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Trade Routes and Colonization of North America


The successes and achievements in the development of European civilization significantly contributed to its expansion. During the period, also known as the Age of Discovery or the Age of Exploration, many countries became involved in the process of searching for new trade routes. In such attempts, they also discovered North America and started the colonization of the continent (“Exploration of North America”). Moreover, the combination of these processes was accompanied by a variety of factors deriving from all the aspects of life in European countries of the time. Therefore, economic, political, societal, and religious considerations that had a tremendous impact on the development of the period will allow gaining a better understanding of the Age of Discovery and the contributions of European countries.

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Trade Routes to the East and North American Colonies

The exploration of new lands by Europeans was directly connected to the search for new sea routes to the East. Therefore, these two processes should be considered together in order to present a precise picture of the discoveries of the time and their importance for many countries. The period from the early fifteenth century to the early seventeenth century started with the initial attempts of Spain and Portugal to find alternative trade routes to the Indies (“Exploration of North America”). This necessity was defined by continuous conflicts with Muslims that controlled the existing seaways to the East (“Exploration of North America”). Hence, this circumstance conditioned the early attempts of long-distance maritime travels by Europeans.

The leading position of Spain and Portugal in the matter was explained by their pioneering efforts in sending ships to the new shores. The former’s explorers played a significant role in European history by discovering the New World while searching for trade ways (“Explorations of North America”). The contributions of Christopher Columbus, Ponce de Leon, who found the territory of present-day Florida, Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the explorer of Peru, and many other Spaniards allowed the country to benefit from these projects (“Spain in the Age of Discovery”). The latter’s sailors Henry the Navigator, Diaz, and Vasco de Gama were among the first explorers of the sea routes to Arabia and India (“The Age of Discovery – Portugal”). Therefore, these two countries can be considered as leaders in the process.

Their successes caused the intention of England and France to join the search for the trade ways and the colonization of the New World. Even though the interests of England were initially focused on the establishment of control over the British Isles, by the sixteenth century, it recognized the advantages of trade with the East (Soyer et al.). Its sailors, the most known of which were John Cabot, Henry Hudson, and Martin Frobisher, started to search for a northwest passage to India (“England in the Age of Discovery”). This way, their efforts contributed to the attempts of Spain and Portugal.

As for colonization of America, it started with Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Walter Raleigh. They were the first men to receive charters from Queen Elizabeth and sail to the continent (“England in the Age of Discovery”). In turn, the most known French sailors were Giovanni da Verrazzano, Jacques Cartier, and René Goulaine de Laudonnière, who also contributed to the colonization of America and the search for the trade routes (“France in the Age of Discovery”). Thus, the country actively participated in the explorations, along with England, Spain, and Portugal.

Economic Systems and Issues

The Age of Discovery, marked by the search for new trade routes to the East and colonization of North America, shaped the present-day global economies. Hence, economic considerations are some of the most crucial factors that triggered the process and had a significant impact on the countries’ wealth (Soyer et al.). The successes of the four countries mentioned above primarily conditioned the establishment of vast trading companies, local trade systems, and a global commodities network (Soyer et al.). This outcome reflects the initial intentions regarding the need to find edible spices, precious stones, and drugs, perfumes, gums, and many other goods (“The Age of Discovery – Portugal”). However, the results of European activity in the exploration projects also led to their negative consequences. They were related to the subsequent colonization of North America and its methods.

The principal issue deriving from the rapid economic growth of European countries and their expansion was the beginning of slave trade. It was conditional upon the increase in wealth of European merchants and in power of such countries as England, Spain, France, and Portugal (Soyer et al.). In this way, the global dominance of Europe over other regions was established. Another circumstance that contributed to the complications of this situation was the need in people for the exploration of the new continent (Soyer et al.). Hence, the use of slaves fully corresponded to the intentions of European governments in terms of acquiring land and establishing colonies. Therefore, the positive outcome of the projects was accompanied by such a gruesome consequence of the successes of Europe.

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Political Systems and Issues

Along with the economic processes, the politics of the Age of Discovery changed tremendously. This shift was the result of a continuous process that started in 1100 and ended in the fifteenth century (“Exploration of North America”). It is described as the transition from small states to larger entities with centralized political power (“Exploration of North America”). The so-called political centralization had a positive impact on the European countries since it brought an end to particular negative tendencies of the Middle Ages regarding politics. Thus, for example, the increasing power of the monarchs indicated the termination of conflicts among rival noble families and various regions (“Exploration of North America”). This way, the events in the political sphere of life also contributed to the beginning of explorations and travels.

The factors specified above were accompanied by some other circumstances ensuring land consolidation. They are related to the decrease in the influence and the wealth of the Catholic Church (“Exploration of North America”). It was a gradual process that eventually resulted in the transformation of European countries. The solidification of their power, which was conditional upon a relatively favorable situation, led to the emergence of such nation-states. Therefore, the centralized authority of monarchs in Spain, Portugal, England, and France defined further political development of the countries (“Exploration of North America”). This outcome also contributed to the beginning of travels due to the fact that monarchs were able to direct and finance them.

Social Systems and Issues

The Age of Discovery significantly influenced the political and economic development of most European countries and the world as a whole. However, its impact was also spread to the society of the time. The principal positive outcome of these processes was related to the creation of opportunities for cultural exchange (“Exploration of North America”). The societies of Spain, Portugal, England, and France started to interact with the people of the new continent and improved their relationships with the East (“Exploration of North America”). It is clear that this situation implied not only apparent benefits but also numerous risks for the indigenous people of North America (Soyer et al.). Nevertheless, the consideration of the societal aspect of discoveries of the age as a purely positive or negative phenomenon would not be entirely accurate.

