Sir Arthur Gorges



The Poems of Sir Arthur Gorges, ed. Helen Estabrook Sandison (Oxford, 1953)

Sandison (1928)

Helen Estabrook Sandison, ‘Arthur Gorges, Spenser's Alcyon and Ralegh's Friend’, PMLA, 43, No. 3 (September 1928), 645-74

Sandison (1940)

Helen E. Sandison, ‘Manuscripts of the “Islands Voyage” and “Notes on the Royal Navy”’, Essays and Studies in Honor of Carleton Brown (New York, London & Oxford, 1940)


Prose Works

Sir Arthur Gorges was a public figure, for a brief period a Member of Parliament, who is particularly known for his account of the Islands Voyage in 1597, when he was captain of his kinsman Sir Walter Ralegh's ship the Waspite. His account, whereby he hoped to gain the patronage of Prince Henry, was written in 1607 and achieved a possibly controlled measure of circulation in manuscripts (GgA 131-137) before its posthumous publication. Gorges may also have written, or at least been involved in writing, again for Prince Henry, the Observations concerning the Royal Navy and Sea-Service which has traditionally been assigned to Ralegh (see RaW 683-91), as well as later A Forme of Orders and Directions...[for] Conducting a Fleete through the Narrow Seas, which would appear to be an adaptation of Ralegh's Orders to be observed by the Commanders of the Fleet with Land Companies. 3 May 1617 (see RaW 701-708).

Various other tracts by Gorges offering advice on naval and other public affairs, which were largely confined to very limited manuscript distribution (and are generally still unpublished), were also evidently intended to advance his reputation in order to gain high office. At least one, A Breife Discourse tending to ye wealth, and strength of this Kingdome of Greate Brittayne, was presented to Prince Henry (*GgA 128) before the latter's death in 1612 effectively brought Gorges's hopes in that respect to an end.


One consequence of that calamity was Gorges's lengthy poem The Olympian Catastrophe, which exists in his own carefully produced fair copy (*GgA 49), and which may perhaps have been prepared for presentation to Queen Anne, the first of its royal dedicatees. It is also in Gorges's own formal manuscript copy that the great bulk of his extant poems survive. The Vanytyes of Sir Arthur Gorges Youthe (now British Library, Egerton MS 3165) is one of the major existing authorial manuscript collections of verse by any poet of the period. These two poetical manuscripts are supplemented by the equally formal copy of six poems calligraphically set out for presentation as a New Year's Gift to James I on 1 January 1609/10 (GgA 2.5, GgA 9, *GgA 43, GgA 98, GgA 101, GgA 103).


Apart from a solitary copy of one of the translations to which he turned his hand in later years, that of Bacon's De sapientia veterum (BcF 292), Gorges's remaining principal output of manuscripts is letters. Numerous examples exist, concerning both personal and state matters. Repositories with notable letters by him include the Library of the Marquess of Salisbury, Hatfield House, the British Library, Bodleian, National Archives, Kew, and Trinity College, Cambridge. A few of these letters are printed in Sandison (1928), pp. 657-8 and 663-3.

Peter Beal