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  George Sandys (1578–1644), by Cornelius Johnson, 1632 George Sandys (1578–1644), by Cornelius Johnson, 1632
Sandys, George (1578–1644), writer and traveller, was the ninth child and youngest son of , archbishop of York, and his second wife, Cicely (1536–1611), daughter of Sir Thomas Wilford, and was born at the episcopal palace at Bishopthorpe on 2 March 1578. One of his godfathers was George Clifford, third earl of Cumberland. He probably attended St Peter's School in York, but the first documented evidence of his education is his admission to St Mary Hall, Oxford, on 5 December 1589, one year after the death of his father. Sandys is said to have transferred shortly afterwards to Corpus Christi, which his brothers Sir Samuel Sandys, the eldest, and had previously attended. In 1596 George transferred to the Middle Temple, where his uncle Myles Sandys had until recently been treasurer; no less than four brothers and four cousins had preceded him there. No evidence of his having qualified either from Oxford or the Middle Temple exists.

At some point before 1602 George Sandys was married to one of Archbishop Sandys's wards, Elizabeth (fl. 1587–1662?), daughter of John Norton of Ripon; the Nortons were a noted Catholic family. It was an arranged marriage, Archbishop Sandys and John Norton having stipulated terms for the marriage in their wills as early as November 1584. George Sandys was said to have gained lands to the value of £3000 by this marriage, and after leaving the Middle Temple he resided in Ripon, surrounded by Norton relatives. But in 1606 he moved to southern England, deserting his wife. In 1609 the Nortons entered into a lawsuit against Sandys, accusing him of having entered into ‘a wasteful course of spending’, and neglecting his estates (Davis, 38). They blamed his brother Sir Myles Sandys for the breakup of the marriage. In the same year George Sandys was mentioned as resident in Canterbury, close to his brother Sir Edwin, who was established near Folkestone.

Sir Edwin Sandys was a leading member of the nascent Virginia Company, and in 1609 George Sandys's name appeared among the list of persons to whom the second Virginia charter was granted by James I. But his first travels lay to the east. In 1610 Sandys set out for Europe and the Levant; in May of that year he arrived in Paris, in the tense aftermath of the assassination of Henri IV. Later in the same year Sandys embarked at Venice for the long voyage to Constantinople, entering the Sea of Marmora on 27 September. In his subsequent description of the Ottoman empire, he makes one of the first references to coffee, which Francis Bacon and Robert Burton both reproduced. In January 1611 Sandys took a ship to Alexandria, reaching Cairo on camelback. He later presented some figurines of the Egyptian gods to John Tradescant. From Cairo he travelled overland to Jerusalem, beating off an assault by desert Arabs on the way, and arrived in the city for the great Easter celebrations; he was probably back in England by March 1612, returning via southern Italy.

The completed narrative of his travels was published as A Relation of a Journey Begun an. Dom. 1610 (1615); like all of Sandys's subsequent writings, it was dedicated to Prince Charles. Sandys was an observant, inquisitive traveller and his description of the foreign cultures he encountered is remarkable for moderation and tolerance. In this work he became the first English writer to discredit the medieval belief that Jews emit an unsavoury odour (D. S. Katz, Philo-Semitism and the Readmission of the Jews to England, 1603–1655, 1982, 170). He also evinces something of the ecumenical interests which had formed the burden of his brother Sir Edwin's earlier Relation of the State of Religion in the Western Partes of the World (1605): George Sandys's description of the gathering of Christian sects from all corners of the Old World for the Easter festivities of 1611 celebrates a brief moment of Christian unity in a divided world. A Relation of a Journey was widely influential as a source of information on the Near East; it was used by Ben Jonson, Francis Bacon, Robert Burton, Sir Thomas Browne, Abraham Cowley, and John Milton among others.

