"You serued God he set you free": Self, Nation, and Celebration in the Wager-Voyaging Adventure of Richard Ferris

Michael Lee Manous
University of California, Riverside

Michael Lee Manous."'You serued God he set you free': Self, Nation, and Celebration in the Wager-Voyaging Adventure of Richard Ferris". Early Modern Literary Studies Special Issue 16 (October, 2007) 6.1-25<URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/si-16/manoferr.htm>.

  1. Perhaps the earliest published account of a wager-based stunt journey in English literature is a somewhat cursorily written narrative by one of Elizabeth's messengers Richard Ferris, whose relatively obscure pamphlet The most dangerous and memorable aduenture of Richard Ferris (1590) was produced almost a full decade before William Kemp's account of his own, more famous wager-journey experience.[1] With his pamphlet, Ferris, having just completed a dangerous sea voyage from London to Bristol, extended the performance of his voyaging stunt from the social world of wagering play to the larger world of the marketplace, earning himself and his voyage a brief fame. Of five performers of water-voyaging stunts mentioned by Samuel Rowlands in his panegyric to John Taylor in 1612, Ferris is the only one who is mentioned by name, Rowlands noting that "Ferris gaue cause of vulgar wonderment, / When vnto Bristow in a Boate he went" (A4r), and Ferris is recalled, again, in Ben Jonson's poem "On the Famous Voyage" when Shelton and Heyden's wherry task is compared to "his to Bristo'" (Epigrammes 133, line 39). But, while his exploit was still remembered over two decades after the fact, it has been largely disregarded ever since, no doubt succumbing to the common view that such kinds of journeys were conducive to "vulgar wonderment" and were, in the words of Fynes Moryson, little more than "ridiculous adventures" (1: 428).[2] In fact, over the past four centuries, wager journeys and the literary accounts of such journeys in general have received scant attention from scholars, and, although this lack has begun to be rectified, a general silence has continued to greet Ferris and his endeavours.[3]

  2. Recent scholarly observations about the wager journey indicate that the kind of assessment offered by Moryson fails to provide an adequate picture of what these journeys were about.[4] Bernard Capp's study of John Taylor, for instance, reveals that Taylor's "dramatic" and "bizarre" journeys and "popular" journey accounts (58), among other aspects of his career, were completed in accordance with an "underlying social conservatism" (194).[5] Likewise, Max W. Thomas argues that in Kemps nine daies wonder (1600), the famous stage clown and fool figure Kemp carefully seeks "to carve out a conservative social position" (514) for himself and his wager-based dance from London to Norwich; in this, Thomas claims, Kemp chooses to "buttress his dance with the weight of authority than with popular enthusiasm" (514) in order to better the commercial prospects of his enterprise, effectively separating himself and his enterprise from the world of communal festivity (516). Andrew McRae, in turn, seems to suggest that placing a stronger emphasis on the commercial rather than the communal was "typical" of the Renaissance wager journeyer. Citing Taylor and Kemp, as well as Ferris, McRae characterises "These travellers, of middling and lower social origins," as ones who "seized on the economic opportunities of fantastic voyages," often transforming "cultural form[s] of […] festivity into" commercial-based "exercise[s] in self-promotion" (par. 9). Yet, in the move away from the kind of uncomplicated disregard we find in Moryson's synopsis, a new tendency toward oversimplification may be rearing its head. The claims made by Thomas and those who follow his lead would seem to suggest that individualistic commercialism and social conservatism functioned according to values clearly distinguishable from the popular-festive ethos ostensibly central to the start-up and performance of many wager-based stunt journeys. Such assumptions, however, do not adequately deal with the fact that the initiation and continuation of communal feeling and festivity often appear to have been inextricably tied to the individualism, commercialism, and conservatism that mark most such journeys and journey accounts, including Ferris's.[6]

  3. Indeed, Ferris's pursuit of profit and his support for traditional forms of authority ostensibly furthered rather than countered his link to the "popular enthusiasm" and the festive impulse central to the performance and celebration of his voyage. As one of the Queen's messengers, Ferris positions himself conservatively in his pamphlet as a servant to the monarch, fusing his quest for financial gain with his occupational duty to the nation. In line with this conflation, he symbolically ties his enterprise to England's recent military successes, encouraging the notion that his wager-voyaging triumph is, to some degree, a manifestation of God's support for England in the war with Spain. In addition, as a public-private venture conceptually linked to wartime activity, Ferris's voyage was informed by those values associated with the relatively patriotic but also individualistic, democratic, and profit-minded exploits of contemporary privateers. All these connections, in turn, worked to extend the celebratory context of his voyage, his individual performance functioning as meaningful action consistent with popular social, national, and religious feeling.

  4. Moreover, insofar as Ferris's wager voyage modelled individual, self-initiated action that represented an extension of both his own occupational mobility and the mobility of those endeavouring for England in the war against Spain, it also came to be understood by some of his contemporaries as that which offered an example of the nation in action—of an England made up of actors, not just subjects.[7] To some degree, then, Ferris's voyage and his pamphlet are cousins with an English nationalism being authored by "men who were free […] to imagine a new identity based on the kingdom or nation" (Helgerson 13) and to pursue their personal ambitions "even when they asserted most loudly their attachment to stability" (14). Aligning his enterprise with a conservative social ethos, Ferris was free to author his own nationalistic performance, and given what we know of the initial reception to his voyage, this performance would be celebrated by many as a typically "English" triumph—as one in which all could share.


