Society for the History of Discoveries

Ita Rubio, Lourdes. Viajeros isabelinos en la Nueva España. Michoacan, Mexico: Institute of Historical Research of the University of San Nicolas de Hidalgo, 2001. 230 p. ISBN 968166258X.

The title of this book means: Elizabethan travelers in New Spain. Part I deals with English merchants who traded with Mexico. Part II is about the three pirates John Hawkins, Francis Drake, and Thomas Cavendish. Part III contains the stories of two of the 114 English sailors who were abandoned by John Hawkins on the coast of Tampico after the battle of St. John of Ulua (Veracruz) in 1568.

The basis for this book was the author’s doctoral thesis. Her main sources were the works of Richard Hakluyt, and her intention appears to have been to let Mexicans know about those English sources for the history of old Mexico. This all becomes clear in the epilogue, which should have been the foreword. In fact, the table of contents is printed at the back of the book, according to the old European style, and there is no true index.

The pirates featured in this book are well known to English-speaking historians, but few readers would have paid much attention to the narratives of Miles Philips and John Hortop, also published by Hakluyt. The author has found in the records of the Inquisition in Mexico City some proofs of the terrible ordeals of the English prisoners after their capture: they were despoiled, brought in chains to the capital, tried by the Inquisition, but not until many had died of ill treatment, either at the hands of the still-wild Chichimeca Indians, or at the hands of ignorant Spaniards. Some were tried as heretics, and even burned at the stake, while others languished aboard galleys belonging to the King of Spain. It is only fair to mention that the worst treatment of these English prisoners occurred after the 1588 disaster of the Spanish Armada, i.e. in wartime. Finally, a large number of English survivors remained in New Spain forever; they married Mexicans and disappeared from history. At least, their descendants are not known – an indication, I think, that their children may have taken the name of their mothers.

The author has pointed out the impact of John Hawkins upon both New Spain, Spain, and indeed the whole of Europe. Firstly, in Mexico, Viceroy Enriquez de Almansa ordered the construction of a new fort at Veracruz, at about 1570, and the depopulation of the coastal areas. Back in England, Hawkins began to propose changes in the design of warships that were not only instrumental in the victory of the English over the Spanish in 1588, but also over ship design elsewhere.

It would have been interesting to find more details about the effects of the pirate incursions in New Spain and the changes in ship designs in question. Another criticism of this book is that it is too academic in nature: too many footnotes, and endless repetitions, albeit within different contexts. However, the author is to be praised for having gone to England to look for “new” information about the history of her country. If only more English-speaking historians looked to Spanish documents for complementary information on the history of their own country!

Rod Lévesque

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