After his return to England, Sandys took a renewed interest in the Virginia Company; in 1619 he narrowly failed in an attempt to be appointed governor of the Bermudas, and in 1621 the Virginia Company, now controlled by Sir Edwin Sandys and the earl of Southampton, appointed him treasurer for the colony, member of the council of state in Virginia, and member of his majesty's council for Virginia in London. He sailed in July 1621, arriving in Jamestown, Virginia, in October; with him was another Sandys kinsman, the newly appointed governor, Sir Francis Wyatt. As treasurer, Sandys was granted 1500 acres in Virginia, but these turned out to be virgin forest, and on his arrival he was forced to purchase 200 acres of cleared plantation where he could grow the crops necessary for the survival of his tenants. Wyatt and Sandys pursued a moderate and tolerant approach to colonization in Virginia, in the belief that the Virginian natives were about to convert to Christianity. Their hopes were shattered on 22 March 1622 by a great Indian uprising, in which over 300 of the colonists died. Sandys himself led the first English counter-attack against the Indians and a popular ballad celebrating this exploit has survived. Sandys's remarkably frank letters to friends and relatives about the appalling conditions in the colony after the uprising had the misfortune to be impounded in London and used as evidence of Sir Edwin's mismanagement of the company. After the crown dissolved the Virginia Company and assumed direct control of the colony in 1624, Sandys was reappointed to the colony's council (26 August), but in 1625 he returned home, narrowly escaping from Turkish pirates on the way.

Before leaving for Virginia, Sandys had published a verse translation of the first five books of Ovid's Metamorphoses (1621). Two further books were completed on the voyage to Virginia, ‘amongst the roreing of the seas, the rustling of the Shrowdes, and Clamour of Saylers’ as Sandys later wrote (Kingsbury, 4.66); the remaining books were completed during the long evenings in the colony. On 24 April 1626 Sandys was granted a patent from the king for exclusive rights to print and sell the work for twenty-one years, and the completed Ovid's Metamorphosis Englished was published in the same year. In 1632 a magnificent edition appeared which included elaborate panegyrics to Charles I and Henrietta Maria, engravings designed by Francis Clein and executed by Salmon Savery, and extensive neo-Platonic allegorizations of Ovid's mythology, occasionally interspersed with personal anecdotes. Some of the comments, especially those derived from Bacon, reveal a sceptical approach to contemporary politics. Michael Drayton addressed a poem to Sandys before his departure for Virginia, encouraging him to continue with the Ovid translation, and later praised the completed work for ‘sweetnesse and unusual grace’ (Davis, 222).

Many parallels with Sandys's Ovid have been traced in Milton's work, and Sandys's use of the heroic couplet and his poetic diction were particularly influential on Dryden and Pope. In 1693 Dryden denigrated the work, but later he declared that Sandys was ‘the best versifier of the former age’ (Davis, 224); his own translations of Ovid are heavily indebted to Sandys. Pope praised Sandys as ‘one of the chief refiners of our language’ (ibid.). The style of Sandys's Ovid is ornate, compressed, and highly Latinate in grammar and syntax; some of Ovid's wit and pace is lost. More successful as translation is his version of Book One of Virgil's Aeneid, not published until 1632 but probably completed before the outward voyage to Virginia. Previous Virginian adventurers had drawn parallels between themselves and Virgil's empire-building Trojans, and through this translation Sandys was able to express many of the emotions of early colonization.

On his return from Virginia, Sandys became a gentleman of the privy chamber of Charles I. He became acquainted with Lucius Cary, second Viscount Falkland, who held a similar post, and became a member of the Great Tew circle, moderate ecumenical scholars and divines for whom Falkland held open house. Sandys's niece Anne was married to Sir Francis Wenman, and Sandys often stayed with them, at Carswell, near Falkland's residence at Great Tew in Oxfordshire. Falkland became an ardent supporter of Sandys's Caroline religious verse. Sandys's Paraphrase upon the Psalmes (1636) was prefaced by a long commendatory poem by Falkland, as were all but one of his subsequent publications. Sandys's psalm poetry is anti-Calvinist in theology, and at its best effectively combines a formal delight in ‘the beauty of holiness’ with personal devotion. A second edition of the Psalmes appeared in 1638, which also included fine translations of the book of Job, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations, and commendatory poems from brother-poets Henry King, Sidney Godolphin, Thomas Carew, and Edmund Waller. The mood of this second edition is more sombre: several of the poets, including Sandys himself, meditate upon the growing troubles of the kingdom. Musical settings of the Psalmes by Henry Lawes were also included, probably for performance by the Chapel Royal.

Sandys's final religious work was a translation of Christus patiens, a Latin verse drama by Hugo Grotius published in 1608. This work shows that Sandys was directly influenced by the thinking of Falkland and William Chillingworth, for whom Grotius's eirenic, rational theology represented a moderate alternative to the increased polarization of the country between puritans and high Anglicans. Although loyal to the crown, the leaders of Great Tew were dismayed by Archbishop Laud's persecution of religious dissent, and Sandys's translation of Grotius, Christ's Passion (1640), dramatizes the dangers of such persecution. In the figure of Caiaphas, Sandys portrays a persecuting, over-powerful priest who attacks Christ for being an ‘Innovator’, and leads astray a moderate Roman leader, Pilate: an unmistakable parallel with Laud is created. The work was prefaced with a lengthy poem by Falkland eulogizing Grotius and Sandys. Sandys's final publication was A Paraphrase of the Song of Solomon. This had been completed several years earlier but fallen foul of the Laudian censorship for its excessive sensuality; it was only published after the demise of that system, in 1641.

