Pirates, Adventurers and Fortune-Seekers

Course details

From £1070.00

Sun 12 Jul 2020 - Sat 18 Jul 2020

Pirates, Adventurers and Fortune-Seekers


The Oxford Experience is a residential summer programme providing one-week courses in a variety of subjects aimed at non-specialists. It offers a choice of seminars each week over a period of six weeks.

The reigns of Elizabeth I and James I in England witnessed dramatic, long-lasting changes in the nature of culture, society, and religion.

One aspect of this has been characterized as the ‘Age of Discovery’. Individuals such as Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake spearheaded voyages of exploration and discovery carried out with the backing of the monarch and members of the government, sometimes secretly, sometimes openly. The opening up of Europe to the unknown and the development of new technologies that allowed long-distance exploration resulted in fundamental alterations to the conduct of trade, politics and diplomacy. This course will consider these changes, including the conduct of diplomacy and the experiences of the entrepreneurial individuals who travelled into the unknown.

Programme details

Seminars meet each weekday morning, 09.15-10.45 and 11.15-12.45, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study or exploring the many beautiful places in and around the city.

In the first session we will review the world as it looked on the eve of Elizabeth I’s reign, at a time when Spain dominated New World expansion and the idea of a British Empire was firmly located within Europe. What did people know about the world in which they lived? We will take an overview of the extraordinary changes that took place during our period.

This session will focus on assessing the reputation and activities of the most famous Elizabethan seafarer: Sir Francis Drake. Long celebrated as a hero, more recent studies have cast him in a more negative light. Which is more convincing? Our discussion will focus on this issue as well as tracing his movements around the globe.

Favourite of Elizabeth I and restless seeker of adventure and fortune, Sir Walter Raleigh lived much of his life at the court in England but his ambitions stretched far further afield. In this session we will consider his failed efforts to establish a colony at Roanoke as well as considering his wider explorations, including a doomed search for El Dorado, a desperate last effort to win favour from King James.

Today we will turn to the conduct of trade and diplomacy, focusing on the example of Russia, one of England’s major trading partners in the latter half of the sixteenth century. We will consider the role played by individuals such as Anthony Jenkinson as well as other, less successful envoys.

In the final session we will consider the Ottoman Empire and the extent of English efforts to forge diplomatic and trade relations with Ottoman rulers as relations with Catholic Europe deteriorated. We will look at the extent of the cultural interchange between the Islamic world and Protestant England, as shown in the writings of William Shakespeare. The course will finish by looking at the changes of James’ reign, with a shift of focus to the East as well as the Americas.

Recommended reading

Brotton, J.  2017.  This Orient Isle: Elizabethan England and the Islamic World.   Penguin.

MacGregor, N.   2014.  Shakespeare’s Restless World: a portrait of an era in twenty objects.  Penguin. 

Kelsey, H.  2000.  Sir Francis Drake: the Queen’s Pirate.  Yale University Press.


During your course, you will stay in typical Oxford student accommodation at Christ Church in buildings which range from the 18th to the 20th century. Bedrooms are modestly-furnished, do not have air-conditioning and are arranged on a staircase of four or five floors.

The fee £1565 includes a bedroom with private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). Most are single but a few twins are available for couples or those who wish to share with a friend. Those couples wishing to book a twin room should contact us direct ipoxex@conted.ox.ac.uk, as these rooms cannot be booked online.

There are also a few standard rooms available which all have their own washbasin and shaver point but the bath and toilet facilities on each staircase are shared. To apply for one of these rooms please select the ‘Programme Fee (with single standard accommodation and meals)’ option on the application form.  Early application for these rooms is essential.

Most standard rooms are single but there are a few ‘twin sets’ (two single rooms opening off a sitting room). If you wish to book a twin set, please contact us direct ipoxex@conted.ox.ac.uk, as these rooms cannot be booked online.

Please indicate your accommodation preferences (either online or on your application form) together with a note of any mobility problems.

We regret that we are unable to offer you accommodation at Christ Church prior to or following your course. Additionally, family or friends who are not enrolled in the programme cannot be accommodated in college.


Programme fee (no accom–incl.lunch and dinner): £1070.00
Programme fee (with single en-suite accom and meals): £1565.00
Programme fee (with single standard accom and meals): £1380.00


Dr Janet Dickinson


Janet Dickinson specializes in the cultural and political history of early modern England and Europe. Her publications and research focus on Elizabeth I and the nobility.  She has three times been named ‘most acclaimed lecturer’ by her students at OUDCE.

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Online registration closes on Friday, 1 May 2020 but please note that this course may be fully booked very quickly so early registration is recommended.