Studies in English Commerce and Exploration in the Reign of Elizabeth

By Albert Lindsay Rowland; George Born Manhart | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
THE IDEA OF A NORTHWEST PASSAGE

1. The "Foure Famous Wayes" to the Orient

The search for a northwest passage is to be thought of not as a movement separate and distinct from other explorations of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but as an integral part of that long series of explorations which resulted at least in a large measure from the desire of western Europeans to gain easier access to the Far East. The East was thought of not only as a source of the "golde, silver, precious stones, cloth of gold, silkes, all maner of spices, grocery wares and all other kinds of merchandise of an inestimable price"1 which the westerners craved but could not themselves produce, but also as a market for the surplus products of western Europe. To the Englishman of the sixteenth century, China was still, as it had been in the Middle Ages, a region of the greatest wealth, where the "householde stuffe is of golde and syluer and other metals" and where in a single city a thousand wagons laden with silk arrive every day,2 and "in euery prynters shop" were to be found books of cosmography and history describing this great wealth.3 The problem of finding a shorter passage to take the place of the long and tedious routes that had been travelled thruout the Middle Ages inspired Englishmen in Queen Elizabeth's time to venture

____________________
1
Gilbert, 186.
2
Eden, 24-26.
3
Lok, in Collinson, 79.

-3-

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