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England in the Age of Exploration

England's late start in the colonial race was due to internal issues like religious conflicts, economic depression, and troubles in Ireland. Instead of establishing colonies, they used privateers like Sir Francis Drake to plunder Spanish ships for New World riches. Eventually, these factors led England to join the race for New World colonies.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] I think there's a strong argument to be made that England was the most powerful and successful imperial nation of all time, but when you look back to the Age of Exploration, it becomes clear that England was actually pretty late to the imperial game. As we know, Christopher Columbus, backed by Spain, had arrived in Hispaniola in the New World in 1492. He was the first European to start a colony in the New World. England, by contrast, didn't actually have a successful colonial venture in the New World until 1607 with Jamestown. Now from this distance it doesn't look that far behind, but this is more than 100 years later than Spain's first colonial ventures. So what was England up to? Why were they so late in the colonial game? That's what I'd like to take a closer look at in this video, and I'll also talk a little bit more about what conditions in England led that nation to start New World colonies. Now I think the biggest reason why England waited another 100 years to have a New World colony is that England had its own problems, and it had a number of problems in this time period, and we're talking about the 1500s here. And the first of these was ongoing conflict between Catholics and Protestants in England. Now this is a very long story. I don't have time to do justice to it here, but suffice it to say that the trouble started with Henry VIII, who we know from his many wives and many beheadings, and Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church in Rome to start his own church, the Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church. Now this is a Protestant religion. I'm gonna put P here for Protestant. Now Henry had two daughters, Elizabeth who like him was a Protestant, and Mary, who was a Catholic, and Mary occupied the throne for a number of years, but Elizabeth managed to wrest it away from her and once Elizabeth was on the throne as Elizabeth I, England became a Protestant nation. So it's hard to be involved in world affairs when you've got kind of a crisis of succession going on, so one factor here is religious conflict. Another reason why England is not headed over to the New World is that they have colonial problems closer to home in Ireland. England is trying to, and will succeed at, subduing Ireland as one of its colonies, and they're undertaking a very bloody and costly war, and they think of this Catholic Irish population almost as barbarian savages who don't know what's good for them and in the opinion of the English, what's good for them is English rule and Protestantism, when of course what the Irish really want is self rule and to be left alone, but they use very brutal tactics against the Irish, and we'll kind of see that again when they're met with another hostile colonial population in North America. Another issue England is dealing with is economic depression. The Crown doesn't have a lot of money and there's a great deal of crime and poverty throughout the nation, so while the Crown can't actually afford to sponsor colonial exploits the way that Spain sponsored Columbus, they still managed to get some riches out of the New World by giving ship captains license to plunder Spanish ships coming back with New World riches, and these were called privateers, the most famous of them here is this man, Sir Francis Drake, and really, privateers are just pirates with a fancy name, but the logic here was, why bother trying to set up a colony here in Mexico or South America, the West Indies, and do all the work of setting up housing and trying to tame laborers and mining, when instead you could just let the Spanish do all of that and then put that gold on a ship and then use your awesome navy, 'cause England is growing a very awesome navy, to steal those riches. So England doesn't have a strong incentive to do all the labor when they can just steal it from the ships along the way. Alright, those are some of the reasons why it took England so long to start colonization in North America. In the next video I'll talk about the factors that led England to finally join the race for New World colonies.