Sandys remained involved with Virginia after his return from the colony. Despite his absence in England, he was reappointed to the colony's council in 1626, and again in 1628, presumably in the expectation that he would return. But he remained in England, serving on a royal commission which advised on the state of the colony in 1631 and at some time before 1638 he was appointed to the subcommittee for foreign plantations under the Laud commission. When Sir Francis Wyatt returned for a brief spell as governor (1639–42), one of his first actions was to appoint Sandys as the colony's agent in London. Sandys was twice directly involved in attempts to revive the Virginia Company, first in 1631, and second in 1640, when he presented a petition to the House of Commons for the restoration of the company's former constitution. This was done in collaboration with John Pym, and presumably reflected Wyatt's wishes. However, in 1642 Wyatt was replaced as governor by William Berkeley, who disowned the petition. From 1639 Sandys spent much of his time at Boxley Abbey in Kent, the family seat of the Wyatts. In 1641 Thomas Fuller met Sandys at the Savoy, describing him as ‘a youthful soul in a decayed body’ (Fuller, Worthies, new edn, 1840, 3.434); in 1642 Sir Francis Wyatt returned from Virginia, and the two seasoned campaigners spent their last years together, both dying at Boxley in 1644. Sandys was buried in Boxley church on 7 March of that year. Some years after Sandys's death, Richard Baxter was shown a summer house in the garden at Boxley with the inscription that in that place ‘Mr. G. Sandys after his Travels over the World, retired himself for his Poetry and Contemplations’ (Baxter, ‘To the reader’). Sandys never remarried and there were no children. In his latter years he appears not to have been wealthy, describing himself as ‘content with little’ (Hooper, 2.406). None the less, recent attempts to identify him as the ‘Sir George Sandys’ who was tried and acquitted of highway robbery in 1616 are implausible: the record probably refers to Sandys's cousin of the same name, who was indeed knighted, and who died in 1618.

James Ellison


R. B. Davis, George Sandys: poet adventurer (1955) · R. Hooper, The poetical works of George Sandys, 2 vols. (1872) · M. A. Rogers, ‘Materials towards an edition of George Sandys's A relation of a journey begun anno. dom. 1610 (1615)’, DPhil diss., U. Oxf., 1976 · J. Ellison, ‘George Sandys: religious toleration and political moderation in an early Anglican’, DPhil diss., U. Oxf., 1998 · S. M. Kingsbury, ed., The records of the Virginia Company of London, 4 vols. (1906–35) · E. S. Sandys, History of the family of Sandys (1930) · R. R. Cawley, ‘Burton, Bacon, and Sandys’, Modern Language Notes, 56 (1941), 271–3 · R. Baxter, Poetical fragments: heart-imployment with God and it self (1681) · J. Haynes, The humanist as traveller: George Sandys's ‘Relation of a journey begun an. dom. 1610’ (Cranbury, NJ, 1986) · D. Rubin, Ovid’s Metamorphoses Englished: George Sandys as translator and mythographer (1985) · K. E. Schmutlzer, ‘George Sandys's paraphrases on the Psalms and the tradition of metrical psalmody: an annotated edition of fifty selected psalms, with critical and biographical introduction’, PhD diss., Ohio State University, 1956 · Reg. Oxf., 2/1–4 · E. A. Jones, American members of the inns of court (1924) · J. Cave-Brown, History of Boxley parish (1892) · DNB · Archbishop Sandys's copy of the Bishops' Bible, Hawkshead grammar school, Lancashire


TNA: PRO, letters, nos. 318, 319, 320, 321, 326; C.O.1, vol. 2, nos. 27, 35


C. Johnson, portrait, 1632, priv. coll. [see illus.] · G. Powle, etching, 1781 (after C. Johnson), BM; repro. in T. Nash, Collections for the history of Worcestershire, 1 (1781) · W. Raddon, line engraving, pubd 1824 (after C. Johnson), BM, NPG; repro. in B. W. Procter, Effigies poeticae, or, The portraits of British poets (1824) · C. Johnson, portrait (when older), repro. in Davis, George Sandys; priv. coll.