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II. Thomas Doughtie: the Martyr – Role in Drake's Expedition Edit

The beginning of the circumnavigation poses us with yet another mystery: what exactly was Doughtie’s role and the scope of his authority upon the voyage? After the fact, Drake is most certainly at pains to deny that Doughtie, or anyone else, has any authority at all except that which he himself has granted. According to Sir Francis the Younger’s effusive account, the authority he gives to Doughtie is extensive: Drake shows his favoritism by “...vsing him in a manner as another himselfe; giuing him the second place in all companies, in his presence; leauing in his hand the state, as it were, of his own person in his absence; imparting vnto him all his counsels; allowing him free liberty in all things that were reasonable...” (Drake 64). It is even more incredible considering that in this version of the story Drake already knows of Doughtie’s treachery.

Cooke’s account is more succinct: he states that the voyage departs with “Francys Drake, John Winter and Thomas Doughtie, as eqwall companyons and frindly gentlemen” (Cooke 187). Still in his twenties (Coote 91), Wynter is a peculiar choice for a co-equal commander; this was perhaps a concession to George and William Wynter, his powerful relatives who had staked a considerable amount in the venture. It would seem obvious that Doughtie had staked money in the venture as well. Why else would he accompany Drake? Doughtie’s investment is a fact assumed by almost every Drake biographer, even the staunchest of Drake’s supporters. Yet at Doughtie’s trial, reports that he had told several people he had staked money in the venture were held up against him as evidence of his sedition. The fact that they were included as evidence in Doughtie’s trial for mutiny demonstrates not only a complete disregard for justice, but Drake’s desperation to prove that Doughtie had no claim to authority whatsoever.

One man’s account, Thomas Blackeley, boatswain of the Pelican, is almost certainly inflated. He states that Doughtie invested £1500; whether this inaccuracy is due to Doughtie’s boasting or Blackley’s faulty memory will probably never be known. The other stories agree – Jhon Chester, John Saracold, Gregory Cary and Francis Fletcher attest that “he and our generall concluded in Iarland this viage to the value of 1000 marcks on Thomas Dowtyes part” (“Documents” 168). Fletcher goes on to say that Drake contacted Doughtie to come to Hawkins’ house with the money he had promised in Ireland. But according to the four men previously mentioned and another named Emanuell Wattkyns, this never happened because once some of the members of the Privy Council began investing, Drake decided that he “wold not suffer the sayd Thomas Dowtye to venture so much” (169).

So how much did Doughtie invest? There exists a record of the initial plan of the venture (Taylor pl. 1); unfortunately, the document is partially destroyed. The second page lists some of the contributors: The Earl of Leicester, Secretary Walsingham and Christopher Hatton are the first three legible names; their contributions are not listed. They are followed by Sir William Wynter £750, George Wynter and John Hawkins at £500 apiece, and finally Drake himself, contributing £1000. The list is burned away at the top; it is an open question whether it had been involved in a fire or whether the burning was intentional. There are clearly more names above the ones listed which are illegible to us, and it also seems that this might not be a final listing since three of the investors list no specific sum. It is unfortunate that we have no way of knowing whether Doughtie’s name was excluded from the plan, or whether his name was on the burned section of the document.

However, we have another document that gives more indication of Doughtie’s possible investment – his will, wherein he states, “And because I am nowe in this intended voyage to adventure a portion of my goodes which I doe take with me The suresse whereof dependethe on the blessings and will of god my will is that if it happen my adventure in this enterprise with the increase thereof not to amount to above Five hundreth poundes my brother John Doughtie shall have the whole to himselfe alone…” The figure may be inexact because Doughtie’s states specifically that his contribution is to be material instead of financial. This was not uncommon; Kelsey speculates that Queen Elizabeth’s investment took the form of her ship, the Swallow (82).