  5. On Midsummer Day in 1590, a crowd of people, no doubt enjoying their day off from their usual labours, gathered around the Tower Wharf in London to give Richard Ferris, Andrew Hill, and William Thomas a merry send-off. With the previous night's festivities over, Ferris took his turn on centre stage, embarking on his much-anticipated voyage. As per the conditions of the wagers Ferris had made, he and his mates would travel at sea alongside the hazardous coastline of England to the port city of Bristol, and they would do so in nothing greater than a small rowboat with a sail. After many fond farewells, Ferris and his two fellows entered their wherry, which—with the exception of pennants displaying a bright red cross and the arms of Queen Elizabeth—had been coated entirely and spectacularly in green paint, from the main vessel to the sail to the oars. Accompanied by a small fleet of well-wishers in like-sized boats, they set off in their colourful vessel, rowing themselves downstream a few miles to Greenwich, where a simultaneous discharge of weapons announced their arrival at the court. Here, Ferris, Hill, and Thomas were cheerfully entertained, a second group of friends wishing them good luck and success; then, they departed the London area for good, setting sail for Gravesend, the first leg of what would become a forty-day, nearly seven hundred-mile adventure[8]—an adventure that would be memorialised by Ferris in a pamphlet published shortly after their return to London in early August of that year.

  6. Ferris's account of his voyage offers up many of the ingredients typical of the Renaissance wager journey. First, he describes from the outset that his voyage was no easy task, noting in his dedication "the late dangerous attempt rashly by mee vndertaken to row in a small Boat to the Cittie of Bristow a long the perillous Rocks[,] Breaches, Rases, Shelues, Quicke-sandes and very vnlikely places for passage wyth such small Boates" (A2r).[9] The presence of such dangers, moreover, "proueth the attempte the more straunge in respect that I was neuer trayned vp on the water" (A2r-A2v). In this, it becomes clear that his was not just a dangerous voyage but a novel one, attracting much interest and many doubters and, consequently, many willing to wager against him.[10] Indeed, Ferris was largely motivated by the opportunity for financial profit, and he protects his wager-based investment by acquiring eyewitness testimony of his progress: "[My voyage] is now […] truely perfourmed, as appeareth by our seuerall certificates ready to bee seene, with our safe returne, contrary to the expectation of sundry persons […]" (A2r).[11] As with many other wager journeys of the era, Ferris's was rooted in the public's fascination with novelty and various kinds of risk, not with conventional wisdom.

  7. In fact, although he is careful about securing some sort of monetary profit, Ferris characterises his venture as a public stunt operating outside the bounds of wisdom. He promotes the notion, for instance, that his voyage was undertaken "rashly" and "with the euill will of sundrie my good friendes, but especially full sore against my aged fathers consent" (A3r). In part, then, we are to consider his voyage a dangerous and reckless enterprise attempted in the spirit of misrule and personal independence. Further testifying to Ferris's quest for freedom and singularity is his decision to have his wherry painted green from sail to oar and to have "a volley of shot" set off upon his arrival at the court in Greenwich (A3r). Of course, as another London spectacle, Ferris's wager voyage was a product of his culture, which generally embraced outlandish and mirthful performances alongside or in the context of a social gaming ethos.[12] Belonging to a conceptual space outside of conventional travel, mobility, and ambition, Ferris's voyage is presented as a recreational, festive performance corresponding nicely—and purposefully—with his Midsummer Day departure.[13]

  8. While Ferris's voyage begins in the narrative as an extension of a traditional holiday pastime, it seems to conclude as a holiday of its own making. If we take as true Leo Braudy's claim that early modern English adventurers functioned as "a roster of new saints to rival the whole Catholic calendar, possibilities and inspirations for men on earth" (302), then we can better understand how an adventurous performance like Ferris's could inspire social festivity outside of any relation to a religious-time or holiday-time orientation. As with the return to England of more famous and esteemed adventurers, as well as with the triumphant arrival of subsequent wager-journey adventurers, Ferris's arrival at Bristol on the third of August inspires an immediate congregation, the people coming "in great multitudes to see us" (B1v).[14] The next day, there are "prepared Trumpets, Drummes, Fyfes, & Ensignes to go before the Boate, which was carried vpon mens shoulders round about the Citie, with the Waites of the saide Citie, playing orderly in honour of our rare and daungerous attempt atchiued" (B1v).[15] Along with being paraded around the city, the voyagers' boat functions as something of a maypole, being set up at the High Cross in the city centre, Ferris urging, in the words of James Sargent, "ech willing heart […] / For to be readie there in haste, / To see the Boate that there was plaste" (B2v). And, Sargent, a citizen poet of Bristol whose celebratory poem is attached to the end of Ferris's pamphlet, does himself urge the same:
    Come olde and young behold and vewe,
       A thing most rare is to be seene,
       A seely Wherry it is most true:
    Is come to Towne with sayle of greene.
      With Oares cullour of the same,
      To happy Ferris worthy fame. (B1v)
    The people of Bristol gather together to celebrate the symbol of Ferris's triumph,[16] sharing in a holiday mood that is subsequently transferred to London, where, Ferris tells us, "the people greatly reioyced to see us in all places," and, in addition, "the watermen & sundry other haue promised to grace the saide Boate with great melodie, and sundry volleyes of shot" (B2r). By announcing the future continuation of festivities, Ferris not only predicts the resumption of the voyage's holiday and social-gathering function in real life, but he encourages it. Ferris locates his voyage and himself within an imagined community of English spectators and readers, a community that bridges the gap between London and Bristol and ties his newfound fame and wager winnings to a social celebration that extends beyond immediate friends, acquaintances, and calendars.

