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On the Trail of the Merchant Adventurers

Merchant Adventurers by James Evans is an extraordinary story of discovery, adventure, daring and tragedy. We are very excited that James will be visiting the Mary Rose Museum on the 20/02/2014 to give a free talk on his book. 


In 1553 three ships set sail north-east from London in search of the rich civilizations of the East described by Marco Polo. Their desire was to explore potential new markets for trade. Only one of the three ships would return, bringing with it remarkable tales from the imperial court of Tsar Ivan the Terrible. This venture perfectly captures the processes of entrepreneurial and adventurous change occurring in Tudor England, changes that lay the foundations for England’s global expansion. The economic significance of the voyage is considerable, and the trading company established as a result paved the way for the great shipping companies such as the East India Company. However the book also explores the substantial and poignant human cost of such endeavours.


Drawing on the amazing and substantial surviving records, the events of the voyage can be reconstructed with both detail and accuracy.


Evans’ story makes for fact as gripping as any fiction. From the prologue, in which the discovery is made of the eerily frozen bodies of the crew of one of the doomed ships, still in the positions of daily activity, the book is a genuine page-turner .You soon begin to feel emotionally engaged with those involved in the voyage, sympathising with their fates. From the overseeing navigator Sebastian Cabot, ambitious to achieve something of note, to the brave soldier Sir Hugh Willoughby and the brilliant young pilot Richard Chancellor, the personalities involved are remarkable.


Evans brilliantly interweaves his story of the voyage with accounts of the extraordinary political intrigue and upheaval that occurred in England during this time period. Famous historical figures were intimately involved in the preparation for the voyage, including the brilliant polymath John Dee, the doomed Lord Protector John Dudley and the ailing young King Edward VI.


Evans was working on a television documentary when he discovered the story of the 1553 voyage, and his surprise that nobody had written an accessible account of this extraordinary venture led him to write one. The book has gone on to receive praise from numerous reviewers, including The Times and the Literary Review.


James Evans is a historian with a PhD from Oriel College, Oxford. He has worked on a range of historical documentaries as a producer, including Niall Ferguson’s Civilisation.


James Evans will be giving a talk on Merchant Adventurers at the Mary Rose Museum at 15:00 on the 20th February 2014. Admission is free with any valid May Rose Museum ticket, but you will need to download a free ticket for the event. Places are strictly limited so please book soon to avoid disappointment.

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