Today I attended the second day of Birkbeck’s University of London’s annual Thomas Harriot Seminar at St John’s College, Durham. The first day, which I sadly missed, featured papers from Karin Amundsen, Dr Stephen Clucas and Dr Cesare Pastorino. However, I did catch Dr Evan Jones’s intriguing paper on new discoveries about voyages to the Newfoundland funded by the English crown in the late fifteenth century. They include the revelation that an Italian Augustinian friar serving as the papal tax collector in England, Giovanni Antonio de Carbonariis, travelled to Newfoundland and established a church there in 1498. This and other discoveries were made by Dr Alwyn Ruddock, who stipulated that all her papers should be burnt after her death in 2005. However, Dr Jones has since managed to track down around half of the documents Ruddock claimed to have discovered, in spite of the lack of evidence left behind as a result of the bizarre terms of Ruddock’s will.
Prof. Rory Rapple of the University of Notre Dame (whom I knew many years ago in Cambridge) delivered an equally fascinating paper on the political and constitutional thought of Humphrey Gilbert, who was unusual in advocating royal absolutism in Elizabethan England. I delivered my own paper, ‘Magic as a political crime in Elizabethan England’ after lunch. The paper was based on research conducted for my forthcoming book Magic as a Political Crime in Medieval and Early Modern England, and focussed on accusations of magical treason in the reign of Elizabeth, especially the 1578 affair of the Islington effigies and the role of John Dee. The paper provoked a lively discussion, and I am very grateful to Dr Stephen Clucas for inviting me to the seminar.