Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Heather Dalton's "Merchants and Explorers"

Heather Dalton is an ARC Early Career Research Fellow in the School of Historical & Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne and a member of The Cabot Project at the University of Bristol. The focus of her current project is transnational relationships and family ties in trading networks in the 15th and 16th century Atlantic. As a historian born in England and living in Australia, she is also interested in early contacts between Australasia and Europe.

Here Dalton dreamcasts an adaptation of her new book, Merchants and Explorers: Roger Barlow, Sebastian Cabot, and Networks of Atlantic Exchange 1500-1560:
Although my book is the result of an academically driven research project - it was driven by my fascination with what can only be described as a rollickingly good adventure story. The story of Roger Barlow and Sebastian Cabot encompasses: mystery; trade with Spain and its Atlantic possessions; months at sea leading to encounters with New Worlds; slavery; smuggling and piracy; rampant opportunism; fortunes and reputations made and lost; loyalty and betrayal; love and hate; and, oh yes ..... an attempt to colonise the Welsh.

The real star of a cinematic rendition of my book would be the scenery as seen through the eyes of the lead character, Roger Barlow: masts appearing through the mists of the Essex marshes; the sugar plantations of Madeira; the Portuguese fort at Agadir; the Moorish architecture of Seville; the Azores; a first glimpse of the Southern Cross over the Atlantic; the vast waterways of the River Plate and the Parana; the bustling quays of Bristol and narrow streets of London; and 'deeply embosomed in oak and beech' - Slebech in Pembrokeshire.

Roger Barlow was the first Englishman to set foot in present day Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil, and the first to write a detailed eyewitness account of America, including a description of a cannibalistic 'feast'. Because Barlow led a life that verged on the swashbuckling, I am tempted to assign Johnny Depp to the role. However, Barlow relied to his ability to operate 'under the radar' and to his linguistic, accounting and navigational skills to survive. Indeed, if Barlow was anything like his clerical brother John - described as being of ‘small stature, with red hair, sober in eating and drinking, speaking little and ignorant of music or games’ - then good looks and charm were perhaps not his strong points. Bearing that in mind, I think that Damian Lewis, star of the TV series The Forsyte Saga and Homeland, would be a better bet to play the dogged Barlow.

The brilliant yet quixotic character of Sebastian Cabot is harder to cast. While I think that Daniel Day-Lewis would be perfect as the middle aged captain leading his four galleons up the River Plate, Richard Harris would have been splendid as the elderly white-bearded Cabot ensconced in Whitehall.

One of the most enigmatic characters in the book is Cabot's beloved second wife, Catalina de Medrano. Medrano's first husband was Amerigo Vespucci's nephew - a conquistador who died fighting in Mexico with Cortes. I can see Penélope Cruz, Kristin Scott Thomas, and/or Eleanor Bron playing this clever and resourceful woman at the various stages of her life.
Learn more about Merchants and Explorers at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue