The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol. 8 - The Later Renaissance: From Gutenberg To The Reformation
by Editor-in-Chief: Rossiter Johnson
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All these people lack, as I said above, every kind of iron; they are also without weapons, which indeed are unknown; nor are they competent to use them, not on account of deformity of body, for they are well formed, but because they are timid and full of fear. They carry for weapons, however, reeds baked in the sun, on the lower ends of which they fasten some shafts of dried wood rubbed down to a point; and indeed they do not venture to use these always; for it frequently happened, when I sent two or three of my men to some of the villages, that they might speak with the natives, a compact troop of the Indians would march out, and as soon as they saw our men approaching they would quickly take flight, children being pushed aside by their fathers, and fathers by their children. And this was not because any hurt or injury had been inflicted on any one of them, for to everyone whom I visited and with whom I was able to converse I distributed whatever I had, cloth and many other things, no return being made to me; but they are by nature fearful and timid. Yet when they perceive that they are safe, putting aside all fear, they are of simple manners and trustworthy, and very liberal with everything they have, refusing no one who asks for anything they may possess, and even themselves inviting us to ask for things.

They show greater love for all others than for themselves; they give valuable things for trifles, being satisfied even with a very small return, or with nothing; however, I forbade that things so small and of no value should be given to them, such as pieces of plates, dishes, and glass, likewise keys and shoe-straps; although, if they were able to obtain these, it seemed to them like getting the most beautiful jewels in the world. It happened, indeed, that a certain sailor obtained in exchange for a shoe-strap as much worth of gold as would equal three golden coins; and likewise other things for articles of very little value, especially for new silver coins, and for some gold coins, to obtain which they gave whatever the seller desired, as for instance an ounce and a half and two ounces of gold, or thirty and forty pounds of cotton, with which they were already acquainted. They also traded cotton and gold for pieces of bows, bottles, jugs and jars, like persons without reason, which I forbade because it was very wrong; and I gave to them many beautiful and pleasing things that I had brought with me, no value being taken in exchange, in order that I might the more easily make them friendly to me, that they might be made worshippers of Christ, and that they might be full of love toward our King, Queen, and Prince, and the whole Spanish nation; also that they might be zealous to search out and collect, and deliver to us, those things of which they had plenty, and which we greatly needed.

These people practise no kind of idolatry; on the contrary they firmly believe that all strength and power, and in fact all good things, are in heaven, and that I had come down from thence with these ships and sailors; and in this belief I was received there after they had put aside fear. Nor are they slow or unskilled, but of excellent and acute understanding; and the men who have navigated that sea give an account of everything in an admirable manner; but they never saw people clothed, nor these kind of ships.

As soon as I reached that sea, I seized by force several Indians on the first island, in order that they might learn from us, and in like manner tell us about those things in these lands of which they themselves had knowledge; and the plan succeeded, for in a short time we understood them and they us, sometimes by gestures and signs, sometimes by words; and it was a great advantage to us. They are coming with me now, yet always believing that I descended from heaven, although they have been living with us for a long time, and are living with us today. And these men were the first who announced it wherever we landed, continually proclaiming to the others in a loud voice, "Come, come, and you will see the celestial people." Whereupon both women and men, both children and adults, both young men and old men, laying aside the fear caused a little before, visited us eagerly, filling the road with a great crowd, some bringing food and some drink, with great love and extraordinary good-will.

On every island there are many canoes of a single piece of wood, and, though narrow, yet in length and shape similar to our row-boats, but swifter in movement. They steer only by oars. Some of these boats are large, some small, some of medium size. Yet they row many of the larger row-boats with eighteen cross-benches, with which they cross to all those islands, which are innumerable, and with these boats they perform their trading, and carry on commerce among them. I saw some of these row-boats or canoes which were carrying seventy and eighty rowers.

In all these islands there is no difference in the appearance of the people, nor in the manners and language, but all understand each other mutually; a fact that is very important for the end which I suppose to be earnestly desired by our most illustrious King, that is, their conversion to the holy religion of Christ, to which in truth, as far as I can perceive, they are very ready and favorably inclined.