In all likelihood, the goods that Doughtie ventured were the arms and armaments of the soldiers who accompanied him. In many accounts of the voyage, Wynter is left out of count, and the supposition is made that Drake was to be in charge of the naval adventure, Doughtie of the military troops (eg. Silverberg 255); his rank is occasionally given as captain (Temple xxv) although this may be a simple confusion with his later captaincy of the Mary and the Pelican. We do know for a fact that Doughtie was a military man: Cooke mentions that he takes the troops on maneuvers when the fleet reaches Cape Blanc: “...here we remained fowre dayes, in the whiche tyme, by the means and procurement of Mastar Thomas Dowghtye, who was always carefull in that respecte and toke greate paynes in that behalfe, did here trayne his men in warlike order, for that they myghte not be vnskylfull in tyme of neade, and shewynge hym selfe not ygnoraunt, but as a good sowldior wayenge the inconvenience that want of good experience dyd evar bringe,” (189). Fletcher attests to the fact that Doughtie was “in Ireland an approvd soldier,” (Drake, Fletcher foootnote 63). It is unfortunate that we have no record of these activities, for in Ireland the extant documentation shows Doughtie only in his role as courtier. As for Doughtie’s retinue of soldiers and gentlemen, we know some of their names as well, for although they were not listed in Samuel Drake’s compilation of the people known to be on the circumnavigation, they are listed as beneficiaries in the codicil to Doughtie’s will, which was probably written on the day Drake granted him to arrange his affairs before his execution: Simon Woode, who was sexton to Sir William Wynter, William Haynes, Thomas Merfe, George Starbridge, Richard Rollo, Richard Clarke and William Webb. Of these men, the names of Woode and Haynes appear on the list of 29 men who witnessed a major outburst by Doughtie brought as evidence in his trial. Sugden claims that Doughtie transferred the money for unneeded funeral arrangements to his “friends” (111), but the context would seem to indicate that the men on this list are rather Doughtie’s employees. Although the codicil leaves £40 to Leonard Vicarye, none of Doughtie’s other friends or supporters (such as Cooke, Cuttill, Smythe etc.) are named as beneficiaries. Furthermore, the men on the list in the codicil are bequeathed relatively small sums of money (ranging from £5 to as little as 10 shillings) which are described as “pensions.” This leaves the impression that the bequest is a payment for services rendered, not a gift.

This idea that Drake and Doughtie split the responsibility for operations posits that there was a clear chain of command. In fact, it is likely there was not, which may have been one of the roots of the conflict between Drake and Doughtie. An essay by Réne Moelker reviewing the unpublished works of Norbert Elias is informative. Elias claims:

One of the first major conflicts between a tarpaulin commander and a gentleman commander was between two former friends, the privateer, Francis Drake and the soldier, Thomas Doughtie. The incident occurred in 1577/8 during Drake’s journey round the world. Drake himself was confident that Queen Elizabeth had installed him as supreme commander over his small fleet, a great honour for a tarpaulin officer. Doughtie and about a dozen officers did not contest Drake’s leadership at first but being nobles they did not regard themselves as Drake’s subordinates. They expected to be treated as equals and be consulted in Drake’s council. In fact, this was normal; in Elizabethan times even an admiral could not decide on his own. (380-381)

In fact, it was Drake’s execution of Doughtie that set the precedent for the idea that the captain is sole master of the ship: “And future generations of sea captains, in the British as well as foreign navies, could thank Drake for establishing their absolute authority – and thank the blood of Thomas Doughty,” (Herman 85). Indeed, there is a good body of evidence that Doughtie had every right to act as he did:

...in spite of this ostentation, he [Drake] was not a gentleman and never could have been; and men like Doughty, who were, believed they had authority too and should have their say in decision about the voyage. By all the old conventions, they were right. The Judgements of Oleron, 350 years before, had said that masters should consult their companies, and that was still more or less the custom in English ships. Moreover, when medieval knights embarked, ships’ masters did their bidding, and that was another custom of which the vestiges still survived: Sir Hugh Willoughby, for example, was a gentleman and a knight but not a seaman, and the practical seamen were his subordinates. (Howarth 145-146)

Considering this, it is surprising how many people argue that Doughtie was guilty of mutiny on the grounds that the captain is the sole authority on board his ship. A review of Barrow’s biography of Drake critiques this logic with considerable wit: “The argument...rests the vindication of a wrongful claim upon the necessity of upholding others of the same description. We can only hope that these luminous views of international law will not do prejudice to the interests of this country in any pending negotiations,” (“Barrow’s Life” 87).

Corbett states dismissively that there is no evidence that Doughtie held any commission at all, and that he was probably acting only as a gentleman volunteer in Hatton’s interests. Yet is certain that Doughtie had a greater role than anyone other than Drake in the voyage, for he is the only one who knew the secret of where they were truly going. Although Williamson claims, “…it is not absolutely clear that Thomas Doughty knew,” (172) by his own confession during his trial, Doughtie claims to have told Lord Burghley their plan. Drake’s horrified reaction indicates he understood that Doughtie was in possession of that information.

Corbett also reports a disruptive incident which happened on the fleet’s first abortive start in November 1577. The most complete version of the story is in Cooke, who informs us that while the ships were back in harbor for repairs due to the damages caused by the storm, Drake took offense with one James Stydye, the fleet’s victualler. Stydye, a skilled seaman, had served with both Doughtie and Drake in Ireland; he was captain of one of the ships in the blockade of Rathlin Island, and was, interestingly, paid exactly the same amount as Drake, a mere 42 shillings/month (Sugden 83). Corbett presumes that Stydye neglected his duty (Tudor Navy 230); Ronald goes further, accusing Stydye of underprovisioning the ships so that he could pocket the excess (214). There is some evidence of laxity on Stydye’s part found in the testimony of John Wynter, who claimed that when he arrived in Plymouth in September of 1577, the ships were not provisioned (Sir Francis Drake: an Exhibition 53). On the other hand, Wynter also claimed that the ships were “moste untakled, moste unbalested” as well, so perhaps the general disarray cannot be laid squarely at Stydye’s feet. According to Cooke, Drake dismisses him unfairly based upon personal dislike independent of the quality of his work (187). Considering the fate of Doughtie, Stydye could probably count himself fortunate to be cashiered.

