It’s a little odd, though, to see Jenkinson described as ‘the earliest of all the English explorers.’ Apparently, by Mayers’ reckoning, none of the Englishmen who had visited far-flung climes during earlier decades and centuries qualify for the title: ‘None of these voyages were exploration as all these routes had been pioneered by other nations.’ That seems like a narrow and rather harsh definition.
Still, Jenkinson’s tale is well worth the telling and Mayers’ account, while relying on predictable sources, is enhanced by the fact that he has followed in the Tudor’s footsteps. The book efficiently explains the causes behind Jenkinson’s odysseys (chiefly the desire of England’s newly founded Muscovy Company to seek out new markets) and it’s great fun to read about Jenkinson sailing down the Volga, traversing the Caspian Sea, and trudging through the Kara Kum desert all the way to Bukhara. There were adventures aplenty (bandits, bad weather, and the other usual suspects) and even though Jenkinson was obliged to turn round and retrace his footsteps rather than pushing through to China, he certainly helped to open ‘English eyes and minds to the lure of global trade.’
His maps and his reportage of inner Asia also proved to be transformative. Along with the likes of Hugh Willoughby, Stephen Borough and Richard Chancellor, who journeyed to Russia a few years earlier, Jenkinson deserves to be better known. The later travels to Persia, along with several return visits to Russia, are also chronicled and Mayers proves to be an enthusiastic and reliable guide to this fascinating life.