Sir John Hawkins


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Harry Kelsey

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Although his cousin Sir Francis Drake is more famous, Sir John Hawkins (1532–1595) was a more successful seaman and played a pivotal role in the history of England and the emergence of the global slave trade. Born into a family of wealthy pirates, Hawkins became fascinated by tales of the riches of foreign lands. Early in his career he led an illegal expedition in which he captured three hundred slaves in Sierra Leone and transported them to the West Indies. There he traded them for pearls, hides, and sugar--thus giving birth to the British slave trade. His voyages were so lucrative that Queen Elizabeth herself sponsored subsequent missions.

Discouraged from his career as a pirate by a near-fatal encounter with angry Spanish troops, Hawkins spent much of his later life in England at the service of the queen. Although he committed treason, murder, and adultery at various points in his career, he was nonetheless knighted in 1588 for his role in defeating the Spanish Armada.

In this riveting book, Harry Kelsey, biographer of Sir Francis Drake, tells the story of this extraordinary man.

Harry Kelsey is a research scholar at the Huntington Library.

“A freshly documented and very readable biography of the second most famous of Elizabeth I’s seamen and one who turns out to have suffered from almost Shakespearean self doubts about where his loyalties lay.”—Peter Russell, author of Prince Henry the Navigator: A Life

“This biography constitutes the best account yet written of Hawkins as both seaman and state officer. All who are interested in the history of maritime enterprise, the origins of the slave trade, and the beginnings of the Royal Navy will benefit from reading this book.”—Douglas R. Bisson, Canadian Journal of History

“This engagingly written and meticulously researched biography sheds new light on the beginnings of British involvement in the slave trade. It clearly demonstrates that the rise of the Atlantic slave trade is best understood in the context of local ambitions, national politics, and international rivalries.”—Robert Harms, author of The Diligent: A Voyage Through the Worlds of the Slave Trade

"Fascinating . . . illuminating. . . . Hawkins was a 16th-century pirate, privateer, merchant, slave-merchant, leading captain against the Armada, naval administrator and dealmaker; the vitality of the life that Kelsey reanimates on the page brings to mind an Elizabethan Pepys. . . . One of the most richly and reliably detailed lives of an Elizabethan seaman yet written."—Adam Nicolson, Daily Telegraph

“[Kelsey] has produced a scholarly but highly readable biography of the man told against the backdrop of a remarkable period in the history of international power politics of England, Spain and its American colonies.”—Richard Pflederer, History Today

“This book is well produced with excellent maps and portraits. The notes provide further explanations of points made in the text and offer comparisons among sources, a fine guide to the craft of history. Thus a general readership could be expected to find this book a worthy buy.”—Robert McJimsey, H-Net Reviews

“Kelsey’s succinct and authoritative biography, which rests on an exact and discriminating command of sources in English, Spanish and Latin, supercedes its predecessors.”—Blair Worden, Sunday Telegraph

“This book about a great seaman is a work of scholarship that is, at the same time, a good read, a real-life page-turner. . . . Laws and licenses never much inhibited Sir John Hawkins, at home or abroad. The Elizabethan world is a great place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there. But Hawkins is well worth knowing, and Harry Kelsey’s book is a fine place to make his acquaintance.”—George Garrett, Washington Post Book World
ISBN: 9780300180558
Publication Date: March 3, 2003
416 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
23 b/w illus.
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