I said before how I proceeded along the island Juana in a straight line from west to east three hundred twenty-two miles, according to which course, and the length of the way, I am able to say that this Juana is larger than England and Scotland together; for, besides the said three hundred twenty-two thousand paces, there are two more provinces in that part which lies toward the west, which I did not visit; one of these the Indians call Anan, whose inhabitants are born with tails. They extend to one hundred eighty miles in length, as I have learned from those Indians I have with me, who are all acquainted with these islands. But the circumference of Hispana is still greater than all Spain from Colonia to Fontarabia[13]. This is easily proved, because its fourth side, which I myself passed along in a straight line from west to east, extends five hundred forty miles.

This island is to be desired and is very desirable, and not to be despised; in which, although, as I have said, I solemnly took possession of all the others for our most invincible King, and their government is entirely committed to the said King, yet I especially took possession of a certain large town, in a very convenient location, and adapted to all kinds of gain and commerce, to which we give the name of our Lord of the Nativity. And I commanded a fort to be built there forthwith, which must be completed by this time; in which I left as many men as seemed necessary, with all kinds of arms, and plenty of food for more than a year. Likewise one caravel, and for the construction of others men skilled in this trade and in other professions; and also the extraordinary good-will and friendship of the King of this island toward us. For those people are very amiable and kind, to such a degree that the said King gloried in calling me his brother. And if they should change their minds, and should wish to hurt those who remained in the fort, they would not be able, because they lack weapons, they go naked, and are too cowardly. For that reason those who hold the said fort are at least able to resist easily this whole island, without any imminent danger to themselves, so long as they do not transgress the regulations and command which we gave.

In all these islands, as I have understood, each man is content with only one wife, except the princes or kings, who are permitted to have twenty. The women appear to work more than the men. I was not able to find out surely whether they have individual property, for I saw that one man had the duty of distributing to the others, especially refreshments, food, and things of that kind. I found no monstrosities among them, as very many supposed, but men of great reverence, and friendly. Nor are they black like the Ethiopians. They have straight hair, hanging down. They do not remain where the solar rays send out the heat, for the strength of the sun is very great here, because it is distant from the equinoctial line, as it seems, only twenty-six degrees. On the tops of the mountains, too, the cold is severe, but the Indians, however, moderate it, partly by being accustomed to the place, and partly by the help of very hot victuals, of which they eat frequently and immoderately. And so I did not see any monstrosity, nor did I have knowledge of them anywhere, excepting a certain island named Charis,[14] which is the second in passing from Hispana to India.

This island is inhabited by a certain people who are considered very warlike by their neighbors. These eat human flesh. The said people have many kinds of row-boats, in which they cross over to all the other Indian islands, and seize and carry away everything that they can. They differ in no way from the others, only that they wear long hair like the women. They use bows and darts made of reeds, with sharpened shafts fastened to the larger end, as we have described. On this account they are considered warlike, wherefore the other Indians are afflicted with continual fear, but I regard them as of no more account than the others. These are the people who visit certain women, who alone inhabit the island Mateunin[15], which is the first in passing from Hispana to India. These women, moreover, perform no kind of work of their sex, for they use bows and darts, like those I have described of their husbands; they protect themselves with sheets of copper, of which there is great abundance among them.

They tell me of another island, greater than the aforesaid Hispana, whose inhabitants are without hair, and which abounds in gold above all the others. I am bringing with me men of this island and of the others that I have seen, who give proof of the things that I have described.

Finally, that I may compress in few words the brief account of our departure and quick return, and the gain, I promise this, that if I am supported by our most invincible sovereigns with a little of their help, as much gold can be supplied as they will need, indeed as much of spices, of cotton, of chewing-gum (which is only found in Chios), also as much of aloes-wood, and as many slaves for the navy, as their majesties will wish to demand. Likewise rhubarb and other kinds of spices, which I suppose these men whom I left in the said fort have already found, and will continue to find; since I remained in no place longer than the winds forced me, except in the town of the Nativity, while I provided for the building of the fort and for the safety of all. Which things, although they are very great and remarkable, yet they would have been much greater if I had been aided by as many ships as the occasion required.

