23 April 2022
· The travels and travails of Edward Webbe, in his own words ·
I’ve transcribed Webbe’s Troublesome Travels (1590) without fancy text formatting, to keep it simple. I retained his long paragraphs; the headers indicate the unnumbered page breaks. The woodcut illustrations are placed where they’re found in the original.
A minimum of small edits only, to (slightly) smooth the syntax for modern ears. Webbe was no Shakespeare but I didn’t want to rewrite him. Old names have been given their modern equivalents– Cairo for Caer, etc. There are a few clarifications in [brackets].
Much Noise No Nuts, Part 2 has the backstory. I’d suggest you read it first then return here for the travelogue itself, but either way works. The more you know about me, the more fun you should have with this.
One picture postcard to point your journey in the right direction. You may already know that Elizabeth gave playful nicknames to her favourites and advisers. Leicester was Eyes, Walsingham was Moor, Burghley was Spirit, Robert Cecil was Pygmy, Hatton was Mutton or sometimes Lids.
I was Turk.
The Rare and Most Wonderful Things which Edward Webbe, an Englishman born, has seen and passed in his troublesome travels in the cities of Jerusalem, Damascus, Bethlehem, and Galilee; and in the lands of Jewry, Egypt, Greece, Russia, and Prester John.
Wherein is set forth his extreme slavery sustained many years together in the galleys and wars of the great Turk, against the lands of Persia, Tartaria, Spain, and Portugal, with the manner of his release and return to England in May last.
Newly enlarged and corrected by the Author.
Printed for William Wright.
The Epistle Dedicatory
To the most Mighty, my gracious and renowned Sovereign, Elizabeth by the grace of God Queen of England, France, and Ireland, defender of the faith, etc., Your Highness’s most humble subject Ed. Webbe heartily prays for the continuance of your Majesty’s health and prosperous reign to the world’s end.
Considering (most gracious and dread Sovereign) the wonderful providence of almighty God shown to your Highness since the time of your most happy and prosperous reign, as well in the preservation of your Majesty’s person from the hands of your Highness’s enemies, as also in defending this small Angle or Realm of England from the force of foreign foes, and the continual blessings of peace and plenty, with whichever since He has in bountiful sort maintained it: I could not therefore but (according to my duty) render humble thanks to almighty God for the same, when to my great comfort, even in the midst of my grievous thralldom in Turkey, I heard it most truly reported by a Christian captive, and your Highness’s clemency by him highly commended. The report of whose fame truly described, as well in the adminstration of justice and supporting of Christian religion, as also in relieving and succouring the poor distressed members of this land, gave me just cause to pray heartily for my delivery, and to long inwardly until I came to see your Highness (my dread Sovereign) and this my native country. And now having obtained my long expected wish, I do in all humbleness prostrate myself and this plain discourse of my travels to your most excellent Majesty: wherein may be seen that if in Turkey I would have denied my Christ, or in my travail would have forsaken my Prince to have served Spain, thereby to have become a traitor to your Majesty and my native country, I needed not to have lived in want, but in great prosperity. But forasmuch as almighty God has now set me free from thralldom and delivered me from many dangers, and sent me into England, my desire is that I may be employed in such service and affairs as may be pleasing to God, and found profitable to my Prince and country. And thus trusting your Highness will accept in good worth this true discourse though rudely penned I humbly take my leave, praying for the prosperous health and continual reign of your most excellent Majesty.
Your Highness’s most humble subject.
The Epistle to the Reader
Courteous Reader, I have undertaken in this short discourse to utter the most part of such things as I saw and passed in the time of my troublesome travel and slavish life sustained in the galleys and wars of the great Turk.
And this I protest, that in this book there is nothing mentioned or expressed but that which is of truth, and what my own eyes have perfectly seen. Some foolish persons perhaps will cavil and say that these are lies and feigned fables, and that it contains nothing else: but to those I answer that whatsoever is herein mentioned, he whosoever he be that shall so find fault and doubt of the truth hereof, let him but come and confer with me or make enquiry of the best and greatest travellers and merchants about all this land, and they doubtless shall be resolved that this is true which is here expressed, with a great deal more which now I cannot call to remembrance, for that my memory faileth me by means of my great and grievous troubles.
And whereas in the first edition of this book a great fault in number did negligently escape in Folio 3, in these words: 30 thousand for 300 thousand, and 50 thousand for 500 thousand. That fault is truly amended in this edition. From my lodging at Blackwall, this nineteenth day of May, 1590.
Your loving countryman,
Verses written upon the Alphabet of the Queen’s Majesty’s name
E ternal God who guideth still your Grace,
L engthen your life in health and happy state
I nspire your subjects’ hearts in every place,
Z ealous in love and free from secret hate,
A nd shorten life in those that breed debate.
