A World of Change
Who knew about Jamestown? In 1607, There was too much else going on
More generally, life was short and not very sweet. Killer diseasessmallpox, tuberculosisravaged towns, and hygiene was poor. A major plague hit London in 1603 and 1604, wiping out 20 percent of the population. Across Europe it was common to persecute Jews for carrying disease, and in Italy, suspected plague-carriers were tortured and burned.
Natural disasters also took a toll. On Jan. 30, 1607, perhaps 2,000 people died when flooding occurred on the coasts of the Bristol Channel. The floods were long blamed on high tides and extreme weather, but recent research suggests a tsunami may have hit.
In Ireland in 1607, the ramifications of a puzzling "escape" echoed into modern times. In the case known as the "Flight of the Earls," two members of the Gaelic aristocracy, along with 100 of their followers, fled the country for reasons that remain a mystery. While the rest of Catholic Ireland had apparently submitted to English occupation, resistance in the north was fierce; the Ulster earls had lost a nine-year war against the English, although they held onto a great deal of power and land. The English took advantage of the earls' self-exile, however, and began the Plantation of Ulster. Protestant Scottish and English settlers took over the seized lands, and Catholic memories and resentments seethed through the centuries. "There is a direct line of descent from the plantation to the Troubles," says Toby Barnard, an Oxford political historian, referring to the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland of the late 20th century.
Across the channel, Spain's financial problems weren't helped by an unexpected thumping by the Dutch in a four-hour naval battle off Gibraltar on April 25, 1607. The Dutch admiral died when one of his legs was smashed by a cannonball. But his bold attack worked: It destroyed or captured 21 Spanish ships, killing all 4,000 aboard. The victory led to a 12-year truce in 1609 in a war that had raged since 1568.
Although the English navigator Henry Hudson would eventually sail under the Dutch flag, claiming New York for that country, he made his first trip in search of a Northeast Passage to Asia in 1607 on behalf of a London company, venturing closer to the North Pole than any other explorer at the time. Thoroughly unsuited for such a trip, his ship just missed colliding with an iceberg. Hudson failed, of course, to find a passage East, but he did discover Spitzbergen Island and impressive schools of whales. His subsequent reports, in fact, led to the start of England's whaling industry.
The sense of certainty that Hudson brought to his searches was largely missing from the world of scientific exploration. Ever since the early 16th century, when Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus theorized that the Earth spun on an axis and revolved around the sun, "there was a sense of crisis," Hotson says. While many intellectuals and scientists agreed with his theory, no one could prove it. One early 17th-century believer, German mathematician Johannes Kepler, couldn't prove it, either, but eventually, Hotson says, "he groped his way to the Three Laws of Planetary Motion." Kepler finished his seminal workcorrectly stating that the planets move in elliptical orbitsin 1605 and published it in 1609.