Project 500 Years
Published in

Project 500 Years

Key developments of 1562

Near-contemporary painting of oa massacre during France’s Wars of Religion

Omg, 1562 CE, the year of the first instance of officially-backed English involvement in the trans-Atlantic trade in enslaved Africans. (A few other globally significant things happened, too.)

Here goes:

  • John Hawkins was a 30-year-old mariner from the southwest England port town of Plymouth, when this happened (per WP): “Hawkins received commission from Queen Elizabeth I which allowed him to privateer [Think: direct precursors of today’s military contractors… ] England was not at war with Spain, but the commission allowed Hawkins to plunder the Spanish fleet for loot. Hawkins formed a syndicate of wealthy merchants to invest in trade. In 1562, he set sail with three ships to Sierra Leone where he captured 300 slaves, and took them to the plantations in the Americas where he traded the slaves for pearls, hides, and sugar. The trade was so prosperous that on his return to England the Crown supported additional voyages and granted Hawkins a coat of arms which displays a male slave on it.” I have chosen not to display here either Hawkins’s disgusting coat of arms or his portrait. Go here for more on Hawkins and his lengthy professional ties with Elizabeth.
Map of France during the Wars of Religion.Purple = Huguenot. Grey = Catholic. Lilac = contested. Source.
  • In early 1562, forces loyal to Catholic nobles undertook a massacre of Protestant Huguenots in the Champagne district of France that then sparked the first of seven or more “Wars of Religion” in France, which lasted until 1598. English-WP tells us: “It is estimated that three million people perished in this period from violence, famine, or disease in what is considered the second deadliest religious war in European history (surpassed only by the Thirty Years’ War [of the 17th century], which took eight million lives).” As we have already seen, England, whose governance was now solidly Protestant, and Spain (Catholic) were both deeply involved in these internal conflicts inside France. In September, Queen Elizabth signed the Treaty of Hampton Court with Huguenot leader Louis, Prince of Condé, promising to aid him; and the following month an English force was landed in Le Havre.
  • During this prolonged period of intra-Christian religious turmoil inside continental Europe, one “solution” increasingly considered by many religious dissidents- often with the blessing of the powers-that-be (were)- was to emigrate overseas to become settlers in the Americas. So in 1562, we also see the first attempt by French Huguenots to establish a religion-based in North America!
Marker commemorating Ribault’s first landfall in Florida

This project was undertaken by Jean Ribault, who led an expedition of some 150 colonists that, after first landing in Florida, then headed north and founded their settlement he called Charlesfort on Parris Island in present-day South Carolina. Later in the year he sailed back home, only to discover the First War of Religion had broken out in his absence. So he went to London, got an audience with QE-1, and starting seeking funding/backing for a return voyage to Charlesfort. But he was imprisoned as a spy. The next year, he was released and allowed to return to France to continue seeking backers there. Meantime, over in Charlesfort things had not gone well: mutinies, fires, etc. (Almost certainly also some native resistance?) The remaining colonists built a makeshift boat to return home in but most of them perished on the voyage.

Map of the battle of Mulleriyawa
  • Whoa, and meanwhile over in the Indian Ocean Portugal’s well-armed and generally well-organized adventurers were being dealt a big setback in present-day Sri Lanka. This was in the Battle of Mulleriyawa,part of the much more protracted Sinhalese-Portuguese War of 1527–1658. The Portuguese had had a (well-armed) trading presence in Colombo since 1505. That was near-ish to the seat of the Kingdom of Kotte and not far from the Kingdom of Sitawaka, with which Kotte was in conflict. It was a long story. (and almost certainly the telling of it on the English-WP page has been highly contested!) The Portuguese were backing Kotte’s ruler, and some of the fiercely fought battles involved elephants, horses, and Portuguese fighters forced to use their muskets as clubs… English-WP tells us: “This was one of the few pitched battles between the Portuguese and the Sinhalese. The Portuguese became extremely weak within their area and the threat to Sitawaka from this direction ceased. Emboldened by this victory, [the Sitawaka leaders] conducted frequent attacks against the Portuguese and the Kotte Kingdom.By 1565 the Portuguese were unable to hold the capital city of Kotte. They abandoned Kotte and moved to Colombo (which was guarded by a powerful fort and the Portuguese navy) with their puppet King Dharmapala. “
  • Also this year, the Spanish-born Catholic Bishop of the Yucatan Diego de Landa, pushed forward his actions under the Inquisition and burned “a disputed number of Maya codices (according to Landa, 27 books) and approximately 5000 Maya cult images… Only three pre-Columbian books of Maya hieroglyphics (also known as a codex) and, perhaps, fragments of a fourth are known to have survived.” Under Landa’s Inquisition, “Scores of Maya nobles were jailed pending interrogation, and large numbers of Maya nobles and commoners were subjected to examination under ‘hoisting.’ During hoisting, a victim’s hands were bound and looped over an extended line that was then raised until the victim’s entire body was suspended in the air. Often, stone weights were added to the ankles or lashes applied to the back during interrogation. During his later trial for his actions, Landa vehemently denied that any deaths or injuries directly resulted from these procedures.”

Originally published at



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Helena Cobban

Helena Cobban

Veteran analyst of global affairs, with a focus on the Middle East. Senior Fellow, Ctr for International Policy. Fuller bio at my Wikipedia page.