studies in the history of science and culture

© January 2007
revised 16 November 2008


The following biography of England’s beloved Prince Henry, eldest son of James I of England, is copied from Alexander Brown’s The Genesis of the United States, vol. 2, pp. 1025–26.

While unlike his father in so many ways, Prince Henry shared with James I a desire to advance English colonial expansion in the Americas. From childhood, Henry was “interested in ships and naval affairs, commerce, and discoveries.” Henry formed close relationships with romantic adventurers such as Sir Walter Ralegh, and was a keen student of practical mathematics and associated “new” sciences until his precipitate death in his 18th year. Prince Henry’s personal copy of François Vieta’s Opera Mathematica (published 1591–1600, three thin folio volumes of typographic beauty, bound in one volume, “bearing his arms and the Prince of Wales’ feathers”) is evidence not only of his mathematical tastes, but also of the seriousness of his studies. Indeed, the “learned and famous mathematician” Edward Wright “read mathematicks to Prince Henry” and made several state-of-the-art instruments for him including, Aubrey tells us, a “wooden sphaer ... which was contrived by Mr. Wright for the more easy information of the prince.” This wooden sphere, which Aubrey judged to be “about three quarters of a yard diameter,” later became a prize possession of the mathematician and astronomer, Sir Jonas Moore, who discovered it laying “neglected and out of order in the Tower, at London” and “begd it of his present majestie.”

Brown’s biography emphasizes Henry’s hands-on involvement with England’s Virginia enterprise. Upon being installed as prince of Wales in June 1610, the 16-year-old Henry became even more assertive than formerly about matters of foreign policy. Edward Wright, mentioned below by Brown, first remarked on the young prince’s precocious encouragement of English maritime affairs in the dedication to his revised edition of Certaine Errors in Navigation Detected and Corrected (London, 1599; rev. ed. 1610), slated to become “the most influential work on navigation of the century,” and still selling briskly in 1694. Aubrey remarks that Wright’s book

is dedicated to the high and mighty Henry, prince of Wales, etc. In the Epistle dedicatory he [Wright] makes mention of a good lye and royall ship that his highnesse [Prince Henry] lately built, and that since his highnesse comeing into England that the “art of navigation hath been much advanced here as well in searching the North-east and North-west passages as also in discovering the sea-coastes and inland of Virginea, Newfoundland, Groenland, and of the North New-land as far as Hackluyt’s headland, within 9 degrees of the pole, also of Guiana and divers parts and ilands of the East Indies, yea, and some parts also of the south continent discovered by Sir Richard Hawkins.”

(Aubrey’s Brief Lives,
ed. Andrew Clark, ii:314)

As Brown points out in his biography of the popular prince, Henry’s name was used to annex Virginia territory as early as 1607, thus affirming his patronage of and keen interest in English expansionism. Captain George Percy, younger brother of Thomas Hariot’s patron, Henry Percy (9th earl of Northumberland), and a member of the first expedition to sail for Virginia in January 1607, recorded that on

The nine and twentieth day [of April 1607] we set up a Crosse at Chesupioc Bay, and named that place Cape Henry.

From then on, Prince Henry’s name would grace maps of the region, such as Robert Tindall’s 1608 chart of the James and York rivers, with its prominent callouts for “Cape Henneri” and “Prince Henneri his River.” Tindall, who was employed by Henry as a gunner and was also a member of the first expedition to “New Virginia,” would write to the then 13-year-old prince “From James Towne in Virginia this: 22 of June 1607,” just one month after Jamestown’s “planting” in May 1607. Prince Henry was thus one of the first in England to receive coveted geographical intelligence of virgin land considered ripe for English occupation. The head of the James river was a place “where never Christian before hathe beene,” wrote Tindall to his prince, knowing full well that these carefully-chosen words, plus his maps with their mixture of English and Indian toponyms, could be used to justify England’s legal claim to the region.

Henry Stuart, Prince of Wales (1594–1612)

“Stuart, Prince Henry, merchant-tailor. Eldest son of James I.; born at Stirling Castle, February 19, 1594; baptized August 30, 1594, with the first Protestant baptismal rites ever administered to a prince in Great Britain; created Prince of Wales, May 30, 1610. Interested in ships and naval affairs, commerce, and discoveries, and especially in the colonization of America by the English; made a study of the West Indies, and Sir Charles Cornwallis says, ‘It was his expressed desire, if the King his father should on any occasion think proper to break with Spain, that he would himselfe, if his Majesty would permit, undertake the execution of the attempt against the Spanish possessions in America.’ Among his servants were the celebrated mathematician, Edward Wright, Phineas Pett, the shipbuilder, and Solomon de Caus, whom Arago regarded as the inventor of the ‘machine a feu’ (steam-engine). The prince was a friend to Ralegh, who wrote for him, ‘Of the Art of War by Sea,’ ‘Of a Maritime Voyage, with the Passages and Incidents therein,’ and his ‘General History of the World.’ He had a little quiet humor, and, in 1611, was the patron of Coryat’s ‘Crudities, Hastily gobled up in five Moneths travells in France, Savoy,’ etc.; with engravings by W. Hole, and poems by many, in a high panegyric style; and I am not at all sure but that some of the same ideas obtained in the bringing forth of Smith’s ‘New England’ in 1616, to which his brother, Prince Charles, was the patron.

