Henry VII. built both the Regent, and the Sovereign, which were so large that a special new dock had to be built for them at Portsmouth. Castles at bow and stern were made permanent features, and the ships had four main masts, and numerous small guns. Further great strides were made in the science of navigation, which rendered it necessary that the men in command should be trained men, and not merely the favoured nominees of the king. It was necessary now to have a majority of men who were capable of sailing and navigating the vessel. A Genoese (Italian) pilot, Giovanni Caboto, settled in Bristol with plans to find a westerly route to the East. Taking the English name John Cabot he persuaded Henry VII. to send an English expedition. In 1497 he discovered ' new found land ' in Canada, but they were still attracted to the riches of the East and it was left inatially to the Spaniards.
The English were greatly inferior to the nations of northern Europe both in navigation and in ship-building. Henry VIII. assisted by Wolsey, greatly encouraged the seamen of his time and spent at least some proportion of the plunder of the monasteries in raising an efficient fleet. When Henry VIII. built the Henry Grâce à Dieu, launched in 1514, it was built according to the latest ideas, it had 186 guns, most of which were small. Hans poppenruyter, a Flemish gunsmith had developed a cast iron cannon, large portholes were cut in the sides of the hull and a number of iron "great guns." were installed and the broadside was invented. Henry founded Trinity House and was responsible for the establishment of a Navy Board, under the direction of a Lord High Admiral, this administrative reform remained in existence down to the time of William IV. He extended the royal and public dockyards. William Hawkins sailed under Henry VIII's flag to Guinea;
The concept of a Northeast Passage was favoured by the English: it was thought that, although its entry was in high latitudes, it "turning itself, trendeth towards the southeast . . . and stretcheth directly to Cathay." It was also argued that the cold lands bordering this route would provide a much needed market for English cloth.
During the reign of Edward VI (1547 - 1553) a company was formed in England for the purpose of discovering unknown lands and establishing trade with them. The company was named the "Merchant Adventurers," its first governor was Sebastian Cabot. In 1553 the trading company, later known as the Muscovy Company, sent out, an expedition under the command of; Sir Hugh Willoughby who was one of the first of the discoverers to lay down his life.Willoughby's ship was lost, but the exploration continued under the leadership of its pilot general, Richard Chancellor. Chancellor and his men wintered in the White Sea, and next spring "after much adoe at last came to Mosco."
Between 1557 and 1560, another English voyager, Anthony Jenkinson, following up this opening, travelled from the White Sea to Moscow, then to the Caspian, and so on to Bukhara, thus reaching the old east-west trade routes by a new way. Soon, attempts to find a passage to Cathay were replaced by efforts to divert the trade of the ancient silk routes from their traditional outlets on the Black Sea to new northern outlets on the White Sea.
|During the sixteenth century English
seamen earned a reputation for skill, seamanship and outrageous audacity, which they most certainly deserved. John Hawkins, (born at Plymouth 1520, son of William Hawkins) made several voyages in
his youth, and in 1562 and 1564 went on expeditious to Africa, he entered into slave-trading between Guinea and
the West Indies.
He became the wealthiest man in England, and soon incurred the wrath of King Philip of Spain. In 1567, whilst sheltering in the Gulf of Mexico after a third slave-run, his fleet was defeated by the Spaniards.
John Hawkins and Francis Drake escaped with their lives and in 1573 Hawkins became treasurer of the navy.
Another Englishman, Sir Humphrey Gilbert (d.1584), decided that it was time "to pare the nails of Spain," and in 1583 he had planted the first colony in Newfoundland. Gilbert's step-brother Walter Raleigh, continued his work, and evolved great and far reaching schemes for settling North America. He took possession of lands between Newfoundland and Florida and planted his colony there, naming it Virginia in honour of Queen Elizabeth, who had given him his patent. But it was not until John Smith, the governor of Virginia, convinced the settlers that "nothing is to be expected .. .. but by labour" that the colonies began to flourish. In 1585 Frobisher accompanied Sir Francis Drake to the West Indies.Then drake sacked the Spanish city of San Domingo, and Cartagena on the Spanish main. King Philip II. of Spain declared these pirates must be turned over to the Inquisition and gave orders for the Great Armarda. With only four ships, Drake sailed into Cadiz, and destroyed sixty of the Spanish vessels, delaying the invasion for one year, but a fleet of some 130 ships set out under the command of Medina Sidonia.
In England, every available ship was mustered, defence preparations made and the Catholics impounded. In 1588 John Hawkins was appointed vice- admiral in the expedition against the Armada, and received a knighthood for his services. As the Spaniards sailed into the Channel they were harried by the English fleet, the Spaniards decided to drop anchor near Calais, here under the cover of night the English sent in the 'fire-ships'. Forced to run, the battle raged all the next day until a severe storm scattered the Spanish fleet around the coast of Britain. After the defeat of the Spanish armada Frobisher who commanded one of the largest ships in the fleet, was also honoured with a knighthood for his services.
|The German, Paul Hentzner, when traveling in England in 1589, said that the English were " good sailors, and better pirates " doubtless he was thinking of Sir Francis Drake .|
During the reign of Elizabeth the English fleet proved its superiority to that of Spain in respect of fighting capacity, Elizabeth also continued the wise policy of her father and grandfather, and encouraged trade, she granted both charters and money grants to the merchant adventurers, trading companies, and privateers. Elizabeth granted the first charter to the East India Company in 1600 and so laid the foundation of our Eastern Empire. There were only five ships in the first fleet of the Company which sailed, and the largest of these, by name the Dragon, was only of 600 tons, with a crew of 202.