  9. With his pamphlet, Ferris participated in an England that "gave birth to the modern conception of a marketplace of fame in which all might sell their wares" (Braudy 342). The print marketplace in late-sixteenth-century England was already providing opportunities for many people, including travellers and sea adventurers, to achieve a small measure of celebrity. So, like later wager-journey performers who physically went away from London, their hometown, or England itself so that they could come back as "news" worth the reporting, Ferris was keen upon his return to London to turn his own novel adventure into "news", the public's fascination with his wager-voyaging attempt probably providing the impetus for authoring and publishing his story. Indeed, in all likelihood, whatever popularity his pamphlet had in its time was due to its being written, printed, and sold at the height of Ferris's contribution to the gossip mills of London, his name no doubt functioning as a selling point to potential readers.[17] Thus, in harnessing the gaze of others onto his body, his boat, his voyage, and his name, Ferris made himself, through his own ventures and performances, into a product fit to be sold in the marketplace. In this, he sought to distinguish himself before spectators on the street and before many of the pamphlet-buying consumers of his time, opening up him and his achievement to new kinds of social recognition and validation.[18]

  10. Yet, despite enterprising in a world in which new modes of publicizing and celebrating the individual, the spectacular, and the "vulgar" were possible, Ferris did not sever his pursuit of financial gain and public fame from a conservative social ethos. His voyaging stunt—like the wager journeys of Kemp, Thomas Coryate, and Taylor, after him—appealed to and was partially aimed at respected citizens and the social elite.[19] As has already been noted, Ferris acknowledges that prior to his official departure from London he and his mates visited with members of the court at Greenwich, "where we had great entertainement at euery office" (A3r). This acknowledgment, which extends the celebratory context of his voyage, also serves as public praise of the social elite with whom he associated. Later, Ferris reports that alongside the popular festivity that took place in Bristol, he and his mates were honoured by the civic authorities there, being "had to maister Maiors, [and] to the Aldermen and Sheriffes houses, where we were feasted most royally" (B1v-B2r). Here, the individual singularity that inspires un-calendared festivity in Bristol is partially contained by the incorporation of the voyagers into the community via a feast offered in their honour—an honour that involves implicit recognition, on their part, of the authoritative status attached to Bristol's civic dignitaries. Felicity Heal, in her study of early modern English hospitality, observes that the preservation of "the power relationship that was implicit in the giving of hospitality" (199) required, among other things, for the guest to function "as a passive recipient of the goods and services" offered by his hosts and, later, to perform "some gesture that restores social symmetry. This may merely be thanks, expressed by word or gift […]" (192). By complimenting both Bristol's civic authorities and the community of the court, Ferris complements the entertainment he receives before and after his exploit, very publicly recognising his hosts in gestures of reciprocation.

  11. Still, when he links himself and his enterprise to traditional authorities and the social elite, Ferris increases, rather than casts to the side, the potential for his popular and public individualism to "disrupt static notions of identity" (LeMahieu 131). In line with Michael L. LeMahieu's discussion of the social function of the gift-exchange is the fact that the reciprocities of honour identified in Ferris's pamphlet need "not solely reinforce existing relations, they can also constitute new ones" (130). Ultimately, the public acknowledgement of honours received in Bristol and at court lends new meaning to readers' sense of Ferris and the individualism of his exploit, helping to transfer his singular performance and the celebration of that performance to the domain of socially significant action.[20]


  12. Ferris's example demonstrates something of the dialectic between "sturdy independence" and "instinctive deference" (Capp 3) that has been observed with other wager-journeying figures. As Laurie Ellinghausen points out, the structural changes that could allow one such as the seventeenth-century wager-traveller John Taylor to present himself in print as "distinctly self-promoting, individualist, and entrepreneurial" (147) need "not automatically eliminate notions of fixed identity, nor" need they "squelch the desire for an authorizing structure outside of the self" (158).[21] Of course, in 1590, such structural changes were not so developed as they would become, "Britannia and the British monarch" being "so firmly identified with one another as to be virtually interchangeable through most of Elizabeth's reign" (Helgerson 131). We therefore should not be surprised to find that a good relationship with traditional authorities is, in large measure, central to Ferris's presentation of an Elizabethan voyage and an Elizabethan individualism worthy of celebration by his contemporaries.

  13. In fact, for Ferris, the wager voyage partially functioned as an opportunity to extend into a new arena his professional relationship with the monarch and the nation. As Ferris announces in the title of his pamphlet, he was "one of the fiue ordinarie Messengers of her Maiesties Chamber," a job that required him to undertake many journeys and adventures in service to the monarchy and its rule of law.[22] As a royal messenger, Ferris was responsible for the delivery of important letters and documents, as well as the apprehension of persons required to appear before the Privy Council; consequently, he had to deal with various types of people, from high-ranking authority figures to aggressively resisting, unruly men.[23] Given his job description, Ferris must have grown accustomed to a life characterised by physical mobility, wide-ranging social interactions, and occasional encounters with physical danger, all the while developing a strong identification with his role as a travelling representative of the monarch. Ferris's line of work made him a kind of citizen-adventurer validated by governmental authority,[24] and it is this persona that he rekindles on his wager voyage, displaying "the red Crosse for England and her Maiesties armes with a vane standing fast to the sterne of [… his] Boate" (A3r). The spectacle of Ferris's green wherry, which calls attention to his own person and to his "rash" endeavour, is here counterbalanced by this cross and emblem, symbols helping to suggest that his rashness is, in actuality, a kind of bravery, the performance of which can be read as another—and new—journey undertaken with the support of queen and country.