As a result of the interaction of European explorers with the inhabitants of the new continent and other parts of the world, the establishment of a knowledge network extending across the whole globe became possible. In this way, all parts of the world became connected for their benefit. The access to scientific knowledge by various communities was invaluable. It was complemented by the adoption of new ideas and techniques by Pacific islanders (Soyer et al.). They allowed modernizing their society and receiving a more comprehensive perspective on the world. Therefore, even though the benefits for European countries were much more significant than the ones of other populations, the Age of Exploration appeared to provide all peoples with knowledge about the world.

Religious Systems and Issues

The exploration and travels of Europeans also corresponded to the religious perceptions of people of the time. This period was marked by the decrease in power of the Catholic Church and the rise of Protestantism (“Exploration of North America”). This circumstance had a tremendous impact on the discoveries of the age. Since Protestantism, in contrast to Catholicism, encouraged the feeling of individualism and one’s responsibility before God, it created a more favorable climate for travels (“Exploration of North America”). In this way, people gained the motivation to make personal contributions to the field and promote their religious views in other places in the world.

Another factor that added to the beginning of explorations of trade routes and new lands was connected to the development of Protestantism. It was related to the desire of Europeans to find a justification for their cruelty towards indigenous North American tribes by the contribution to God’s work (Soyer et al.). They possessed a utopian vision of the alleged benefits of such interventions in these peoples’ lives by the intention to maintain life without famine, wars, diseases, or poverty (“Exploration of North America”). Since the Protestant Church supported these ideas, people felt free to keep pursuing the goals specified above (Soyer et al.). In this way, the religious part of European life significantly contributed to the colonization of news lands while justifying the actions of explorers.

The Problems between England and Spain

The competition for new lands and goods in the Age of Discovery had a tremendous impact on the political aspect of the matter and specifically on the relationships between European countries. It is explicitly seen in the problems that emerged between Spain and England. The beginning of the period when countries started attempts to find new trade routes and colonize North America was marked by the deterioration in Anglo-Spanish relations. The initial precondition for this situation is the difference in religious views since England became Protestant, and Spain remained Catholic (“Exploration of North America”). Therefore, the Protestant Netherlands sought help from Elizabeth in their war against Catholic Spain (Wildman). However, it was not the main factor that influenced the countries’ relationships.

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The development of Spain of the period was significantly more rapid than the progress of England. In the late sixteenth century, they managed to expand the empire with the help of American gold and silver while uniting the kingdom (Wildman). In contrast to Spain, England was not successful in their attempts to gain more power and wealth through the exploration of new trade routes and colonization of lands. This circumstance was partially conditional upon the fact that the latter’s initial focus was on the protection of their lands rather than using the allegedly elusive opportunities to increase wealth (“Exploration of North America”). Hence, they had a reason to express discontent about the situation in North America.

The principal factor that led to the conflict between the countries was the employment of unfair methods of gaining wealth by England at the cost of Spain. English privateers started to attack Spanish ships and steal goods from them (Wildman). These actions angered the Spanish and laid the groundwork for the development of their problems. At that moment, the other factors mentioned above were added to the conflict. The Pope started to encourage Philip II, the Spanish monarch, to plot against England on the basis of religious considerations (Wildman). As a result, the relationships between England and Spain became so intense that they led to the war between the countries.

Resolution of the Issues

The emerged issues resulted in severe consequences for both countries. Such controversies could not be resolved peacefully, and this situation led to the war between England and Spain. Under these circumstances, the religious views of Elizabeth also contributed to the escalation of the conflict and created the precondition for the signing of the Treaty of Joinville between Spain and France (Wildman). In turn, England became allies with the Dutch rebels since they shared the religion, specific goals regarding trade, and the common enemy (Wildman). Thus, the naval war between the countries began along with the growing desire of Europeans to explore trade routes and new lands.

The resolution of this conflict was achieved only in eight years. This way, the war lasted from 1585 until 1604, when peace was finally reached (Wildman). According to the Treaty signed by James I, the new king of England, and Philip III, the successor of Philip II, both countries received specific benefits (Wildman). England restored trade with Spanish colonies in North America and protected their religious views, and Spain received an opportunity to defend its treasure fleets from the New World (Wildman). This way, the issues that were caused by the events at the beginning of the Age of Exploration were successfully resolved.


The Age of Exploration resulted in the drastic change of the European part of the world. It was conditional upon the intentions of such countries as England, Spain, Portugal, and France to increase their influence through finding new trade routes and colonizing the lands of North America. These projects not only contributed to economic growth but also led to such issues as slave trade. Moreover, the opportunities for them were defined by the emergence of centralized political powers and the desire of society for the exchange of knowledge and culture. Along with the religious aspect reflected in opposing views of Catholic and Protestant Churches, this age triggered the conflict between England and Spain. However, it was successfully resolved, and the Age of Exploration led to the increase in power of all European countries.

Works Cited

“England in the Age of Discovery.” Global Security, n.d., Web.

“Exploration of North America.” History, 2020, Web.

“France in the Age of Discovery.” Global Security, n.d., Web.

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Soyer, François, et al. “Did the Age of Exploration Bring More Harm than Good?” History Extra. 2019, Web.

“Spain in the Age of Discovery.” Global Security, n.d., Web.

“The Age of Discovery – Portugal.” Global Security, n.d., Web.

Wildman, Dave. “War World Cup #5: Anglo-Spanish War (1585-1604).” Dave Does History. 2018, Web.

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