Colonial Failure in the New World in the Sixteenth Century: a French and German Comparison

Colonial Failure in the New World in the 16th Century (Download full text)

Abstract

During the first half of the sixteenth century attempts were made by Europeans to colonise Venezuela and Canada, as the rush for land in the New World increased at pace. Yet these colonial attempts have largely been forgotten by history despite the legacies they left both for Europe and the American continent itself. There are two reasons why these ventures have been overlooked. Firstly, they were non-Iberian. Secondly, they both failed. The efforts of the Welser merchant-banking company to colonise Venezuela (1528-1556) and the French Crown to settle Canada (1541-1543) have been subordinated in the historical literature to the successful colonisation carried out by the Spanish and the Portuguese in the New World, which began at the end of the fifteenth century, and led to imperial empires. Indeed, the phenomenon of colonial failure as a whole has remained relatively unpopular amongst academics. Whilst some more “popular” failed colonies have been studied individually, there has been no comparative approach to determine the shared causes for failure amongst a number of unsuccessful enterprises during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This work shall look to produce such a comparative, using the Welser and French colonies as case studies, given their underrepresentation in the literature. It shall use the few available primary sources, as well as foreign-language studies, to give a detailed understanding of the factors that caused the colonies to fail. A lack of preparedness, a lust for riches amongst the colonists, and poor foreign relations shall be identified as the three main causes for failure, each of which could be applied to a greater or lesser extent to other failed colonies. These attempts at colonisation shaped the early settlement patterns in the New World, impacted upon the social and political structures of the native populace and led to considerable alteration of the natural environment. It is important that we increase our understanding of them.

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Author: Stefan Lang

An interested observer of current affairs, researcher and writer

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