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The new trading empire

Both before and after the Armada, Elizabeth followed two policies. She encouraged English sailors like John Hawkins and Francis Drake to continue to attack and destroy Spanish ships bringing gold, silver and other treasures back from the newly discovered continent of America. She also encouraged English traders to settle abroad and to create colonies. This second policy led directly to Britain's colonial empire of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The first English colonists sailed to America towards the end of the century. One of the best known was Sir Walter Raleigh, who brought tobacco back to England. The settlers tried without success to start profitable colonies in Virginia, which was named after Elizabeth, the "virgin" or unmarried queen. But these were only beginnings.

England also began selling West African slaves to work for the Spanish in America. John Hawkins carried his first slave cargo in 1562. By 1650 slavery had become an important trade, bringing wealth particularly to Bristol in southwest England. It took until the end of the eighteenth century for this trade to be ended.

This growth of trade abroad was not entirely new. The Merchant Adventurers Company had already been established with royal support before the end of the fifteenth century. During Elizabeth's reign more "chartered" companies, as they were known, were established. A "charter" gave a company the right to all the business in its particular trade or region. In return for this important advantage the chartered company gave some of its profits to the Crown. A number of these companies were established during Elizabeth's reign: the Eastland Company to trade with Scandinavia and the Baltic in 1579; the Levant Company to trade with the Ottoman Empire in 1581; the Africa Company to trade in slaves, in 1588; and the East India Company to trade with India in 1600.

The East India Company was established mainly because the Dutch controlled the entire spice trade with the East Indies (Indonesia). Spices were extremely important for making the winter salted meat tastier. The English were determined to have a share in this rich trade, but were unsuccessful. However, the East India Company did begin to operate in India, Persia and even in Japan, where it nad a trading station from 1613-23. The quarrel over spices was England's first difficulty with the Dutch. Before the end of the seventeenth century trading competition with the Dutch had led to three wars.


Closer to home, the Tudors did their best to bring Wales, Ireland and Scotland under English control.

Henry VII was half Welsh. At the battle of Bosworth in 1485 Henry's flag was the red dragon of Wales. It had been the badge of the legendary last British (Welsh) king to fight against the Saxons. At the time, Caxton was printing Malory's poem Morte d'Arthur. Henry cleverly made the most of popular "Arthurian" interest to suggest that he was somehow connected with the ancient British king, and named his eldest son Arthur. He also brought many Welshmen to his court.

Arthur, Prince of Wales, died early and Henry's second son became Henry VIII. But he did not share his father's love of Wales. His interest was in power and authority, through direct control. He wanted the Welsh to become English.

One example of the changes Henry VIII made was in the matter of names. At that time the Welsh did not have family names. They used their own first name with those of their father and grandfather, using ap, which meant "son of". Names were long, and the English, who had been using family names for about three hundred years, found them difficult. From 1535 the English put pressure on the Welsh to use an English system of names by preventing Welsh names being used in law courts and on official papers. By 1750 the use of Welsh names had almost disappeared, although not before one Welshman had made a final and humorous protest.

He signed his name "Sion ap William ap Sion ap William ap Sion ap Dafydd ap Ithel Fychan as Cynrig ap Robert ap lowerth ap Rhyrid ap lowerth ap Madoc ap Ednawain Bendew, called after the English fashion John Jones." Many Welsh people accepted wrong English ways of pronouncing their names. Others took their fathers' first names and ap Richard, ap Robert, ap Hywel, ap Hugh soon became Pritchard, Probert, Powell and Pugh. Others who had not used "ap" were known as Williams, Thomas, Davies, Hughes and so on.

Between 1536 and 1543 Wales became joined to England under one administration. English law was now the only law for Wales. Local Welshmen were appointed as JPs, so that the Welsh gentry became part of the ruling English establishment. Those parts of Wales which had not been "shired" were now organised like English counties. Welshmen entered the English parliament. English became the only official language, and Welsh was soon only spoken in the hills. Although Welsh was not allowed as an official language, Henry VIII gave permission for a Welsh Bible to be printed, which became the basis on which the Welsh language survived.

Although most people gave up speaking Welsh, poets and singers continued to use it. The spoken word had remained the most important part of Welsh culture since the Saxon invasion. The introduction of schools, using English, almost destroyed this last fortress of Welsh culture. The gatherings of poets and singers, known as eisteddfods, which had been going on since 1170 suddenly stopped. But at the end of the eighteenth century, there were still a few who could speak Welsh. Eisteddfods began again, bringing back a tradition which still continues today.


Henry VIII wanted to bring Ireland under his authority, as he had done with Wales. Earlier kings' had allowed the powerful Anglo-Irish noble families to rule, but Henry destroyed their power. He persuaded the Irish parliament to recognise him as king of Ireland.

However, Henry also tried to make the Irish accept his English Church Reformation. But in Ireland, unlike England, the monasteries and the Church were still an important part of economic and social life. And the Irish nobility and gentry, unlike the English, felt it was too dangerous to take monastic land. They refused to touch it. When an Anglo-Irish noble rebelled against Henry VIII, he did so in the name of Catholicism. Henry VIII failed to get what he wanted in Ireland. In fact he made things worse by bringing Irish nationalism and Catholicism together against English rule.

It is possible that, without the danger of foreign invasion, the Tudors might have given up trying to control the Irish. But Ireland tempted Catholic Europe as a place from which to attack the English. In 1580, during Elizabeth I's reign, many Irish rebelled, encouraged by the arrival of a few Spanish and French soldiers.

Queen Elizabeth's soldiers saw the rebellious Irish population as wild and primitive people and treated them with great cruelty. Edmund Spenser, a famous Elizabethan poet, was secretary to the English commander. After the rebellion was defeated he wrote, "Out of every corner of the woods . . . they [the Irish rebels] came creeping forth upon their hands, for their legs would not bear them. They looked like . . . death. They spoke like ghosts crying out of their graves. They did eat the dead . . . happy where they could find them."

The Tudors fought four wars during the period to make the Irish accept their authority and their religion. In the end they destroyed the old Gaelic way of life and introduced English government.

Ireland became England's first important colony. The effect of English rule was greatest in the north, in Ulster, where the Irish tribes had fought longest. Here, after the Tudor conquest, lands were taken and sold to English and Scottish merchants. The native Irish were forced to leave or to work for these settlers.

The Protestant settlers took most of the good land in Ulster. Even today most good land in Ulster is owned by Protestants, and most poor land by Catholics. The county of Derry in Ulster was taken over by a group of London merchants and divided among the twelve main London guilds. The town of Derry was renamed Londonderry, after its new merchant owners. This colonisation did not make England richer, but it destroyed much of Ireland's society and economy. It also laid the foundations for war between Protestants and Catholics in Ulster in the second half of the twentieth century.

Date: 2015-01-02; view: 3619

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