  14. There also exist other instances in Ferris's pamphlet of an attempt to relocate the trappings of his profession onto the printed page.[25] As a messenger of the Queen, Ferris was used to travelling in his regular life with the Privy Council's direct seal of approval, and we find him attempting to legitimise the pamphlet account of his voyage by dedicating it, essentially, to one of his bosses, "Sir Thomas Heneage knight, one of her Maiesties Honorable priuie counsell" (A2r). In addition, after reporting the entertainment he receives at court—where due to his line of work Ferris would have been known by many—he adds that he had earlier "obtained leaue" for his departure from Heneage and two other high-ranking men, Lord Chancellor Henry Carey (another privy counsellor) and Charles Howard, the Lord Admiral (A3r).[26] Plainly, Ferris aims to present himself as one who by virtue of his occupation shares social space with persons of authority and who, accordingly, benefits from having his voyaging enterprise sanctioned by such persons. Hence, we are told that Ferris and his mates are treated better on the royal ships at Plymouth for having letters of safe passage "from the right Honourable of her Maiesties counsell" and "for that I was her Majesties messenger" (A4v), just as they are during their seventeen-day, weather-bound stay at "Bottricks Castell", where he and his mates would have been welcome for "a whole yeare" by one Master Hynder "rather for that I was one of her Maiesties seruants" (B1r). In all of this, Ferris's notion of his "fixed identity" is clearly central to his self-conceit; yet, at the same time, his self-conceit is augmented by the extension of his "fixed identity" to action that is exceptional and singular and initiated by himself, his adventure taking the form of a self-created undertaking rather than one ordered by the traditional authorities who ostensibly validate it. Braudy writes, "... the desire for fame is a ... trait by which the individual retailors traditional standards of distinctive personal nature into a costume by which he can succeed before his chosen audience" (598). With his voyage and pamphlet, Ferris places his "distinctive personal nature", figured in relation to his professional mobility and his service to authority, in a new, fame-worthy, and nationalistic dress.

  15. As part of such "retailoring", Ferris portrays his voyage as a patriotic endeavour, one tied directly to England's war with Spain and one that he could have conceived as an extension of his own professional participation in the war effort. During a period of less than ten months in 1588-89, Ferris was summoned no less than five times to deliver orders and directives regarding the levying and preparations of soldiers and mariners.[27] It is additionally recorded on 7 March 1590—just three-and-a-half months prior to the start of Ferris's adventure—that Ferris was ordered to deliver letters placing restrictions on the movements of "seafaring men", that all such should be kept in three hours readiness for service in the Queen's navy (Great Britain. Privy 18: 400-02). Whether or not Ferris's voyage was inspired by this last engagement with matters related to the build-up of the navy is impossible to tell;[28] but, that the war was on his mind and that he did conceive of his voyage as a possible aid to England's military prospects at sea are indicated via his dedication to Heneage, wherein he states at least one major goal of his undertaking, namely,
    [that it] may be a iust occasion to pricke forward other of my natiue cuntrymen to practise an ordinary passage thorough the like dangers in such smal wherry Boates, especially when necessary occasion shall serue, the better to daunt the enemies of this nation, who in such flawes and frets at Sea, dare not hasard their Gallies to go foorth, though they bee of farre greater force to brooke the Seas. (A2v)
    Ostensibly a narrative of a sportive, money-making publicity stunt involving a rash endeavour to survive physical dangers as they presented themselves along England's unreliable and perilous coastal waters, Ferris's account of his voyage doubles as instruction concerning a more serious confrontation with danger and deformity—that with Spain and Spain's allies, the enemies, it was believed, of God, Queen, and nation. Figuring governmental authority and approval into his quest, Ferris here proceeds to offer fame-worthy, self-initiated action as a source of national identity available both to himself and to "other of my natiue cuntrymen".[29]

  16. This conflation of politically sanctioned individualism and an individualised nationalism is extended by associations Ferris makes in print between his exemplary voyage and England's previous military victories in the war. When Ferris informs us that he had "obtained leaue before of […] the Lord Admirall" (A3r), he links his voyage to Charles Howard, the commander of the English navy and a leader publicly praised for England's victory over the Armada. Later, when Ferris and his mates arrive in Plymouth, they come to the place of "her Maiesties shippes, where maister Captaine Fenner and maister Captain Wilkinson, gaue us great intertainement" (A4v).[30] Arthur Freeman identifies Wilkinson as "probably George, a boatswain, if not a captain at least, of the Cygnet in '88" and concludes that Fenner was "Edward, William, or George, all masters against the Armada" (171). By calling to mind England's/Elizabeth's naval triumphs in the war, Ferris marks his own successful enterprise as one that is cousin to them.

