Sir Francis Drake and the Famous Voyage, 1577-1580.

An handsome volume celebrating the 400th anniversary of Drake’s voyage to New Albion in 1577, a collection of essays by some of the luminaries of geographic and cartographic history in the later 20th century: John Parry, David Waters, David Quinn, Helen Wallis, and Thrower himself, among others. It is full of puzzles, enigmas, speculations, secrets, etc. There is this intriguing passage at the end of Helen Wallis’ substantial and fascinating essay on “The Cartography of Drake’s Voyage”:

p. 159: In trying to decipher their secrets [Drake’s maps] we should remember Raleigh’s words: “Therefore the fictions (or let them be called conjectures) painted in Maps, doe serve only to mislead such discouerers as rashly believe them, drawing upon the publishers, either some angrie curses, or well deserved scorn, but to keep their owne credit they cannot serue alwaies.” Telling the story of Sarmiento’s jest, he continues: “But in filling up the blankes of old Histories, we need not be so scrupulous. For it is not to be feared, that time should runne backward, and by restoring the things themselves to knowledge, make our conjectures appear ridiculous.”

This is a warning from Drake’s own time not to place too much credence on map evidence alone. Filling in the blanks of old histories also has its perils. Time may be reserving some surprises which would reduce our speculations to the level of Sarmiento’s painter’s wife’s island. (see p. 152-53)

p. 6, John Parry essay on “Drake and the World Encompassed,” on the trial and execution in Brazil of Thomas Doughty for treason: Doughty, like many others of that time, found it hard to take orders from a social inferior. He was an educated man, clever, carping, essentially destructive. The sailors in the company disliked him and accused him of “conjuring”; he had books in foreign languages with which, they said, he conjured up bad weather. Whether Drake believed this, who can say? Doughty was sacrificed, perhaps necessarily, to the principle of unified command—and no one thereafter questioned Drake’s authority.

p. 22-25, David Waters essay on “Elizabethan Navigation”: How, aside from the instruction of Cabot and his prot égés, did the Elizabethans learn navigation? Some picked it up from renegade Portuguese and Spanish pilots, or from Frenchmen who had acquired it from Portuguese, Spanish, or Italian navigators. During Elizabeth’s reign, most learned it by apprenticeship to English masters, who increasingly gained their knowledge and skill from books related to the art of navigation. More and more such books were written by Englishmen, and in the latter part of Elizabeth’s reign, waggoners from Holland added to the material available. [A long section on important early navigation publications in England follows.]

p. 31: Although for reasons of state the ways and means by which Drake navigated are not known in detail, and only the memory of the voyage remains, it is possible—as attempted here—to reconstitute the books, charts, and instruments he used with such unprecedented skill and to such great effect.

p. 117, Jewkes: The most interesting thing in this whole patchwork of material is perhaps Burton’s note that John Davies of Deptford had some planks from the Golden Hind made into a chair, which was presented to the University Library at Oxford. Burton quotes a poem by “a Reverend Poet of this kingdome” entitled “Upon the Poet’s sitting and drinking in the chair made out of the Relicks of Sir Francis Drake’s Ship”

p. 137, Wallis: The much fuller version of the [Magellan] voyage written by Antonio Pigafetta was produced in four manuscript copies, one in Italian and three in French, presumably for four different patrons. A French version was printed in Paris and appeared sometime between 1526 and 1536. Richard Eden’s edition of 1555, or the later Willes edition of Eden, was one of the books Drake took with him on the voyage.

p. 168, Thrower: A high point of the voyage [of a Spanish ship captured by English pirates and renamed Trinity] was the capture of a Spanish derrotero, or pilot book, by which the English gained secret cartographic intelligence. By sailing south of the Strait of Magellan, Sharp and his crew became the first Englishmen to round Cape Horn from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Some of those who returned to England were tried, but perhaps because of the capture of the derrotero, which was of great potential value to the English, they were exonerated.

p. 186-87, Draper: Gomez Rengifo…was carried aboard Drake’s ship. He gives an account of his conversations with Drake and reports that Drake read from a book that is presumably Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

1586-88 English Privateering Voyage around the World (Sir Thomas Cavendish aboard Desire)