exploration and foreign policy
The reign of Elizabeth was a great age of English exploration.
This expansion led eventually to the foundation of the British Empire in
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but it brought England into
conflict with Spain.
The later years of Elizabeth's reign also saw a long and expensive war
Newfoundland (his son, Sebastian made another attempt to find the
Northwest passage in 1509).
- Sir Hugh Willoughby took three ships to find the Northeast
Passage; two ships were lost, but the third
captained by Richard Chancellor reached Archangel.
Chancellor went to Moscow, met Ivan the Terrible, and returned to
found the Muscovy Company (1555). (Its trade was never extensive
as the voyage was so difficult).
"The poor is very innumerable, and live most miserably: for I
have seen them eat the pickle of herring and other stinking
fish: nor the fish cannot be so stinking nor rotten, but they
will eat it and praise it to be more wholesome than other fish
or fresh meat. In mine opinion there be no such people under
the sun for their hardness of living."
Richard Chancellor on the Muscovites (1553)
Sir Martin Frobisher
trying, but failing, to find a Northwest Passage, landed in
Greenland and Canada.
1585-87 - John Davies
made three more voyages to Greenland and the Northwest. He
sailed further north than any previous English sailor.
1577-80 - Sir Francis Drake
circumnavigated the globe. It was widely believed that there was
also a large wealthy Southern Continent, and Drake was searching for
this in the South Pacific (plundering Spanish bases as he went).
||In 1587, 117 more colonists were sent. (On 18 August 1587,
Eleanor Dare gave birth to a daughter - the first English
child born on American soil.) When an English ship returned to check
on their progress in 1591, (the attack of the Spanish Armada
prevented an earlier return) all the colonists were gone - they had
left the site and probably had either died at the hands of native
Americans or been assimilated into friendly tribes.
|The lessons learnt from the "Lost
Colony" of Roanoke helped ensure that the next Virginia colony
(1607) was better funded and organized.|
Most English trade was with Europe, but English merchants were looking
1581 the Turkey
Company was formed, and in 1592
it merged with the Venice Company (founded 1583) to form the Levant
Company. It obtained a patent from Elizabeth I for the
exclusive right to trade in currants (dried white grapes, i.e. golden
raisins). The Company also purchased wine, cotton and silk from the
1585 The Barbary Company (formed in 1551 to trade with North Africa)
was granted a monopoly by Elizabeth. The Barbary Coast (modern-day
Morocco) was the main source of sugar for the English market, until
the development of the West Indies sugar plantations.
1600 The East India Company was founded. Its main object was to
contest Spanish and Portuguese control of the spice trade, by trading
directly with the East Indies (modern-day India and Indonesia).
Ralph Fitch was one of the first Englishmen to visit India,
Burma, and Malaya. He published an account of his travels (1598) that
stressed Portuguese corruption and the great wealth of the area. The
East India Company was formed by London merchants eager to tap that
(The East India Company began modestly; its first ships reached India
in 1608. Later it founded trading posts in Bombay, Madras, and
Calcutta. By the early 19th century, it controlled much of the Indian
English Foreign Policy
1. To 1586
|In the early years of Elizabeth's reign,
England was still militarily engaged in Scotland and France (Le
Havre). But thereafter, Elizabeth was eager to avoid war.|
Elizabeth was also eager to
ensure that neither France nor Spain controlled the entire
coastline facing England, for the threats of military invasion
and of trade isolation were far greater if one power controlled
the Channel Coast. At some times Elizabeth feared that the
French would ally with the Dutch rebels and control the whole
coast; at other times it seemed possible that Spain might defeat
both French and Dutch.
|Relations between England and Scotland were
generally good after the overthrow of Mary, Queen of Scots|
6 July 1586: The Treaty of Berwick formalized a mutual
defense pact between England and Scotland (a secret appendix
granted James VI a pension of £4,000 per annum).
|Enmity with Spain grew steadily. Elizabeth's
financial support for the Dutch rebels (many of whom were
Protestants) angered Philip II. In 1580, Philip also became king
of Portugal and so controlled its great seaborne empire, but
English seamen and merchants continually infringed his rights in
the New World.|
The Treaties of Tordesillas (1494)
and Zaragoza (1529) carved up Asia and the Americas
between the Spanish and Portuguese. English colonies in
Newfoundland and Virginia, and Drake's claim of California for
the English crown, were regarded by Philip as illegal
|The assassination in 1584 of William the Silent
(the leader of the Dutch rebels) increased the risk that Spain
might defeat the rebellion, especially as in 1585 France fell
under the control of the Catholic League. This zealously
anti-Protestant alliance, led by Henry, 3rd Duke of Guise was
closely allied with and dependent on Philip II.|
2. War with Spain
|In 1585, Elizabeth finally sent
an army to the Netherlands to try and secure Dutch independence.|
Philip II responded by sending
an Armada of 140 ships through the English Channel to pick
up Spanish troops and transport them to England.
The English navy - helped by favorable winds - scattered the
Spanish fleet before it could reach the Netherlands.
|In 1596 and 1597, Spain sent
further Armadas but these were wrecked in storms before they
became a threat to England.|
||The wars with Spain were very
expensive, even though some of the costs were offset by English
privateering against Spanish ships. The pressure on royal
finances forced the sale of crown lands and led Elizabeth to
unpopular devices like monopolies for paying her servants.
|Elizabeth's government needed
parliamentary taxation to continue functioning, and so she was
obliged to bow before the House of Commons' complaints about
monopolies in 1601.|
|Although the costs of war were
high, England's successful defiance of Spain (the greatest power
in Europe) increased its international reputation.|
Henry VIII had named himself King of
Ireland in 1541, and had attempted to extend his control beyond the
Dublin Pale. His Lord Deputy, Sir Anthony St Leger with his
assistant Thomas Cusack adopted a conciliatory policy to Irish
nobles, paying them to accept Henry's rule.
In the later years of Henry's reign, the
government had no money to bribe Irish nobles, and the energetic
efforts of Edward VI's government to impose the Reformation were
In 1557, Mary's government confiscated Irish land and gave it to
In the 1560's and 1570's, Elizabeth's Lord Deputy, Sir Henry Sidney
adopted an aggressive policy in Ireland. He continued to encourage
colonization and rebuilt Dublin Castle.
1579-1583 - Gerald Fitzgerald, Earl of
Desmond led a rebellion in Munster, that was encouraged by the
Pope and supported by 800 Spanish soldiers. Lord Grey was sent to
suppress the rebellion, and did so after years of bitter fighting.
In 1593, the Irish again revolted. Known
as the Nine Years War to the Irish and as Tyrone's Rebellion to the
English, this rebellion was led from 1595 by Hugh O'Neill, Earl of
Tyrone. He was militarily able and unusually successful in uniting
the Gaelic lords.
14 August 1598, he inflicted a crushing defeat on the English army at
the Yellow Ford.
Elizabeth replaced the Earl of Essex as
Lord Deputy with Charles Blount, Baron Mountjoy. The Spanish
sent 4,000 troops to assist the Irish, but they were nevertheless
defeated at the Battle of Kinsale 1601. [More on the
Battle of Kinsale].
Tyrone surrendered to Elizabeth, and Mountjoy began building forts to try and prevent further Irish unrest.