B ehold her Lord, who is our strength and stay,
E ven she it is, by whom we hold our own:
T urn not thy face from her in any way,
H ew down her foes and let them all be known.
R enowned Queen your Highness’s subjects’ joy,
E ven for to see the fall of all your foes,
G od of his mercy shield you from annoy,
I ntended treasons still for to disclose:
N one of us all but will most duly pray,
A lmighty God preserve you night and day.
I Edwarde Webbe an Englishman, born at Saint Katherine’s near the Tower of London, was the son of one Richard Webb master gunner of England. My father having some natural affection for me, when I was but 12 years old preferred me to the service of Captain Jenkinson at such time as he was sent ambassador into Russia, with whom I went by sea and upon him I was daily attendant. In which my journey I was conversant among the people of that country which were apparelled like the Turks and Tartarians, with furred caps and long garments down to their shins much like carbines [musketeers] or horsemen ready for war. There I made my abode some space in the head city of Russia called Moscow, in which their building is all of fir except the Emperor’s court which is of lime and stone. They execute very sharp laws among themselves, and are a kind of tyrannous people as appears by their customs. Of which among many other these I specially noted, viz. that if any man be indebted one to another, and does not make payment at his day and time appointed, the officers may enter upon the debtors and forceably break down their houses and imprison them in grievous sort. Where judgement shall presently pass against him, which is, with a mallet of wood he shall have so many blows on the shins or on the forehead as the judge shall award, and this punishment shall be inflicted sundry days upon him. The Turks also used to beat debtors with a mallet, but not in this sort, for in Turkey they are beaten for debt upon the soles of the feet with a cane or cudgel if payment be not made by a day. I also noted that if any nobleman offend the Emperor of Russia, the said
nobleman is taken and imprisoned with all his children and kinfolk, and the first great frost that comes (for the country is wonderfully cold and subject to frosts) there is a great hole made in the ice over some great river, and then the principal party is first put in, and after him his wife, his children, and all other of his kinfolk, and to leave none of his posterity to possess his lands or goods, but the same are bestowed upon others at the Emperor’s pleasure. There I stayed three years attendant on my master, in which time the Crimean Tartarians, otherwise named the new Christians, made war upon the said city of Moscow. Which soon after was betrayed and speedily burned, the people in great abundance massacred, and the Tartarian soldiers had wonderful rich spoils in the same. There was I at that time with seven other Englishmen taken prisoner, and for slaves we were altogether conveyed to Caffa [now Feodosia, on the Crimean peninsula], where the king of the Tartarians abides and keeps a stately court. Being conveyed there we were set to wipe the feet of the king’s horses, and to become ordinary slaves in the court: to fetch water, cleave wood, and to do such other drudgery. There we were beaten three times a week with a bull’s pizzle or a horsetail. And in this sort and miserable servitude we stayed there five years, then we were ransomed from thence by our friends, where we paid every man three hundred crowns which is seven shillings sixpence apiece of current English money. Among that people called the Tartarians I noted specially this one thing, that their newborn children never open their eyes until they are nine days and nine nights old. Thus being ransomed as aforesaid, I returned home to England, where having stayed some small time I went again into Russia in the Hart [ship] of Master King’s at Ratcliffe, with thirty sail of ships more in our company, at which time her Majesty’s ship called the Willoughby was our admiral, and the Harry
appertaining to the company of merchants was our vice-admiral, Master William Burrough then being our captain and master. In which voyage we met with five rovers or men-of-war whom we set upon, and burnt their admiral and brought those ships into Narva [in Estonia], and there the men were massacred in this manner by the Russians: first great stakes were struck into the ground, and they spitted upon poles as a man would put a pig upon the spit, and so seven score were handled in that manner in a very tyrannous sort. We unladed our burden at Narva, and took in other lading for our commodities, but the ship in which I was, which was called the Hart, having sailed but twelve miles from there broke upon a rock, whereby the ship and goods were lost. The rest of the fleet had no harm, and all the men in our ship saved their lives by taking them into the boat of the said ship.
By means of which ship so cast away I lost all that I had, and then came again into England and gathered a new stock, and in the Henry of London I went to Livorno alias Leghorn. This ship called the Henry had been sold before to Doctor Hector and other Italian merchants, which was unknown to us so that at our coming to Leghorn the ship was seized on by the factors of those that were the owners thereof, and by them laden with merchandise to Alexandria, in which ship myself was master gunner.
