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Tobacco Comes To England

Late 16th and early 17th century show Galenic rejection of the humors theory that had prevailed for over a thousand years. Because of people like William Harvey who discovered in 1628 the circulation of blood through the arteries and René Descartes who in 1637 proposed the theory of 'mechanism' that purported the influence of the immaterial mind on material bodies, essentially deductive reasoning. It was the dawn of the scientific method. These discoveries led to changes in medicine and therapeutics. Opium has begun for pain mitigation; tobacco is also being used as a botanical remedy.

René Descartes-William Harvey

In late 16th century, England was without a royal navy. The solution was to promote explorers and adventures to the status of privateer by the queen herself. Sir Walter Raleigh was Queen Elizabeth I's favored privateer or 'Sea Dog'. The privateer was required to protect his country from pirates, enemy ships and required to attack and rob ships from other countries, all under the secret auspices of the English monarch.

16th Century Privateers

After a successful encounter with the Spanish Armada, Raleigh and his cohorts proceeded to weaken the Spanish fleet on the high seas and in their New World colonies. Some of Raleigh's fellow privateers included John Hawkins, Richard Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake, to name but a few.

The Sea Dogs were successful in robbing Spanish and Portuguese trading ships and looted, confiscated or burned the enemy vessels. This was a definitive contributor to English colonization in the New World and elsewhere as well.

Recognition of the benefits that trading companies set up to profit in the colonies of foreign lands was a positive contribution to England as a nation.

Both English Privateers and French Corsaires on the high seas.

Walter was given a royal charter which permitted him to 'explore, find and exploit any heathen land not already claimed or inhabited by any Christian people'. His voyages led him to Florida via the Canary Islands from where he followed the coast up to modern day North Carolina. He named the area, Virginia, in honor of Elizabeth the virgin queen.

Being so successful in his exploits, Walter Raleigh is knighted by Elizabeth in 1585. He is said to have introduced tobacco to the United Kingdom from the Virginia colony on July 27th 1586. This date is disputed as there seems to be records of English sailors using tobacco previously. Sir John Hawkins is said to have brought the plant to England as early as 1565. Nonetheless, tobacco is a hit in the U.K.

Walter Raleigh is Knighted 1585

The two major gains of English privateers from the new world were potatoes and tobacco. Curiously enough the tuber was met with suspicion whereas the tobacco plant was not. It was rather seen as a New World panacea. The works of the Spaniard, Monardes, were translated to English by John Frampton in 1577 which was titled 'Of the Tabaco and of His Greate Vertues'. As we have seen previously, tobacco was recommended for many common ailments.

Colonist John Rolfe of Jamestown was the first to sell tobacco commercially in the early 17th century. In 1638 over 3,000,000 pounds of Virginia tobacco was imported to England. The English king James I was only interested in the revenues provided by the commodity. He tried to vilify the plant but to no avail. These dried leaves were part of English life and his successor Charles the II was much enamored with the substance and promoted snuffing to the aristocracy.

John Rolfe was the first to export of tobacco to England.

In England, the tavern is being replaced by the coffee shop as an alternative to drunkenness where one could spend hours nursing a cup of coffee and smoking a 'bowl' in diverse company. By mid 16th century, tobacco had become popular among the common folk. Snuff was also present but more so in the upper classes as a sign of refinement compared to smoking that was considered more common as local and less refined tobaccos were used.

The 16th century is winding down but the English love of the 'golden leaf' continues into the future and you can read more here. Snuff said and happy snuffing.

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