Versailles’ gallery of paintings from the French Revolution and the First Empire

January 14, 2013 § 1 Comment

Today I went to Versailles with my class.

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Statue of Louis XIV

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Place des Armes

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A gallery of statues and busts of the imperial family and Napoleon’s generals

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Part of the Palace and the gardens in the background.

We had a guided tour of a part of Versailles Palace that’s closed to the public. It is actually a part of the Museum for French History as king Louis-Philippe had it designed. The furniture is authentic and the paintings have not been moved. Here are a few of these paintings.

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Napoleon and Josephine’s coronation

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Napoleon crowning Josephine

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Murat at the Battle of Abukir. Up until then, only Napoleon could be pictured as a center character in a war painting. Murat, as Marshal of France and brother-in-law of Napoleon, was the first to receive that honor.

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Napoleon and Josephine

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Napoleon’s second wife, Marie-Louise of Austria

Then we were led to the upper floor where they keep very interesting paintings including these two unfinished work that enable us to see the very different methods of painting employed by the two masters of the time : David and his student Gros.

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Preliminary work by David on the Serment du Jeu de Paume

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He drew the characters naked and with a lot of details, and then painted over them

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Whereas Gros starts directly with paint and gives it shape progressively, eventually getting to a result just as realistic as David’s work

And finally, here’s a statue of Napoleon on his final days in exile. It was sculpted much later, in the 1860’s.

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Les Européens et la Chine (XVIe-XVIIIe siècles)

April 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Depuis le Moyen-Âge, la Chine fascinait l’Europe avec sa prospérité légendaire contée dans le Devisement du monde de Marco Polo. Accéder aux Indes orientales devint  l’objectif de toutes les puissances maritimes et, lorsqu’il fut possible d’étendre l’influence européenne jusqu’à l’Océan Pacifique au XVIème siècle, la course aux richesses chinoises commença.

Les Portugais sous les ordres d’Albuquerque s’emparèrent de Malacca en 1511 et dès 1514, un de leurs marchands atteignait Canton. En 1520, une première ambassade portugaise, dirigée par Tomé Pires, un apothicaire portugais, arriva en Chine. Son but était d’établir le commerce entre les deux pays de façon permanente. Ce fut un échec considérable : l’ambassade n’obtint une audience à la cour de Beijing qu’après plusieurs mois et là, on exigea que le Portugal rétablisse le sultan de Malacca récemment déposé par les colons car celui-ci était partenaire commercial des Chinois. Pires refusa de transmettre ces demandes au roi du Portugal et les membres de la mission furent emprisonnés à Canton où ils moururent après quelques années. L’empereur de Chine décida alors d’interdire tout commerce avec les Européens. Ce désastre ne dissuada cependant pas les Portugais qui insistèrent et parvinrent à obtenir un comptoir permanent à Macao en 1557 après de longues négociations. Ainsi, le Portugal accéda aux produits chinois tant convoités : soieries, porcelaines, bois précieux, thé, rhubarbe, … Mais cette implantation était extrêmement limitée : Macao et Canton étaient les seules villes auxquelles les marchands européens avaient accès et le Portugal louait à l’empire chinois l’emplacement de son comptoir. Tous les échanges entre Chine et Europe devaient passer par le comptoir portugais et la Casa da India mais dès le début du XVIIème siècle, les Anglais et les Hollandais cherchèrent à maximiser leurs profits en éliminant l’intermédiaire et y parvinrent sans difficulté car le Portugal n’avait alors plus les moyens de faire respecter son monopole. Ce commerce se constituait presque exclusivement d’importations (sauf ventes ponctuelles d’argent américain par les Espagnols) car la Chine restait très fermée aux produits européens.

La situation resta ainsi jusqu’au début du XVIIIème siècle lorsque les élites marchandes de Chine, qui voyaient bien l’intérêt qu’elles pouvaient avoir à traiter les étrangers au mieux et à s’adapter à leurs demandes, obtinrent en 1720 la fondation du Cohong, une association de marchands cantonais mandatés par le gouvernement pour contrôler toutes les marchandises destinées à l’exportation vers l’Europe par un monopole de commerce. Les installations européennes se multiplièrent et, au milieu du XVIIIème siècle, Canton rassemblait Portugais, Hollandais, Anglais, Français, Belges, Danois et Suédois. Les Russes étaient peu présents en Chine à cause des conflits territoriaux incessants entre les deux pays. Cette affluence entraina un essor du commerce et, entre 1720 et 1806, on estime que le volume des échanges entre Chine et Europe doubla tous les dix-huit ans.