  17. Hence, when Ferris narrates his God-inspired escape from a pirate, he quite possibly carries over the theme of the Armada victory,[31] invoking the spirit and ideal of English determination outperforming seemingly more powerful enemies; at the very least, the account of this episode provides the closest thing to an example of Ferris's stated goal put into action:
    But God who neuer faileth those that put their trust in him, sent vs a comfort vnlooked for: for as we rowed to come about by this rocke, suddenly we espyed a plaine and verie easie way for vs to passe on the inner side of the saide rocke, where we went through very pleasantly, and by reason thereof he [the pirate] could not follow vs: thus we escaped safely […]. (B1r)
    If we allow ourselves to compare this reported incident to what Ferris tells us is his patriotic purpose, we can observe that while the pirate vessel was "of farre greater force to brooke the Seas", it "dare not […] go foorth", Ferris's "smal Wherry" responding to "necessary occasion" to "daunt the enemies" of his wager voyage. Just as the seemingly invincible Armada suffered defeat at the hands of the English navy, so, too, does this pirate suffer defeat, being "soone after taken and brought in at Bristow" (B1r). And, so, too, the message seems to be, will the enemy suffer defeat at the hands of determined and ambitious Englishmen like Ferris—individuals made bold in the belief that they act with the support of both God and queen even as they act on their own initiative.


  18. That Ferris's voyage and pamphlet convey something of the triumphant spirit of the English at sea during a time of war makes better sense when we consider his pursuit of fame and profit in relation to how the war against the Spaniards was then being waged. It has been pointed out that at no other time in history did private, sea-going adventurers have so much influence over the outcome of England's national destiny. Kenneth R. Andrews, whose book-length study is "concerned with privateering as an English phenomenon," argues that from 1585 to 1603, "Circumstances had conspired to give it [privateering] a more important place in English sea life than it ever held before or afterwards" (21). Since "The government neither would nor could develop a systematic offensive against Spanish sea-power," it "naturally expected voluntary forces to play their part," and "the queen expected them to pay their way in prizes" (20). The strategy of employing and depending on privateers—particularly in force at the time of Ferris's voyage[32]—was not only essential to England's military success in the war, but, according to Andrews, had a popular aspect, as well:
    There was an element of democracy in privateering, strongest at sea, […] present in the preparation of a venture and its winding up, since both were free for all. This was a popular war and privateering was the most popular aspect of it; it canalised the anti-Spanish sentiment present in all classes […]; it gave his chance to any man who wished to wage war on his own account; it was the directest expression of the nation-in-arms. It thus embodied and developed that sense of confidence and pride in mere Englishness so well documented by Hakluyt and so well symbolised by the queen. At least until the civil war men would [… recall] the active unity and common participation of those days. The popular and democratic character of privateering [… included] the crude patriotism of the common man, patriotism mixed with godliness and greed and conscious pride in the deeds of citizens other than 'cavaliers.' (234)
    While the government's use
    of privateers certainly enabled "cavaliers" to combine patriotic adventures with the pursuit of plunder, the freedom to do so, as Andrews points out, was not restricted to the elite. "Common" adventurers like Ferris also possessed this freedom, such socially and politically sanctioned mobility making it easier for them to imagine themselves as actors in the war against Spain and Catholicism even as they sought financial rewards—here, in the form of wagers made and a book sold—for their performances. As Richard Helgerson observes in his analysis of Hakluyt's "Discourse on the Strait of Magellan", service to "National interest" was enough at that time to "make profit honorable" (180), and for the privateers and the government and, it seems, the population at large, such service and such seeking—such "godliness and greed"—often went hand in hand.

  19. Certainly, at least, James Sargent, the citizen-poet, seems to have envisioned Ferris and his wager voyage in such a context. Taking "pride in mere Englishness" and making glorious "the deeds of citizens other than 'cavaliers'", Sargent encapsulates the privateering ethos informing the voyage when he proclaims to Ferris and his mates,

    Oh gallant mindes and venturors bold,
    That tooke in hand a thing most rare,
    Twill make the Spaniardes harts waxe cold,
    If that this newes to them prepare,
        That three men hath this voyage done,
        And thereby wagers great hath wonne. (B3r)

    Sargent combines the values embedded in social gaming with those embedded in the performance of the privateer, implicitly linking the celebration of "wagers […] wonne" to the celebration of "bold" English adventurers defending their nation and their faith with a deed "most rare". As such, he might even be conflating the financial goal of the wager journeyer with the financial goal of the privateer, the term "wagers" serving a double function, denoting actual wagers and, in the spirited context of the stanza, invoking the idea of prizes, the just rewards of daring, victorious adventurers. Sargent further alludes to the recreational premise of the wager journey when he later tells Ferris, "now the game is thine" (B3v), but there is evidence that Ferris did, in fact, pursue his venture in a manner similar to that of the privateer, obtaining loans from creditors to finance both his voyage and the putting out of money, all in the hope of winning "wagers"/prizes and achieving a measure of renown.[33] It is even possible that Ferris was influenced by the example of the privateer and courtier Robert Carey, who, the year before, having put out some money "to go on foot in twelve days to Berwick" (Carey 12), completed a wager-based journey in between his military expeditions abroad.[34] Clearly, there existed, for some, a perceptual correlation between the popular and patriotic ventures of privateers and the entrepreneurial and nationalistic wager voyage of Ferris, and as Sargent's celebratory words would seem to suggest, this correlation lent to Ferris's successful enterprise an element of the heroic, however small or short-lived.

