Matthew Parker: Willoughbyland - England's Lost Colony

Willoughbyland: Reviews

‘Parker has trawled the letters and literature, and travelled out to Suriname, and the result is a miniature masterpiece…. this is a truly extraordinary tale and, in Parker’s hands, it’s beautifully told. With great wit and scholarship he reveals — just for a moment — a cruel and curious world, before it vanishes again beneath the trees.’
John Gimlette, Spectator
Full review

‘Here in miniature was the original dream of empire … The author has written several other highly enjoyable histories of the Caribbean, and he is on fine and colourful form here. The story of Willoughbyland might on its own seem like a mere exotic sideshow to the broader story of the first centuries of European expansion into the New World. Yet it is more than that: in the forgotten story of this strange English colony Parker has found a tantalising microcosm — a parable, even — for empire’s decay from hope into misery. Paradise lost indeed.’
Dan Jones, Sunday Times
Full review (paywalled)

‘On one expedition in the 1560s only twenty-five came back out of a force of two thousand. “The reports are false,” said a survivor. “There is nothing on the river but despair.” Failures like this did nothing to stem the tide of European speculation, as Parker's fascinating narrative makes clear. The early history of the Wild Coast, which occupies the first sixty-odd pages of Willoughbyland, makes for a complicated story, but Parker tells it well, negotiating his way through the labyrinth of competing expeditions and invasions with a laudable clarity of purpose. He gives a vivid account of the experiences of Sir Walter Raleigh, whose own quest for El Dorado cost him his son and his head, and offers colourful details of the early attempts at settlement … Parker evokes the miseries of life on the edge of things in the 17th century and gives an excellent account of how the Royalist nature of Willoughbyland was diluted after the Restoration, as disaffected Parliamentarians began to drift in from England and the West Indies, along with apolitical fortune-hunters, who were still intent on finding El Dorado … The book contains a rich cast of characters, too … the lost colony's short, eventful life makes for a gripping read. Willoughbyland is popular history at its best.’
Adrian Tinniswood, Literary Review
Full review

‘The long-obscure but intriguing Willoughbyland can now console itself that it has, in this frequently fascinating book, a history it deserves.’ Catherine Nixey, Times
Full review (paywalled)

‘This is a fascinating tale of one man’s failed attempt to leave his mark on the Empire and Matthew Parker is an entertaining historian who has produced a lively account.’ Paul Callan, Express

‘Lively … an enjoyable account of a neglected moment in the emergence of the British empire.’  Robert J. Mayhew, BBC History Magazine

’so impressive … an excellent book throwing light on a fascinating subject and a fascinating period in history’ The Bookbag
Full review

‘The story of England’s forgotten Utopia … but this Eden had its serpents … Willoughbyland turned in to a hell of cruelty and chaos. Paradise lost indeed. This is an odd, bygone moment in England’s political dreaming, expertly rendered.’ 
Sunday Express

‘The first British settlements in the Americas were in the north, but in the mid-17th century one hardy band of pioneers attempted to gain a foothold in what was later to become Suriname in South America. It’s a fascinating tale of courage and desperation, cruelty and betrayal, and it was all sparked by the search for the legendary city of gold, El Dorado.’
Mail on Sunday

'A varied, often fascinating search for the history and remains of England’s 17th-century South American colony in what is now Suriname … Necessary, all these centuries later, is much back story, including tales of the English civil war, the Restoration, and the major European powers (England, France, Spain, Netherlands) competing in the New World. The author carefully weaves these essential colors throughout the tapestry of his text and also attends to other significant matters, including Europeans’ attitudes regarding indigenous peoples, women, religion, royalty, and slavery. Parker delivers a colorful cast of characters … An engaging pursuit through history and geography, terminating in the human heart of darkness.'
Full review


Willoughbyland Cover
©Matthew Parker 2015