1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Fletcher, Giles (author)

FLETCHER, GILES (c. 1548–1611), English author, son of Richard Fletcher, vicar of Cranbrook, Kent, and father of the poets Phineas and Giles Fletcher, was born in 1548 or 1549. He was educated at Eton and at King’s College, Cambridge, taking his B.A. degree in 1569. He was a fellow of his college, and was made LL.D. in 1581. In 1580 he had married Joan Sheafe of Cranbrook. In that year he was commissary to Dr Bridgwater, chancellor of Ely, and in 1585 he sat in parliament for Winchelsea. He was employed on diplomatic service in Scotland, Germany and Holland, and in 1588 was sent to Russia to the court of the czar Theodore with instructions to conclude as alliance between England and Russia, to restore English trade, and to obtain better conditions for the English Russia Company. The factor of the company, Jerome Horsey, had already obtained large concessions through the favour of the protector, Boris Godunov, but when Dr Fletcher reached Moscow in 1588 he found that Godunov’s interest was alienated, and that the Russian government was contemplating an alliance with Spain. The envoy was badly lodged, and treated with obvious contempt, and was not allowed to forward letters to England, but the English victory over the Armada and his own indomitable patience secured among other advantages for English traders exclusive rights of trading on the Volga and their security from the infliction of torture. Fletcher’s treatment at Moscow was later made the subject of formal complaint by Queen Elizabeth. He returned to England in 1589 in company with Jerome Horsey, and in 1591 he published Of the Russe Commonwealth, Or Maner of Government by the Russe Emperour (commonly called The Emperour of Moskovia) with the manners and fashions of the people of that Countrey. In this comprehensive account of Russian geography, government, law, methods of warfare, church and manners, Fletcher, who states that he began to arrange his material during the return journey, doubtless received some assistance from the longer experience of his travelling companion, who also wrote a narrative of his travels, published in Purchas his Pilgrimes (1626). The Russia Company feared that the freedom of Fletcher’s criticisms would give offence to the Muscovite authorities, and accordingly damage their trade. The book was consequently suppressed, and was not reprinted in its entirety until 1856, when it was edited from a copy of the original edition for the Hakluyt Society, with an introduction by Mr Edward A. Bond.

Fletcher was appointed “Remembrancer” to the city of London, and an extraordinary master of requests in 1596, and became treasurer of St Paul’s in 1597. He contemplated a history of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and in a letter to Lord Burghley he suggested that it might be well to begin with an account from the Protestant side of the marriage of Henry VIII. and Ann Boleyn. But personal difficulties prevented the execution of this plan. He had become security to the exchequer for the debts of his brother, Richard Fletcher, bishop of London, who died in 1596, and was only then saved from imprisonment by the protection of the earl of Essex. He was actually in prison in 1601, when he addressed a somewhat ambiguous letter to Burghley from which it may be gathered that his prime offence had been an allusion to Essex’s disgrace as being the work of Sir Walter Raleigh. Fletcher was employed in 1610 to negotiate with Denmark on behalf of the “Eastland Merchants,” and he died next year, and was buried on the 11th of March in the parish of St Catherine Colman, London.

The Russe Commonwealth was issued in an abridged form in Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, Voyages, &c. (vol. i. p. 473, ed. of 1598), a somewhat completer version in Purchas his Pilgrimes (pt. iii. ed. 1625), also as History of Russia in 1643 and 1657. Fletcher also wrote De literis antiquae Britanniae (ed. by Phineas Fletcher, 1633), a treatise on “The Tartars,” printed in Israel Redux (ed. by S(amuel) L(ee), 1677), to prove that they were the ten lost tribes of Israel, Latin poems published in various miscellanies, and Licia, or Poemes of Love in Honour of the admirable and singular vertues of his Lady, to the imitation of the best Latin Poets . . . whereunto is added the Rising to the Crowne of Richard the third (1593). This series of love sonnets, followed by some other poems, was published anonymously. Most critics, with the notable exception of Alexander Dyce (Beaumont and Fletcher, Works, i. p. xvi., 1843) have accepted it as the work of Dr Giles Fletcher on the evidence afforded in the first of the Piscatory Eclogues of his son Phineas, who represents his father (Thelgon), as having “raised his rime to sing of Richard’s climbing.”

See E. A. Bond’s Introduction to the Hakluyt Society’s edition; also Dr A. B. Grosart’s prefatory matter to Licia (Fuller Worthies Library, Miscellanies, vol. iii., 1871), and to the works (1869) of Phineas Fletcher in the same series. Fletcher’s letters relative to the college dispute with the provost, Dr Roger Goad, are preserved in the Lansdowne MSS. (xxiii. art. 18 et seq.), and are translated in Grosart’s edition.