  20. To the extent that Ferris's achievement could be celebrated as a nationalistic, heroic event in support of England's war against an encroaching Catholicism, it could also be celebrated in terms of its relationship to providential design. The war with Spain was understood as having both national and providential implications, and it was a war many thought that, with God's help, England was winning, Ferris's success coming to offer, for some, one tiny, further example in support of this conviction. Hence, alongside the thanks Ferris gives to God throughout his narrative, as he does in his account of his escape from the pirate, Sargent adds the following synopsis of Ferris's voyaging success:
    Shall I preferre this [success] to your skill,
    No no twas God that did you guide,
    For this be sure without his will,
    You could not passe each bitter tide. (B3r)
    This assertion of Ferris's essential powerlessness is elsewhere tempered by Sargent's declaration concerning the reason God has sided with the English voyager: "No doubt Ferris God thou didst please, / Both thou and thine which were with thee, / You serued God he set you free" (B2v). By performing in support of England's opposition to a hostile Spain and the advance of bad religion, Ferris, it is believed, performs in support of God, as well. In this dual role, Ferris was "set" free to voyage at sea along the coast of English at his own pace and in the manner that he wished and, in addition, was "set" free from dangers—both physical and spiritual—that posed a threat to him during the course of his travels. In this, it is imagined that Ferris's personal ambitions are somehow consistent with the interests of both God and England, a notion that helps further legitimise Ferris's public-private quest.

  21. Yet, the assertion of this God-granted freedom to succeed in his enterprise does not work to raise Ferris above his fellows; rather, as we see with regard to Ferris's boat-mates, it affirms his closeness to them, Sargent's words to Ferris indicating it was "both thou and thine" who "didst please" God. Ferris, too, acknowledges that his voyage is not really a solo act when he reveals that William Thomas was hired to "pilot" the wherry, being "a man of sufficient skill and approued experience, by whom I was still content to be aduised euen from my first going foorth, vntill my last comming home" (A3r). While Ferris remains in charge of the direction of the voyage, it is Thomas, not Ferris, who, "for that we wanted victualles, […] was constrained to goe climbe the great Cliffe at Goodryvey", risking his life, "which none of vs durst venture to doe" (B1r). And, on Andrew Hill, his other mate, Ferris adds that if at one point Hill had drowned, "I could not haue gotten any man to haue supplyed his roome" (B2r). Given Ferris's dependence on his crew, we ought not be surprised by Sargent's final bit of advice to Ferris: "From thy two Mates doe not decline, / But still in heart doe thou them loue" (B3v). With this prayer for friendship at the expense of singularity, Sargent moralises what we discover in Ferris's own words: the need and desire to involve one's fellows even in one's most ambitious and celebrated of endeavours.

  22. In fact, to ensure the success of his voyaging quest, Ferris sought the help of many whom he could call his fellows, lending to the account of his sea voyage a view of English activity oftentimes absent in such narratives. Straddling the coast of southern England, Ferris and his mates adventure in an intimate and local environment, their eventual triumph quite literally depending on the assistance of a nation of fellows. As Ferris mentions early in his pamphlet, he and his crew had to stop in many places, whether for sustenance, respite from bad weather, necessity arising from unexpected accidents, or the procurement of testimony,[35] "and our welcome in all places deserveth due commendations" (A3v). Though sparing in his description of places and people visited, Ferris's "commendations" remind us of an England that, while taking up space outside of the royal court or the Mayor of Bristol's house, is no less hospitable, sociable or, in its own way, actively "English". To succeed in his voyage, Ferris had to rely on this other England, embracing a wider, more general fellowship, as a result.[36]

  23. Ultimately, Ferris's voyaging triumph, if Sargent's interpretation of it is any indication, is itself embraced by a fellowship that could be extended to all English men and women active on the right side of the war with Spain:
    But now we may behold and vewe,
    That English heartes are not afrayde,
    Their Soueraignes foes for to subdue,
    No tempest can make vs dismayde.
        Let monstrous Papists spit their fill,
        Their force is full against Gods will. (B3r).
    Here, the celebration of Ferris's wager voyage doubles as the patriotic celebration of the nation in action. It is now "English hearts" that "are not afrayde" and it is "vs" whose determination will overcome whatever obstacles fall in the way, for, as Ferris's voyage examples, God is on England's side. Ferris's individual achievement and fame is felt to be an achievement and fame that is shared by an entire people, he and his boat-mates embodying the potential of the Protestant English people, generally, to actively contribute to the preservation of nation, monarch, and right religion. In the summer of 1590, patriotism was on the rise, for events in the war were continuing to go England's way.[37] News of these events confirmed for many that the nation's collective effort was receiving God's support and was consistent with God's plan for the world, and Sargent implies that by trusting in "mere Englishness" and in God any English subject could, like Ferris, play an actor's part in this providential and national progress. To the extent that we can take Sargent as an adequate representative of a widespread English patriotism, Ferris's stated assumption that his "natiue cuntrymen" might wish to follow in his footsteps is echoed, in the end, in the proud and confident belief of a people.


  24. Ferris's wager voyage was sanctioned, in part, by the enthusiastic celebrations that took place in Bristol, in London, and, also, in print, but what is it that was being celebrated and supported? Ostensibly, these were celebrations of a singular and festive endeavour born of Elizabethan society's preoccupation with social gaming, street spectacles, and the marketplace of books and ballads. However, in his pamphlet, Ferris blends the holiday-like mood of his voyage with the patriotic mood of his country, combining his personal interests and ambitions with a kind of nationalism that was increasingly being staged by individuals active and mobile in a world still figured in relation to the rule of God and monarch. In Ferris's voyage, the flames of communal festivity seem to have been fanned by this individualised nationalism, enabling the celebration of singularity, fame, and gain to take place in conjunction with the celebration of the individual's ability to triumph over deformity—literally, over the "deformed" mode of travel at the heart of the wager-based stunt itself and, conceptually, over the deformity inherent in all that opposes God and England.

