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Famous British personalities

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Roger Bacon

(1214 - 1294)
Profession: Scientist
English philosopher and scientist

He was interested in alchemy, the biological and physical sciences and magic. Many discoveries have been credited to him, including the magnifying lens. He foresaw the extensive use of gunpowder and mechanical cars, boats, and planes.

In 1266, at the invitation of his friend Pope Clement IV, he began his Opus majus / Great Work, a compendium of all branches of knowledge. In 1268 he sent this with his Opus minus / Lesser Work and other writings to the pope. In 1277 Bacon was condemned and imprisoned by the Christian church for `certain novelties´ (heresy) and not released until 1292.
Bacon wrote in Latin and his works include On Mirrors, Metaphysical and On the Multiplication of Species. He followed the maxim ` Cease to be ruled by dogmas and authorities; look at the world!´

Bacon was born in Somerset and educated at Oxford and Paris. He became a Franciscan monk and lectured in Paris about 1241-47, then at Oxford University. He described a hypothetical diving apparatus and some of the properties of gunpowder. He promoted the use of latitude and longitude in mapmaking, and suggested the changes necessary to improve the Western calendar that were carried out by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.

Geoffrey Chaucer

(1343 - 1400)
Profession: Writer
The son of a prosperous London wine merchant and one of the greatest English poets, whose masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales, was one of the most important influences on the development of English literature. Chaucer greatly increased the prestige of English as a literary language and extended the range of its poetic vocabulary. His life is known primarily through records pertaining to his career as a courtier and civil servant under the English kings Edward III and Richard II.

After his death, he was buried in Westminster Abbey (an honor for a commoner), in what has since become the Poets' Corner.

William Caxton

(1422 - 1491)
Profession: Engineer
First English printer, born probably in Tenterden, Kent. He opened his own textile business and also translated into English a popular French romance, which he printed in Brugge as The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye. It is famous as the first book printed in English.

Caxton set up a printing press at Westminster Abbey. During his career Caxton printed nearly 100 publications, about 20 of which he also translated from French and Dutch.

Among the more notable books from his press are The Canterbury Tales and Troilus and Criseyde by the English poet Goeffrey Chaucer and Confessio Amantis by the English poet John Gower.

Caxton also wrote prefaces and epilogues to many of the works he published, notably the preface to the prose epic Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory

Sir John Hawkins

(1532 - 1595)
Profession: Explorer
English navigator.

Sir John Hawkins (also spelled as John Hawkyns) (Plymouth 1532 – November 12, 1595) was an English shipbuilder, merchant, navigator, and slave trader.

John was the son of William Hawkins the elder, by Joan Trelawny. William was a confident of Henry VIII of England and one of the principal sea captains of England.

John Hawkins was probably the first major English slave trader, although some point to John Lok in 1553.

Hawkins pretended to be part of the Ridolfi plot to betray Queen Elizabeth in 1571. He offered his services to the Spanish, in order to obtain the release of prisoners and to discover plans for the proposed Spanish invasion of England.
His help in foiling the plot was rewarded, and in 1571 Hawkins entered Parliament to become an MP. He also became Treasurer and comptroller of the Royal Navy (1573 - 1589).

His Navy financial reforms upset many who had vested interests - principally Baker and Pett - and these concocted a Royal Commission on Fraud against him in 1583. But he was found innocent.

John Hawkins was determined that his navy, as well as having the best fleet of ships in the world, would also have the best quality of seamen, and so petitioned and won a pay increase for sailors, arguing that a smaller number of well motivated better paid men would achieve substantially more than a larger group of disinterested men.

Hawkins made important improvements in ship construction and rigging, he is less well known for his inventiveness as a shipwright, but it was his idea to add to the caulker's work by the finishing touch of sheathing the underside of his ships with a skin of nailed elm planks sealed with a combination of pitch and hair smeared over the bottom timbers, as a protection against the worms which would attack a ship in tropical seas. Hawkins also introduced detachable topmasts that could be hoisted and used in good weather and stowed in heavy seas. Masts were more forward, and sails flatter. His ships were longer and the forecastle and sterncastle were greatly reduced in size.

Sir Martin Frobisher

(1535 - 1594)
Profession: Explorer
English navigator

He made his first voyage to Guinea, West Africa in 1554. In 1576 he set out in search of the Northwest Passage, and visited Labrador, and Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island. Second and third expeditions sailed in 1577 and 1578.

He was Knighted in 1588.

He was vice admiral in Drake's West Indian expedition in 1585. In 1588, he was knighted for helping to defeat the Armada.

He was mortally wounded in 1594 fighting against the Spanish off the coast of France.

Sir Francis Drake

(1540 - 1596)
Profession: Explorer
English navigator and explorer

Born near Tavistock. He served an apprenticeship as a mariner, and in 1567 he was given his first command. In 1570 and 1571 Drake made two profitable trading voyages to the West Indies. In 1572 he commanded two vessels in a marauding expedition against Spanish ports in the Caribbean Sea. During this voyage, Drake first saw the Pacific Ocean; he captured the port of Nombre de Díos on the Isthmus of Panama and destroyed the nearby town of Portobelo. He returned to England with a cargo of Spanish silver and a reputation as a brilliant privateer.