But here Fortune began to lower on me again, and turn her wheel in such sort against me, that I was soon after brought to live in greater slavery than ever before. For we having safely arrived at Alexandria discharged our burden and freighted our ship with great store of that country’s commodities, and returning back to Leghorn, suddenly in the way we met with fifty sail of the Turk’s galleys, with which galleys we fought two days and two nights, and made great slaughter among
their men, we being in all but threescore men, very weak for such a multitude. And having lost fifty of our 60 men, faintness constrained us to yield to them, by reason that we lacked wind to help ourselves, and the calm was so great a help to them as there was no way for us to escape. Thus did the Turks take the ship and goods, and in the same found ten of us living whom they took prisoners, and presently stripped us naked and gave us 100 blows apiece with an ox pizzle, for presuming to fight against them.
Then we were sent to Constantinople and committed to the galleys, where we continued the space of five years. The manner of our usage there was thus: first, we were shaven head and face, and then a shirt of cotton and breeches of the same put upon us, our legs and feet left naked. And by one of the feet is each slave chained with a great chain to the galley, and our hands fastened with a pair of manacles. The food which I and others ate was very black, far worse than horse-bread, and our drink was stinking water unless it be when we came to the places where we took in fresh sweet water, at which time we supposed our diet to be very dainty.
This as I said before, I remained five years in this miserable estate, wonderfully beaten and misused every day. There have I seen my fellows when they have been so weak they could not row by reason of sickness and
faintness, where the Turks would lay upon them as upon horses, and beat them in such sort as oft times they died, and then threw them into the sea.
Thus seeing myself still to continue in this miserable state, I was constrained for want of victuals to discover myself and to show them that I had good skill in gunner’s art, which I thought would have been greatly well esteemed at the Turk’s hands. But then for the same I was more narrowly looked unto, yet somewhat better esteemed of than I was before. Not long after, the Turk made wars against the Persians and gathered 700 thousand men together, and these were conducted by his chief Pashas into Persia. At which time (for that I had skill in artillery) I was chosen forth of the galleys to go with the army into Persia, and there to do the Turk service in the field, with whom I travelled on foot, but in our going thither there died of our army by means of great sickness, disdiet, and want of victuals, about the number of 300 thousand, so that when we came into Persia we were 400 thousand strong in the field. There we rested one month, by which time we having hardened ourselves gave a fierce assault upon the Persians, where the Turk’s side got the worst and lost 60 thousand men. Then the general over the Turk’s army, whose name was Sinan Pasha, sent us so many soldiers more as made us 500 thousand strong. There we stayed a long time, making wars against the Persians and the great city of Damascus, where the Turk little prevailed. For if the Turk were as politic as he is strong of power, the Persians would not be able to resist him. Thus leaving the Turk’s army in Persia, we came through Damascus to our city called the great Cairo, which is threescore miles in compass and is the greatest city in the world. It stands upon the River Nile, and in the city there are twelve thousand churches which they term muskots [mosques].
This city at all times keeps forty thousand men continually in soldier’s pay, and are ready at one hour’s warning to serve under the great Turk. There we stayed to see the cutting or parting of the River Nile, which is done once every year upon the 25th day of August. This city stands in the land of Egypt, and is under the government of the great Turk. And there is a king over the city who is called the king of the great Cairo, and is like the viceroy or lieutenant to the great Turk. He is then present at the cutting of the River Nile at which there is a great triumph, and every town and country round about to the value of a thousand miles sends gifts and presents to the king of the great Cairo, in consideration of the water which comes to them from that River Nile by means of the cutting of it, which is but once every year.
It is therefore to be known that in the land of Egypt it rains not at all, and all the ground throughout the land is continually watered by the water which upon the 25th day of August is turned into the countries round about. By means of the wonderful growing and swelling of the water upright without any stay at all, on one side thereof to the height of a huge mountain, which begins to increase the 15th day of August, and by the 25th of August is at the highest. On which day it is cut, by the dividing of two pillars in a strange sort near to the city of the great Cairo, and so turned off as from a great mountain into the land of Egypt, by means whereof the Turk holds all the land of Egypt in subjection to himself, and might if he would, dismiss them clean from having any water at all.
From there I went with the Turk’s power and under his conduction to the land of Jewry, and from there to the city of Jerusalem, where part of the old Temple is yet standing, and many monuments of great antiquity,
as herein after shall be shown. In the land of Syria there is a river that no Jew can get or catch any fish in it at all, and yet in that river there is a great store of fish like salmon trouts. But let a Christian or a Turk come there and fish for them, and either of them shall catch them in great abundance. If they but put their hand in the water with a little bread, a hundred will be about his hand.
