English Merchant Shipping, 1460-1540

English Merchant Shipping, 1460-1540

English Merchant Shipping, 1460-1540

English Merchant Shipping, 1460-1540

Excerpt

The period chosen as the subject of the following investigation is in some ways the most interesting in the history of the English merchant marine. Though English seamen and merchants were not in the forefront of exploring activity, these years nevertheless witnessed the notable voyages of the Cabots, the Bristol expeditions to reach the "island of Brasil," and the first opening of the English trade to the Levant. The voyages themselves have been the subject of detailed study, but much remains to be discovered about the ships and crews which sailed on them. In the other maritime nations of Europe the great discoveries took place against a background of changes affecting almost every department of seafaring life. Ships grew larger and sail-plans more complex, navigation became more scientific, the business management and the financing of voyages responded to contemporary developments. Though in England the full impact of these changes was doubtless delayed until the latter half of the sixteenth century, a knowledge of earlier conditions is nevertheless an essential preliminary to a true understanding of Elizabethan enterprise.

A thorough investigation of all aspects of maritime activity, even for a limited period, might well be the task of a lifetime; above all in a country like England, "the worschippe and floure . . . of the costes of the see," where seafaring ways coloured so much of the national life. In particular, a study of maritime contracts, of the place which the owning, freighting, and operation of ships occupied in the country's economic structure, and of the manner in which shipping enterprise was financed at home and abroad, would carry one far afield and necessitate prolonged research in those local archives, both English and European, now unhappily closed to investigators.

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