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Title page: Doubting Thomas: the Dought(ie) Affair in Fictive History and Historical Fiction

This is page 1 of a 13 page article.


For all that has been written about the infamous Doughty affair, little is actually known about Thomas Doughty. Froude may exaggerate when he says of the “mysterious Mr. Doughty,” “Who Mr. Doughty was, and why he was sent out, is uncertain” (83); nevertheless, real information is sparse. But since he is an unavoidable character in the narrative of Francis Drake, Drake’s scribes, be they historians or literary authors, have to make an immediate casting call – will Doughty play the role of scheming villain, imprudent bumbler or victimized martyr? This approach has led researchers to a number of misguided conclusions about Doughty. The current paper examines in depth the narrative of Thomas Doughty from his point of view: first as a man in his own right before his encounter with Drake, then an analysis of the circumstances ultimately leading to his trial and execution – an analysis which has been conducted by many Drake biographers, but always with the idea of vindicating or condemning Drake, and never with the idea of understanding Doughty in the light of his own experiences, and finally an examination of the surprisingly considerable body of literature depicting the Doughty affair in fiction, poetry and media. It will become clear that the fictive histories father the historical fictions, which, for the most part, are little more than attempts to rationalize Drake’s actions at San Julian. It will also become apparent that neither have anything to do with the real character of Thomas Doughty, a remarkable individual who has been both maligned and misunderstood.

A number of the points made in this paper may seem speculative to the discriminating reader. The metahistory of the Doughty affair is comprised of such speculations, things this paper identifies as “fictive histories” – snippets of facts strung like beads along a string of assumptions. Until recently, these fictive histories served to justify the actions of Drake, and were based upon a simple, circular premise: Doughty was a man of dubious character – “questionable,” “disgraced,” “devious,” “crooked,” “sly,” “a rogue,” “a sinister figure,” (Penrose 9) guilty of “innate crookedness,” (Benson 136) “double-dealing,” (Coote 81) “an insufferable snob,” (Ronald 216) “brilliant but treacherous…headstrong, unreliable, and insubordinate” (Silverberg 254) and even “one to whom intrigue was as the breath of his nostrils” (Benson 102) – and so he obviously betrayed Drake. And how do we know that Doughty was a man of dubious character? He betrayed Drake, of course. Recently, the character of Drake has been called into question, and supported by far more evidence than could ever be marshaled against Doughty, his actions are now often interpreted in the context of piracy rather than heroism. This paper attempts a similar reevaluation of Doughty. The fragmentary evidence available is examined in as much detail as possible, with one major change from past treatments of the topic: Doughty is presumed innocent until proven guilty, as a human being as well as a man accused of a crime.

As the incident takes place before English spelling is regularized, in direct quotes from primary source texts we shall see the name recorded in various fashions: Doughty, Doughtie, Dowtie, Dowghty, Doughtye, Dowtey, Dubty, even Dougbhtey. The name is eventually standardized as “Doughty” even though on most of the legal records to which he is a party (his will, various real-estate transactions) he is identified quite consistently as “Thomas Doughtie, Gentleman of the Inner Temple, London.” In an amendment made to his last will and testament requiring his mark, the subject of our study signs his name Thomas Doughtie. In this paper, a change in orthography is used to signal the change in perspective. After four centuries of having insult heaped upon injury, in the body of this text apart from direct quotation, Thomas Doughtie’s name will be spelled in the manner of his own choosing.

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