Thus having seen a number of rare and most wonderful things, we went to the city of Goa which is the head and chief city in all the East Indies. There we gave battle against the Christians that keep that city, which are Portuguese, for that town appertains to the king of Portugal. There we gave battle and lost three score thousand of the great Turk’s men, and yet could not obtain it. Nevertheless the great Turk’s lieutenant or general with his power took a place called Armous, where they had a great store of treasure and sows [ingots] of silver.
Thus being chief master gunner in these Turkish wars, I was sent for again by commandment of the Turk to Damascus, where I stayed all that winter with twenty thousand men. And from thence made provision to make war against the land of Prester John, who is by profession a Christian. In this land of Prester John, when it rains it continues for at least a whole month. And in the great Cairo there is a plague once in every seventh year which comes with such a fierceness that the most part of all the people there die of this plague, and people in great numbers lose their eyesight with the vapours and great heat which comes from the ground.
I remember one battle which the admiral of the great Turk named Ali Pasha made with three score galleys, and seized upon a town where Ali Pasha was born himself, named Trybusas [Tropea], which is in the confines of Calabria and under the government of
the king of Spain. At which town he landed his army an hour before dawn thinking to have taken it by treason, and thereupon in great fury scaled the walls with ladders. But the watch betrayed us, and suddenly cried Army, Army, which was soon done, for every man took to his tasks and weapons of defence. But it is worthy of memory to see how the women of that town plied themselves with their weapons, making a great massacre upon our men, and murdered 500 of them in such speedy and furious sort as is wonderful. We need not to have feared their men at all, had not the women been our greatest overthrow. At which time I myself was master gunner of the admiral’s galley, yet chained grievously and beaten naked with a Turkish sword flatling, for not shooting where they would have me, and where I could not shoot.
It is but a few years since in the city of Constantinople there happened a great plague, where there died in six months’ space seven hundred thousand persons, at which time Master Harbourne, master for the Turkey company was there, and lost sundry of his servants.
From Damascus we went into the land of Prester John who is a Christian, and is called Christien de Sentour, that is, the Christian of the Girdle. Against this Prester John I went with the Turk’s power, and was then their master gunner in the field. The number of Turkish soldiers sent there was five hundred thousand men who went by land and pitched themselves in battle array at Saran, near the place where the son of Prester John keeps his court. There Prester John with his power slew Turks to the number of sixty thousand, only by policy of drawbridges to let forth water made secret sluices for that purpose, in which water so many Turks perished. The next day following, the Turk’s power encompassed Prester John’s son and took him prisoner, and sent him for a present to the
great Turk’s court then being at Constantinople. But soon after, Prester John himself made an agreement between the great Turk and his son, that the one should not demand tribute of the other, and so his son was released and sent home again.
It is to be understood that the great Turk paid tribute to Prester John before the time of these wars, and the Turk demanded a tribute of Prester John’s son, which had been paid to him many years before. Whereupon Prester John, when his son was taken prisoner, gave consent to forgive the one tribute for the other, and thereby they were set at liberty the one from the other.
This Prester John of whom I spoke before is a king of great power, and keeps a very bountiful court after the fashion of that country, and has every to day to serve him at his table 60 kings wearing leaden crowns on their heads. And these serve the meat to Prester John’s table, and continually the first dish of meat set upon his table is a dead man’s skull clean picked and laid in black earth, putting him in mind that he is but earth and must die. These 60 kings are all his viceroys in several places, and they have their deputies to supply their rooms. These kings live continually in Prester John’s court and go no further than they may still be attendant on him without leave from their Emperor Prester John.
In the court of Prester John there is a wild man, and another in the high street at Constantinople, whose allowance is every day a quarter of raw mutton. And when any man dies for some notorious offense, then they [the wild men] are allowed every day a quarter of the man’s flesh. These wild men are chained fast to a pole every day, the one in Prester John’s court and the other in the high street of Constantinople, each of them having a mantle cast about their
shoulders, and all over their bodies they have wonderful long hair. They are chained by the neck, and will speedily devour any man that comes in their reach.
There is a beast in the court of Prester John called Arians, having four heads. They are shaped like a wild cat, and are of the height of a mastiff cur.
In this court there are also fowls called Pharaoh’s fowls, whose feathers are very beautiful to be worn. These fowls
are as big as a turkey, their flesh is very sweet, and their feathers are all manner of colours.
There are swans in that place which are as large again as the swans of England, and their feathers are as blue as any blue cloth.
I have seen in a place like a park adjoining Prester John’s court, three score and seventeen unicorns and elephants all alive at one time, and they were so tame that I have played with them as one would play with young lambs.
These elephants together with many other wild and tame beasts will not drink any water until the unicorns begin thereof. These unicorns when they come to drink of any river, they put in their horn which is blackish and short, and forth from that water will rise a great scum, and thereby cleanse all the filth and corruption that is within the same. And this horn grated to powder in drink is a present remedy against any manner of poison.
