Home » Queen Elizabeth & Her Explorers (1558-1603)

Queen Elizabeth & Her Explorers (1558-1603)

Princess Elizabeth, a slender, athletic, extremely intelligent young woman, recieved an ideal Rennaissance education in Latin, Greek and modern languages, in history and Scripture. As Henry VIII’s second eldest child, shunted back to third in line for the throne by the complex politics of the period, she also had a very practical education in political intrigue – and the fine art of political survival. She came in 1558 to the royal throne shaken by a decade of misgovernment, religious fanaticism, and economic problems.

She proceeded to give England 45 years of trong government, moderate religious policies, and unexplained prosperity. Elizabeth was a prudent ruler. She avoided costly wars, however, supported the war with Ireland. “The creation of this English colony (Ireland) led to the expansion of markets for English goods and the growth in imports of desirable commodities. ” Elizabeth sought for religious compromise rather than religious crusades, worked through her appointed ministers, and dealt firmly with an increasingly vocal Parliament. She was well served by lifelong royal counselors such as Lord Treasurer Burghley and veteran warriors such as

Francis Drake. She was less well supported by dashing younger cavaliers such as the Earl of Essex. “Queen Elizabeth supported colonization ventures only if they did not detract from what she believed was the primary purpose of her government: to defend the nation and its territory and to consolidate royal authority within the realm. She was much more concerned with with preventing invasions of Scotland and Ireland and protecting the English Channel against the Armada, the Spanish Fleet that threatened English ships on the high seas.

But her government’s hesitance ebbed after the English gained access to he seas with their seemingly miraculous victory over the Spanish in 1588. From that point on, the conditions were ripe for colonizing North America. ” She supported Martin Frobisher’s expeditions. England was still too weak to challenge Spain openly, but Elizabeth hoped to break the Spanish overseas monopoly just the same. She encouraged her boldest sea dogs to plunder Spanish merchant ships on the high seas.

When Captain Francis Drake was about to set sail on his famous round-the-world voyage in 1577, she said to him: “Drake! .. I would gladly be revenged on the King of Spain for divers njuries that I have recieved. ” Drake took her at her word. He sailed through the Strait of Magellan and terrorized the west coast of South America, capturing the Spanish treasure ship, Cacafuego, heavily ladden with Peruvian silver. After exploring the coast of California, which he claimed for England, Drake crossed the Pacific and went on to circumnavigate the globe, returning home in triumph in 1580. Although Elizabeth took pains to deny it to the Spanish ambassador, Drake’s voyage was officially sponsored.

When schemes to place settlers in the New World began to mature at about this time, the ueen again became involved. The first effort was led by Sir Humphrey Gilbert, an Oxford educated soldier and courtier with a with a lifelong interest in far-off places. Gilbert owned a share of the Muscovy Company; as early as 1566, he was trying to get a royal grant for an expedition in search of the northeast passage to the Orient. But soon his interests concentrated on the northwest route. He read widely in navigational and geographical lore and in 1576 wrote a persuasive, Discourse … o prove a passage by the north west to Cathaia. Two years later, Queen Elizabeth authorized him to explore and olonize “heathen lands not actually possessed by any Christian prince. ” Nothing was recorded about his first attempt in 1578-1579; in 1583 he set sail again with five ships and over 200 settlers. He landed them on Newfoundland, then evidentally decided to seek a more congenial site farther south. However, no colony was established, and on his way back to England his ship went down in a storm off the Azores. Gilbert’s half brother, Sir Walter Raleigh, took up his work.

Raleigh was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth. He sent a number of expeditions to explore the east coast of North America, a land he named Virginia after his unmarried sovereign. In 1585, he settled about a hundred men on Roanoke Island, but these settlers returned home the next year. In 1587, Raleigh sent another group to Roanoke. Unfortunately, the supply ships sent to the colony in 1588 failed to arrive; when help did get there in 1590, not a soul could be found. One reason for the delay in getting aid to the Roanoke colonists was the attack of the Spanish Armada on England in 1588.

Angered by English raids on his shipping and by the assistance Elizabeth was giving to the rebels in the Netherlands, King Philip II had decided to invade England. His motives were religious as well as political and conomical, for England was now seemingly committed to Protestantism. His great fleet of some 130 ships bore huge crosses on the sails as if on another crusade. The Armada carried 30,000 men and 2,400 guns, the largest naval ever assembled up to that time. However, the English fleet badly mauled this armada, and a series of storms completed this destruction.

Thereafter, although the war continued and Spanish sea pwer remained formidable, Spain could no longer block English penetration of the New World. Elizabeth’s long reign were graced by a scintillating galaxy of poets and playwrights, of whom Shakespeare was only the best known. But these years – the 1580’s and 1590’s – also saw increasing political intrigue at court. Moreover, religious extremism, both Protestant and Catholic, emerged in the nation. These religious extremists found Elizabeth hard to live with, and young men eager for war called her timid.

But they called her Gloriana to her face. At last, England was involved in a war of religion. Experience had shown that the cost of planting settlements in a wilderness 3,000 miles from England was more than any individual purse could bear. As early as 1584, Richard Hakluyt, England’s foremost authority on the Americas, made a convincing case for royal aid. In his Discourse on Western Planting, he stressed the military advantages of building “ two or three strong fortes” along the Atlantic coast of North America.

Ships operating from such bases would make life uncomfortable for “King Phillipe” by intercepting his treasure fleets. Colonies in America would also enrich the mother country by expanding the market of English woolens, bringing in valuable tax revenues, and by providing employment for the swarms of “lustie youths that be turned to no provitable use” at home. From the great American forests would come the timber and naval stores needed to build a bigger navy and merchant marine. Queen Elizabeth read Hakluyt’s essay, but she was too cautious and too devious to act boldly on his suggestions.

Only after her death in 1603 did full-scale efforts to found English colonies in America begin, and even then the organizing force came from the merchant capitalists, not from the Crown. Elizabeth herself perferred guile to force. She was a past mistress to public relations, alternately charming and terrifying her friends and her enemies, her ministers, courtiers and subjects. England was a nation dazzled by Queen Elizabeth I, her splendid court and costumes and cowed by the stamp of an indignant royal foot.

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