Cependant cette régulation par le Cohong était fréquemment contournée par un commerce illégal très développé et qui concernait notamment l’opium. Depuis le XVIIème siècle, les Portugais, puis les Hollandais, vendaient de l’opium, qui venait d’Inde et que les Chinois ne connaissaient pas antérieurement. Son utilisation semble avoir été d’abord pharmaceutique, puis l’habitude de fumer cette drogue s’installa à Canton et dans les ports des provinces méridionales. Avec l’établissement progressif des Anglais en Inde, c’est l’East India Company (EIC) qui relaya les Hollandais comme fournisseur de l’opium et, dès 1729, son usage s’était étendu de façon si inquiétante que sa vente fit l’objet d’une première interdiction. Le commerce de l’opium fut à l’origine de profonds troubles dans toute la Chine méridionale, accroissant la corruption des marchands et des fonctionnaires et provoquant le déséquilibre de la balance du commerce extérieur (jusqu’à rendre la Chine déficitaire au XIXème siècle). Mais les profits étaient tels qu’ils permettaient de couvrir l’achat des marchandises précieuses du commerce chinois, et aussi d’acheter tout un réseau de complicités. La contrebande de l’opium se poursuivit donc de plus belle sur la côte Sud-Est.

Par ailleurs, la vision confucéenne des Chinois n’aidait pas les Européens. En effet, jusqu’à la fin du XVIIIème siècle, domina l’idée que la Chine, « empire céleste », accordait sa faveur à des peuples inférieurs en acceptant de commercer avec les Occidentaux. Les représentants européens devaient donc être considérés comme ceux des états tributaires de la Chine, ce qu’ils étaient en quelque sorte puisqu’ils louaient leurs comptoirs. Ainsi, les missions diplomatiques envoyées en Chine, comme celle de l’EIC en 1791, furent toutes sans succès, car, comme l’explique Harry Gelber dans The Dragon and the Foreign Devils, demander à la Chine une plus grande ouverture et de nouveaux comptoirs correspondait à « prétendre qu’un étrange royaume à l’autre bout du monde pourrait être l’égal de l’”empire céleste”, voire que l’empereur ne serait plus le monarque universel ».

Malgré ces différences de perspective, les contacts entre Chine et Europe dépassaient les seuls domaines diplomatiques et commerciaux. En effet, des missions religieuses, essentiellement jésuites, furent envoyées. Après la première tentative de François-Xavier (mort devant les côtes chinoises en 1552), la présence jésuite en Chine prit de l’importance à partir de la fin du XVIème siècle et les échanges culturels qui en découlèrent eurent une grande influence dans les relations sino-européennes. Pour pouvoir faire valoir la religion chrétienne, les jésuites étudièrent la culture chinoise en profondeur : langue, philosophie, littérature et religion, et se firent accepter en Chine (y compris à Beijing où le père Matteo Ricci fut reconnu comme pair des mandarins en 1601) par leurs travaux comme mathématiciens, astronomes, médecins, architectes, métallurgistes, interprètes ou diplomates. Leurs écrits, largement publiés en Europe, répandirent de nouvelles idées : on découvrit alors la richesse culturelle chinoise, ses prodiges techniques et c’est ainsi qu’on les retrouve chez Montaigne, Voltaire ou encore Leibniz qui écrivirent leur admiration pour cet empire oriental dont qu’ils estimaient présenter des modèles de pensée dont l’Europe aurait intérêt à s’inspirer, que ce soit pour l’art, les sciences ou même la politique.

Les relations entre Chine et Europe restèrent donc profondément sous contrôle chinois jusqu’au XVIIIème siècle où le gouvernement impérial commença à perdre son rôle dominant au profit des marchands, tant européens que chinois, qui s’enrichirent sur le commerce destructeur de l’opium, annonçant la situation dégradée de la Chine au siècle suivant et l’exploitation que les Européens en firent.