When Prester John is served at his table there is no salt at all set on in any saltcellar as in other places, but a loaf of bread is cut across, and then two knives are laid across on the loaf, and some salt put on the blades of the knives, and no more.
Being thus in the land of Prester John, I travelled within eighteen degrees of the sun, every degree being in distance three score miles.
I was at the Red Sea at the place where Moses made passage with his wand for the children of Israel, where I saw a ship called the Grand Maria that draws but 11 feet of water, and against this ship three score galleys and ships have fought at one time and cannot conquer her. And this is under the government of the great Turk.
This ship is built almost flat, and is of such burden that she will carry in her ten thousand fighting men with their furniture.
I have been in the courts of three great Patriarchs, the first whereof is kept at Jerusalem, the second at the grand Cairo, and the third is at Constantinople. These have their courts in very stately sort, and attended on by none but priests.
When I was at Jerusalem I saw the sepulchre wherein it is said that Christ was buried. It is as it were in a vault, and has seven doors and seven rows of marble steps or stairs to go down into the same, and then at the bottom of the stairs there is a fair chapel with an altar and a lamp burning continually day and night before it, and the grave is full of white earth as white as chalk, and a tomb of the same earth made and laid upon stone whereon are sundry letters written, but I could not read them. Upon the left hand of which chapel is a rock of stone of a blackish colour, being all of that stone that we commonly call the lodestone, which is of this nature: that it will draw iron unto it. This stone is the principalest instrument which mariners and sailors use for directing their compasses at sea.
The great Turk has some profit coming by the keeping of this monument, and has therefore built at his own charge an hospital within Jerusalem, which his janissaries keep. And this hospital is to receive all pilgrims and travellers to lodge in, whensoever they come. And all that come to see the sepulchre pay ten crowns apiece, whereof the Turk has but one, and the rest goes to the Church, and so they may stay there so long as they like to lodge in that new hospital, and have lodging, bread, victuals, and water so long as they will remain there, but no wine. Such as come there for pilgrims have no beds at all, but lie upon the ground on turkey carpets, and before the sepulchre of Christ there is mass said every day, and none may say the mass there but a man that is a pure virgin. There was one that died when I was there that daily said and sung the mass before the sepulchre, and he was a hundred and thirty years of age before his death. And now another is in his room, but whether the old man that is dead, or this which is now in place to sing and say the mass were pure virgins I know not, but surely
I dare not swear for them because they are men, and flesh and blood as others are.
After that I had thus long travelled and spent my time in the wars and affairs of the great Turk, I was returned again to Constantinople. Where at my arrival a penny loaf of English sterling money was worth a crown of gold, such was the sickness, misery, and dearth then upon the city, and happy was he that so could get bread to eat. Nevertheless because I was a Christian and that the Turk had no cause presently to use me in my office of gunnership, I was there imprisoned where I found two thousand Christians pinned up in stone walls locked fast in iron chains, grievously pinched with extreme penury, and such as wished death rather than in such misery to live. Amongst these was I placed and took part with them accordingly, grieving at my hard hap that the wars had not ended me before I came there.
Thus I remained there with the rest, guarded and daily watched that we could stir no manner of way. There we were suffered to work upon any manner of trade or occupation wherein we were any way expert, and what we did or made we sold to the Turks, and they gave us money for the same. And thus were we suffered to work until it was time to go and gather snow, which is there yearly by custom to be gathered, for the Turk has great sums of money paid him for the snow, which is gathered and sold to his subjects for a penny a pound, which pound is two and a half English. And this snow they use only to cool their drink in the summer season. And no man may sell any snow until the Turk has sold all of his.
Thus living in this slavish life as is aforesaid, a long time, diverse of us complotted and hammered in our heads how we might procure our releasement. Whereupon I attempted with the consent of five hundred Christians, fellow slaves
with myself, to break a wall of fourteen feet broad made of earth, lime, and sand, which we greatly moistened with strong vinegar so that the wall being made moist therewith through the help of an iron spike, five hundred of us had almost escaped out of prison. But look, what shall be shall be, and what God will have shall come to pass and no more, as appears by us, for we having made means for our speedy flight, as we were issuing forth we were betrayed by the barking of a dog which caused the Turks to arise, and they taking us with the manner, stopped us from flying away and gave us in recompense of our pains taken herein, seven hundred blows apiece with a bull’s pizzle upon the naked skin, viz. three hundred on the belly and four hundred on the back.