On July 23, 1579, Drake set sail again and was hailed as the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world. Seven months later he was knighted aboard the Golden Hind by Queen Elizabeth. He became mayor of Plymouth in 1581 and served as a member of Parliament in 1584 and 1585.

Later in 1585 Drake sailed again with a large fleet for the West Indies. Drake introduced tobacco to England as a result of his visits to North America.

In 1587 war with Spain was recognized as imminent, and Drake was dispatched by the queen to destroy the fleet being assembled by the Spanish in the harbor of Cádiz. He accomplished most of his purpose and in the following year served as vice admiral of the English fleet that defeated the rebuilt Spanish Armada.

He is admired by many for his English spirit, when told that the Spanish Armada had been sighted in 1588, he completed his game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe before setting sail to defeat them.

Sir Walter Raleigh

(1554 - 1618)
Profession: Explorer
English adventurer and writer, who was prominent at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, and became an explorer of the Americas.

Born at Hayes Barton in Devonshire, Raleigh attended the University of Oxford. for a time and later studied law in London, where he became familiar with both court life and the intellectual community.

In 1578 Raleigh sailed to America with his half brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, a voyage that may have stimulated his plan to found an English empire there. In 1585, Raleigh sponsored the first English colony in America on Roanoke Island in present-day North Carolina. He was knighted, and became one of the most powerful figures in England.

Sir Richard Hawkins

(1560 - 1622)
Profession: Explorer
English navigator

Sir Richard Hawkins (c. 1562 – April 17, 1622), English seaman, was the only son of Admiral Sir John Hawkins by his first marriage.

He was from his earliest days familiar with ships and the sea, and in 1582 he accompanied his uncle, William Hawkins, to the West Indies. In 1585 he was captain of a galliot in Drake's expedition to the Spanish main, in 1588 he commanded a queen's ship against the Armada, and in 1590 served with his fathers expedition to the coast of Portugal.

In 1593 he purchased the "Dainty," a ship originally built for his father and used by him in his expeditions, and sailed for the West Indies, the Spanish Main and the South Seas. It seems clear that his project was to prey on the oversea possessions of the king of Spain. Hawkins, however, in an account of the voyage written thirty years afterwards, maintained, and by that time perhaps had really persuaded himself, that his expedition was undertaken purely for the purpose of geographical discovery. After visiting the coast of Brazil, the Dainty passed through the Straits of Magellan, and in due course reached Valparaíso.

Having plundered the town, Hawkins pushed north, and in June 1594, a year after leaving Plymouth, arrived in the Bay of San Mateo. Here the "Dainty" was attacked by two Spanish ships. Hawkins was hopelessly outmatched, but defended himself with great courage. At last, when he himself had been severely wounded, many of his men killed, and the "Dainty" was nearly sinking, he surrendered on the promise of a safe-conduct out of the country for himself and his crew.

Through no fault of the Spanish commander this promise was not kept. In 1597 Hawkins was sent to Spain, and imprisoned first at Seville and subsequently at Madrid. He was released in 1602, and, returning to England, was knighted in 1603.

In 1604 he became Member of Parliament for Plymouth and vice-admiral of Devon, a post which, as the coast was swarming with pirates, was no sinecure. In 1620 to 1621 he was vice-admiral, under Sir Robert Mansell of the fleet sent into the Mediterranean to reduce the Algeriar corsairs. He died in London on 17 April 1622.

Sir Francis Bacon

(1561 - 1626)
Profession: Writer
English Philosopher

Francis Bacon is the Chief figure of the English Renaissance. His advocacy of "action science" influenced the culture of the entire English speaking world.

Francis Bacon studied law at Cambridge and became Lord Chancellor in 1618. His Essays has remained the most popular writing, his two greatest scientific works being 'Novum Organum' and 'The Advancement of Learning' in which he pleaded for the recognition of science. He insisted on collecting facts first, and then drawing theories from them - a method which is today called "inductive"

William Shakespeare

(1564 - 1616)
Profession: Writer
English Playwright

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. Around 1591 he moved to London and became an actor. He joined the Lord Chamberlain's company of players, later 'the King's Men'. When the company built the Globe Theatre in 1597, he became a partner, living at a house in Silver Street until c.1606, then moving near the Globe. He returned to Stratford c.1610, living as a country gentleman at his house, New Place.

Shakespeare is generally acknowledged to be one of the most extraordinary writers in history. His 28 plays and 154 sonnets explore the complexity of the human soul with unparalleled insight. No other writer's plays have been produced so many times in so many countries. His creative power is one of the great feature of his genius, and to many people Hamlet, or King Lear seem far more real than historical characters like Caesar.

Authorship is still a controversial subject for certain plays, and the modern era of Shakespeare scholarship has been marked by an enormous amount of investigation into the authorship, text, and chronology of the plays, including detailed studies of the age in which he lived, and of the Elizabethan stage.

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