The late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries have been called the Age of Exploration as Europe began to wake after one hundred and fifty years of depopulation and disaster: the Black Death, the Hundred Years War between France and England, and the reverberations caused by the Fall of Constantinople.  Spain and Portugal were the first countries to begin to look beyond the familiar shores of the Mediterranean, and send explorers to search for the Indies. The riches of the vast new world they discovered were initially plundered to support the Italian Wars, but, by the second half of the sixteenth century, England and the Netherlands were eager to join in a race for colonisation.

The advent of the printing press affected exploration, as it did everything else – travellers’ tales whetted the appetite of those who yearned for adventure, the increased availability of maps and the first solar declination tables aided navigation, and the growing population made the prospect of founding new cities attractive, particularly for those struggling to be free in an atmosphere of rigid religious conformity.

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