The Tudor Society

4 April – William Strachey and Shakespeare’s The Tempest

On this day in Tudor history, 4th April 1572, William Strachey (and who knows if Claire pronounces his name right!), writer and historian of Virginia, was born in Saffron Walden in Essex, England.

Strachey's account of the 1609 shipwreck of the Sea Venture in a hurricane was used as a source for William Shakespeare's "The Tempest".

Find out more about Strachey, how he was marooned for a year, and why he died in poverty, in today's talk.

Here's a link to find out more about Strachey's signet ring -

Also on this day in Tudor history, 4th April 1589, Mildred Cecil, Lady Burghley, wife of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, and an accomplished and influential woman in her own right, died. You can find out more about her in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1483 – Death of Henry Bourchier, 1st Earl of Essex, great-grandson of Edward III and Lord High Treasurer. He was buried in Beeleigh Abbey.
  • 1506 – Birth of Sir Edward Saunders, Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench in Elizabeth I's reign.
  • 1581 – Francis Drake was awarded a knighthood by Elizabeth I. He was dubbed by Monsieur de Marchaumont on board the Golden Hind at Deptford.


On this day in Tudor history, 4th April 1572, William Strachey, writer and historian of Virginia, was born in Saffron Walden in Essex, England.
When I was researching for my book On This Day in Tudor History, I noticed that William Shakespeare was said to have used Strachey's account of the 1609 shipwreck of the Sea Venture as a source for his play “The Tempest”. This made me want to know more about Strachey and the shipwreck, plus his account of it.

William Strachey was the son of William Strachey and his wife, Mary Cooke. William was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, before he joined Gray’s Inn, one of London’s four inns of the court. Strachey's biographer, Betty Wood, writes of how his interest in literature, brought him into contact with men like William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Thomas Campion. His sonnet “Upon Sejanus” was published in Ben Jonson's play “Sejanus His Fall” in 1605. Strachey was also a shareholder in the Children of the Revels, a troupe of boy-actors.

Strachey married his first wife, Frances Forster, in 1595 and had two sons by her, William and Edmund. Frances had died by 1615 and William took a second wife, a widow called Dorothy.

In 1602, Strachey inherited his father's estate and lived off that until his money dwindled in 1605. In 1606, he obtained the position of secretary to Thomas Glover, the English ambassador to Constantinople, but he returned to England in 1607 after being dismissed. In 1609, he purchased two shares in the Virginia Company of London and in June 1609, he set sail with "Sea Venture" with Sir Thomas Gates and Sir George Somer for Virginia on the Sea Venture, which was captained by Christopher Newport. Unfortunately, a “terrible storme”, i.e., a hurricane, caused the ship to run aground on an uninhabited island in the Bermudas, which Strachey described as “Devils illands” that were to be “feared and avoyded … above any other place in the world”.

Strachey and the ship’s crew were stuck there for nearly a year. They were eventually able to construct two boats, Patience and Deliverance, which allowed them to continue their journey. Strachey wrote an account of the shipwreck and what Betty Wood describes as “the precarious state of the settlement at Jamestown” in a letter dated 15th July 1610, but it was suppressed by the Virginia Colony. It was eventually published in 1625 as “A true reportory of the wracke, and redemption of Sir Thomas Gates Knight; vpon, and from the Ilands of the Bermudas: his coming to Virginia, and the estate of that Colonie then, and after, vnder the gouernment of the Lord La Warre, Iuly 15. 1610” in “Purchas his Pilgrimes”, a four-volume collection of travel narratives by Samuel Purchas.

Strachey served as secretary of the Virginia Company and was asked by the company to write an official account of the colony, which he did, on his return to London in 1611. However, his "The Historie of Travaile Into Virginia Britannia", was critical of the colony, like his earlier account, and so was not published in his lifetime.

Strachey also compiled a glossary of words used by the Powhatan people

Strachey died in June 1621 at the age of 49. He died in poverty after finding it hard to get his work published because it was critical of the management of the colony. He left the following sad verse:

“Hark! Twas the trump of death that blew
My hour has come. False world adieu
Thy pleasures have betrayed me so
That I to death untimely go.”

He was laid to rest in St Giles’ Church, Camberwell, in Surrey.

His works are excellent primary sources for the history of the English colonisation of North America, and it is thought that they were used by William Shakespeare for his play “The Tempest”.

By the way, William Strachey's signet ring was found in 1996 in the ruins of Jamestown, Virginia.

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4 April – William Strachey and Shakespeare’s The Tempest