in the first wave of 15th century discoveries was relatively insignificant.
The Spanish and Portugese monopolised sea discoveries during this
period, inaugurating long navigations across unknown oceans.
There were several reasons for France's absence in maritime exploration.
At this time, there were no royal or princely persons in France
interested in far off horizons. The political perspective was limited
to western Europe with its internal conflicts - the struggle against
the Duke of Burgogne and the Italian wars. Although France possessed
a permanent army, the French marine had not evolved since the 100
In addition to this, the French admiralty during this period was
lacking in persons both competent and interested in their task.
Admiral Coligny was the exception. He was the only Admiral in
the 16th century to consider his presence at the head of the Admiralty
as anything other than a source of honour and income. France in
the 16th century did not possess a maritime infrastructure of
international stature, contrary to that of Spain, Portugal, the
Netherlands, and soon to be England.
In the 16th century François 1 was the first French sovereign
since Charles V to seriously consider the maritime problem and
its importance. As a result of this, a port was constructed at
Le Havre, in the north of France, in 1517. The voyages of Verrazano
and Jacques Cartier received full support. In 1534 Jacques Cartier
was chosen by François 1 to lead a voyage of discovery
in Newfoundland - not only to discover islands and countries reputed
to be rich in gold, but also to find the route to China.
However, after the death of François 1 the maritime situation
stagnated, while France entered into the 50 year period of the Wars
The first half of the 17th century was similar to that of the
preceding century. The political situation remained disturbed
by the interminable civil and foreign wars. The Protestant revolts
in France from 1521, and the Thirty Year War which lasted from
1635 until 1659 absorbed the energy and the finances of France.
However, in spite of the unfavourable situation of the 16th and
17th centuries, a number of French sailors were present and active
over most of the known and frequented seas, due to the enterprising
spirit of individuals.
It was the cod fishers, mainly from Normandy, who paved the way
to North America. From the beginning of the 16th century sailors
from Honfleur, Rouen and Dieppe frequently made excursions into
the waters of Newfoundland. Most of these fishermen remained anonymous,
apart from Captain Jean Denys, from Honfleur, and Captain Thomas
Aubert, from Dieppe. From 1508 Denys and Aubert appeared to have
been the pioneers.