The Tudor Society

February 27 – Chaplain Richard Madox dies on a troubled voyage

On this day in Tudor history, 27th February 1583, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, thirty-six-year-old diarist and Church of England clergyman, Richard Madox, died near Espirito Santo harbour, near Vitória, Brazil.

Madox served as chaplain and secretary to Captain Edward Fenton on his 1582 voyage to the Moluccas and China. Madox's last diary entry was 31 December 1582, a simple comment on the weather that day. It is thought that he was buried at sea.

Here are a few facts about Madox…

  • Madox was born on 11th November 1546. It is thought that he came from Uffington in Shropshire, but nothing is known of his family apart from the fact that he had an older brother, Thomas, and a younger brother.
  • Madox was educated at Shrewsbury School and then All Souls, Oxford, graduating BA in 1571 and MA in 1575.
  • Madox was ordained as a priest in the Elizabethan Church of England in 1580 and was a university proctor at All Souls in 1581.
  • Historian John Bennell explains that Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, recommended that Madox apply for the post of chaplain for a trading voyage due to be undertaken by captain and admiral Edward Fenton on the Galleon Leicester, which was owned by Leicester and Henry Oughtread. The aim of the voyage, whose main investors were Leicester, Oughtred and Sir Francis Drake, was to set up an English outpost at Calicut on the Malabar coast for trading with the Moluccas.
  • Madox was appointed as Fenton’s chaplain and secretary, and the fleet of four ships sailed from England on 1st May 1582. It was a troubled voyage, with arguments between the captains and admiral. Madox kept a diary covering 1st January 1582, the lead up to the voyage and Madox’s winding up of his affairs in Oxford, and ending on 31st December 1582, and it has survived, and is part of the British Library’s collection.
  • It is not known how Madox died, Fenton simply recorded his death near Espiranto Santo harbour on 27th February, but Madox had recorded having blood let from his arm on 19th October 1582 and still suffering with stiffness in that arm in the December.
  • Madox never married and had no children.
  • In 1976, Madox’s diary was published, edited by Elizabeth Story Donno, as "An Elizabethan in 1582. The Diary of Richard Madox, Fellow of All Souls". Here is an extract from the blurb: “' As a circumstantial document, the Diary provides diverse information, ranging from details of the Oxford and London scenes and the organizational aspects of the trading venture to the customs of the natives of Sierra Leone, including the earliest English record of an African language, together with drawings of the flora and fauna. As a personal document it includes mordant comments on many individuals, particularly those participants in the venture who wished to turn to piracy.”
    What an amazing record to have of the voyage!

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February 27 – Chaplain Richard Madox dies on a troubled voyage