McDermott, James 1956–

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McDermott, James 1956–


Born December 15, 1956.


Independent researcher and writer. Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, special adviser to Meta Incognita project, 1994-97.


Keith Matthews Prize, Canadian Nautical Research Society, 2001, for Martin Frobisher: Elizabethan Privateer.


Martin Frobisher: Elizabethan Privateer, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2001.

(Editor) The Third Voyage of Martin Frobisher to Baffin Island, 1578, Hakluyt Society (London, England), 2001.

England and the Spanish Armada: The Necessary Quarrel, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2005.

Also author of The Navigation of the Frobisher Voyages, Hakluyt Society (London, England), 1998. Contributor to books, including Meta Incognita: A Discourse of Discovery; Martin Frobisher's Arctic Expeditions, 1576-1578, edited by Thomas H.B. Symons, Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1999.


James McDermott is regarded as a leading authority on sixteenth-century English mariner Martin Frobisher, whose comprehensive biography he has published. A contemporary of fellow seamen Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake, Frobisher never achieved their fame, despite his courage and nautical skill. He is best remembered for his activities as a privateer and as an explorer seeking the fabled Northwest Passage, though he also had a reputation for cheating, piracy, brutality, and general amorality. For his role in defeating the Spanish Armada, however, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I. Writing in Albion, Timothy J. Runyan remarked that "the life of Martin Frobisher deserves a biographer with sufficient determination to create a portrait from fragmentary images. Fortunately … historian James McDermott is equal to the challenge." Martin Frobisher: Elizabethan Privateer draws on both the scant documentary record of Frobisher's life and other materials that provide a picture of his times and milieu. Some critics expressed reservations about the book, such as McDermott's neglect of international sources and what at least one writer, in a Publishers Weekly review, deemed digressions that would interest only a select few readers. Several others, such as Jim Doyle in Library Journal, highlighted McDermott's "wit and style" and his detailed exploration of Frobisher's character. Historian Ronald Fritze, writing for H-Net Reviews, concluded that McDermott had produced "the definitive biography of Martin Frobisher for many years to come."

From his study of Frobisher, who helped defeat the Spanish Armada, McDermott moved to a full-length study of the conflict between England and Spain in his 2005 book, England and the Spanish Armada: The Necessary Quarrel. Rather than focusing solely on the well-known 1588 campaign in the English Channel, when a small English fleet managed to defeat the much larger Armada, McDermott traces the development of conflict all the way back to 1493. That was the year when Pope Alexander VI, a Spaniard, declared the Americas the possession of Spain and Portugal. From this beginning, Protestant England grew increasingly hostile to Catholic Spain, expressing its hostility, in part, by unauthorized raids on Spanish shipping. According to Edward Shannon Tenace, writing for H-Net Reviews, McDermott's is "a new interpretation for the causes of the conflict—one which the English people played a significant role in bringing about." While Peter Pierson in a Historian review pointed out mistakes in some of McDermott's details, he described England and the Spanish Armada as "a worthy book carrying fresh material on English piracy and the Royal Navy." A Contemporary Review critic called McDermott's analysis "brilliant" and maintained that it "deepens our understanding." Summing up the work for the Telegraph Online, John Adamson deemed McDermott's study "a book of exceptional quality" and "the most wide ranging and original re-consideration of the Armada in a generation."



Albion, fall, 2002, Timothy J. Runyan, review of Martin Frobisher: Elizabethan Privateer, p. 462.

Americas, October, 2002, Kris Lane, review of Martin Frobisher, p. 268.

Beaver, April-May, 2002, Ken McGoogan, "The Arctic Voyages of Martin Frobisher: An Elizabethan Adventure," p. 46.

Booklist, April 15, 2001, Jay Freeman, review of Martin Frobisher, p. 1530.

Choice, March, 2002, P.T. Sherrill, review of Martin Frobisher, p. 1312; April, 2006, D.M. Hall, review of England and the Spanish Armada: The Necessary Quarrel, p. 1457.

Contemporary Review, June, 2001, review of Martin Frobisher, p. 379.

Economist, May 26, 2005, "The Spanish Armada."

English Historical Review, November, 2001, N.A.M. Rodger, review of Martin Frobisher, p. 1261.

Historian, winter, 2006, Peter Pierson, review of England and the Spanish Armada.

International History Review, June, 2002, John C. Appleby, review of Martin Frobisher, p. 399; September, 2006, David Potter, review of England and the Spanish Armada, p. 588.

Journal of Interdisciplinary History, winter, 2003, Norman Jones, review of Martin Frobisher, pp. 462-463.

Journal of Military History, October, 2001, John S. Nolan, review of Martin Frobisher, p. 1083; July, 2006, Geoffrey Parker, review of England and the Spanish Armada, pp. 821-824.

Library Journal, March 15, 2001, Jim Doyle, review of Martin Frobisher, p. 90.

New York Times Book Review, June 3, 2001, Roland Huntford, "You're Getting Colder: Martin Frobisher Did Not Find Gold or the Northwest Passage, but He Paved the Way for Explorers," p. 11.

Publishers Weekly, April 9, 2001, review of Martin Frobisher, p. 65.

Reference & Research Book News, May, 2002, review of The Third Voyage of Martin Frobisher to Baffin Island, 1578, p. 57.

Renaissance Quarterly, summer, 2002, Stanford Lehmberg, review of Martin Frobisher, p. 760.

Sixteenth Century Journal, fall, 2002, Kevin D. Lindberg, review of Martin Frobisher, pp. 927-928.

Times Literary Supplement, May 4, 2001, Peter Earle, review of Martin Frobisher, p. 28; September 30, 2005, Fernando Cervantes, "Another Game," p. 25.


H-Net Reviews, (August, 2001), Ronald Fritze, "South by Northwest and West: An Elizabethan Sea-Dog's Life and World"; (May, 2006), Edward Shannon Tenace, review of England and the Spanish Armada.

Telegraph Online, (April 17, 2005), John Adamson, "Piratical Provocations."

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McDermott, James 1956–

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