Promoting Empire

  • Jonathan Hart


Within Europe, despite this opposition to exploration and settlement in distant lands, there were many key figures who promoted empire, so that a disjunction or tension existed within various Western European cultures over expansion. The contest over expansion was as internal as it was external and that tension varied from time to time, state to state, empire to empire. Often these promoters of “empire” had the ear of monarchs or counselors, and their writings were rhetorically pitched in persuading king, queen, and court of the wisdom as well as material and spiritual benefits of exploring and possessing overseas lands. While Spain had a head-start in creating settlements in the New World, the very knowledge it built up during its colonization became useful for other European countries in framing their desire to expand and in helping them to understand the practicalities of that expansion. The possession of knowledge of the New World helped the French and English, just as it had the Spanish, to the possession of the New World. Here, I concentrate on three major writers of the New World—Oviedo, royal historiographer in Spain; Thevet, royal cosmographer in France, and Hakluyt, editor, collector, and adviser to the English court—and their prefatory matter, which includes epistles dedicatory, Prefaces, addresses to readers, and patrons and commendatory verse. This matter, which is a genre and thus includes a code of expectations, is often promotional and involves the selling of an idea, if not of a book.


Prefatory Matter English Court English Nation Distant Land Henry VIII 
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  1. 1.
    Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, The Adventures of Don Quixote trans. J. M. Cohen (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1950, rpt. 1979), 26.Google Scholar
  2. 15.
    Frank Lestringant, “EAvenir des terres nouvelles,” La Renaissance et le Nouveau Monde ed. Alain Parent et al. (Québec, 1984), 45–51.50–1, cited Schlesinger and Stabler, Andre Thevet’s North America xxxix-xl.Google Scholar
  3. 17.
    See Lestringant, L’Atelier du Cosmographe ou l’image du monde à la Renaissance (Paris: Albin Michel, 1991), 29.Google Scholar
  4. 28.
    For useful discussions of Hakluyt, see Jack Beeching, “Introduction,” Richard Hakluyt, Voyages and Discoveries, ed. Jack Beeching (1972; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985), 9–29Google Scholar
  5. Mary C. Fuller, Voyages in Print: English Travel to America, 1576–1624 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 141–74Google Scholar
  6. David Armitage, “The New World and British Historical Thought From Richard Hakluyt to William Robertson,” in America in European Consciousness, 1493–1750, ed. Karen Ordahl Kupperman (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 52–75.Google Scholar

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© Jonathan Hart 2005

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  • Jonathan Hart

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