Monday, October 5, 2009

Flemish Fathers of America - Judocus Hondius

Vermeer's "De Geograaf" may have shown the actual condition of cartographers in Judocus Hondius' time

Although known as an engraver and copper worker, Hondius’ lingering fame is as an innovative cartographer. But his appearance in our pantheon of Flemish Fathers of America is in part because of his role in promoting understanding of America through that medium. But more specifically it is his direct contribution to Henry Hudson’s voyage of discovery 400 years ago that we honor him today.

Judocus Hondius, as depicted in this posthumous engraving published by his sons in 1619

Joost de Hondt was born October 14, 1563 in a small East Flemish village outside of Gent called Wakken. This was shortly after the death of another native of Wakken[i], the Lord of Wakken, Adolf of Burgundy. It may not be an accident that both men were involved in sending Flemings to the New World.[ii] However, history knows this man simply as Hondius (his Latinized name, as was common among international men of letters at that time).

Like others before him, Hondius was a Flemish Protestant who, as the Spanish armies closed in on Gent, viewed London as the natural refuge. It is believed that he fled to London with his wife Coleta van den Keere, her parents, and his brother-in-law Pieter van den Keere (better known today as the cartographer Petrus Kaerius). It is likely at this time that Hondius came to the attention of Anglo-Flemish leaders such as Emanuel Van Meteren, since they attended the Flemish- established and Flemish-run “Dutch” Church at Austin Friars in London.

In London Hondius’ skills with copper, compass, and ink quickly became apparent. In 1587 he created the earliest copper engraved map of the world made in England.
[iii] This was a significant development for cartography and especially because it focused on the polar regions. This mattered because for Dutch, English and French explorers seeking alternate paths to the riches of the Indies, the only unclaimed possibilities were either a “Northeast Passage” (over the Arctic coast of modern-day Russia) or a “Northwest Passage” (somewhere through the Canadian Arctic seaway). It is likely no accident that many of Hondius’ English friends – such as Sir Francis Drake and Richard Hackluyt – were aggressively pursuing just such a route to the Indies.

A modern representation of the Northwest passage today, 400 years after Hudson searched for it
Like many other expatriate Flemings before and afterwards in England, Hondius mastered the language sufficiently well to develop solid, professional relationships. In 1589, Hondius engraved and printed a map of “New Albion”, where Sir Francis Drake established the first English settlement in California in 1579.[iv] Hondius used Drake’s own journals as well as relying on other eyewitness interviews. Later, Hondius painted portraits of Drake and other English explorers.[v]

The Wright-Molyneaux map, whose gores and globe - the first in England - were created by Hondius

These ties may have opened up other doors for Hondius. He was asked to create the gores of the first English globe in 1592: the Wright-Molyneaux.[vi] The map of this globe, reprinted in Richard Hackluyt’s[vii] “Principall Navigations”[viii] established a new cartographic style (leaving unexplored portions blank). As basic as this may sound, this method enabled seafarers to better chart the areas for which cartographers had imperfect or ambiguous information. It was Hondius' globe that guided first Queen Elizabeth and later King James in their global sea plans against Spain. Reference to this globe also aided and assisted countless other English expeditions to the New World.

A posthumous publication detailing the actual globe that Hondius created in England

Hondius’ engraving and cartographic talents – especially his ability to incorporate a variety of sources from multiple languages – led to deeper friendships with the foremost English explorers. He became a friend of William Davis[ix] – whose discovery of the channel between Canada and Greenland is now called the Davis Strait. Davis' effort was but one of many attempts by Englishmen utilizing Flemish maps to seek out a “Northwest Passage” to Asia. Davis, for example, was inspired by John Dee (educated at Leuven and best friends with Mercator) who in turn depended greatly on the Flemish cartographic friends and rivals Gerard Mercator and Abraham Ortellius. Much of this cartographic information about the New World for the English came through the extensive network of Protestant Anglo-Flemings, such as Ortelius’ first cousin, Emanuel Van Meteren.

Hondius’ successful contributions to English cartography brought him full circle back to the Low Countries, the locus of European excellence in cartography. In the post 1585 world of the Fall of Antwerp to the Spanish, this meant Amsterdam. Amsterdam at this time (in the early 1600s), was so beset with Flemings that it literally changed the pronunciation of the local dialect.[x] Moreover, it was the center of a great deal of fervent activity by Flemish Protestants seeking to not only promote global trade but also continue the fight of the Eighty Years’ War against Spain.