The incident is mentioned again at the very beginning of the unidentified testimony which is probably Ned Bright’s. Bright’s testimony is a rambling mess, jumbling together a great number of statements by Doughtie that were supposedly made in Drake’s garden in Plymouth, on the Pelican, and on the Isle of Man indiscriminately. One obvious problem is that the fleet never sailed to the Isle of Man; most historians assume that Bright meant “Mayo,” an island off the coast of Africa where Doughtie was to lead an expedition. The conversation about Stydye probably took place during a dinner at Drake’s home at the time the fleet was in harbor. It is quite likely that parts of this discussion were fabricated or exaggerated by Bright; of the charges brought against him, Doughtie challenged only Bright’s testimony. Doughtie claimed that while he might have spoken briefly to Bright, it was certainly not with the familiarity which Bright assumes.

According to Bright, Doughtie begins by complaining about the dismissal of a James Lydye, who he feels is essential to the voyage (“Documents” 171). This is all Doughtie said concerning Stydye/Lydye. Corbett’s assumption that Styde had originally been engaged at Doughtie’s insistence (Tudor Navy 230) and Bawlf’s statement that Doughtie was upset because Drake did not consult him about the dismissal (77) are embellishments unsupported by the primary sources. Silverberg’s version of the affair is even more fanciful: “Thomas Doughty began to stir up dissension in the crew; Drake seemed unaware of the real source of the trouble and singled out one of Doughty's henchmen, James Syday, whom he dismissed from the voyage even though they were old friends who had seen military action together” (258). Somehow Doughtie’s natural unhappiness at what he may well have perceived as the unfair dismissal of an old comrade is twisted into Stydye serving as scapegoat for Doughtie’s nefarious actions.

If Bright is truthful, quite a bit more was stated than what Doughtie claimed he may – with fading memory - have said, “if we browght home gold we shuld be the bettar welcome” (Cooke 203). But there are problems with Bright’s story. The thought that he should have kept a few seemingly treasonous statements to himself for the length of the voyage did not sit well with Doughtie’s jury, who, according to Cooke, refused to consider his testimony despite Drake’s protestations that Bright was an honest man (Cooke 205). Bawlf attempts to defend him by saying that he was probably intimidated by the thought of conflict with a man of such influence as Doughtie (79). This is hardly credible; as will be seen, Bright’s later behavior scarcely gives the impression of a man intimidated by anything.

The World Encompassed takes another path entirely. Knowing that he needs Ned Bright’s testimony to be believed if Drake’s reputation is to remain unsullied, Sir Francis the Younger indulges in a practice known in literary circles as retconning: retroactive continuity, the act of rewriting a previous history to fall in line with the facts of a later revelation in the story. In this version, unsupported by any of the primary sources, Bright did report immediately to Drake, who was cognizant of the plot – and it is a completely realized plot to murder Drake as opposed to the blusteringly seditious bragging evidenced in Bright’s testimony – for the entire length of the voyage. Unfortunately, this makes the story less, not more, probable as now not only the honesty of Ned Bright is in question, but the sanity of Captain General Francis Drake, for who in his right mind would allow a master conspirator to have command of one of his ships, let alone function as his absolute representative in his absence? In the words of Samuel Johnson’s Life of Drake, “How far it is probable that Drake, after having been acquainted with this man's designs, should admit him into his fleet, and afterwards caress, respect, and trust him; or that Doughtie, who is represented as a man of eminent abilities, should engage in so long and hazardous a voyage, with no other view than that of defeating it; is left to the determination of the reader,” (118). But Sir Francis the Younger’s philosophy seems to have been that if he was going to tell a lie, it might as well be a big one – and if his audience was willing to buy the legend that Drake stopped his wife’s remarriage by shooting a cannonball into the church from halfway round the world, they would believe anything. Corbett’s defense that Drake might have known from the outset, but felt it impolitic to act against such a well-connected man as Doughtie (Tudor Navy 230) is slightly more credible, but it still seems unlikely that Drake would hand over command of the Mary, or even less so, the Pelican, to a suspected traitor.

Next page - Thomas Doughtie: the Martyr - The Atlantic Crossing

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