“Sir Martin Frobisher,” The Life of Sir Martin Frobisher, Knight: Containing a Narrative of the Spanish Armada, 1878, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, G246.F9.J7.
1535 CE - 1594 CE
- Primary Goal:
To search for the Northwest Passage in America.
Helped defeat the Spanish Armada and was knighted in 1588.
North America was sitting out there, a big, solid obstacle, blocking the way to the Pacific Ocean. That’s the way the English saw it, and in the 1570s and 80s, there was a flurry of maritime activity in an attempt to find their very own northwest passage through the North American continent; if they were successful, they could shave miles off the long southern routes the Spanish and Portuguese then dominated. While England's search had been off and on since John Cabot's voyage of 1497, their domestic and foreign problems (including a pesky reformation) kept them from conducting an organized search for a possible northwest passage until Queen Elizabeth's stormy reign had quieted down to a dull roar. Though a few intrepid Englishmen undertook voyages to Norumbega in the first half of the sixteenth century, including the misguided John Rut in 1527 and the ineffective tourist cruise of Richard Hore in 1536, it was not until a new generation of mariners grew up in the heady atmosphere of Elizabeth's glittering court that anyone made a serious effort to explore the chilly waters of the northwestern Atlantic for a passage to the East.
The search for a northern passage had been under the control of the "Merchants Adventurers of England for the Discovery of Lands, Territories, Isles, Dominions and Seignories Unknown," later known as the Muscovy Company, since its charter in 1553. The wisdom of men such as Sebastian Cabot and John Dee prevailed in the company and the initial voyages attempted under its authority were to the northeast, beginning with a voyage by Sir Hugh Willoughby in 1553. The northwest had to wait a bit longer.