“Henry, Prince of Wales died of typhoid fever, to the great grief of the whole nation ‘on Friday, November 6, 1612, between 7 and 8 a clocke at night,’ and was buried in Westminster Abbey. The prince’s chaplain, Dr. Daniel Price, preached a sermon in the chapel December 6, and George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury, preached his funeral sermon in the Abbey December 7, 1612. Cape Henry was named for him in 1607; the York River was named for him in 1607 or 1608; the city of Henricus or Henricopolis (in the bend of James River at Dutch Gap) was named for him in 1611, and the old county of Henrico at a later day.

“The sorrow at the death of this prince was very great. At the University of Oxford, Dr. William Goodwin preached a funeral sermon; Richard Corbet delivered a funeral oration, and the university afterwards published a collection of Memorial Verses. At the University of Cambridge, the sermon was preached by Dr. Valentine Cary; the oration delivered by Francis Nethersole, and another collection of Memorial Verses was published by this university; and still another by Magdalen College in Oxford; and Dr. Leonel Sharpe published likewise a funeral oration in Latin. The following poets wrote elegies: Sir William Aleunder, Robert Allyne, Lord Bacon, Dominic Baudius, of Leyden, Christopher Brooke, William Browne, George Chapman, Alexander Craig, John Donne, William Drummond, Thomas Heyward, Hugh Holland, James Maxwell, Walter Quinn, Joshua Sylvester, William Rowley, John Taylor, Cyril Tourneur, John Warde, John Webster, George Wither, etc.”

(Brown II:1025–26)


a GALLERY exhibit on Robert Tindall’s chart of the James and York rivers, drawn in 1608, with its callouts for “Cape Henneri” (present-day Virginia Beach) and “Prince Henneri his River” (York or Pamunkey river)

HTML transcription of Robert Tindall’s letter from Virginia to Henry, Prince of Wales, dated 22 June 1607
(opens in a second window, and is paired with the GALLERY exhibit on Tindall’s 1608 chart)

an IN BRIEF biography of England’s King James I, Prince Henry’s father

an IN BRIEF biography of Sir Walter Ralegh, whom Aubrey describes as the “great Favorite” of that “most noble and most hopefull PrInce Henry”

discussion of the poet George Chapman’s Virginia-themed masque at White Hall (performed before James I on 15 February 1613 in honor of Prince Henry’s sister, Elizabeth Stuart’s marriage to Frederick I, King of Bohemia) in the GALLERY exhibit, “Portraits of Virginian Algonquian Men”


Portrait of Henry Stuart, Prince of Wales

W. Finden engraving of the original painting by Mytens (in the collection of His Grace the Duke of Dorset in 1830, from whence Brown took his reproduction).


Portrait of Henry Stuart, Prince of Wales

Miniature by Isaac Oliver.

Painting by Hendrick Vroom, c.1623

Shows the arrival at Flushing in 1613 of Prince Henry’s ship, the Prince Royal, with Frederick V, Elector Palatine, and his new wife Elizabeth (the popular sister of Prince Henry, later crowned Queen of Bohemia in 1619).

John Winton argues persuasively that Prince Henry commissioned the Prince Royal with Sir Walter Ralegh’s “encouragement and guidance.”

Henry probably began visiting Ralegh -- then imprisoned in the Tower of London by James I (“No one but my father would keep such a bird in a cage,” was Henry’s dissenting opinion concerning this action of his father’s) -- about 1607, when Henry was 13 years of age. Ralegh not only advised the prince in person during these visits, but also wrote several treatises for Henry to peruse, including A Discourse of the Invention of Ships, Anchor, Compass, &c., Observations on the Royal Navy and Sea Service, The Art of War by Sea, On a Marriage between Prince Henry and a Daughter of Savoy (here Ralegh advised that Henry remain single for the time being, then later think about marrying the King of France’s daughter, not the “Daughter of Savoy” as James I was recommending), On a Match between the Lady Elizabeth and the Prince of Piedmont (again, Ralegh counselled here that Henry’s sister marry a Protestant prince, such as the Prince Palatine of the Rhine, not “the Prince of Piedmont” recommended by James I), and The History of the World (on which Ralegh promptly ceased work when Henry died, publishing anonymously in 1614 the 5 books he had completed by that point, and just leaving the rest, “a second and third volume, which I also intended, and have hewn out” but was too melancholy to write: “My harp is also turned to mourning, and my organ into the voice of them that weep.”).

In such manner, “Ralegh fostered the Prince’s interest in one of his own great loves, ship-building. In 1608 Prince Henry engaged the best naval architect of his day, Phineas Pett, to build him a ship, the Prince Royal. The old Ark Royal was also converted, and renamed the Anne Royal. ¶ Prince Henry and Queen Anne [it was Anne, Henry’s mother, who first took Henry to visit Ralegh in the Tower] were present at Woolwich to see the launch of the Prince Royal in September 1610. There was some difficulty in getting the ship afloat, but that was not her fault; she was of sound design and, years afterwards, Henry’s younger brother Charles survived a Channel storm in her when many other ships were sunk.” (Winton 280–1)

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