Why did People Start to Explore in the Elizabethan Times?

Background Information

At the start of the 15th century, much of the world as we know it has yet to be discovered by the Europeans. It was believed that the world was flat and that the Mediterranean lay at the centre of the world. Before the English became involved, the Spanish and Portuguese dominated exploration of the world.

Key Terms

Exploration: Looking for new lands to find, trade with, and conquer.

Trade: Buying and selling goods and raw materials, generally between countries.

The New World: The name given to the Americas by European explorers who thought it was a brand new continent.

The West Indies: A name given to the Caribbean, when Columbus thought he had sailed around the world to India.

Astrolabe: A new piece of equipment from the Renaissance which allowed more precise navigation.

Circumnavigation: To sail all the way around the world.

Why did People Start to Explore in the Elizabethan Times?, figure 1

The Astrolabe worked with angles, newly accurate maps / diagrams of the stars, and positioning against the horizon in order to give a reliable measurement of where sailors were in the world.

Trade with the East

There were trade links with the Far East (Asia) and there was a demand for luxury goods. These included, spices, incense, silks, cottons and perfumes. They were expensive as they took a long time to reach Britain. They were brought from the Far East over land, transported on the back of camels! It could take goods two or three years to reach Venice or Genoa in Italy, where trade took place.

These difficulties of trading in the East were made worse by the Ottoman Empire expanding. The Ottoman Empire was Muslim and clashed with Christian Europe. Ottoman Turks had conquered much of Eastern Europe and now were powerful in the Mediterranean. The Ottoman Empire placed high taxes on anyone passing through this area. This annoyed the Europeans as the Turks had the ability to block off trade between the Far East and Europe.

The Europeans wanted to find another route, so that they could still trade with the Far East, but not have to travel through Turkish controlled areas. They wanted to use ships, with the hope that this could speed up the transportation of goods and not have to rely on them coming across land by camels. They hoped that if they could find and create new sea routes then this would help them to get these goods quicker, and easier, meaning it would cost them less and they could make more profit on the goods.

New Ideas and New Inventions

Exploration was also encouraged by this being a time of the English Renaissance, where people were encouraged to learn. People were starting to discuss the idea that the earth was actually round and not flat. It was suggested that ships could sail north around Russia, or south around Africa or West across the Atlantic in order to reach the Far East.

New maps and geographical literature became available due to the printing press. The Astrolabe__ __(measures the position of the ship) meant that a ship’s position could be plotted accurately and the magnetic compass was developed. Smaller ships were used for exploration, and the invention of the rudder meant that steering the ships could be easier. Ships could now sail whichever way they wished and not have to rely on wind direction.

Why did People Start to Explore in the Elizabethan Times?, figure 1

This map shows the Ottoman Empire in the 16th Century. You can see how it straddles the trade routes between Europe and Asia - if you wanted to get trade you had to go through, and pay their taxes. This was a significant motivating factor in encouraging countries to explore and look for alternative trading routes.

European Explorers and the New World

European explorers began to discover new lands in the 15th and 16th centuries. There were often funded by the monarchs who were keen for national glory and also benefited immensely from new found goods from these countries.

Why did People Start to Explore in the Elizabethan Times?, figure 1

When Europeans discovered ‘The New World’, they tried to map it. Needless to say, the first attempts weren’t very accurate. See the light green ‘Zipangni’ on the left? That is where they thought Japan was.

To the East

In 1487 the Portuguese navigator __Bartholomew Diaz__sailed around the southern tip of Africa. Although he turned back, this was crucial as it showed that ships could sail this way. Before then, people assumed that you would fall off the end of the world! Eleven years later, a new voyage did the same route but ended up in India. This meant that goods did not have to pass through the Ottoman Empire.

To the West

In 1492, Christopher Columbus__found the __‘New World. He sailed West in the Atlantic and assumed he could find an alternative route to India. He landed in the Caribbean and he called the islands he discovered the West Indies__. __

Five years after Christopher Columbus’ voyage, John Cabot discovered Newfoundland in what is now Canada.

The following year, Amerigo Vespucci, at the invitation of the King of Portugal, also sailed across the Atlantic and explored the Eastern Coast of South America. He decided that this land in fact was a new continent and not the edges of Asia as Columbus thought. The word ‘America’ came from his name.

The next major achievement was the first__Circumnavigation__of the globe. (Sailing round the circumference of the world)

Why did People Start to Explore in the Elizabethan Times?, figure 2

Columbus is arguably the most famous explorer in the world. An Italian (Genoan) by birth, Columbus was sponsored by the Catholic monarchs of Spain to sail and explore. Contrary to popular belief, Columbus did not name the continent America. Rather, the name came from another Italian, Amerigo Vespucci, who helped plan the voyage.

The European Empires

Spain and Portugal dominated exploration of the world__ and became very rich and powerful because of this. They both began to establish overseas empires and started the __Atlantic__ __Slave Trade, which took people from Africa and forced them to be slaves and work for them in the Americas. (South America and the Caribbean today).

The Spanish rapidly defeated the local people and set up colonies there. These areas had large areas of gold and silver as well as other resources, such as tobacco, potatoes and tomatoes. The Portuguese, colonised coastal areas of West Africa, India and Brazil. In Brazil, they grew sugar and cotton on the plantations, using the slaves as their workforce.

Define the following terms:

Your answer should include: new lands / find / trade / conquer
Your answer should include: buying / selling / goods / raw materials / countries
The New World
Your answer should include: name / Americas / European explorers
The West Indies
Your answer should include: name / Caribbean / Columbus / India
Your answer should include: sail / around / world