Thomas Coryat

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Thomas Coryat
Replica of Thomas Coryat's shoes in Odcombe church.

Thomas Coryat (also Coryate) (c. 1577 – 1617) was an English traveller and writer of the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean age. He is principally remembered for two volumes of writings he left regarding his travels, often on foot, through Europe and parts of Asia. He is often credited with introducing the table fork to England, with "Furcifer" (Latin: fork-bearer, rascal) becoming one of his nicknames.[1] His description of how the Italians shielded themselves from the sun resulted in the word "umbrella" being introduced into English.[1]

Life and writings[edit]

Title page of Coryat's Crudities, 1611.

Coryat was born in Crewkerne, Somerset,[2] and lived most of his life in the Somerset village of Odcombe. He was educated at Winchester College from 1591, and at Gloucester Hall, Oxford from 1596 to 1599.[3] He was employed by Prince Henry, eldest son of James I as a sort of "court jester" from 1603 to 1607, alongside Ben Jonson, John Donne and Inigo Jones.[1]

From May to October 1608 he undertook a tour of Europe, somewhat less than half of which he walked. He travelled through France and Italy to Venice, and returned via Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands.[1] He published his memoirs of the events in a volume entitled Coryat's Crudities hastily gobbled up in Five Months Travels in France, Italy, &c' (1611).[1][4] This volume gives a vivid picture of life in Europe during the time; it is particularly important to music historians for giving extraordinary details of the activities of the Venetian School, one of the most famous and progressive contemporary musical movements in Europe, including an elaborate description of the festivities at the church of San Rocco in Venice, with polychoral and instrumental music by Giovanni Gabrieli, Bartolomeo Barbarino, and others. In 1611 he published a second volume of travel writings, this one entitled Coryats Crambe, or his Coleworte twice Sodden. Coryat's letters from this time refer to the famous Mermaid Tavern in London, and mention Ben Jonson, John Donne and other members of a drinking club "Fraternity of Sireniacal Gentlemen" that met there.[5]

Ever restless, he set out once again in 1612, this time on a journey that would ultimately lead to Asia, visiting Greece, the eastern Mediterranean including Constantinople by 1614, and walking through Turkey, Persia and eventually Moghul India by 1615, visiting the Emperor Jahangir's court in Ajmer, Rajasthan.[1] From Agra and elsewhere he sent letters describing his experiences; his Greetings from the Court of the Great Mogul was published in London in 1616, and a similar volume of his letters home appeared posthumously in 1618. In September 1617, at the invitation of Sir Thomas Roe, he visited the imperial court at Mandu, Madhya Pradesh.[1] In November 1617 he left for Surat; he died of dysentery there in December of that year,[1] his demise hastened by the consumption of sack.[6] Though his planned account of the journey was never to be, some of his unorganized travel notes have survived and found their way back to England. These were published in the 1625 edition of Samuel Purchas's Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas his Pilgrimes, contayning a History of the World in Sea Voyages and Lande Travells, by Englishmen and others.

Coryat's writings were hugely popular at the time. His accounts of inscriptions, many of which are now lost, were valuable; and his accounts of Italian customs and manners—including the use of the table fork[7]—were influential in England at a time when other aspects of Italian culture, such as the madrigal, had already been in vogue for more than twenty years. He is considered by many to have been the first Briton to do a Grand Tour of Europe; a practice which became a mainstay of the education of upper class Englishmen in the 18th century.


Thomas Coryat's Crudite at British Museum 1893.jpg

British travel writer and humorist Tim Moore retraced the steps of Coryat's tour of Europe, as recounted in his book Continental Drifter (2000). In 2008 Daniel Allen published an account of his nine-month cycle trip following Coryate's journey to the East, entitled The Sky Above, The Kingdom Below.

Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler spoke at the Australian Festival of Travel Writing about Thomas Coryate. Wheeler traces Coryate’s journey as he observes the invention of leisure travel.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Michael Strachan, "Coryate, Thomas (c. 1577–1617)", in Literature of Travel and Exploration: an Encyclopedia, 2003, Volume 1, pp.285–87
  2. ^ Leete-Hodge, Lornie (1985). Curiosities of Somerset. Bodmin: Bossiney Books. p. 96. ISBN 0-906456-98-3. 
  3. ^ Foster, William, ed. (1921). Early Travels in India 1583-1619. Oxford University Press. p. 234. 
  4. ^ Byford, Enid (1987). Somerset Curiosities. Dovecote Press. p. 19. ISBN 0946159483. 
  5. ^ O'Callaghan, Michelle, "Patrons of the Mermaid tavern (act. 1611)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press. Accessed 30 Nov 2014.
  6. ^ Wright, Arnold (1914). Early English adventurers in the East. London: A. Melrose Ltd. p. 173. 
  7. ^ Petroski 1992, pp. 8−9.

References and Further Reading[edit]

  • Adams, Percy G. Travel Literature and the Evolution of the Novel. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1983. 215-22. ISBN 0-8131-1492-6..
  • Allen, Daniel The Sky Above, The Kingdom Below. London, Haus, 2008. ISBN 1-905791-30-5
  • Chaney, Edward, 'Thomas Coryate', The Grove-Macmillan Dictionary of Art.
  • Chaney, Edward, The Evolution of the Grand Tour, 2nd ed, Routledge, London, 2000. ISBN 0-7146-4474-9
  • Moraes, Dom and Sarayu Srivatsa. The Long Strider : How Thomas Coryate Walked From England to India in the Year 1613. New Delhi: Penguin, 2003. ISBN 0-670-04975-1.
  • Moore, Tim 'The Grand Tour', St. Martin's Press, New York, 2001. ISBN 0-312-28156-0
  • Penrose, Boies. Urbane Travelers: 1591–1635. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1942. LCCN 42-019537.
  • Petroski, Henry (1992), The evolution of useful things, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 978-0-6797-4039-1 
  • Pritchard, R.E. Odd Tom Coryate: The English Marco Polo. Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton, 2004. ISBN 0-7509-3416-6.
  • Strachan, Michael. The Life and Adventures of Thomas Coryate. London: Oxford UP, 1962. LCCN 62-052512.
  • Whittaker, David (ed.) 'Most Glorious & Peerless Venice: Observations of Thomas Coryate (1608)'. Wavestone Press, Charlbury, 2013. 978-09545194-7-6 (Contains the Venice section of the 'Crudities', with photographs by the editor.)