By 1604 Hondius was in Leiden, where he purchased the engraved plates for Gerard Mercator’s many maps at a bookseller-hosted auction from Mercator’s grandson and namesake.
[xi] Hondius, a man with a keen sense of marketplace interests, added text and maps to cover regions that Mercator had neglected to come out with what many of the time believed to be a dramatic improvement when it rolled off the press in 1606. Hondius also titled a pocket edition of his Mercator-Hondius version as the Atlas Minor.[xii] Nearly every year afterwards and until 1630, first Hondius then his sons came out with additional editions that added color, detail and languages to his Atlas. In all, the family printed 29 versions over the following quarter-century. Including pirated editions that were reproduced as far away as the Ottoman Empire, approximately 50 editions of Hondius’ Mercator-based Atlas were printed in the 17th century.

An example of the world map Hondius created in 1607 - and likely referenced when planning with Henry Hudson

Although an international man and one who by now was well known and regarded Hondius did not forget his roots. He was a self-styled 'graveur' whose logo said 'de wackere Hond' and 'Canis Vigilans' (puns on his surname and birthplace). Hondius often reminisced about his birthplace near Gent.

Since his shop was in the Kalverstraat in Amsterdam neither the waterfront bustle nor the tumultuous English Separatist congregations were far away. In fact, Hondius’ shop was also not very far from his fellow Fleming (and co-navigator for the Hudson expedition), the theologian-cartographer Petrus Plancius, whose son-in-law was the Englishman Matthew Slade.[xiii] All of these individuals soon met and welcomed a band of 100 English sectarians that landed in Amsterdam in 1608 and stayed for a year: the congregation we know today as that of the Pilgrim Fathers.

It was there, at Hondius’ shop on Kalverstraat, in Amsterdam, that much of the planning and discussion for Henry Hudson’s April 1609 departure to find the Northwest Passage to Asia likely occurred. Of course, the reason why Hondius was hosting Hudson in the first place was because of his church ties to Emanuel Van Meteren (from his stay in London) and the reputation Hondius had gained there as a cartographer (which had endeared him to Van Meteren’s cousin Abraham Ortelius as well as Petrus Plancius, the supplier of maps to the VOC). Hondius’ recently rediscovered 1603 massive wall map of the world, was likely one of the key planning tools that Henry Hudson and his Flemish backers used when planning the famous 1609 trip whose quadricentennial is currently being celebrated.

Hondius in fact acted as the simultaneous interpreter for Henry Hudson in all discussions. Their agreement – to seek out the long-sought after Northwest Passage - was signed by only four individuals: Henry Hudson, Judocus Hondius (as witness), J. Poppe (whose details are unknown, but nevertheless a member of the VOC) and Dirck Van Os. Van Os, of whom we shall hear more in a later posting, was not only a founder and the managing member of the VOC (he ran it out of his home with his brother Hendrik), but also a Flemish refugee from Antwerp.[xv] The majority of the contractual parties of Henry Hudson’s voyage to America then were Flemings. Later, Hondius translated the text of the agreement between Henry Hudson and the “Dutch” East India Company for his signature.[xvi] As one can see, to call Hudson's endeavor anything but a Flemish-led, Flemish-conceived, and Flemish-financed exploration is a misrepresentation of the fact.

Although in the early days merchants like Dirck Van Os made decisions for the VOC, ultimately it was governed by a group of seventeen - de Heeren XVII - depicted above.

The master ‘graveur’ of Wakken continued to have close ties with the English even after Hudson’s voyage. John Speed, credited with producing the first English language world atlas, actually outsourced the printing (and perhaps even many cartographic details) to Hondius between 1605 and 1610. Speed’s Atlas became the guide for a whole new generation of English seafarers.[xvii] Modern English chronicler's of Speed's contribution to English cartography (he is often viewed as the 'father' of it) readily admit Speed's wholesale plagiarism of what they call "Dutch" maps. The maps Speed copied were those of Hondius, Ortelius and Mercator: all Flemings.

Hondius died on February 12, 1612. Hondius’ offspring for several generations continued to prosper as printers/cartographers/ booksellers well into the 18th century.
[xviii] Jodocus Hondius’ sister Jacomina Hondius had worked as a calligrapher at the court of Queen Elisabeth of England. She married the Gentenaar Pieter van den Berghe, who is better known to posterity as Petrus Montanus (1560-1628). Judocus Hondius’ brother-in-law, Peter van den Keere – better known as Petrus Kaerius (1571-1646) – published the first folio atlas of the Netherlands[xix]. Henricus Hondius (1597-1651), Judocus’ son, succeeded his father as a cartographer too. Elisabeth Hondius, a sister of Henricus, married the famous mapmaker, Jan Janssonius (1588-1664), who later purchased some of the family plates. Judocus Hondius the Younger (1601-1650) married an Antwerpenaar by the name of Anna Stafmaeker. Today their descendants include Americans who consider themselves “Dutch-Americans”.[xx]

The Hondius-Mercator world map, this one printed by Hondius' son Henricus just one year before the Pilgrims left Amsterdam for the New World.

