Throughout much of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, policy-makers viewed travel as beneficial to gathering information and knowledge that served the interests of the commonwealth. Whether observing culture, language, history, flora, fauna, politics or law, ‘nothing should escape the careful attention and later recall of the thoughtful traveller.’[1] The traveller informed and encouraged others to widen the nation’s perspectives and interests. At the same time, the ‘traveller’ was often treated with suspicion by those who associated travellers with corruption and transformation. The mistrust of travel did not arise from an attempt to curb travel altogether; it was precisely because English authorities, and humanist thought, pitched the ‘traveller’ as politically useful that the figure of the ‘traveller’ became such a contentious figure. Anxieties over cross-cultural encounter were frequently expressed, where fears of an individual’s mutability and abandonment of English values contained the possibilities of undermining the strength and cohesion of the Protestant church and state. A traveller’s exposure to other religions and societies, for example Catholic Italy or the Islamic Ottoman empire, were perceived as a threat to the national, spiritual, and physical identity of the individual traveller, even as knowledge-gathering abroad could lead to the stability or advancement of English interests. Travellers were thus continually in positions of negotiation, navigating between their personal interests and their duty to their monarch and the realm, between private conscience and public service.

The etymology of ‘traveller’ is closely linked to the hardship of early travelling, originating from the old French word travail and its associated verb, travailer. Both travail and travailer meant bodily or mental toil and exertion, and usage in the middle ages often linked them closely to childbirth, as well as to agricultural labour.[2] As one medieval author wrote, ‘Clepe þo werkmen and yeld hem here travail’, whilst, the fourteenth-century poet, William Langland, declared that all ‘trewe travaillours and tilieres of þe erthe.’[3] By the fifteenth century, travail and the travailer was associated with journeying. While in France travailleur continued to be associated with toil and arduous journeys, in England, the term became interchangeable with the identity of the traveller. Mandeville’s Travels refers to a ‘way es comoun and wele ynogh knawen with all men þat vsez travuaile,’ whilst Thomas Hoby, in his translation of The Courtyer of Count Baldessar Castilio, would later write of Castiglione’s ‘yeeres travaile abrode’ as part of his civil education.[4] By the sixteenth century, the ‘traveller’ could be both a labourer and an individual who journeyed. Thus on the one hand, a late sixteenth-century sermon could describe ‘the traveller’ as an individual who ‘passeth from towne unto towne, until he comes to his Inne’.[5] On the other, the geographer Richard Hakluyt could describe his labour of compiling the travel accounts in his Principal Navigations as an act of both travel and travail, lamenting ‘what restlesse nights, what painefull dayes, what heat, what cold I have indured; how many long & chargeable journeys I have traveiled’ in the making of his compendium.[6] The conflation of both toil and journey in the figure of the traveller was corroborated by both Biblical and classical tropes and exemplars. In 1597, Edmund Mats drew connections between travel and banishment from heaven. According to Mats, the traveller who went ‘farre from his countrey and family, yet is desirous to returne thither againe’ was like all humans who were ‘banished from this worlde’ and longed to ‘returne to heaven, our true borne country.’[7] In other texts, classical tropes of exile and homecoming of figures such as Ulysses and Aeneas took centre stage. The eccentric traveller Thomas Coryate warned his mother that his travels in India would not be done until he had travelled seven years, like Ulysses.[8]

