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European Explorers

Picture of Sir Francis Drake

Picture of Sir Francis Drake

Famous European Explorers - Voyages across Land and Sea
Who were the most famous European Explorers and what were their great accomplishments and achievements? A 'Who's who' list of the famous European Explorers of the Renaissance and Elizabethan era. The brave European Explorers were searching for fame, glory and wealth.

They travelled across unknown land and sea. These famous European Explorers faced terrible hardships. Their voyages of discovery took them to the East of Europe to India and China and to the New World - the Americas. Click here for a full list of Famous Explorers 1400 - 1600.

The Motives of the famous European Explorers
The motives of the famous European Explorers and their patrons were prompted by the following:

  • Wealth - gold, silver and spices
  • Increased Power in Europe
  • Prestige
  • Increasing opportunities for trade
  • Spreading the Christian Religion
  • Building European Empires

The Countries of the famous European Explorers
The Renaissance era saw an explosion in voyages of discovery. The European Explorers were predominantly from four countries:

  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • France
  • England

The Who's Who List of famous European Explorers
There were so many European Explorers during the Renaissance period it was referred to as the Age of Exploration. The following facts and information chart the voyages, explorations, major accomplishments and achievements in this list of the most famous European explorers:

  • Sir Francis Drake: Circumnavigates the World

  • Sir Walter Raleigh: The  Discovery of Guiana and establishing the Virginia colony of Roanoke Island in 1584

  • Ferdinand Magellan: First voyage around the World by a European explorer

  • Christopher Columbus: Discovering the New World

  • Francisco Pizarro: European Explorer who conquered the Incas of Peru

  • Amerigo Vespucci: America was named after this explorer

  • Vasco Nunez de Balboa: First European explorer to see the Pacific Ocean from its eastern shore

  • Vasco da Gama: Discovered an ocean route from Portugal to the East

  • Sir Humphrey Gilbert: Established St Johns, Newfoundland

  • Juan Ponce de Leon: First European to set foot in Florida

  • Sir Richard Grenville: Voyages to Virginia and Roanoke Island and the Azores

  • Sir John Hawkins: Voyages to West Africa and South America

  • Francisco Vasquez de Coronado: First European to explore the Southwest of North America in Arizona and New Mexico

  • Sir Martin Frobisher: Voyages to Labrador and Greenland

  • Hernando De Soto: First European to explore Florida and South East America

  • Sir Richard Hawkins: Voyages to South America

  • Hernando Cortes: Spanish conqueror of Mexico and the Aztec Empire

  • Bartolomeu Dias: The first European to lead a 1487 voyage around the Cape of Good Hope on the Southern most tip of South Africa

  • Pedro Alvares Cabral: The first European to see Brazil in 1500

  • Giovanni da Verrazzano: European explorer from Italy who explored the NE coast of North America from Cape Fear, North Carolina to Maine

  • Gaspar and Miguel Corte Real: Exploring Greenland and the coast of Newfoundland

  • John Cabot: Exploring the coastline of Canada the subsequent colonization of Canada. Cabot was the second European to find North America (after Christopher Columbus)

  • Sebastian Cabot: Son of John Cabot. Searching for the Northwest passage across North America, attempting to circumnavigate the world and making expeditions to Russia

  • Jacques Cartier: Led three expeditions of exploration to Canada

  • Henry Hudson: The discovery of the  Hudson River

  • Jacques Marquette: Discovering the Mississippi River with Louis Joliet

  • Samuel de Champlain: The Founder of Quebec City. Known as 'The Father of Canada'

  • Marco Polo: Famous explorer and traveller to China, Japan and Persia

European Explorers or Pirates?
The European explorers from Portugal and Spain led the early explorations. European Nations, such as England, were determined to share the opportunities offered by the exploration of the New World. If, on their voyages, the European Explorers encountered the opportunity to raid foreign European ships this would not have been greeted with disapproval from their monarchs. Thus many European Explorers also gained the reputation of being Pirates or  Privateers . 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 Age of Discovery turned into the Golden Age of Piracy.

Sir Francis Drake
Sir Walter Raleigh
Sir Humphrey Gilbert
Sir Richard Grenville
Sir John Hawkins
Sir Martin Frobisher
Sir Richard Hawkins
John Cabot
Sebastian Cabot
Henry Hudson
Christopher Columbus
Francisco Pizarro
Amerigo Vespucci
Vasco Nunez de Balboa
Juan Ponce de Leon
Francisco Vasquez de Coronado
Hernando De Soto
Hernando Cortes
Cabeza de Vaca
Panfilo de Narvaez
Fray Marcos de Niza
Alonso Alvarez de Pineda
Juan de Onate
Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo
Giovanni da Verrazzano
Portuguese Explorers
Ferdinand Magellan
Vasco da Gama
Bartholomeu Dias
Pedro Alvares Cabral
Gaspar and Miguel Corte Real
Jacques Cartier
Jacques Marquette
Samuel de Champlain
Marco Polo
The Age of Exploration
Elizabethan Era Index

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