Sir Francis Drake, from an engraving of c.1590. Reproduced in J.R.Green, A Short History of the English People (1900). University of Victoria Library.

The extraordinary journey of Christopher Columbus, in 1492, opened the way to the exploration (or, we might now think, invasion) of new worlds and new peoples.

Once Columbus brought news of landfall in the Caribbean, every nation in Europe sent its mariners to explore and exploit the new lands: John Cabot of England followed five years later; Amerigo Vespucci of Italy; Jacques Cartier of France. . .

Click here to read about the chief motivation* for explorers in the period.

The impulse for all these initial voyages was to find a sea route to China, and its valuable trade. Magellan's crew finally made it there (1521), at enormous cost in ships and men, by sailing around Cape Horn. And Vasco Da Gama made it around the other Cape, the Cape of Good Hope, to get at least to India (1498).

Technological improvements in the design of ships, and in instruments of navigation, made the voyages possible; they amply repaid the investment made in them, with supplies of gold, new plants, slaves, and new markets for the increasingly capitalist economies of Europe.

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Sir Francis Drake

More a pirate than an explorer, Drake almost accidentally became the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world*. His life was one of high adventure, high profit, and considerable military success. By knighting him aboard his ship, the Golden Hind, Elizabeth trumpeted her open opposition to the policies of Spain; eight years later Drake was a vice-admiral of the fleet that defeated the Armada.

Drake was on an expedition plundering Spanish possessions in South America; he navigated Cape Horn, turned North, raided several ports, then chose to head back across the Pacific rather than brave the Spanish navy on the outlook for him. The journey took almost three years, from 1577 to 1580.

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Some other explorers*.

Other Englishmen to explore the New World were Martin Frobisher, who tried on three occasions to find the Northwest Passage; Sir John Hawkins and his son, Sir Richard; Sir Walter Raleigh; and Henry Hudson, after whom both the Hudson River and Hudson Bay are named.

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Thomas Harriot's A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia is available from the University of Virginia. You can also consult Richard Hakluyt's Discourse of Western Planting (1584).

Footnotes

  1. How to find China

    The impulse for all these initial voyages was to find a sea route to China, and its valuable trade. Magellan's crew finally made it there (1521), at enormous cost in ships and men, by sailing around Cape Horn. And Vasco Da Gama made it around the other Cape, the Cape of Good Hope, to get at least to India (1498).

    Technological improvements in the design of ships, and in instruments of navigation, made the voyages possible; they amply repaid the investment made in them, with supplies of gold, new plants, slaves, and new markets for the increasingly capitalist economies of Europe.

  2. A voyage of discovery . . . and profit

    Drake was on an expedition plundering Spanish possessions in South America; he navigated Cape Horn, turned North, raided several ports, then chose to head back across the Pacific rather than brave the Spanish navy on the outlook for him. The journey took almost three years, from 1577 to 1580.

  3. Boldly going . . .

    Other Englishmen to explore the New World were Martin Frobisher, who tried on three occasions to find the Northwest Passage; Sir John Hawkins and his son, Sir Richard; Sir Walter Raleigh; and Henry Hudson, after whom both the Hudson River and Hudson Bay are named.