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Discourse on History, Geography, and Law: John Dee and the Limits of the British Empire, 1576-80

Discourse on History, Geography, and Law: John Dee and the Limits of
the British Empire, 1576-80

MacMillan, Ken

Canadian Journal of History, vol. 36:1 (2001)

Abstract

Historians have examined in some detail John Dee’s efforts on behalf of the British Empire. From the mid-1550s he was recognized as an expert in geography and when seeking advice and instruction for trade expeditions it was to Dee that many explorers turned. Dee prepared maps and instructions for several explorers, including John Davis, Francis Drake, Martin Frobisher, Humphrey Gilbert, and Walter Raleigh, in their well-known attempts to search out trade routes and settle new-found lands. With respect to Dee’s efforts regarding Queen Elizabeth’s sovereign title to new-found lands, however, historians have been more hesitant to assign him an important role. Most writers accept that Dee created the phrase “British Empire,” but otherwise argue that his imperial vision was simply propaganda and antiquarianism, without much practical value and of limited interest to the English crown and state.

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