The most famous Tudor explorers all made their names by leading expeditions to and from the Americas.
Many were involved with the English slave trade, shipping people from Africa to the 'New World' to sell as slaves. The Tudor period was a golden age for exploration, with explorers seeking out new lands and treasures to loot.
Throughout the Tudor age, explorers sought new routes to Asia, where they could get very rich. No one managed to reach Asia by ship but several arrived in North America, laying the foundations of the English Empire there. English explorers also turned their hands to piracy, looting Spanish ships and bringing treasures home to England.
Sir Walter Raleigh
Credited with having brought potatoes and tobacco to England, Walter Raleigh was an English adventurer and writer and led many expeditions to America. He named the first English colony there Virginia, after Queen Elizabeth.
In 1578 Sir Walter Raleigh voyaged to America with his half-brother and this trip may have inspired him to set up a colony there. Seven years later he sponsored the first English colony in America in what is now North Carolina. The colony was unsuccessful, as was the second attempt at colonisation in 1587.
When he helped suppress an uprising in Ireland he attracted the attention of the Queen and became one of her favourites. When Queen Elizabeth found out that Raleigh was involved with one of her maids of honour, she locked him up in the Tower of London. When he was released he set off to find the legendary El Dorado, but was unsuccessful.
Elizabeth's successor, James I hated Raleigh and accused him of plotting against him. He sentenced Raleigh to death though this was later reduced to life imprisonment. Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned in the Tower of London for twelve years. In 1616 he was released to lead another expedition in search of El Dorado. This expedition was also unsuccessful and Raleigh further angered the King by attacking the Spanish. When he returned to England his sentence was upgraded and he was executed in 1618.
Sir Francis Drake
Sir Francis Drake was the first man from England to sail around the world. He was knighted for this successful expedition although on the trip Drake was essentially a pirate, ransacking Spanish ships and ports and returning to England the world's richest pirate.
Sir Francis Drake began his career in Tudor exploration as a slave trader, taking people from Africa to work in the 'New World'. He and his cousin also undertook one of the first English slaving voyages. They were attacked by the Spanish on this trip and lost all but two of their ships. This left Drake with a burning hatred for the Spanish, who considered him a pirate.
Impressed by his skill at attacking and looting enemy ships, Queen Elizabeth made Sir Francis Drake vice-admiral of the navy. In 1588 the Spanish Armada set out to invade England. Drake set some empty English ships on fire and sent them into the middle of the Spanish warships. The Spanish panicked and fled and Drake and the English attacked. Later a violent storm broke out, destroying much of the Spanish fleet. The English defeat of the Spanish resulted in the English navy becoming the most powerful in the world.
Sir John Hawkins
John Hawkins was a slave trader, privateer and naval commander, and was a second cousin of Francis Drake.
In 1562 Hawkins led an expedition which marked the beginning of English involvement in the slave trade. He captured 300 people along the coast of Guinea and 500 people from Sierra Leone. Arriving in the Dominican Republic he sold 125 people as slaves to American estate owners who would put them to work on their sugar and tobacco plantations.
Hawkins gained Queen Elizabeth's approval with his profitable slavery expeditions. Hawkins made his fortune from slavery and this was shown on his coat of arms.
Italian explorer John Cabot led explorations on behalf of England and discovered Newfoundland. In 1497 John Cabot sailed from Bristol searching for a shorter route to Asia. After a month on the ocean, he discovered an "unknown" land and called it Newfoundland. He believed he had already reached Asia but he was in fact in Canada.
In 1498 he set out on another expedition in the hopes of finding Japan. We don't know what the outcome of his trip was although it's thought that he reached North America. He never managed to return to Europe.
What was the main goal of Tudor exploration?
Should we celebrate explorers like John Hawkins?
Would you have liked to be a Tudor explorer? Why or why not?
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