hands until 1999 but is now held in the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino, California. It is now published for the first time, as the latest Hakluyt Society publication (Third Series, Vol. 31). Previous historical assessments of the expedition have largely reflected the writings of Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, governor-designate for the planned colony at the Strait, who blamed all the misfortunes of the enterprise on Diego Flores de Valdés. Rada’s Relación is presented here in conjunction with other documentation and compared with Sarmiento de Gamboa’s accusations.

The results will force scholars to revise long-standing conclusions regarding the place of Sarmiento and Flores in Spanish history and the accomplishments of a long-forgotten armada sent into the terrifying waters of the South Atlantic.

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Carla Rahn Phillips, Union Pacific Professor  in Comparative Early Modern History (Emerita), retired from the University of Minnesota in 2013. She has  published numerous books, articles, and book chapters on the social and economic history of Spain and its maritime connections in the early modern world, including Six Galleons for the King of Spain (1986)The Treasure of the San Jose (2007), and (with William D. Phillips Jr.)The Worlds of Christopher Columbus (1993), and A Concise History of Spain (2010, 2nd ed. 2015).


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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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