John Cabot.—The discovery of new lands in the west soon became known in England, and when the Venetian citizen, John Cabot, applied for letters patent to go on a western voyage, Henry VII readily complied. In May, 1497, his single ship with eighteen men set sail from Bristol and crossed the north Atlantic. It is impossible to state with certainty what part of the coast was visited, but it appears to have been in the neighborhood of Cape Breton Island. The idea that Sebastian Cabot accompanied his father is generally rejected by the best authorities. The importance of the voyage lies in the fact that it was used at a later date to strengthen the English claim to a large part of North America. The following year John Cabot sailed for the new found land but never returned.
The Newfoundland fisheries.—Cabot's voyage had another important result. He had discovered a convenient trade route to the fisheries of Newfoundland, and English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese fishing vessels soon swarmed the region. English ships are thought to have traded there regularly after 1502. Expeditions are known to have been made thither in 1527 and 1536, and before 1550 fishing fleets went from southern England to Newfoundland every spring and autumn.
The Muscovy Company.—The latter half of the Tudor period witnessed the formation of great companies which reached out for foreign trade. In 1553 a group of London merchants decided to make an attempt to reach China and the East Indies by a northern route. Under the command of Willoughby and Chancellor, three ships sailed along the Norway coast and rounded the North Cape. Willoughby and the crews of two of the ships perished on the coast of Lapland, but Chancellor entered the White Sea and penetrated to Moscow, where he was promised trading privileges by Ivan the Terrible. In 1555 the merchants who were interested in the expedition were granted a royal charter, the company being familiarly known as the Muscovy Company. Annual fleets were despatched to the White and Baltic seas; warehouses were established at various points in Russia, and the agents of the company extended their activities to the Caspian Sea, to Bokhara, and to Persia. In 1580 the Turks cut them off from the region outside of European Russia. Occasional unsuccessful attempts were also made by the company to reach China by the northern route. In 1579 the Eastland Company, a rival organization, was chartered to trade in the Baltic, and developed an extensive trade in Poland.
The Levant Company.—English merchants also turned their attention to the Mediterranean to renew a trade which had formerly been of some importance. In 1581 a charter was issued to the Levant Company, which engaged in trading with the Turkish ports along the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean. The same year a charter was granted to the Venetian Company and in 1592 the two were combined as the Levant Company. Among those interested in the Mediterranean commerce were Sir Thomas Smythe and Sir Walter Raleigh, both of whom were important figures in the colonization of Virginia. Other groups of merchants opened trade with Morocco, and the Senegambia and Guinea coasts. In all of these enterprises Englishmen were reaching out for the trade with the East Indies, which had long been monopolized by the Portuguese. In 1581, the year in which the Levant Company was chartered, Portugal was incorporated with Spain, and hostility to that power added another incentive to reach the East.
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