  25. Such individualised nationalism would appear to belong to a Renaissance England that was developing "a new notion of personal identity, one based on achieved rather than ascribed characteristics," and moving "from a sense of kinds of humans to a sense of humans who act variously" (Whigham 186). In 1590, this kind of cultural transformation was far from complete, and, for years to come, Ferris would remain dependent on the traditional authorities he professionally served, the wager journey proving to be an unreliable source of new income and lasting success.[38] Yet, while never quite showcasing the entrepreneurial savvy that allowed the wager traveller and writer John Taylor to maintain his ongoing celebrity status and become, perhaps, "the first modern 'personality'" (Capp 196; Ellinghausen 147), Ferris nevertheless preceded Taylor and others with his interest in a kind of travel and travel writing that was "devised by my selfe" (Taylor, Travels 5).[39] What Ferris devised was a picture of nationalistic, individual action that placed him in a new and public pose, one demonstrating that a certain kind of person could do and be a little bit more than that which is prescribed by social status and occupation. Perhaps it is this kind of individualism, the spirit of which was shared by many of Ferris's contemporaries, that, when translated into pomp and spectacle, seemed like a natural matter for festive celebration.

[1] See Kemp, Kemps nine daies wonder (1600).


[2] For more on Moryson's attitude toward the wager journey, see Moryson 1: 425-29.


[3] Over the past century, only Arthur Freeman has dealt with the subject of Ferris's voyage and his pamphlet at any length; yet, even here, analysis is not the goal, for Freeman's primary focus is to provide a summary of Ferris's voyage and a scattering of related biographical details; see Freeman 168-75. More recent is a one-paragraph synopsis of Ferris's voyage in Pilkinton lxiii. Elsewhere,Ferris's voyage is cited in passing by, among others, Capp 58 and McRae, par. 9.


[4] Scholarship dealing with the wager journey has largely focused on its three most well-known practitioners: Kemp, Thomas Coryate, and Taylor. A by-no-means complete sampling of such work follows: on Kemp, see Wiles, especially 24-31, as well as Thomas and Palmer; on Coryate, see Strachan, Parr, Barbour 115-45, Ord, and Craik; on Taylor, see note 5, below. Freeman 167-87, Boehrer 13-15, and McRae, pars. 8-12, also deal with the topic of the wager journey. Unfortunately, I have been unable to examine Anthony Parr's upcoming book, Renaissance Mad Voyages.


[5] More recently, Laurie Ellinghausen has taken up the topic of Taylor's individualism and conservatism, though she does not focus on Taylor's preoccupation with travel. For discussions focused on Taylor's travels, see Wooden; Heal 210-16; Capp 18-28, 34-35, 58-59, and 155-62; and Chandler. Note that Taylor's travel-by-subscription method continued to link him to the travel-wager tradition. For analyses of this method, see Wooden 7-11; Capp 64-66; and Halasz 191-203.


[6] In this, I agree with the following point made by James P. Bednarz: "Thomas ... seems to idealize festivity so thoroughly that he entirely severs it from direct contact with commerce, and this, I believe, is a mistake" (279).


[7] Richard Helgerson describes how narratives of overseas voyages like those published by Richard Hakluyt "showed England in action" (152), but he fails to discuss how narratives of voyages in and around England were able, in their own way, to do the same.


[8] Freeman observes that a sea voyage from London to Bristol is "a passage under normal conditions of about six hundred sea-miles" (169), each nautical mile being equivalent to over 6,000 feet.


[9] As Freeman notes, "Nothing is especially easy about the task Ferris had volunteered for, despite the constant proximity of a coastline" (169).


[10] There is no way to tell how many actually wagered with Ferris. In 1618, two wager journeyers—Gervase Markham and Taylor—acquired very dissimilar numbers of "sponsors" for their somewhat similar journeys: thirty-nine for Markham and 1,650 for Taylor (Capp 19-20).


[11] That Ferris's voyage was undertaken with the hope of profit is somehow not understood by Freeman, who inexplicably suggests that the enterprise was altruistic (186) and "rewarded […] with no more apparently than a rousing welcome and the fame gained" (169).


[12] Gambling was an undeniable part of the social life of England, directly tying money-making aspirations to communal play.


[13] Ferris's is one of probably numerous wager journeys that began or took place on traditional holidays. Consider, for instance, the St. James Day Eve voyages by John Taylor and Bernard Calvard in 1619. For Taylor's voyage, see Taylor, Travels 53-60; for Calvard's voyage, see Taylor, Scourge C4v-C5r and compare with letter 333 in Chamberlain 2: 255.


[14] The holiday-like entertainment Ferris receives in Bristol prefigures Kemp's reception in Norwich, in March 1600 (Kemp C3v-D2r), and Taylor's in Queenborough, in July 1619 (Taylor, Travels 59-60).


[15] Cf. Pilkinton xlii-xliii, 135.


[16] Taylor's paper-boat served a somewhat different kind of holiday function in Queenborough, where festive-goers tore the boat to pieces in order to wear it as "reliques in their hats and caps" (Travels 59).


[17] Ferris returned to London on 8 August 1590. Freeman reports, "The news of their success had in fact out run them, a hastily concocted broadside ballad account (lost) being entered at Stationers' Hall on 7 August, and a similar evocation of the festivities of 4 August at Bristol entered on the tenth" (173).