Philippines Summer 2012

March 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

This Summer, I’ll be in the Philippines for a couple months to visit my girlfriend but also to discover her country. This blog will include entries about this exciting trip !

The United Kingdom and the opening of Japan (1854-1869)

March 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

Anglo-Japanese relations started in 1600 with the arrival in Japan of William Adams, an adventurer who quickly became an advisor for the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. Using this position of influence, he helped develop a trade between the two countries. But with the change of policy towards foreigners, the British were forced to close their commercial base in Hirado in 1623.

Relationships between Japan and the United Kingdom only resumed more than two centuries later in 1854 with the Treaty of Friendship. This followed the arrival of Commodore Perry and his “Black Ships” the year before. Perry was an envoy from US president Fillmore and had been entrusted with the diplomatic mission of opening trade with Japan. To achieve that with an openly hostile Japanese government, he resorted to threatening the authorities of bombarding Edo if they did not meet his demands. The Japanese, realising the power of the American fleet, agreed. From that point on, all the European nations strived to obtain treaties of commerce with Japan. And in 1858, the British got a real Treaty of Amity and Commerce, one of those unequal treaties that gave Japan a semi-colonial status. It granted the British the right to have a representative in Edo, and the opening of Hakodate, Nagasaki, Kanagawa and Hyogo and their surroundings to all British subjects.

However, troubles arrived and soon, British ambassadors were forced to travel accompanied by soldiers since the attempted assassination of Rutherford Alcock in June 1861. A similar attempt occured the year after and caused the delegation to move away from Edo and back to Yokohama where foreigners were more common and generally accepted. And yet again in 1868, a building of the British legation recently built in Edo was burnt to the ground. This was the work of the partisans of the “sonno-joi” movement, meaning “restore the Emperor, expel the barbarian”, supported by emperor Komei. Violence escalated with the Namamugi incident in 1863 during which a British man was killed and which triggered the Anglo-Satsuma war. Satsuma was the large province in the south of Japan and its daimyo (feudal lord) was the most powerful vassal of the emperor. The town of Kagoshima was bombarded and Satsuma eventually agreed to pay reparations to the British (25.000 £ (about 15.000.000 £ today)). A year later, in 1864, came the Shimonoseki incident : Japanese supporters of the sonno-joi movement attacked an American ship but were met by an international fleet of British, French, Dutch and American vessels which fought them back. More than 100 people died. The shogun sent an expedition against these supporters of the emperor so that they be punished. The leaders of the attack were beheaded.

The civil war in Japan (or Boshin War)

Quickly, the worsening political situation in Japan forced the imperial forces to cooperate with the British and strong ties emerged between Britain and the opponents of the shogun, whereas France for instance chose to remain on the shogun’s side until he was effectively brought down. The British got involved at the end of the civil war after the emperor called for the end of the neutrality of foreign powers. And although most nations, such as France and the USA, still chose not to participate in the war the United Kingdom, which had begun to develop these bonds with the imperial court, took the side of the already winning emperor. Thus the short-lived Franco-Japanese Republic of Ezo (Hokkaido) was crushed by an Anglo-Japanese force, putting an end to the war between the emperor and the shogun retainers.

This choice to get strongly involved with the emperor provided Britain with great advantages after these events. British ambassador Sir Harry Parkes obtained an influencial position in the Meiji government. And therefore the United Kingdom eventually managed to build stable relations with Japan as would two powers which could benefit from each other. And new treaties and alliances were signed until 1923, when American pressure triggered a new change of policy.

