Kelsey, Harry 1929-
Kelsey, Harry 1929-
Born September 25, 1929.
Office—Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino, CA 91108.
Historian, scholar, educator, and writer. Harry Kelsey is a research scholar at the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA, research scholar; University of California, Riverside, adjunct professor of history.
The Doctrina and Confesionario of Juan Cortés, Howling Coyote Press (Altadena, CA), 1979.
Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, Huntington Library (San Marino, CA), 1986.
The Mission Buildings of San Juan Capistrano: A Tentative Chronology, Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library (Santa Barbara, CA), 1987.
(With Mary Ann Kelsey) Inventario De Los Libros De Coro De La Catedral De Valladolid-Morelia, introduction by John Koegel, edited by Oscar Mazin, El Colegio de Michoacan (Zamora, Mexico), 2000.
Mission San Luis Rey: A Brief History, Liber Apertus Press (Altadena, CA), 2003.
Harry Kelsey is a historian who has written about notable figures in both Spanish and English history. He is especially noted for his biographies of two of England's most swashbuckling, high-seas adventurers: Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins. The first biography, titled Sir Francis Drake: The Queen's Pirate, received widespread praise from reviewers. Jay Freeman, writing in Booklist, noted that the author's emphasis of Drake's time on board ship makes "this … a highly enjoyable book," also calling it "an exciting yarn." A contributor to the Economist noted: "Harry Kelsey's impressive and highly readable study is based on wide and deep research demonstrated in one hundred pages of notes, many citing Spanish documents verbatim, eight appendices, thirty figures, sixty-two excellent maps and plans, and a 20-page bibliography of sources and secondary works in several languages."
A highly controversial figure in his own time, Drake went on to gain legendary status as a hero in British history. However, Kelsey shatters Drake's popular image as a pious, brave and just seaman who initiated the move to make England a great naval power. Although Drake's acts of piracy against England's enemies earned him a knighthood, Kelsey presents a portrait of a man as an amoral privateer whose primary interests were not Queen and country but rather gaining Spanish plunder. Also, contrary to popular modern notions of Drake, he was not a successful general in the English navy, having never gained success in traditional warfare. During battle he was noted mostly for his devotion to self-preservation.
"Drake loved to regale his friends with tales—not necessarily factual—of his grand achievements," the author wrote in the book's introduction. "In this process he did not lack for assistance. The English government put out varying stories about his voyage around the world, while Drake's victims volunteered embellished accounts of his depredations. Chroniclers in England and elsewhere added to the confusion with biographical sketches that were part hearsay and part speculation." The author went on to note that Drake's own family members even contributed to his myth. The author writes in the introduction: "The Drake who emerged from this material was a man who would have pleased the old pirate: a heroic figure, brave and just, but a bit pompous and preachy, and unbelievably pious. This Drake bears only a passing resemblance to the Devon farmboy who went to sea, became a pirate, and made himself rich."
In the biography of Drake, Kelsey uses new evidence to detail Drake's life in a poor farming family. He continues with an accounting of Drake's early days in piracy, his time as a merchant, and his shrewd ability to use the hostilities between Spain and England to attack undefended Spanish ships and ports. The author also writes about the close relationship between Elizabeth I and Drake, whom the queen saw as a charming rogue but nevertheless never trusted him with important commands. In addition, Kelsey delves into Drake's personal foibles, such as his tactic of fostering mistrust among his colleagues and fellow officers as a way of keeping control in his hands.
"This work will long stand as the definitive scholarly study" of Drake, wrote Harold N. Boyer in the Library Journal. Noting that the author "finally puts to rest the overblown, patriotic portrayal of Drake, and he situates Drake's life within a more realistic Elizabethan context," History: Review of New Books contributor John R. Cramsie went on in the same review to call the biography "convincing and accessible."
Kelsey's 2003 book Sir John Hawkins: Queen Elizabeth's Slave Trader was called "a scholarly but highly readable biography" by History Today contributor Richard Pflederer. Cousin to Sir Francis Drake, Hawkins (1532-1595) was a pivotal figure in the history of England and the growth of the global slave trade, beginning early in his career when he captured 300 slaves in Sierra Leone. His subsequent transportation of the slaves to the West Indies, where he traded them for various goods, is thought to mark the birth of the British slave trade.
