Under Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), English ships and sailors were eager to explore the world. China had many things that Europeans were curious about, including tea, delicate dishes made out of porcelain, and perfume made from musk. English merchants wanted to find a faster, easier way to get to these wonderful items and bring them back for their customers.
Queen Elizabeth wrote several letters to the "Emperor of Cathay" and sent them with ships, hoping that the emperor would help her sailors find the best route for traveling between the two countries.
In one letter sent with Captain George Waymouth, who was looking for a way to China by sailing north of what is now Canada, Queen Elizabeth writes that the English are born explorers and "a people by nature inclined to great attempts, and to the discovery of countries and kingdoms unknown."
None of the queen's letters ever reached the emperor. The letters got lost, or the ships themselves got lost and had to turn around. Sometimes, the English sailors were even attacked by pirates!