Sir Harry Parkes, British representantive in Japan from 1865 to 1883

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Sources :

A Diplomat In Japan, Ernest Satow

The British Arms : North China and Japan, David Field Rennie

L’Europe et le royaume du Siam, « plate-forme tournante » de l’Asie du Sud-Est

March 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

Le Siam a fait l’objet de peu d’ouvrages historiques car les sources sont limitées et presque exclusivement européennes. En effet, les Siamois considéraient traditionnellement l’histoire comme une discipline artistique, indissociable de la littérature, généralement écrite sous forme poétique et dont le contenu n’avait pas pour vocation d’être fidèle aux événements mais plutôt de célébrer le roi et la puissance de son royaume. Mais grâce aux nombreux écrits des Européens ayant voyagé au Siam ainsi qu’aux documents officiels de la cour siamoise (ayant échappé au sac de la capitale par les Birmans en 1767 et à l’humidité), Dirk Van der Cruysse a pu mettre en lumière l’histoire complexe des relations entre l’Europe et le Siam. Bien qu’étant axé sur les relations franco-siamoises, son ouvrage Louis XIV et le Siam retrace également les tentatives plus ou moins fructueuses d’établissement de comptoir par les autres puissances navales européennes.

Le royaume du Siam (appelé Ayutthaya ou Ayuthia en thaï) est une très grande puissance asiatique aux XVIème et XVIIème siècles. Il recouvre un espace assez semblable à la Thaïlande actuelle. Son influence en Asie du Sud-Est est immense et durant cette période, les rois siamois parviennent à vaincre successivement l’Empire khmer et le royaume de Birmanie, établissant ainsi leur hégémonie dans la région. Les Birmans, de même que les Malais, continuent cependant à lancer de nombreux assauts contre le royaume siamois ce qui amène le Siam à rechercher activement l’aide des Européens nouvellement arrivés. La capitale, également appelée Ayutthaya, est décrite en 1687 par des ambassadeurs français comme étant « comparable en taille et en prospérité à Paris ».

Dès 1511, après la prise de Malacca, les Portugais, qui s’intéressent aux richesses naturelles du pays (ivoire, épices, bois précieux, or, argent…), décident d’envoyer des diplomates au roi du Siam afin de négocier des accords commerciaux. A la fin du XVIème siècle et comme dans tout l’empire colonial portugais, les Hollandais, qui voient au Siam une porte d’entrée vers les richesses de la Chine auxquelles ils souhaitent accéder sans coûteux intermédiaire, ont cherché à prendre leur place et ce fut un succès notamment parce qu’ils ne cherchèrent pas à convertir la population au christianisme comme les Portugais avaient pu le tenter. Puis, les Anglais, cherchant, eux, une porte d’entrée vers le Japon dont la culture et les savoir-faire réputés comme étant très raffinés fascinaient, tentent de mettre en place des comptoirs au Siam sans grand succès, à cause de conflits avec les Hollandais et faute de débouchés commerciaux. Cette dernière difficulté constitue un problème majeur pour les commerçants européens, quelle que soit leur nationalité, car les rois siamois prennent activement part au commerce et mettent donc en place de nombreux monopoles royaux sur les échanges de marchandises. Quant aux Français, derniers arrivants, ils considèrent le Siam comme un excellent point de départ à l’évangélisation de l’Asie du Sud-Est. En effet, le Siam dispose dans la région d’une position de « plate-forme tournante » selon la formule de Van der Cruysse : le royaume entretient d’excellentes relations avec les autres puissances asiatiques, notamment le Japon, la Chine, l’Inde et la Perse.

L’histoire des relations entre Européens et Siamois est constellée d’incidents diplomatiques plus ou moins graves notamment autour de la question religieuse. L’entretien de Tenasserim entre Mgr Lambert, vicaire apostolique, et un talapoin (moine bouddhiste) incarne bien les incompréhensions mutuelles : le Siamois cherche à convaincre Mgr Lambert que plusieurs religions peuvent être également bonnes et ne comprend pas du tout l’intolérance chrétienne vis-à-vis du bouddhisme, tandis que Mgr Lambert cherche à convaincre le talapoin que seule la religion chrétienne est bonne.