Increasingly in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the ‘traveller’ began to emerge as a socio-political and economic agent of significance. It is important to note that not all travellers undertook their journeys voluntarily; in post-Reformation England, enforced mobility due to religious, economic, and political reasons could, and did, impose travel as a condition of survival on large numbers of the population. However, references to travellers here focus particularly on those who travelled voluntarily in the hope of individual or collective profit and pleasure. As England sought to establish itself as a commercial and global power during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the number of English subjects travelling abroad for such reasons increased dramatically. Travellers in this period could be both individuals seeking to experience foreign cultures and lands for personal benefit, or those employed to advance England’s goals as scholars, merchants, consuls, soldiers, sailors, chaplains and governors.[9] The very act of going abroad made one a traveller; as Alison Games has pointed out, ‘anyone who ventured out of England and Scotland for any purpose was a traveler in the parlance of the time’.[10] Commercial and territorial expansion involved the enlargement of a body of professional travellers or ‘professional expatriates’ who moved between cultures and nations, working as an arm of the English state.[11] The Welsh courtier and poet Ludovic Lloyd commended Spanish expansion in this period, recognising and envying the Spanish use of travel for commercial and territorial gain.[12] For Lloyd and many like him, the Spanish were successful conquerors because they were ‘greatest travellers’.[13] As English imperial and commercial aims grew, the English began to see their status as an island nation as one that lent itself particularly to travel. In 1606, Sir Thomas Palmer described the people of Britain, rather than the Spanish, as great travellers in their attempts to overcome geographic isolation. ‘The people of great Britaine’, being separated from the ‘maine Continent of the world’, Palmer asserted, were ‘so much the more interessed to become Travaillers, by how much the necessitie of everie severall estate of men doth require that for their better advancement.’[14]

While the typology of the English traveller in the period could range from the highest levels of the nobility to the poorest labourer, there was a general emphasis on the traveller’s responsibility to ensure utility and ‘profit’ from the travels undertaken. Humanist education in the early sixteenth century promoted travel as a means of learning and self-discovery. In 1576, explaining the reason for his journey to Geneva, Sir Thomas Bodley admitted being driven by the desire to gain ‘the knowledge of some speciall moderne tongues, and for the encrease of my experience … being wholly then addicted to employ my selfe … in the publique service of the State’.[15] Anthony Munday was a young apprentice to the printer John Allde in 1578, when ‘being very desirous to attaine to some understanding in the languages’ so that ‘in time to come: [he] might reap therby some commoditie’ he cancelled his indentures and embarked on a journey through France and Rome, subsequently using that experience as the basis of his work both as an informer and a writer.[16] As these two examples show, early modern travellers were often torn between the expectations of their role for the state and their own private interests. Munday’s career demonstrates how travellers were often in constant negotiation with their surroundings, and, by extension, with larger issues of political loyalties, confessional alliances and cultural difference.[17] They were driven by possibilities of professional and social advancement as well as constant fear of religious, cultural and political corruption.

A wide range of travel advice literature available in the period placed considerable emphasis on specifying the desirable qualities of a good traveller. Jerome Turler’s De peregrinatione (1574), translated a year later into English, listed the people and groups that he considered unfit to be travellers. These included ‘Infants, Aged persons, & such as have weake bodies’, as well as women and ‘frantique and furious Persons’, all of whom were ‘unméet for it [travel], not being able to abide those paynes that accustomablye befal the traveiller’.[18] Thomas Palmer outlined the professional and social qualities perceived as necessary for a perfect traveller. Palmer’s meticulous strictures on the appropriate age, profession, and social background for the traveller were linked intrinsically to the expectations of travel and the traveller’s growing importance as a source of knowledge and information. His emphasis on the traveller’s duty to ‘make prudent observation of things beneficiall to the State’ is representative of a whole body of literature, the ars apodemica or methodus apodemica.[19]

The traveller was not only defined by the action of travelling, but by their role as a mediator and conveyor of information from the host to the home nation. William Biddulph’s account of his time as a chaplain for the Levant Company was published, he noted, both to assist travellers, and to ’delight’ those who wished to know more about the wider world.[20] Biddulph’s record of his experience in the Levant offered advice to future travellers. On one occasion he advised the ‘ordinary traveller’ about lodgings in hot weather, recommending ‘the best make choise to sleepe on the ground in lowe roomes, rather than in their chambers’.[21] Elsewhere, he highlights travel’s dangers, noting that a traveller’s apparel ‘must be neat in Cities where they sojourne’ although when they ‘travell abroad, it must be simple, for their safety: for the baser their apparell is, the better shall they passe: for if they weare good apparell, their throats will be cut’.[22]

