ABSTRACT

More promising still, but only belatedly brought to fruition, were England’s colonial beginnings. Yet the country enjoyed most of those advantages which elsewhere produced imperial success. Like Portugal it was small, and for most of the time more or less under the effective control of rulers who between roughly 1550 and 1650 had no serious political ambitions or commitments in Europe. Its capital was at once a political and commercial centre and a port of some consequence. As a producer of wool and woollen textiles widely in demand, England had for centuries been linked to the great commercial and industrial regions of Italy and the Low Countries. Furthermore, for much of the late 1500s and early 1600s its textile industry was in difficulty, inspiring searches for new markets and, combined with a growing population, convincing statesmen that disorders and worse could only be avoided by the despatch abroad of ‘the offals of our people’. And since in the half century after c. 1580 there was a striking increase in the size of aristocratic and gentry families, these influential classes were attracted, like their Viking or Genoese counterparts earlier, to colonial and similar schemes.