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By James Evans >

Published by Phoenix, £9.99

A Tudor voyage of exploration – an extraordinary story of daring, discovery, tragedy and pioneering achievement. In 1553, a pioneering voyage was undertaken in an attempt to find a new, shorter route to China and its riches, skirting through the icy seas around the top of Norway and along Asia’s northern rim. Incredibly, the diaries of the captain of one of these ships, Sir Hugh Willoughby, survive, enabling James Evans to build a vivid account of his tragic fate, as the two ships under his command become trapped in an Arctic bay by the oncoming winter. He and his crew were discovered by Russian fishermen the following summer, their bodies still frozen in the thawing ice.

The ship commanded by brilliant young captain Richard Chancellor fared better, thanks in part to his careful study of the navigational sciences that were beginning to transform Europe. He endured pirate raids and voyaged over a thousand miles by sled through the snowy Russian wilderness to Moscow, where he dined on roast swan at the infamous court of Ivan the Terrible. Chancellor returned to London to tell the tale and was hailed as a hero, only to be drowned on his second journey to Muscovy two years later. Yet, as James Evans makes clear, his ground-breaking achievements laid the foundations for England’s subsequent expansion on the global stage.

MERCHANT ADVENTURERS illuminates wider themes in the history of exploration, trade, science, globalisation, and the making of modern England. But, above all, it promises to be gripping and tragic adventure story in the great tradition of heroic failures.


JAMES EVANS is a historian and television producer. He took a First in history at Oriel College, Oxford University, and went on to do doctoral studies there, where he wrote a D.Phil on the national question in the new state of Yugoslavia after World War I. His doctoral thesis was published as a book by I.B.Tauris in 2005. He has worked as a producer on various historical television documentaries, including Dan Cruickshank’s Hidden Houses (BBC2), Niall Ferguson’s Western Civilisation (C4), Griff Rhys Jones’s Rivers (BBC1) and Michael Wood’s English Story (BBC2), for which he also contributed to the accompanying book. He lives in London with his wife and two young children.

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