Truly great and wonderful is this, and not corresponding to our merits, but to the holy Christian religion, and to the piety and religion of our sovereigns, because what the human understanding could not attain, that the divine will has granted to human efforts. For God is wont to listen to his servants who love his precepts, even in impossibilities, as has happened to us on the present occasion, who have attained that which hitherto mortal men have never reached. For if anyone has written or said anything about these islands, it was all with obscurities and conjectures; no one claims that he had seen them; from which they seemed like fables. Therefore let the King and Queen, the princes and their most fortunate kingdoms, and all other countries of Christendom, give thanks to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who has bestowed upon us so great a victory and gift. Let religious processions be solemnized; let sacred festivals be given; let the churches be covered with festive garlands. Let Christ rejoice on earth, as he rejoices in heaven, when he foresees coming to salvation so many souls of people hitherto lost. Let us be glad also, as well on account of the exaltation of our faith as on account of the increase of our temporal affairs, of which not only Spain, but universal Christendom, will be partaker. These things that have been done are thus briefly related. Farewell. Lisbon, the day before the ides of March.[16]

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, Admiral of the Ocean Fleet.

Epigram of R. L. de Corbaria, Bishop of Monte Peloso


"No region now can add to Spain's great deeds: To such men all the world is yet too small. An Orient land, found far beyond the waves, Will add, great Betica, to thy renown. Then to Columbus, the true finder, give Due thanks; but greater still to God on high, Who makes new kingdoms for himself and thee: Both firm and pious let thy conduct be."


All the conditions which the admiral demanded being conceded by their Catholic majesties, he set out from Granada on May 21, 1492, for Palos, where he was to fit out the ships for his intended expedition. That town was bound to serve the crown for three months with two caravels, which were ordered to be given to Columbus; and he fitted out these and a third vessel with all care and diligence. The ship in which he personally embarked was called the Santa Maria; the second vessel, named the Pinta, was commanded by Martin Alonso Pinzon; and the third, named the Nina, which had square sails, was under the command of Vincent Yanez Pinzon, the brother of Alonso, both of whom were inhabitants of Palos. Being furnished with all necessaries, and having ninety men to navigate the three vessels, Columbus set sail from Palos on August 3, 1492, shaping his course directly for the Canaries.

During this voyage, and indeed in all the four voyages which he made from Spain to the West Indies, the admiral was very careful to keep an exact journal of every occurrence which took place; always specifying what winds blew, how far he sailed with each particular wind, what currents were found, and everything that was seen by the way, whether birds, fishes, or any other thing. Although to note all these particulars with a minute relation of everything that happened, showing what impressions and effects answered to the course and aspect of the stars, and the differences between the seas which he sailed and those of our countries, might all be useful; yet, as I conceive that the relation of these particulars might now be tiresome to the reader, I shall only give an account of what appears to me necessary and convenient to be known.

On Saturday, August 4th, the next day after sailing from Palos, the rudder of the Pinta broke loose. The admiral strongly suspected that it was occasioned by the contrivance of the master on purpose to avoid proceeding on the voyage, which he had endeavored to do before they left Spain, and he therefore ranged up alongside of the disabled vessel to give every assistance in his power, but the wind blew so hard that he was unable to afford any aid. Pinzon, however, being an experienced seaman, soon made a temporary repair by means of ropes, and they proceeded on their voyage. But on the following Tuesday, the weather becoming rough and boisterous, the fastenings gave way, and the squadron was obliged to lay to for some time to renew the repairs. From this misfortune of twice breaking the rudder, a superstitious person might have foreboded the future disobedience of Pinzon to the admiral; as through his malice the Pinta twice separated from the squadron, as shall be afterward related. Having applied the best remedy they could to the disabled state of the rudder, the squadron continued its voyage, and came in sight of the Canaries at daybreak of Thursday, August 9th; but owing to contrary winds, they were unable to come to anchor at Gran Canaria until the 12th. The admiral left Pinzon at Gran Canaria to endeavor to procure another vessel instead of that which was disabled, and went himself with the Nina on the same errand to Gomera.

