One of the things I find quite fascinating about my trying to graph the relationships among the movers and shakers of the mid seventeenth century is the degree of happenstance and coincidence.
For example, Thomas Herbert, who was appointed by Parliament to act as Charles Stuart’s personal secretary during his detention on the Isle of Wight and in Hurst Castle, and who was present at his execution in 1649, was also the first person to write about cuneiform in English, having traveled to Persia in the mid 1620’s with Robert Shirley and Dodmore Cotton.
England was of course seeking new sources of wealth at the time to rival Spain’s conquests in the new world and also to break the Dutch stranglehold on the spice trade.
And herein lies a tale. By the 1580’s Spanish rule in South America was a fact of life. The last major Inca rebellion had failed. At the same time privateers such as Drake and Raleigh were preying on Spanish ships, and Drake had managed to penetrate the Straits of Magellan. This was of great concern to Spain which was worried that the English would seek to establish a permanent presence on the Pacific coast of Latin America.
Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, someone who seems little known to the English speaking world, was appointed Governor of the Straits of Magellan and was ordered by Philip ii to mount an expedition to fortify the Strait of Magellan as a defence against English incursions.
This he did, establishing two settlements, both of which later failed. On his way back from Latin America, Sarmiento de Gamboa was captured by Walter Raleigh and taken to England where we was imprisoned for a while.
During his imprisonment, he had a conversation with Elizabeth I, in Latin, their only mutual language. As far as I am aware no record of the conversation exists, but the interesting part of the story is that Sarmiento de Gamboa was more than just another would be conquistador. An explorer and adventurer in his own right, voyaging as far into the Pacific as the Solomon Islands, he was also the author of the ‘History of the Incas’ the first comprehensive account in any European language of the Spanish conquest of the Inca polity it Peru.
One can only wonder what Sarmiento de Gamboa and Elizabeth talked about and what role it had in Elizabeth’s encouragement of the various merchant adventurer companies …
[update: I’ve just come across an English literature research paper that argues that the imagery in the Tempest may be inspired by an English translation of Sarmiento de Gamboa’s journals, which is interesting as it suggests that the translation was in circulation in London at the time, more interestingly, it also suggests that Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster, had de Gamboa’s journals translated – suggesting that Walsingham at least was well aware of Sarmiento de Gamboa’s value]
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