Thus lying still prisoner in the Turk’s dungeons, it pleased God to send there for the releasement of me and others a worthy gentleman of this land named Master Harbourne, ambassador there for the company of merchants, who to the great honour of England did behave himself wonderful wisely and was a special means for the releasement of me and sundry other English captives, who were set at liberty soon after the death of the great Pasha. Thus by the means of Master Harbourne I was set free from thralldom, and by him sent into England where I arrived on the first of May 1589.
Whilst I was remaining prisoner in Turkey and kept in such slavish manner as is before rehearsed, the great Turk had his son circumcised, which the foreskin of his privy member was taken off. At which time there were great triumphs and free liberty proclaimed for a hundred days’ space, that any nobleman, gentleman, traveller, Christian, or other, might freely (without being molested) come and see the triumphs there used, which were wonderful. I myself was then constrained to make a cunning piece of firework framed in form like
Noah’s Ark, being 24 yards high and eight yards broad, wherein was placed 40 men drawn on six wheels, yet no man seen but seemed to go alone as though it were only drawn by two fiery dragons. In which show or ark there were 12 thousand several pieces of firework.
At the same time that I was released there were set at liberty about twenty Englishmen, whereof I was one of the last. Some of them are at this present in England. Myself and others were released by means of her Majesty’s favourable letters sent to the great Turk brought by the aforesaid Master Harbourne, some by the ransom money gathered at sundry times by the merchants in the City of London for that godly purpose. Of which some of their names that were released were these: Hammond Pan, John Beere, John Band, Andrew Pullins, Edward Buggins, and others.
Here may the bountiful citizens of London see (as in a mirror) the fruits of their liberality and charitable devotion given at several times in the year towards the releasement of poor captives, such are constrained to abide most vile and grievous tortures, especially the torture and torment of conscience which grieved me and all true Christians to the very soul. For the Turk by all means possible would still persuade me and my other fellow Christians while I was there the time of thirteen years, to forsake Christ, to deny him, and to believe in their God Mahomet. Which if I would have done I might have had wonderful preferment of the Turk, and have lived in as great felicity as any lord in that country. But I utterly denied their request, though by them grievously beaten naked for my labour and reviled in most detestable sort, calling me dog, devil, hellhound, and suchlike names. But I give God thanks he gave me the strength to abide with patience these crosses, and though I were but a simple man void of all learning, yet still I had in remembrance that
Christ died for me, as appears by the holy Scriptures, and that Christ therein said, He that denies me before men, I will deny him before my father which is in heaven, and again he said, Whosoever believes in me shall be saved and have life everlasting. This comfort made me resolute, that I would rather suffer all the torments of death in the world than to deny my Saviour and Redeemer Christ Jesus.
After my free liberty granted in Turkey, I, intending my journey towards England, came by land to Venice, where I met at Padua thirty Englishmen students. I also met with an Englishman who lived in the state of a friar. He brought me before the high bishop where I was accused for an heretic, and he brought in two false witnesses to be sworne against me (having before known me in Turkey), nevertheless I disproved his witnesses and they were found forsworn men. Then I was set at liberty and constrained to give fifteen crowns towards the finishing of Our Lady’s shrine at Padua, and my accuser and his witnesses were punished.
From thence I came to the Duke of Ferrara, where I was well entertained and liberally rewarded with a horse and twenty-five crowns, for the sake of the Queen’s Majesty of England.
From there with my passport I came to Bologna in Italy, where I met with a popish bishop being an Englishman who showed me great friendship. He is called Doctor Pole. From there to Florence, where I met with an English gentleman named Master John Stanley, and from there I went to Rome. There I was nineteen days in trouble with the Pope, and the English Cardinal Doctor Allen, a notable arch-papist, where I was often examined. But finding nothing by me they let me pass, and understanding that I had been a captive a long time in Turkey, the Pope gave me his blessing and twenty-
five crowns. And before I went out of Rome I was again taken by the English College, and put into their holy house three days with a fool’s coat on my back, half blue half yellow, and a coxcomb with three bells on my head. From where I was helped by means of an Englishman whom I found there, and presented my petition and came to the Pope, who again set me at liberty. From there I departed to Naples, where I met with a Genovese who apprehended me and
brought me there before the viceroy, saying I was a man of great knowledge and an English spy. Then I was committed to a dark dungeon fifteen days, in which time they secretly made enquiry where I had lain before, what my words and behaviour had been while I was there, but they could find nothing by me.
Thrice I had the strappado, hoisted up backward with my hands bound behind me, which struck all the joints in my arms out of joint, where a physician was ready to set my arms in joint again presently. I was also constrained to drink salt water and quicklime, and then a fine lawn or calico thrust down my throat and plucked up again, ready to pluck my heart out of my belly. All to make me confess that I was an English spy. After this there were four barded [armoured] horses prepared to quarter me, and I was still threatened to die except I would confess something to my harm.