The admiral arrived at Gomera on Sunday, August 12th, and sent a boat on shore to inquire if any vessel could be procured there for his purpose. The boat returned next morning, and brought intelligence that no vessel was then at that island, but that Dona Beatrix de Bobadilla, the proprietrix of the island, was then at Gran Canaria in a hired vessel of forty tons belonging to one Gradeuna of Seville, which would probably suit his purpose and might perhaps be got. He therefore determined to await the arrival of that vessel at Gomera, believing that Pinzon might have secured a vessel for himself at Gran Canaria, if he had not been able to repair his own. After waiting two days, he despatched one of his people in a bark which was bound from Gomera to Gran Canaria, to acquaint Pinzon where he lay, and to assist him in repairing and fixing the rudder. Having waited a considerable time for an answer to his letter, he sailed with the two vessels from Gomera on August 23d for Gran Canaria, and fell in with the bark on the following day, which had been detained all that time on its voyage by contrary winds. He now took his man from the bark, and, sailing in the night past the island of Teneriffe, the people were much astonished at observing flames bursting out of the lofty mountain called El Pico (or the Peak of Teneriffe). On this occasion the admiral was at great pains to explain the nature of this phenomenon to the people by instancing the example of Aetna and several other known volcanoes.

Passing by Teneriffe, they arrived at Gran Canaria on Saturday, August 25th, and found that Pinzon had only got in there the day before. From him the admiral was informed that Dona Beatrix had sailed for Gomera on the 20th with the vessel which he was so anxious to obtain. His officers were much troubled at the disappointment; but he, who always endeavored to make the best of every occurrence, observed to them that since it had not pleased God that they should get this vessel it was perhaps better for them, as they might have encountered much opposition in pressing it into the service, and might have lost a great deal of time in shipping and unshipping the goods. Wherefore, lest he might again miss it if he returned to Gomera, he resolved to make a new rudder for the Pinta at Gran Canaria, and ordered the square sails of the Nina to be changed to round ones, like those of the other two vessels, that she might be able to accompany them with less danger and agitation.

The vessels being all refitted, the admiral weighed anchor from Gran Canaria on Saturday, September 1st, and arrived next day at Gomera, where four days were employed in completing their stores of provisions and of wood and water. On the morning of Thursday, September 6, 1492, the admiral took his departure from Gomera, and commenced his great undertaking by standing directly westward, but made very slow progress at first on account of calms. On Sunday, September 9th, about daybreak, they were nine leagues west of the island of Ferro. Now, losing sight of land and stretching out into utterly unknown seas, many of the people expressed their anxiety and fear that it might be long before they should see land again; but the admiral used every endeavor to comfort them with the assurance of soon finding the land he was in search of, and raised their hopes of acquiring wealth and honor by the discovery. To lessen the fear which they entertained of the length of way they had to sail, he gave out that they had only proceeded fifteen leagues that day, when the actual distance sailed was eighteen; and, to induce the people to believe that they were not so far from Spain as they really were, he resolved to keep considerably short in his reckoning during the whole voyage, though he carefully recorded the true reckoning every day in private.

On Wednesday, September 12th, having got to about one hundred fifty leagues west of Ferro, they discovered a large trunk of a tree, sufficient to have been the mast of a vessel of one hundred twenty tons, and which seemed to have been a long time in the water. At this distance from Ferro, and for somewhat farther on, the current was found to set strongly to the northeast. Next day, when they had run fifty leagues farther westward, the needle was observed to vary half a point to the eastward of north, and next morning the variation was a whole point east. This variation of the compass had never been before observed, and therefore the admiral was much surprised at the phenomenon, and concluded that the needle did not actually point toward the polar star, but to some other fixed point. Three days afterward, when almost one hundred leagues farther west, he was still more astonished at the irregularity of the variation; for, having observed the needle to vary a whole point to the eastward at night, it pointed directly northward in the morning.