[i] Now part of the municipality of Dentergem: . Unfortunately the modern municipality does not seem to recognize any connection with its famous sons (there is no reference to Hondius that I could find on the municipality’s official website).
[ii] “In 1517 Dutch [sic] admiral Adolf of Burgundy escorted Charles V from the Netherlands to Spain, where he was to be crowned king of Aragon and Castilia [sic]. For his services Adolf was awarded the island of Cozumel off Yucatan. It took him a couple of years to organize an expedition to his newly acquired property, but when his ships finally set sail from the Netherlands in 1527 they never got further than the ports of Spain.” Jaap Jacobs, New Netherland: A Dutch Colony in Seventeenth-Century America, (Leiden: Brill, 2005), p.1
[iii] See a recently offered example at auction here:
[iv] See the Wikipedia reference here:
[v] for the portraits by Hondius of Sir Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish.
[vi] Donald S. Johnson, Charting the Sea of Darkness: The Four Voyages of Henry Hudson, (New York: Kodansha, 1995), p. 207. An interesting reference to the globe can be found in this recent online auction catalogue: .
[vii] Notice the interlocking relationships between all of these key Flemish Protestant elites – Hondius, Van Meteren, Mercator, Ortellius, Marnix, etc. – and the English elites – Walsingham, Davis, Drake, Sidney, Hackluyt, etc.
[viii] Which can be downloaded here gratis: .
[ix] The Wikipedia reference ignores the Flemish contributions but is otherwise a reasonable sketch:
[x] The most noticeable manifestation of this for native Dutch speakers being whether the ‘g’ was hard (northern Netherlands) or soft (Flanders). “Zo betreden we een stadsgedechte waar zeer veel ‘Vlamingen’ verblijf hielden en de zachte g niet van de lucht was.” Gustaaf Asaert, 1585: De val van Antwerpen en de uittocht van Vlamingen en Brabanders, (Tielt: Lannoo, 2004), p.141. For a discussion of the soft g issue, please see, (in Dutch with an abstract in English), Pieter vanReenen and Nanette Huijs, “De harde en de zachte g”, online here:
[xi] Note that every bookseller in Leiden at this time was also a printer. And, with the exception of the Englishman Thomas Basson, these ‘boekdrukkers’ were all Flemish expatriates. And even Basson owed his existence in the trade to his Flemish rivals. See J. A. Van Dorsten, Thomas Basson, 1555-1613: English Printer at Leiden, (Leiden: University Press of Leiden, 1961), pp. 1-3
[xii] See a nicely page-by-page scan online here:
[xiii] Slade’s role as a conduit to the English Ambassador in the Netherlands as a spy on the activities of the Pilgrims there is nicely covered in Willem Nijenhuis, ed., Matthew Slade, 1569-1628: Letters to the English Ambassador, (Leiden: E.J. Brill/Leiden University Press, 1986). Please note, that Slade, who was married to the Antwerp born step-daughter of Petrus Plancius, seemed to play many sides of an argument at the same time. He may have been the go-between for the Dutch merchants’ discussions with the Pilgrim Fathers to settle in New Netherland. I will treat this subject in more detail in a future posting.
[xiv] See the article here: for the significance of this map to cartographic history.
[xv] Henry C. Murphy, Henry Hudson in Holland: An Inquiry into the Origin and Objects of the Voyage Which Led to the Discovery of the Hudson River, (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1909), p.34.
[xvi] For an English translation of the contract between the VOC and Henry Hudson please see: Henry C. Murphy, Henry Hudson in Holland: An Inquiry into the Origin and Objects of the Voyage Which Led to the Discovery of the Hudson River, (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1909), pp.32-34.
[xvii] As usual, Hondius is usually listed as a “Dutch” cartographer even though he was clearly Flemish born and raised. Speed was a tailor who likely absorbed some of his cartographic curiousity from the Flemish weavers in his midst. See . For examples of Speed’s maps, also see .
[xviii] See Gustaf Asaert, 1585: De val van Antwerpen en de uittocht van Vlamingen en Brabanders, (Tielt: Lanoo, 2004) pp.229-230
[xix] These maps now command from collectors prices as high as 60,000 STG. See for a recent auction catalogue.

Copyright 2009 by David Baeckelandt. All rights reserved and no use permitted without my express, written permission


  1. A masterpiece, David! Again, you let us discover people, places and events we, the flemish people (well, the most of us) never heard of! History is such an amazing thing to discover, and I am proud you are teaching this to us.
    Thank you, David ! :-)
    Hugo B.

  2. It's like I stumbled upon an article from Wikipedia, very through research and deep analysis.

    man with van London

  3. Nice! I really enjoyed reading your post. Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work.