Pirates, Adventurers and Fortune-Seekers


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, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study, or exploring the many places of interest 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.


Description Costs
Fee option 1 (single en suite accom and meals) £1635.00
Fee option 2 (single standard accom and meals) £1440.00
Fee option 3 (twin en suite accom and meals) £1537.50
Fee option 4 (double en suite accom and meals) £1537.50
Fee option 5 (twin set standard accom and meals) £1440.00
Fee option 6 (no accom; incl lunch and dinner) £1120.00


All fees are charged on a per week, per person basis.

Please be aware that all payments made via non-UK credit/debit cards and bank accounts are subject to the exchange rate on the day they are processed.

Payment terms

  • If enrolling online: full payment by credit/debit card at the time of booking.
  • If submitting an application form: full payment online by credit/debit card or via bank transfer within 30 days of invoice date.

Cancellations and refunds

1. Cancellation by you

Participants who wish to cancel must inform the Programme Administrator in writing: by email to oxfordexperience@conted.ox.ac.uk, or by post to The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, OXFORD, OX1 2JA, UK.

The following cancellation and refund policy applies in all cases:

  • Cancellation within 14 days of online enrolment / payment of fees – full refund of all fees paid.

  • Cancellations received up to and including 30 April 2022 – OUDCE will retain an administration fee of £100 per week booked; all other fees paid will be refunded.
  • Cancellations received between 1-31 May 2022 – OUDCE will retain 60% of the fees paid; the remaining 40% of fees paid will be refunded.
  • Cancellations received on and after 1 June 2022 - no refunds will be made.

Where course fees have been paid in currencies other than pounds sterling, refunds will be subject to the exchange rate on the day they are processed.

2. Cancellation by us

OUDCE reserves the right to cancel a course where there is good reason, for example, if exceptionally low enrolment would make it educationally unviable. In these cases we will refund the course fees that you have already paid. If we cancel a course, our liability is limited to the fees that we have received from you; this means that we will not compensate you for any pre-booked travel costs or any other expenses incurred.

Where course fees have been paid in currencies other than pounds sterling, refunds will be subject to the exchange rate on the day they are processed.

The status of this course will be reviewed on 1 May 2022. If it is likely that the course may be cancelled, all those affected will be notified by email within 7 days; if you have not heard from OUDCE by 8 May 2022, you should assume that your course will be running. You may wish to delay finalising your travel arrangements until after this date.

3. Travel insurance

You need to purchase travel insurance to cover the programme fee, travel costs, and any other expenses incurred.


Dr Janet Dickinson


Janet Dickinson specializes in the history of early modern politics and culture, especially court history. She currently teaches for New York University in London as well Oxford where she has twice been named 'most acclaimed lecturer' by her students.

Teaching methods

Participants will be taught in seminar groups of up to 12 people. Elements of this teaching will normally include mini lectures and presentations by tutors and tutor-led class discussions.

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Registration closes on 1 May 2022.

Please note: most courses fill up fast so early registration is strongly recommended.

Single accommodation and non-residential places may be booked online by clicking on the “Book now” button in the “Course details” box at the top right-hand side of the course page.

If you experience any difficulties enrolling online please contact the Programme Administrator at oxfordexperience@conted.ox.ac.uk

Those requiring twin or double accommodation should complete an application form as these rooms cannot be booked online. Completed forms should be sent:

Level and demands

The Oxford Experience is aimed at non-specialists: no prior knowledge is required, and classes are pitched at an introductory level. The courses are designed for an international audience aged 18 and over.


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.

Participants should note that bedrooms are modestly-furnished, do not have air-conditioning and are arranged on a staircase of four or five floors.

The following types of accommodation are available:

  • Single en suite

  • Single standard

  • Twin en suite

  • Double en suite

  • Standard ‘twin set’.

En suite rooms include private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). Standard rooms have their own washbasin and shaver point but bathroom facilities are shared. ‘Twin sets’ comprise two single rooms opening off a sitting room.

Please note that only single accommodation may be booked online; those requiring twin or double accommodation should complete an application form. (See “Application”.)

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.

We also offer places on a non-residential basis whereby participants can take classes and have meals (lunch and dinner) at the college, having arranged their own accommodation elsewhere.