Writing in the book's introduction, Kelsey notes: "Ask a man from Devon to name the greatest mariner of the Elizabethan age, and he is likely to say Sir Francis Drake. But Drake's cousin and mentor, Sir John Hawkins, arguably knew more about seamanship and did more for his country than Drake. During several voyages in the 1560s Hawkins demonstrated to his countrymen that good profits could be made trading in the Spanish ports of the West Indies. He also introduced his queen and his fellow merchants to the loathsome business of slave trading, where even greater profits could be made by men whose consciences were not of exceeding tenderness."
In the biography, Kelsey recounts Hawkins's origins in a family of pirates and how he left behind piracy after a near-fatal encounter with Spanish troops. The author goes on to detail Hawkins's life, during which he committed treason, murder, and adultery, but was nevertheless knighted in 1588 for his role in defeating the Spanish Armada. Writing in the Sewanee Review, Phillip Parotti noted that the book "demonstrates meticulous scholarship, evolves with stylistic grace, and constitutes a significant contribution to naval and maritime history." Journal of Interdisciplinary History contributor Alison Games noted: "Kelsey is at his strongest when delineating the morass of European politics that Hawkins navigated. His depiction of Hawkins' career as treasurer of the navy is particularly effective."
Kelsey is also the author of Mission San Luis Rey: A Brief History. Focusing on one of California's most important and historical and archaeological sites, the author follows the mission's history from the pre-European era in the area, to the arrival of a Spanish expedition in 1769, on through to the mission's establishment and development. The author concludes with the return of the Franciscans in 1892 to restore the mission compound and church approximately sixty years after the mission had ended in the 1830s due to secularization. The book includes historic photos, many of which were previously unpublished, depicting what some believe to be the finest mission church in California. Mission San Luis Rey also features maps and drawings.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kelsey, Harry, Sir Francis Drake: The Queen's Pirate, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1998.
Kelsey, Harry, Sir John Hawkins: Queen Elizabeth's Slave Trader, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2003.
Albion, summer, 2004, David Loades, review of Sir John Hawkins, p. 292.
American Historical Review, October, 1987, Ruth Pike, review of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, p. 1059; February, 2000, Julian Gwyn, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 273.
American Spectator, January, 1999, Hugh Thomas, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 70.
Americas: A Quarterly Review of Inter-American Cultural History, January, 1988, Christon I. Archer, review of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, p. 374; July, 2000, John Frederick Schwaller, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 136.
Booklist, September 15, 1998, Jay Freeman, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 195.
British Heritage, August-September, 1999, Judy Sopronyi, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 55.
Canadian Journal of History, December, 2004, Douglas R. Bisson, review of Sir John Hawkins, p. 580.
Choice, January, 1999, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 958.
Contemporary Review, November, 1998, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 279.
Economist, October 17, 1998, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 9.
English Historical Review, September, 1999, Christopher Haigh, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 972.
European History Quarterly, July, 2001, Glyn Redworth, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 456.
Hispanic American Historical Review, November, 1987, Martin Torodash, review of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, p. 708; August, 2000, Peter Bradley, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 577.
History: Review of New Books, winter, 1999, John R. Cramsie, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 68.
History Today, February, 2004, Richard Pflederer, review of Sir John Hawkins, p. 58.
International History Review, September, 1999, G.V. Scammell, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 730.
Journal of American History, March, 1987, Ursula Lamb, review of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, p. 1013.
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, autumn, 2005, Alison Games, review of Sir John Hawkins, p. 252.
Journal of Military History, April, 1999, Derek Croxton, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 438.
Journal of the West, summer, 2002, Mary L. Scott, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 106.
Library Journal, September 15, 1998, Harold N. Boyer, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 94.
New Yorker, October 19, 1998, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 87.
Pacific Historical Review, February, 1988, W. Michael Mathes, review of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, p. 77.
Publishers Weekly, August 10, 1998, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 380.
Renaissance Quarterly, summer, 2000, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 542; winter, 2000, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 1259.
Sewanee Review, winter, 2005, Phillip Parotti, review of Sir John Hawkins, p. 2.
Sixteenth Century Journal, summer, 1999, Ronald Fritze, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 632; winter, 2001, Edward Tenance, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 1241.
Times Literary Supplement, October 23, 1998, Simon Adams, review of Sir Francis Drake, p. 28; October 10, 2003, Glyn Williams, "Businessman at Sea," review of Sir John Hawkins, p. 33.
Powells.com,http://www.powells.com/ (May 14, 2008), brief profile of author.