Whether as active agents of English expansion in overseas companies, consulates, or the military, or as individual voluntary travellers, English subjects were encouraged to spend time noting what they saw for the benefit of the state and their personal advancement. A traveller himself, Francis Bacon noted this potential impact of travel in his essay on the subject, urging his readers to ‘prick in some Flowers, of that he hath Learned abroad, into the Customes of his owne Country.’[23] In his account of his time in India, the chaplain, Edward Terry, for instance, wrote that ‘he is the best observer, who strictly and impartially so looks about him, that he may see through himself. That as the Beams of the Sun put forth their vertue, and do good by their reflection: so, in this case the onely way for a man to receive good, is by reflecting things upon himself’.[24] However, such ‘reflection’ could also be treated with suspicion and unease. As Andrew Hadfield pointed out, the traveller who expressed overt enthusiasm about another nation, government, faith or culture ‘ran the risk of treasonably denigrating their own country.’[25] Like rogues and vagrants, English authorities many were wary of the traveller’s loyalties, questioning their ability to ‘transform themselves into strangers’ fealty when they returned.[26]

The substantial body of anti-travel literature produced in the period includes Roger Ascham’s Scholemaster (1570), which famously described the ‘English man Italianated’ as one who, ‘by living, and travelling in Italie, bringeth home into England out of Italie, the Religion, the learning, the policie, the experience, the maners of Italie’.[27] Yet despite Ascham’s apparent anti-travel rhetoric, he had travelled to Germany and Italy, describing his attempts to learn the language as leading him to being ‘almost an Italian myself’.[28] The acceptance of travel ultimately lay in striking the correct balance between individual integrity and the interests of state, between serving the commonwealth and cultivating travel in a way that demonstrated civility without compromising what mattered. For many commentators, foreign travel and the adoption of certain positive customs at home was no bad thing, while most believed that unfettered interaction and ‘aping’ of foreign examples could lead to the loss of an individual’s national and cultural identity.

The Calvinist theologian Thomas Holland, who had spent some time in the Netherlands, wrote of the pernicious effects of travelling into Catholic nations. While Holland noted that ‘the wise and godly may suck sweetnes out of travail’, he also describes the ‘great abuses by travaile, and by it many corruptions have crept into florishing nations’.[29] Holland blamed ‘unprofitable, daungerous, and foolish travellers’ who according to him ‘come to gaze, & to bee gazed on’ rather than travel to learn.[30] Another vehement critic of travel was the Bishop of Norfolk, Joseph Hall, who lamented ‘how few young travellers have brought home, sound and strong, and (in a word) English bodies.’[31] Popular culture replicated such critiques. In The English Ape, the Italian Imitation, the Foote-steppes of Fraunce (1588), William Rankins described the destructive potential of the ‘merchandize’ gathered by the English traveller: ‘Thus (imitating the Ape) the Englishman killeth his owne with culling … He lovingly bringeth his merchandize into his native Country, and there storeth with instruction the false affectors of this tedious trash’ (pp. 2–3). In Thomas Nashe’s prose fiction, The Unfortunate Traveller (1594), the apish English traveller becomes a figure of ridicule, observed curiously by locals. ‘At my first coming to Rome,’ Nashe’s page-boy hero, Jack Wilton reports, ‘I, being a youth of the English cut, … imitated four or five sundry nations in my attire at once, which no sooner was noted, but I had all the boys of the city in a swarm wondering about me’.[32]

The growing numbers of English travellers going abroad was an increasing concern for English officials who sought to regulate such movement through stricter monitoring processes, such as the granting of passports and licences. These were granted by the crown to signify that an individual had permission to travel abroad. In 1599, Lord Willoughby reported wrote that another noble, Lord Hume, was ‘disposing of himself to travell’ and had requested that Queen Elizabeth grant him a ‘passport, and transportance as are needfull to a traveller.’[33] With the exception of established merchants, individuals were required by law to request for permission to leave the country, under the condition that they ‘do not haunte or resorte unto the territories or dominions of any foreign prince or potentate not being with us in league or amitie’.[34] The purpose of the licence was to both protect the individual and the state, preventing the traveller from entering countries and encountering peoples and cultures perceived to be politically and religiously dangerous.

