Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Webbe, Edward

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WEBBE, EDWARD (fl. 1590), master-gunner and adventurer, son of Richard Webbe, ‘master-gunner of England,’ was born at St. Katherine's, near the Tower of London, about 1554. At the age of twelve his father placed him in the service of Captain Anthony Jenkinson [q. v.], ambassador to Russia, who sailed from England on 4 May 1566. He was in Jenkinson's service in and about Moscow for three years, and returned with him to England. In 1570 he sailed in the English-Russian fleet, under Captain William Borough [q. v.], for Narva, and was at Moscow in May 1571 when that town was burnt by the Crim Tartars. He became a slave to the Tartars in the Crimea, but was ransomed. Sailing again from London in the Henry, he appears to have been at Tunis when Don John of Austria took it from the Turks (October 1572), and to have reached the rank of master-gunner; but some months later the Henry was captured by the Turks, and Webbe became a galley slave. ‘Constrained for want of victuals,’ he consented to serve the Turks as a gunner, and accompanied the Turkish army to Persia and many other eastern countries. About 1588 William Harborne [q. v.], the English ambassador, ransomed Webbe and nineteen others. He encountered various troubles on his way to England, but reached England safely in 1589. In November of that year he proceeded to France, and was made chief master-gunner by Henry IV. He was present at the battle of Ivry, 14 March 1590, but returned soon after to England, and took lodgings at Blackwall, where on 19 May he dedicates the little tract which recounts his adventures. The title of this is: ‘The Rare & most wonderful thinges which Edward Webbe an Englishman borne hath seene & passed in his troublesome travailes in the Citties of Jerusalem, Dammasko, Bethelem & Gallely; and in the Landes of Jewrie, Egipt, Grecia, Russia, & in the Land of Prester John. Wherein is set foorth his extreame slaverie sustained many yeres togither, in the Gallies & wars of the great Turk against the Landes of Persia, Tartaria, Spaine, and Portugall, with the manner of his releasement, and comming into Englande in May last. London. Printed by Ralph Blower, for Thomas Pavier,’ 4to. There is no date on the title-page, nor on the title-page of a reprint ‘printed by A. J. for William Barley, dwelling in Gratious Streete, neere leaden hall,’ which has six woodcuts. But the second edition, ‘Newly enlarged and corrected by the Author. Printed for William Wright,’ is dated 1590. The first woodcut is altered from that of the previous edition, and some slight corrections made in the text. The tract has been reprinted by Professor Arber (London, 1868) among his ‘English Reprints,’ with a careful introductory ‘chronicle’ of Webbe's life, so far as it can be disentangled from the confused and sometimes contradictory details of his narrative. Mr. Arber's investigation establishes the bonâ fide character of Webbe's story as a whole, while it shows that his memory as regards dates was not accurate. The tract gives a vivid picture of the courage and constancy of the Elizabethan Englishman.

Nothing further is known of Webbe's life, but possibly he is the Edward Webbe who paid a hundred pounds to the Virginia Company in 1620 (Brown, Genesis, U.S.A. ii. 1044).

[Edward Arber's edition in English Reprints contains all that is known of Webbe and his book.]

R. B.