The life of Anthony Jenkinson (1529-1611) and his adventures on the route to the Orient
by Kit Mayers
The first real explorer, for the English, was Anthony Jenkinson. He sailed to Russia and set out into the unknown to discover an overland route, right across Asia. His detailed reports and his map were a revelation for the Tudors. In 1557 Anthony Jenkinson was sent by the merchants of London to try to find an overland route right across Asia to Cathay and the riches of the Orient, setting off a year before Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne. His expedition to the east took place some twenty nine years earlier than the first English expedition to the west. As well as surviving storms, Jenkinson was faced with thieving, illness and several attacks by bandits, before eventually, by sheer persistence, reaching Bokhara, which is now in Uzbekistan. He had completed two thirds of the journey and had reached the ‘Silk Road’ that led to Cambaluc (Beijing), before finding that he could go no further because the route ahead was closed by continuous wars. In later expeditions, he travelled to Persia where he nearly had his head cut off and he also went to Moscow where he managed some extremely tense negotiations with Tsar Ivan the Terrible on behalf of the Muscovy Company. His reports back to the Company in London give us a great insight into what Russia was like at the time, and Tartary and Persia.