Elizabeth Ist coat of arms

Elizabethan Explorers

Picture of Sir Walter Raleigh

Picture of Sir Walter Raleigh

The Elizabethan Age - Elizabethan Explorers
The Elizabethan Times saw the emergence of the bravest and skilful English seamen who became the Elizabethan Explorers. The Renaissance age of new ideas and learning encouraged a pioneering spirit of curiosity and adventure. The success of the Spanish and Portuguese explorers in acquiring monopolies on much of the Eastern spice trade and their expeditions to the New World fired the imagination and the ambitions of Elizabethan explorers.

For specific facts and information about America please refer to Colonial America. New discoveries could bring untold riches in terms of gold and silver and spices - the Elizabethan explorers were searching for adventure, glory and wealth. Many of the Elizabethan explorers were also classed as pirates due to their attacking the Spanish treasure fleet and the Spanish colonies. Heroes or Villains? Explorers or Pirates? Queen Elizabeth's 'pirates' brought wealth and power to England. These amazing Elizabethan seamen also played a major role in defeating the 'Invincible' Spanish Armada.

The Greatest English Explorers of the Elizabethan Age
The great Elizabethan age of exploration produced many famous English explorers. The greatest English explorers of the Elizabethan age and their accomplishments & voyages were:

  • Sir Francis Drake (1542-1596) cousin of John Hawkins
    • Drake was famous for his Voyage around the World between 1577 - 1580
  • Sir Walter Raleigh (1554-1618) half brother to Humphrey Gilbert
    • Raleigh was famous for the Discovery of Guiana
    • Establishing the Virginia colony of Roanoke Island in 1584
  • Sir Humphrey Gilbert (1539-1583) half brother to Walter Raleigh
    • Gilbert was famous for the Discovery of Newfoundland
  • Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595) cousin of Francis Drake
    • Hawkins was famous for his voyages to West Africa and South America
  • Sir Richard Grenville (1541-1591)
    • Grenville was famous his voyages to Virginia and Roanoke Island and the Azores
  • Sir Martin Frobisher (1535-1594)
    • Frobisher was famous for his attempts to discover a North-West passage and his voyages to Labrador and Greenland
  • Henry Hudson (1570-1611)
    • His search for the Northwest Passage in led to the discovery of the mouth of the Hudson River
  • Sebastian Cabot (1476-1557)  the son of John Cabot
    • His search for the Northwest Passage in led to voyages to North America and South America
  • Thomas Cavendish (1560 - 1592)
    • Followed Drake in an attempt to circumnavigate the World
  • John Davis (1550 - 1605)
    • Famous for his voyages to the Canadian Artic and Asia
  • Sir Richard Hawkins (1562-1622) son of Sir John Hawkins
    • Famous for his voyages to South America

The English Elizabethan Explorers
The English Elizabethan explorers were determined to share the opportunities offered by the exploration of the New World. The Spanish and Portuguese were the foremost of the Elizabethan explorers. The Italians and French were also showing interest in the New World. These European countries had gained monopolies on the Eastern spice trade and had gained great wealth from this revenue . It was imperative that England was involved in the exploration of the New World. Failure to do so would have resulted in England becoming a 'poor relation' to her European neighbours and vulnerable to invasion by either Catholic France or Spain. Spain, especially, was seen as an enemy to England. The English seamen and explorers were therefore encouraged by Queen Elizabeth to make their voyages of exploration. If, on their voyages, the Explorers encountered the opportunity to raid Spanish ships this would not have been greeted with disapproval from their Queen. Thus the English Elizabethan Explorers also gained the reputation of being pirates. The Spanish were continuously harassed in the Caribbean by pirates and buccaneers who attacked the Spanish galleons which were carrying riches back to Spain. The pirates who operated in the Islands included Blackbeard, Calico Jack, Anne Bonny, Henry Morgan and the celebrated English Explorers Sir John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake.

English Elizabethan Explorers
The English Elizabethan explorers looked at the successes of the Portuguese and Spanish and the voyages of the first English Explorer John Cabot (1450-1499). John Cabot sailed in search of a Northwest Passage to China and as a consequence discovered Cape Breton Island. The Muscovy Company which was formed by the navigator and explorer Sebastian Cabot ( the son of the John Cabot) together with a number of London merchants. The Muscovy Company was granted a monopoly of Anglo-Russian trade and aimed to search for the Northeast Passage. Various other companies were formed - all voyages of discovery had different backers and patrons who wanted a share in the potential profits. The explorations and voyages of Sir Francis Drake were so profitable that, apart from the nobility, he was the richest man in England.

Famous English Elizabethan Explorers and their Voyages of Discovery
The English Elizabethan explorers encroached on the territories of Portugal and Spain on the following famous voyages of discovery:

  • 1497:  John Cabot was searching for a Northwest Passage to China and discovered Cape Breton Island
  • 1562: John Hawkins sails to Africa - profits from the slave trade
  • 1576: Explorers working for the Muscovy Company were so successful that 100 English ships were visiting Russia
  • 1576: Martin Frobisher begins three attempts to find the Northwest Passage and gold in Canada sailing to Baffin Bay and into the Hudson Strait
  • 1577: Francis Drake circumnavigates the world - December 13 1577 to September 26 1580
  • 1585: Sir Walter Raleigh establishes the Roanoke colony
  • 1585: John Davis explores the Canadian Artic and Asia
  • 1593: Sir Richard Hawkins travels to South America

English Elizabethan Explorers
Additional details, facts and information about the Elizabethan Explorers in the Elizabethan Age can be accessed via the Elizabethan Era Sitemap and the following links:

Elizabethan Age of Exploration
Famous Explorers
John Cabot
Sebastian Cabot
Elizabethan Explorers Timeline
Spanish Explorers
Sir Francis Drake
Sir Walter Raleigh
Sir Humphrey Gilbert
Sir Richard Grenville
Sir John Hawkins
Sir Martin Frobisher
Sir Richard Hawkins
Henry Hudson
The Age of Exploration
Elizabethan Era Index

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