Although the Tudor administration sought to exert greater control over those who crossed its boundaries, the attempts to regulate the movement of travellers was only so effective. Once abroad, travellers could ignore the parameters of the licence, choosing to travel where they wished, and at times for longer amounts of time than their licenses allowed. Lord Zouch described his licence as nothing less than ‘an imprisonment’, complaining that he could not ‘tell whether I shall do well or not to touch the part of the licence which prohibited me in general to travel to some countries.’[35] In the 1570s, Edward de Vere, seventeenth earl of Oxford, went to the Low Countries without a licence, and then onto Italy. Despite attempts by the earl’s father-in-law and secretary of state, William Cecil, to call him back, de Vere refused to return.[36] Some years later, James I himself acknowledged the difficulty of enforcing the licenses abroad, noting how travellers ‘under pretence of travel for their experience, do pass the Alps … [and] daily flock to Rome, out of vanity and curiosity to see the Antiquities of that City; where falling into the company of Priests and Jesuits’.[37] As James revealed, the mistrust of travellers was not just a concern over an individual’s spiritual welfare, but wrapped in the related concern of loyalty to the state. The beguiling alternatives to English life that travellers encountered abroad always carried the possibility of rendering the traveller ‘averse to Religion and ill-affected to Our State and Government'.[38]Cross-cultural encounters thus risked splitting the loyalties of an individual — a concern that became increasingly problematic as travellers became colonists, becoming the chief instruments in English expansion.
Title Page of Coryats Crudities[39]
1. Catherine Levesque, Journey Through Landscape in Seventeenth-Century Holland: The Haarlem Print Series and Dutch Identity (Philadelphia, PA: Penn State Press, 1994), p. 20.
2. ‘travail n. and v.’, Oxford English Dictionary
3. 'Dominica in Sexagesima, Sermon', in An Old English Miscellany containing A Bestiary, Kentis Sermons, Proverbs of Alfred, Religious Poems of the thirteenth century, ed. by Richard Morris (London: Early English Text Society, 1872), p. 33; William Langland, The Vision of William concerning Piers Plowman (1377), ed. by Walter W. Skeat (London: Early English Text Society, 1867), p. 223.
4. Sir John Mandeville, The Egerton Version of Mandeville’s Travels (London: Early English Text Society, 2010), p. 30; Baldassare Castiglione, The courtier of Count Baldessaer Castilio, trans. by Thomas Hoby, (London, 1561; STC 4778), sig. Eiii.
5. Henry Smith, The sermons of Maister Henrie Smith gathered into one volume (London, 1593; STC 22719), p. 677.
6. Richard Hakluyt, The principal navigations, (London, 1589; STC 12625), sig. *4v.
7. Edmund Mats, A devoute mans purposes (London, 1597; STC 17231), p. 1.
8. Thomas Coryate, Thomas Coriate traveller for the English wits: greeting (London, 1616; STC 5811), p. 6.
9. For a typology of early modern travellers, from editors to pilgrims, errant knights, merchants, explorers, colonisers, captives and castaways, ambassadors, pirates, and scientists, see William H. Sherman, ‘Stirrings and Searchings (1500—1750)’, in The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing, ed. by Peter Hulme and Tim Youngs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 21-30.
10. Alison Games, Web of Empire: English Cosmopolitans in an Age of Expansion, 1560—1660 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 18.
11. Gerald M. Maclean, The Rise of Oriental Travel: English Visitors to the Ottoman Empire, 1580—1720 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2004), p. 30.
12. Lloyd Lodowick, The pilgrimage of princes, penned out of sundry Greeke and Latine aucthours (London, 1573; STC 16624).
