Roanoke Revisited Unit 1

The Elizabethan Expansion

At the beginning of the 1580s, the balance of power at home and abroad was against England's Queen Elizabeth. By its end, she ruled the seas. She had also expanded her realm and reached the zenith of her personal popularity at home and abroad. Notwithstanding the religious conflicts and invasion threats that punctuated the era and colored its life and thought, English merchants expanded their trade and increased their wealth. Many of them invested heavily in the schemes of adventurers attempting to extend the dominion of England beyond the seas. The Roanoke voyages of 1584 — 1590 were part of the great Elizabethan expansion. Had these enterprises not been started simultaneously with two escalating crises that affected the whole of England, the probability of their immediate success would have been much higher.

While the Roanoke colonies were being planted, plots to place the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne were uncovered. Within months of her execution in February 1587 - an event that added fuel to the simmering religious problem — Ralegh's final colony sailed for the new world. Before the colony could be reinforced and resupplied, the Spanish Armada attacked England. By the time Elizabeth stabilized her position at home and abroad, the Roanoke colony had been deserted. Eclipsed by the naval victory over the Armada, the colonists and their New World nonetheless made cameo appearances in the music, theatre, and literature of the day.

The following links provide additional details needed for an understanding of the conflicts and forces that helped shape the Roanoke voyages:

Elizabeth Tudor
Sir Walter Ralegh
The Church of England in the Sixteenth Century
Spain in the New World to 1600

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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