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Between 1460 and 1540 the development of merchant shipping was of vital importance to the growth of England as a European power. In this work Miss Burwash offers a complete history of the English merchant marine in the late middle ages and early renaissance period. Her account includes a description of the size and design of the ships, the trades in which they engaged, the business arrangements under which they sailed and the codes of maritime law which governed them, the wages and conditions of work of the common seaman and the degree of navigational skill of the shipmasters and pilots. This was the time when seamen and merchants of northern Europe were beginning to venture out of the familiar home waters and undertake voyages of discovery such as the Bristol expeditions 1501–1504 which in all probability reached Labrador and possibly Greenland. The author concludes that, although English shipping faced stiff competition from traders and seamen of other countries in northern Europe—most particularly the Dutch—the period was one of healthy growth which laid a good foundation for the more brilliant and better known exploits of the Elizabethan age.

Based on extensive and detailed research in manuscript sources preserved in the Public Record Office, British libraries and the British Museum, this study is an essential one for serious students of English history.  

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