[18] Cf. Ellinghausen 152-58, where the relationship between John Taylor's "individualist self" (153) and the book purchasers who validate this "self" is discussed.


[19] Kemp earns the attention of "diuers knights and Gentlemen" (C3v); Coryate dedicates his Crudities "To the High and Mighty Prince Henry" (1: 1); and Taylor tells us that at the conclusion of his paper-boat voyage, "The Mayor of Quinborough in love affords / To entertaine us, as we had beene lords" (Travels 59).


[20] While not functioning alike in all cases, hospitality and reciprocity also feature prominently in other wager-journey accounts, Taylor actually emerging as an important figure in Heal's study (210-16).


[21] Cf. note 5, above.


[22] The first reference to Ferris in the role of a messenger occurs on 18 June 1580 (Great Britain. Privy 12: 59).


[23] Ferris was "very violentlie used" on 19 April 1581 (Great Britain. Privy 13: 30-31) and was "assayled and hurt" on 1 November 1591 (22: 52-53).


[24] Not all that Ferris claimed to do in his capacity as a messenger, however, received governmental support, the State Papers recording on 29 October 1585 a "Note of the overcharge made by Richard Ferrys of 2,664 miles more than he rode, as one of the ordinary messengers of the chamber" (Great Britain, PRO 183: 281).


[25] Likewise, a Kemp-the-clown persona impacts Kemp's wager-journey account, and a Taylor-the-waterman persona impacts those pamphlets dealing with the wager-based voyages Taylor performed on rivers and/or at sea.


[26] Freeman incorrectly identifies the Lord Chancellor with William Cecil, Lord Burleigh, who was actually the Lord Treasurer at that time (170).


[27] Ferris's activities are recorded on 1 April 1588, 27 June 1588, 21 August 1588, 30 December 1588, and 14 January 1589. See Great Britain, Privy 16: 16-17, 137-38, 245-46, 418-19, and 17: 24-25.


[28] Freeman offers: "Perhaps this not unusual mission, thrusting Ferris as it happened into the company of seamen all over the south and west coasts, put him first in mind of the expedition for which he is best remembered" (168-69).


[29] Ferris's stated goal represents an interpretation of his voyage that, although informed by his professional identification with service to the monarch, is not entirely determined by it.


[30] In his 1623 sea journey to Salisbury, Taylor likewise arrives at "the Royall fleete […] / Where much good welcome they did afford" (Taylor, Travels 113).


[31] Freeman refers to "Ferris' sporting voyage in the spirit of post-Armada bravado" (186), but he does so in passing, providing little analysis in support of his claim.


[32] According to Andrews, "no less than 236 English vessels are known to have been privateering at one time or another during the three years 1589-91," and "it is fair to conclude that at least 300 voyages—a hundred a year—took place" (32-33). Most such voyages embarked from London and "ports westward from Chichester round to Bristol" (34), an area traversed by Ferris in his voyage.


[33] On 2 August 1591, a year after Ferris's voyage, Ferris had "divers somes of money owing unto him which he is not able to recover", and "his creditours to whom he standeth indebted in great somes of money importune him for satisfaccion […]" (Great Britain, Privy 21: 361). This record, coupled with what Ferris tells us in his pamphlet, suggests that Ferris took out loans to put out money in advance of the completion of his voyage and to finance the construction and painting of his boat, which "was new built" (A3r). Ferris's promotion of his venture must have culminated in debts that were to be paid back upon receipt of his wager winnings. In this scenario, Ferris would have only been able to afford to partake in the typical "putting out" practice by procuring the trust of creditors, which many privateers and merchant adventurers also had to do. Woodbridge notes that gambling in the period was often conceived "in the same conceptual space with various mercantile and proto-capitalistic ventures", including investments in risky voyages abroad (196).


[34] Moryson reports that the wager-journey performances of commoners grew out of the practice of such performances by courtiers and the social elite (1: 428). Carey's example might have made it easier for Ferris to link wartime efforts to his own distinctive quest for profit and fame. For Carey's adventures at around this time, see Carey 9-22.


[35] According to Craig Muldrew, "Acting as a witness seems to have been a casual and normal part of daily activity and was one of the duties of neighborliness" (64).


[36] Helgerson's argument concerning the general movement away from the representation of England as a monarch-centred nation to that of a "land-centered nation" (120) may be relevant, here, as Ferris's narrative presents an England understood not only in relation to its powerful monarch but in relation to its geographical and communal variety—that is, in relation to "seuerall places vpon the coast of England" where "great entertainement" was had (A1r) and, also, to a coastal sea that could, it is suggested, be accessible to "other of my natiue cuntrymen" (A2v).


[37] At the exact time of Ferris's voyage, Henry IV in France "looked to be upon the eve of decisive success" against his Catholic adversaries (Wernham 183). Of course, the Duke of Parma would rally, producing a stalemate with Henry on 27 August 1590, a few weeks after Ferris's return to London (183-86).


[38] The government kept Ferris employed at least through 1606, after which any record of Ferris seems to disappear (Freeman 175). During this time, there is no indication that Ferris attempted another wager-journey venture, a fact that may be related to the difficulty he had in collecting from many of those who had lost wagers to him. See note 33, above.


[39] This last quotation is from Taylor's introduction to his wager-journey pamphlet, The Pennyles Pilgrimage (1618).


Works Cited


Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.

© 2007-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).