Rycaut, Paul (DNB00)

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RYCAUT or RICAUT, Sir PAUL (1628–1700), traveller and author, was born at The Friary, his father's seat at Aylesford in Kent, in the autumn of 1628. His grandfather was Andrew Rycaut, a grandee of Brabant, who married Emerantia, daughter of Garcia Gonzalez of Spain. Their son Peter, a financier who lent money to the sovereigns of Spain and England, came to London in James I's reign, bought lands at Aylesford and at Wittersham in Kent, and was knighted at Whitehall by Charles I on 13 May 1641. He devoted a large treasure to the royal cause, and was assessed by the parliamentary commissioners to pay a fine of 1,500l., or one twentieth of his income. The fine remaining unpaid, his debtors were ordered to make payments to the committee, before whom Sir Peter was frequently summoned, until, on 3 March 1649, he was found to be ruined, and his assessment ‘discharged’ (Cal. of Proc. of Comm. for Advance of Money, p. 134). Having sold his estates in Kent, he tried, but without success, to obtain letters of marque from Cromwell in order to re- cover his debt from the king of Spain. He died about 1657, leaving by his wife Mary, daughter of Roger Vercolad, a large family of sons and a daughter Mary. She married Sir John Mayney of Linton, Kent, who was created a baronet in 1641, and ruined himself by his sacrifices for the royal cause, his son Sir Anthony dying of want in 1706.

Sir Peter's youngest son, Paul, was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, matriculating in 1647, and graduating B.A. in 1650. He spent the greater part of the next ten years abroad, and in 1661 was sent to Turkey as secretary in the embassy of Heneage Finch, second earl of Winchilsea [q. v.] He was attached to the Porte about six years, and during that period twice travelled to England, once through Venice and once through Hungary. He published in 1663, in his official capacity, ‘The Capitulations and Articles of Peace between England and the Porte, as modified at Adrianople, January 1661,’ dedicated to the company of Levant merchants, and printed at Constantinople by Abraham Gabai, ‘chafnahar.’ In the meantime he was collecting materials for his most important work, based largely upon his own observations, and entitled ‘The Present State of the Ottoman Empire, containing the Maxims of the Turkish Politie, the most material points of the Mahometan Religion, their Military Discipline, a particular Description of the Seraglio … illustrated with divers pieces of Sculpture, representing the varieties of Habits among the Turks, in three books,’ 1668, London, 4to. A third edition appeared in 1670, and a sixth, dedicated to Lord Arlington, in 1686, while an abridgment was appended to Savage's ‘History of the Turks in 1701.’ It was translated by Briot, Paris, 1670, and by Bespier, with valuable notes and corrections, Rouen, 1677, 2 vols. 12mo. It was also translated into Polish, 1678, and German, Augsburg, 1694. Dudley North, who knew Turkey well, condemned the work as superficial and erroneous, and Bespier pointed out a few direct misstatements, such as that Mahometan women have no hope of heaven. It nevertheless presents an animated and, on the whole, faithful picture of Turkish manners. It long proved a useful companion to Richard Knolles's ‘History,’ while the writer's impartiality renders it of interest to the modern reader. It is quoted by Gibbon in his account of the rise of the Ottomans (Decline and Fall, ed. Milman, viii. 50).

Meanwhile, in 1667, Rycaut was appointed by the Levant Company to be their consul at Smyrna, and he remained there eleven years. A summary of his instructions upon taking the post is printed (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1667–8, pp. 402–3). In 1669 he obtained a gratuity of two thousand dollars for two years' employment, while a post in the consulate was granted to his kinsman, James Rycaut. In 1679 he returned to England, and printed by command of the king ‘The Present State of the Greek and Armenian Churches, Anno Christi 1678,’ an essay characterised by his former spirit of fairness, and expressing in the preface a desire for Christian reunion. In the following year he published ‘The History of the Turkish Empire from 1623 to 1677, containing the reigns of the last three emperors (Amurath IV–Mahomet IV),’ London, 4to, dedicated to the king. This was a continuation of Knolles's ‘Turkish History,’ to the sixth edition of which (3 vols. 1687–1700) it was printed as a supplement. The whole work was abridged, with some addenda by Savage, in 1701.

Early in October 1685 Rycaut was appointed secretary to the Earl of Clarendon, recently created lord-lieutenant of Ireland, and he was knighted at Whitehall on the 8th of the month, and sworn a privy councillor and judge of the admiralty in Ireland. The position was not a grateful one, as Clarendon soon became a cipher in Irish politics, and some charges of extortion were fomented by the Roman catholic party against the secretary. These, however, were warmly rebutted by Clarendon, who spoke highly of Rycaut's integrity and generosity to his subordinates. In January 1688, after their return to England, Rycaut was instrumental in bringing about an interview between Clarendon and Halifax, who was urged to influence the king in the former's favour. In July 1689 Rycaut's ability as a linguist and experience in affairs gained him the appointment of resident in Hamburg and the Hanse Towns. His letters contain numerous warnings of privateers fitted out in the Hanse ports. In December 1698 he caused to be seized a Malagasy pirate ship which had been built in England. He remained at Hamburg, with a few intervals, until June 1700, when he was finally recalled. He died of apoplexy on 16 Nov. 1700, and was buried near his father and mother in the south chancel of Aylesford church.

Rycaut was elected a fellow of the Royal Society on 12 Dec. 1666 (Thomson, App. vol. iv. p. xxv), and contributed to the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ (No. 251) in April 1699 a paper on the gregarious habits of sable mice, described as ‘mures norwegici’ by Olaus Wormius in his ‘Museum,’ 1653, 4to, and now known as ‘mures decumani’ (Zoolog. Soc. Proc. 1868, p. 350). He also translated ‘The Critick’ from the Spanish of Balthazar Gracian, 1681, 12mo; ‘The Lives of the Popes, translated from the Latin of Baptist Platina, and continued from 1471 to this present time,’ 1685, fol. and 1688 fol.; and ‘The Royal Commentaries of Peru, from the Spanish of Garcilasso de la Vega,’ 1688, fol. Some of his diplomatic papers from Hamburg were printed from Sir Thomas Phillipps's manuscripts (Brit. Mus. 577, 1. 28).

A portrait, by Sir Peter Lely, was engraved by R. White for a frontispiece to Rycaut's ‘Turkish History,’ and represents the traveller with a refined and sensitive face, bearing a resemblance to Molière's; another portrait was painted by Johann Rundt at Amsterdam in 1691 (cf. Evans, Cat. of Engraved Portraits, p. 301).

[Le Neve's Pedigrees of the Knights, pp. 399, 400; Metcalfe's Book of Knights, p. 196; Burke's Extinct Baronetcies, s.v. ‘Mayney’; Biographia Britannica, 1760, s.v. Ricaut; Hasted's Kent, ii. 170; Archæologia Cantiana, iv. 134; Luttrell's Brief Hist. Relation, i. 361, 560, 583, ii. 351, iv. 96, 388, 416, 457, 570, 660, 708–9; Hyde Correspondence, ed. Singer, passim; Kemble's State Papers; Evelyn's Diary, November 1685; Lives of the Norths, ed. Jessopp; Granger's Biogr. Hist. of England, iv. 67–8; Chalmers's Biogr. Dict.; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn); Allibone's Dict. of English Lit.; Rycaut's Works in the British Museum.]

T. S.