Thus seven months I endured in this misery, and yet they could find no cause against me. Then I wrote to the viceroy to do me justice. He wrote to the king of Spain to know what should be done with me, whereupon the king of Spain wrote that I should be employed in a gunner’s room. Then I was entertained and had 35 crowns a month, and had the king’s patent sealed for the same. And then understanding that three ships were coming towards England, I departed and fled from there with them to my native country, in the Grace of London by the help of one Nicholas Nottingham, master thereof. Thus I came into England with great joy and heart’s delight, both to myself and all my acquaintance.
The report in Rome, Naples, and all over Italy in my travel which was at such time as the Spaniards came to invade England, after I had been released of my imprisonment as I passed through the streets, the people of those parts asked me how I dared acknowledge
myself to be an Englishman, and thereupon to daunt me and say that England was taken by the Spaniards, and that the Queen of England (whom God long preserve) was taken prisoner and was coming to Rome to do penance. And that her Highness was brought there through deserts, moist, hilly, and foul places, and where plain ground was, holes and hollow trenches were dug in the way of her Majesty’s passage, to the intent that she might have gone up to the mid-leg in ooze or mire. With these speeches they did check me, and I said that I trusted God doubtless he would defend my Prince better than to deliver her unto the hands of her enemies, wherefore they greatly reviled me.
Many things I have omitted to speak of which I have seen and noted in the time of my troublesome travel. One thing did greatly comfort me which I saw long since in Sicily, in the city of Palermo, a thing worthy of memory where the right honourable the Earl of Oxford, a famous man for chivalry, at what time he travelled into foreign countries being then personally present made there a challenge against all manner of persons whatsoever, and at all manner of weapons as tournaments, barriers with horse and armour, to fight and combat with any whatsoever in the defence of his Prince and country. For which he was highly commended, and yet no man dared be so hardy as to encounter with him, so that all Italy over he is acknowledged ever since for the same, the only Chevalier and Nobleman of England. This title they give to him as worthily deserved.
Moreover in the land of Egypt near to the River Nile, within five miles of the grand Cairo, there are seven mountains built on the outside like the point of a diamond, which mountains were built in King Pharaoh’s time to keep corn in, and they are mountains of great strength. It is said that they were built about that
time when Joseph did lade home his brothers’ asses with corn, in the time of the great dearth mentioned in Scripture. At which time all their corn lay in those mountains.
In the River Nile there are long fish ten or twelve feet long, which swim near the shore. They are called the fishes of King Pharaoh, and are like a dolphin. These fish are so subtle that swimming near the shoreside they will pull men or women suddenly into the river and devour them.
In the city of the grand Cairo the houses are of very old building, all of lime and stone, and in most of the houses the roofs are covered with fine gold in a very workmanly sort.
In Egypt there is small store of water because it never rains in that country, so that their water is very dangerous to drink. They have no springs at all in that country, and yet there falls such a dew every night as both refreshes and keeps their herbs and plants in due sort, and makes them spring very fruitfully.
The people of those countries before mentioned are for the most part of a reasonable stature, yet of a brownish and swart complexion. Their women go muffled, and generally in the land of Jewry they wear high steepled hats, much like the form of a sugar loaf.
The city of Damascus is very fruitful and greatly replenished with all manner of fruits whatsoever, as pomegranates, oranges, lemons, apples, pears, plums, grapes, and all other like fruits.
The Turks are a people that at some time will attempt to do wonderful things, as going upon ropes, and thrusting their swords into their naked flesh, and stick their swords into their flesh like into a scabbard, and many other things of great danger.
In Turkey no man may strike the grand Cadie [Khedive] that is
their chiefest judge. If any man strikes him he loses his right arm for his labour, without redemption.
At my coming over into England from Rome I was fain to steal away, being then retained in yearly fee to the king of Spain to be one of his chief gunners. And if the ship wherein I came over had been taken, both they and I myself would have died for that offence.
The old city of Jerusalem is a very desolate place, nothing to be seen but a little of the old walls yet remaining, and all the rest is grass, moss, and weeds, like a piece of rank or moist ground. They have no tillage in those parts.
The city of Jerusalem where the Temple stands is almost a mile from the old walls of Jerusalem. It is of very old building, and there stand all the old relics preserved and kept as monuments of great treasure.
Now to return to where I left off and declare unto you wherein I employed myself since my coming into England. Here I visited my friends from May until November, and then departed into France where I had entertainment at the hands of the renowned king and captain of this age, Henry of Bourbon king of France and Navarre, who received me into pay and appointed me his master gunner in the field.
