Sir James Lancaster (1554/1555–1618)

Image credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

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Lancaster was brought up in Portugal as a merchant and soldier, but returned to England in 1587. In 1588 he commanded the merchant ship ‘Edward Bonaventure’ in the fleet against the Armada. In 1591 he took the same ship on the first English trading voyage to the East Indies, which was disastrous in it’s loss of life and investment, but provided useful information about the Portuguese presence in the area. His second task was an expedition against the Spanish and Portuguese in South America, capturing and plundering Pernambuco. These expeditions led to the formation of the East India Company of which Lancaster became director in 1600. He commanded the four ships, ‘Hector’, ‘Susan’, ‘Ascension’ and ‘Red Dragon’, on the Company’s first expedition in 1601. The ‘Red Dragon’ and ‘Hector’ returned in September 1602 and Lancaster was knighted by James I in 1603.

National Maritime Museum



Sir James Lancaster (1554/1555–1618)




oil on panel


H 115.5 x W 90.1 cm

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