Le roi Phra Narai qui régna de 1656 à 1688 (soit un très long règne pour un roi siamois) est celui qui a le plus marqué l’histoire des relations entre le Siam et l’Europe. Il s’est toujours montré favorable aux échanges commerciaux et culturels avec les Occidentaux tant qu’ils n’étaient pas nuisibles à son royaume. Il a beaucoup de curiosité et d’admiration pour Louis XIV et le Grec Phaulkon, son conseiller sur les affaires européennes, œuvre au rapprochement franco-siamois. Phra Narai apprécie la vocation missionnaire plutôt que marchande des Français au Siam car il a pour intention d’obtenir l’aide de la puissance française et des fins militaires et diplomatiques dans la région en faisant miroiter aux missionnaires français son éventuelle conversion au christianisme. Mais cela est en fait hors de question car le roi est un bodhisattva (être ayant acquis un niveau d’éveil supérieur, futur Bouddha) et il a bien conscience qu’il ne peut changer de religion sans bouleverser tout l’ordre de la société siamoise et risquer de perdre sa place en donnant un prétexte à ses ennemis pour qu’ils le détrônent. En effet, le royaume du Siam est caractérisé par une grande instabilité politique, surtout au moment des successions qui ne sont pas régies par des lois et qui fonctionnent en partie au mérite. Si bien que tout individu de très haut rang qui s’estime méritant peut prétendre au trône ce qui se règle très souvent dans un bain de sang. Cette instabilité politique traduite par des règnes courts ne facilite pas l’implantation des Européens car les politiques à leur égard et concernant les monopoles commerciaux ont tendance à changer à chaque avènement. C’est finalement ce qui se produit de manière radicale en 1688 après la mort de Phra Narai : Phetracha, un de ses généraux, s’empare du pouvoir et décide de chasser les Occidentaux dont l’importance s’était largement accrue au cours du règne de Phra Narai.  Après quoi il fut impossible aux Européens de créer des comptoirs au Siam qui resta cependant très actif dans le commerce asiatique jusqu’à la sévère défaite de 1767 infligée par les Birmans qui diminua largement la puissance siamoise.

The Tudors and the Age of Exploration

March 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

            David B. Quinn in his article titled “Present state of studies on the rediscovery of America in the 15th century”[1] gives rise to the fact that the exploration of the American continent was not exclusively Portuguese and Spanish. When Henry VII became king, England was already very late on exploration. Bartolomeu Dias was about to sail around the tip of Africa in 1488 and Christopher Columbus was already considering reaching the Indies by crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Portugal and Spain were the unopposed rulers of the sea and the self-declared masters of every place they set foot on. On that matter they were backed by the Pope who, in 1494, divided the whole world in two parts for Spain and Portugal to explore. This declaration, the Treaty of Tordesillas, left out all other countries, which weren’t quite ready to enter the race for exploration yet. However all of them will ignore this partitioning of the world to conquer any territory they can. The accidental discovery of the Western Indies by Columbus and of the American continent a few years later led to a new problem: going round America to reach the Indies. That’s when Henry VII decided to step in and thus got England involved in the exploration of the world.

            We can therefore ask ourselves how the Tudors were involved in the exploration of America and what impact it had on the relations between England and Spain since it was a challenging of what had been granted to His Catholic Majesty at the Treaty of Tordesillas.

            We shall first study the early explorers and the entering of England in the Age of Discovery, then, the continuation of coastal exploration and its exploitation, and finally the effects of it on English foreign relations.

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            The quest for the North West Passage to the Orient began in 1497 when Henry VII commissioned the Italian navigator John Cabot.

            Cabot, a well-travelled Venetian man, was convinced that he could find the route to the Indies after Columbus discovered the first American islands. Cabot tried to convince Bristol merchants to finance his expedition. After years of rejection upon rejection, he decided to turn to Henry VII, not expecting much from a king known for being a miser. Henry, though not very enthusiastic about exploration, gave Cabot letters in which he vouched for the Venetian navigator and granted him ownership (under authority of the crown of England) of whatever he would find. But Cabot still could not find financial support and eventually left for the New World aboard a small ship carrying 18 men. He brought back news that he had found a new continent and that its waters were very rich in cod, a point that greatly appealed Britons who until then had to fish in the very dangerous areas around Iceland. What Cabot found has yet to be clearly identified but is thought to be Newfoundland or perhaps even the Canadian shore. There was no inland exploration but Cabot sailed along the coast for a few weeks and claimed the discovered land for England. Henry VII gave new honours to Cabot in reward for his precious discovery and thus facilitated Cabot’s ability to find funding, notably from the Bristol Society of Merchant Venturers. Cabot’s second trip was undertaken with five large ships, one paid for by the king and the other four by merchants but Cabot and his fleet disappeared into the unknown never to return.

