John Dee's Role in Martin Frobisher's Northwest Enterprise
By William Sherman
he scholar John Dee (1527-1609) has occupied a confusing position in accounts of the Frobisher venture. His name appears in many of the documents related to the planning, execution, and interpretation of Frobisher's voyages, but historians have offered a wide range of judgements on his role. For some he was virtually the founder of the science which enabled English maritime enterprise, while for others he was a marginal figure who made no serious contributions to the commercial and imperial projects of the Elizabethan explorers. This paper surveys these judgements and the texts which document Dee's participation in the Frobisher enterprise: as an advisor, inventor, commissioner, and (perhaps most importantly) reader and writer. It concludes that, while his direct impact on Frobisher's voyages was limited, Dee made a major contribution to the general framework of knowledge that drove England's exploration of the northeast and northwest.