13. Ibid., sig. W2v.
14. Thomas Palmer, An essay of meanes how to make our Travailes, into forraine Countries, the more profitable and honorable (London, 1606; STC 19156), sig. A2v.
15. Thomas Bodley, The Life of Sir Thomas Bodley, the honourable founder of the publique library in the University of Oxford, written by himselfe (Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1983), p. 4.
16. Anthony Munday, The mirrour of mutabilitie, or Principall part of the Mirrour for magistrates (London, 1579; STC 18276), sig. Ciir..
17. See Melanie Ord, 'Representing Rome and the Self in Anthony Mundays The English Roman Life', in Travels and Translations in the Sixteenth Century: Selected Papers from the Second International Conference of the Tudor Symposium (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016).
18. Jerome Turler, The traveiler of Jerome Turler devided into two books (London, 1575; STC 24336), pp. 7-10.
19. Ibid., p. 21. On early modern English travel advice literature and the tradition of the ars apodemica, see the database compiled by Daniel Carey, Gábor Gelléri and Anders Ingram:
20. William Biddulph, The travels of certaine Englishmen into Africa, Asia, Troy, Bythinia, Thracia, and to the Blacke Sea And into Syria, Cilicia, Pisidia, Mesopotamia, Damascus, Canaan, Galile, Samaria, Judea, Palestina, Jerusalem, Jericho, and to the Red Sea: and to sundry other places (London, 1609; STC 3051), sig. A1r
21. Ibid., p. 88.
22. Ibid., p. 101.
23. Francis Bacon, The Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall, ed. by Michael Kiernan (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), p. 58.
24. Edward Terry, A voyage to East-India (London, 1655: Wing T782), p. 453.
25. Hadfield, Amazons, Savages, and Machiavels, p. 13
26. Games, Web of Empire, p. 25.
27. Roger Ascham, The scholemaster (London, 1570; STC 832), p. 26. On the critique of travel, see also Andrew Hadfield, ‘The Benefits of a Warm Study: The Resistance to Travel before Empire’, in A Companion to the Global Renaissance: English Literature and Culture in the Era of Expansion, ed. by Jyotsna Singh (Chichester: Blackwell, 2009), pp. 101-13; Sara Warneke, Images of the Educational Traveller in Early Modern England (Leiden: Brill, 1994); Nandini Das, Renaissance Romance: The Transformation of English Prose Fiction, 1570—1620 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011), p. 99.
28. Dr. [J.A.] Giles (ed), The Whole Works of Roger Ascham, Vol. I, Part II (London: John Russell Smith, 1865), p. 266.
29. Thomas Holland, Paneguris D. Elizabethae, Dei gratiâ Angliae, Franciae, & Hiberniae Reginae (London, 1601; STC 13597), sig. D4r.
30. Ibid.
31. Joseph Hall, Quo vadis? A just censure of travell as it is commonly undertaken by the gentlemen of our nation (London, 1617; STC 12705), p. 18.
32. Thomas Nashe, The unfortunate traveller. Or, The life of Jacke Wilton (London, 1594; STC 18380), sig. I4r
33. 'Lord Willoughby to Sir William Knollys, Comptroller of the Household, 21 April 1599', Hatfield House, CP 31/101.
34. Quoted in Clare Howard, English Travellers of the Renaissance (New York, NY: John Lane, 1913), p. 86.
35. 'Edward Lord Zouch to Lord Burghley 20 Aug, 1591', The National Archives, SP 12/239, f. 238.
36. Howard, English Travellers, p. 65.
37. Quoted in Howard, English Travellers in the Renaissance, pp. 87-8.
38. Logan Pearsall Smith, The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, Vol. I (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1907), p. 70n.
39. Title Page of Coryats Crudities, by William Hole (1611)
Usage Examples
'…for that the people of great Britaine (of all other famous and glorious Nations separated from the maine Continent of the world) are by so much the more interessed to become Travailers, by how much the necessitie of everie severall estate of men doth require that, for their better advancement.'