            The results of his discovery remained modest: mostly a new area for fishermen to exploit. It would be a long time before real exploration began in North America.  Nevertheless his trip had aroused an urge to explore in many merchants and navigators and it undoubtedly marked the beginning of a new era coinciding with the English Renaissance and deeply associated with the Tudors.

            Another navigator, João Fernandes Lavrador, who had discovered the South of Greenland and the Labrador (a region on the West Coast of today’s Canada) in 1498 on behalf of Portugal, then came to England to sail for Henry VII and he disappeared at sea in 1501. This shows the impact of Cabot’s discovery which motivated Fernandes’ trip to the North West and the new influence of English navigation which attracts sailors from different European countries. There really was a huge demand for funding among explorers of the time.

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           England and Spain went close to being governed by one monarch but in spite of Mary Tudor’s marriage with Philip of Spain, England did not benefit from the colonies in the New World whose riches the Spanish would never share. Mary thus tried to revive the British economy by opening new ports outside Europe.

            Half a century after Cabot’s discoveries, exploration has made little progress but in 1555 Sebastian Cabot, son of John Cabot, founded the Muscovy Company to reinforce trade between England and Russia and open a road to China by the North-East. And so, in the middle of the 16th century, England turned to Russia and navigators were sent to find a safe passage through the northernmost seas of Europe.  In 1551, Anthony Jenkinson explored the Russian rivers searching for a path to China and he reached Central Asia which led to a trade treaty with the Persian Empire in 1561. Others, like Stephen Burrough in 1556, attempted a voyage to China by going around Russia but the operation was too difficult and too costly. Trade with Russia, however, kept growing more important and benefited from a monopoly in the exchanges between the two countries until 1698.

            As for the Atlantic, the situation quickly worsened for the British since the union of the crowns of Portugal and Spain in 1580, which gave the Spanish an absolute, unopposed supremacy over the trade with the whole world and particularly the Indies. This led to a new policy focused on settlement in North America which was greatly supported by Queen Elizabeth in her will to challenge the Spanish authority and making England the naval power her father wanted to achieve. It is first attempted by Humphrey Gilbert in 1583 on Newfoundland but it fails because of a poorly chosen site. His half brother, Sir Walter Raleigh, a landlord in Ireland recently knighted by the Queen took up where Gilbert left. He was more successful though not much wealth erupted from the settlement. What he founded in Virginia (named after the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth) was short-lived but it had a greater impact than expected. Soon after, new settlers came and Virginia (which included the East coast of the current United States from North Carolina to Maine) became a permanent English settlement, the origins of the Thirteen Colonies. In 1594, he embarked on another trip to find great riches that had been reported in South America with promises of gold more than any could dream of. He did not find anything of such value but came back with an exaggerated account of what he had discovered and the book he published when he returned, The Discovery of Guiana, is thought to be one of the major sources of the “El Dorado” myth.

            Raleigh had a large influence although his career as a navigator produced small immediate results. His knowledge of navigation and the wise choice in the site of the first Virginian settlement were indeed worthy of praise and paved the way of future exploration and colonisation.

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           Queen Elizabeth knew that the colonies in North America would be an area of tension with Spain and this is why Raleigh aimed at the latitude of the 37th parallel north, far enough from the Spanish colonies. But if a land conflict was avoided, the same cannot be said of a naval conflict. The two naval powers[2] could not coexist around the same continent and soon tensions appeared. The British raids on Spanish colonies in the New World and the Philippines were one of the reasons for the attack led by the Spanish Armada in 1588. This was a change in the role of navigators; they were used as a part of warfare for the first time.

