In the course of the 17th century almost half a million people left Britain, most from England, to cross the Atlantic. It was an astonishing, unprecedented outpouring – vastly larger than came at the time from anywhere else in Europe. This, truly, was the ‘Great Migration’ of the English. The movement shaped North America, and it shaped the world as we know it: just as migration continues to do.

Nowadays, in countries like England or the USA, it is as immigrants that people who move are usually viewed. So it makes sense to recall a time – not so long ago – when many who left their home were leaving England not attempting to reach it. For a variety of reasons, but often out of sheer desperation: Emigrants.

Why did they go? Historian James Evans looks at a number of important reasons and at some fascinating characters who went, whose own motives for going illustrate these. He shows that religion (associated by many, not unfairly, with those who sailed on the Mayflower) was often not the most important factor.

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9780297866886 (1)Merchant Adventurers

“A good story, well told.” (Iain Finlayson THE TIMES, 28 Sept 2013)

“Richly entertaining reading.” (Giles Milton LITERARY REVIEW, 1 Nov 2013)

“Evans’s short, exciting chapters describe the voyage and 16th-century life, technology and politics in glorious detail.” (THE LADY, 9 January 2015)

“One of the great untold tales of English exploration… Evans triumphs” (MANAGEMENT TODAY, Dec 2014-Jan 2015)

“A fascinating and riveting account” (THE TIMES, Business Book of the Week, Nov 2014)

“This splendid book…” (CATHOLIC HERALD, Oct 2014)

“A wonderful adventure story…” (KIRKUS REVIEWS, May 2014)

In the spring of 1553 three ships sailed north-east from London into uncharted waters. The scale of their ambition was breathtaking. Drawing on the latest navigational science and the new spirit of enterprise and discovery sweeping the Tudor capital, they sought a northern passage to Asia and its riches.

The success of the expedition depended heavily on its two leaders: Sir Hugh Willoughby, a brave gentleman soldier, and Richard Chancellor, a brilliant young scientist and practical man of the sea. When the ships became separated in a storm, each had to fend for himself. Their fates were sharply divided. One returned to England, to recount extraordinary tales of an imperial court in the Moscow of Tsar Ivan the Terrible. The tragic, mysterious story of the other two ships has to be pieced together through the surviving captain’s log book, after he and his crew became lost and trapped by the advancing Arctic winter.

This neglected endeavour was one of the boldest in British history, and its impact was profound. Although the ‘merchant adventurers’ failed to reach China as they had hoped, their achievements would lay the foundations for England’s expansion on a global stage. As James Evans’ vivid account shows, their voyage also makes for a gripping story of daring, discovery, tragedy and adventure.

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