So that upon Ash Wednesday last, at his most renowned battle fought on the plain of Saint Andrew near Dreux [Battle of Ivry, 14 March 1590], I was in service under him where I gave three charges upon the enemy, and they instead thereof gave us fifteen shot, and yet (God be thanked) prevailed not against us. There we were constrained to make bulwarks of the dead bodies of our enemies and horses, where for my painstaking that day, the king greatly commended me and honourably rewarded me. But soon after my first arrival in France I was hated by some lewd gunners, who envying that I should have the title to be master
gunner in France, practiced against me and gave me poison in drink that night. Which thing when the king understood he gave order to the governor of Dieppe that his physician should presently see to me, who gave me speedily unicorn’s horn to drink, and there by God and the king’s good means I was again restored to my former health.
It is to be remembered that at this great battle I made one shot of such a custom mixture that slayed the king’s enemies in great abundance, whereat the enemies greatly wondered considering they could neither find bullet, chainshot, nor could see any other thing more than plain powder. And yet the people strangely slain outright, and lay dead in great abundance.
At my departure forth from France, the king’s
secretary gave me certain letters of commendation to bear with me to the states of England, wherein was declared my good service, and how willing he was still to have employed me in his wars, and would have given me sufficient rewards if with him I would have remained. But being sent for, to come again into my native country, to the intent to be employed in her Majesty’s affairs, I could do no less but make haste towards England, to take in hand any service which I were able to perform.
At which time I being in the French king’s court and ready to depart towards England, there came certain news to the king from Rouen, that Monsieur de Lego, captain of the castle in the town of Rouen, with sundry other Protestants being gentlemen and gentlewomen of good account, had conspired against the traitorous Leaguers that rebelliously withstand the king there, and had yielded up the castle with the keys to a captain of great courage, to the use of the French king. Whereupon all the power this captain could make was not able to keep it above half a day, for the king’s power lay far from the same. Yet suddenly they made towards Rouen so fast as they might, but all they did was in vain, for before the king’s force could get within six miles of the town the enemy had won it again by force of cannon shot, and took sundry persons as prisoners which they found in the castle, and apprehended sundry othes in the town which consented thereunto. Among whom was a lady and her three waiting gentlewomen, who were by the Leaguers and traitors to the king, taken and imprisoned.
The captain of the castle perceiving that the enemy would have grievously tormented him, stood upon the battlements of the castle and fought very valiantly and would not yield, nor suffer himself to be taken by no means. But after he had slain with his own hands
about fourteen or fifteen several persons, he seeing the enemy come in great abundance upon him thereby intending to take him, suddenly flung his weapons at them, and without any regard of saving his life willfully flung himself headlong over the castle wall and thereby broke his neck. The rest were grievously tormented and put to death for consenting thereunto.
But it grieves me to report the extreme tyranny which those traitorous Leaguers inflicted upon the lady aforesaid and her three waiting maids, only for delivering the keys which they had in their custody. These were massacred in this manner: first they were all stripped naked in a field wherein they were executed. They were all severally by the hands and legs bound to the feet of four sundry horses provided for that purpose, and every one being made suddenly fast to the horses, some whipped each horse forward. And then with axes, swords, and hatchets quartered them alive. Which report when the king understood thereof he vowed to revenge their death upon those tyrannous tormentors.
Thus have you heard the manner of my tedious and grievous travel, my misery, slavery, and captivity which I suffered therein; the manner of some old monuments and the customs of such as dwell in foreign nations far off, and in places where our Saviour and his Apostles were resident and preached upon the earth; my services done under the great Turk in Persia, Tartaria, Greece, and places of service. I omit herein my service at the taking of Tunis and what I did in the Royal under Don John of Austria; and many other things which I could here discourse to you, only let this suffice, that I shall be glad and daily desire that I may be employed in some such service as may be profitable to my Prince and country.
• Webbe’s (lack of) backstory, some old and new interpretations of the travelogue, and more hints about what was really going on. Much Noise No Nuts, Part 2, posted 23 April 2022.
• Part 1 lays out a timeline for Cardenio, a lost play that I had nothing to do with. Much Noise No Nuts, Part 1, posted 23 April 2022.
• Taking a look at the 2007 Spanish film Miguel y William. Tangent: Impossible Dream, With Subtitles, posted 23 April 2022.SOURCES
- • The Troublesome Travels of Edvvard VVebbe (1590)
- · British Library General Reference Collection G.6931
- · UIN: BLL01003871313
- • Banner: woodcut by Jost Amman of a gunner sighting his target
- · in Kriegßbuch by Leonhart Fronsperger
- · Feyerabend, Frankfurt, 1573
- · British Museum 1837,0616.12
- · ©Trustees, British Museum, London