            Sir Francis Drake was the navigator that most represents the opposition with the crown of Spain, attacking Spanish ships as early as 1568. He and his cousin, John Hawkins, were involved in the slave trade, selling African natives to the Spanish in the New World. This was risky as the Spanish were not allowed to trade with foreigners: their fleet was attacked by a Spanish squadron that sank all but two ships of their expedition in 1568. Between 1570 and 1572, Drake made several voyages to the Caribbean raiding and trading with. Returning to England with captured Spanish treasures and building himself a great reputation. In 1577, Drake was put in charge of attacking the Spanish colonies on the American Pacific Coast. He left from Plymouth in 1577 with five ships but by the time he had reached the Pacific Ocean only one was left, the Golden Hind. Drake intended to return by the North West Passage but he was unable to find the passage and so he decided to return home westward across the Pacific and Indian Oceans and thus became the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe. He arrived back in England in 1581 loaded with treasures and spices and Queen Elizabeth knighted him for his courage and outstanding successes as a privateer. His formidable trip across the world provided essential information on navigation since he stopped in many different places to resupply: Point Loma (in San Diego today) where he even left a few men to form a very small colony whereas the area was claimed by Spain, in the Moluccas, India, the Africa Horn, Sierra Leone, etc… Some of the knowledge he gathered and carefully wrote down was already known by the Spanish and Portuguese but his own expedition closed the gap between England and the Iberians. During the war with Spain Drake attacked Cadiz and destroyed many ships the Spanish were going to use for their Armada against England. Drake also raided cities along the coast of Spain and Portugal destroying shipbuilding materials and other supplies that were dearly missed when the Spanish attack came. He was a Vice Admiral in charge of a squadron during the battle in 1588. His ship was the Revenge, one of the new designs that his cousin, John Hawkins, had helped introduce into the navy. They both died of disease after a failed attack in the West Indies in 1596.

Francis Drake

            Elizabeth’s refusal to marry Philip and her support for the independence of the Dutch Republic were the main causes of the war with Spain but the role played by the colonies cannot be neglected. Spain[3] nearly had the European monopoly on direct trade with the rest of the world (the Ottomans still were the main go-between for Europe-Asian exchanges) and Philip was the head of “an empire on which the sun never set”[4]. So when the small country that was England began to take its share of the world, Philip thought his fleet would easily crush the English ambitions. However the sudden sinking of the Spanish Armada marked an end to the undisputed supremacy of Spain in the Atlantic Ocean. This was a big victory for the new British colonies which got rid of the enemy warships roaming the ocean and making the voyage from Europe to America[5] dangerous.

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            To conclude, the reign of the Tudors clearly marks a new era for England. The country enters the colonial race at a very fast pace and establishes itself as the first naval power in the world when the Spanish Armada sinks. In terms of discovery the impact is very important: Newfoundland is soon a fishing area where European ships swarm, Virginia becomes a large colony in the following century and constitutes the basis of what the United States of America are today, and Drake’s circumnavigation sets the basis for future English exploration and colonisation. This is the birth of the British Empire. It is also reflected in the English culture, these great seamen are the origin of the close association between England and the control of the seas. It could be argued that the insularity of Great Britain is the reason for that but Drake’s (and others such as Cavendish who circumnavigated the world just five years after Drake) prowess definitely played a role as well.

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Sources:

The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition articles on:

– John Cabot

– Sebastian Cabot

– Sir Francis Drake

– Sir Walter Raleigh

Pierre CHAUNU, Conquête et exploitation des nouveaux mondes

Rebecca FISHKIN, English colonies in America

Journal de la société des Américanistes, n°55, 1966


[1] « Etat présent des études sur la redécouverte de l’Amérique au XVème siècle » in Journal de la Société des Américanistes, 55, 1966, p345

[2] Since Henry VIII, England was quickly becoming a great naval power. At the end of his reign in 1547, he had brought the number of warships in the royal navy from 5 to more than 40

[3] Spain then included Portugal since the two crowns had been joined in 1580

[4] The phrase originated with a remark made by Fray Francisco de Ugalde to Charles V, who as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and king of Spain had an enormous empire, which included many territories in Europe and vast territories in the Americas. The phrase gained added resonance during the reign of Charles’s son, Philip: the Philippines were obtained by Spain in 1565, and when Henry of Portugal died, Philip II was recognised King of Portugal in 1581. He now reigned over all his father’s possessions (except the Holy Roman Empire) and the Portuguese Empire, which included territories in South America, Africa, Asia and islands in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans.

[5] Crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Europe to America implied to travel far south (in Spanish infested seas) to enjoy good winds whereas the fastest way to return was to travel straight eastward from Virginia to England, along the 37th parallel or further north.

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