On the night of Saturday, September isth, being then almost three hundred leagues west of Ferro, they saw a prodigious flash of light, or fire-ball, drop from the sky into the sea, at four or five leagues' distance from the ships, toward the southwest. The weather was then quite fair and serene like April, the sea perfectly calm, the wind favorable from the northeast, and the current setting to the northeast. The people in the Nina told the admiral that they had seen the day before a heron, and another bird which they called rabo-de-junco. These were the first birds which had been seen during the voyage, and were considered as indications of approaching land. But they were more agreeably surprised next day, Sunday, September 16th, by seeing great abundance of yellowish green sea-weeds, which appeared as if newly washed away from some rock or island. Next day the seaweed was seen in much greater quantity, and a small live lobster was observed among the weeds; from this circumstance many affirmed that they were certainly near the land.

The sea-water was afterward noticed to be only half so salt as before; and great numbers of tunny-fish were seen swimming about, some of which came so near the vessel that one was killed by a bearded iron. Being now three hundred sixty leagues west from Ferro, another of the birds called rabo-de-junco was seen. On Tuesday, September 18th, Martin Alonso Pinzon, who had gone ahead of the admiral, in the Pinta, which was an excellent sailer, lay to for the admiral to come up, and told him that he had seen a great number of birds fly away westward, for which reason he was in great hopes to see land that night;

Pinzon even thought that he saw land that night about fifteen leagues distant to the northward, which appeared very black and covered with clouds. All the people would have persuaded the admiral to try for land in that direction; but, being certainly assured that it was not land, and having not yet reached the distance at which he expected to find the land, he would not consent to lose time in altering his course in that direction. But as the wind now freshened, he gave orders to take in the topsails at night, having now sailed eleven days before the wind due westward with all their sails up.

All the people in the squadron being utterly unacquainted with the seas they now traversed, fearful of their danger at such unusual distance from any relief, and seeing nothing around but sky and water, began to mutter among themselves, and anxiously observed every appearance. On September 19th a kind of sea-gull called alcatras flew over the admiral's ship, and several others were seen in the afternoon of that day, and, as the admiral conceived that these birds would not fly far from land, he entertained hopes of soon seeing what he was in quest of. He therefore ordered a line of two hundred fathoms to be tried, but without finding any bottom. The current was now found to set to the southwest.

On Thursday, September 20th, two alcatrases came near the ship about two hours before noon, and soon afterward a third. On this day likewise they took a bird resembling a heron, of a black color with a white tuft on its head, and having webbed feet like a duck. Abundance of weeds were seen floating in the sea, and one small fish was taken. About evening three land birds settled on the rigging of the ship and began to sing. These flew away at daybreak, which was considered a strong indication of approaching the land, as these little birds could not have come from any far distant country; whereas the other large fowls, being used to water, might much better go far from land. The same day an alcatras was seen.

Friday, the 21st, another alcatras and a rabo-de-junco were seen, and vast quantities of weeds as far as the eye could carry toward the north. These appearances were sometimes a comfort to the people, giving them hopes of nearing the wished-for land; while at other times the weeds were so thick as in some measure to impede the progress of the vessels, and to occasion terror lest what is fabulously reported of St. Amaro in the frozen sea might happen to them, that they might be so enveloped in the weeds as to be unable to move backward or forward; wherefore they steered away from those shoals of weeds as much as they could.

Next day, being Saturday, September 22d, they saw a whale and several small birds. The wind now veered to the southwest, sometimes more and sometimes less to the westward; and though this was adverse to the direction of their proposed voyage, the admiral, to comfort the people, alleged that this was a favorable circumstance; because, among other causes of fear, they had formerly said they should never have a wind to carry them back to Spain, as it had always blown from the east ever since they left Ferro. They still continued, however, to murmur, alleging that this southwest wind was by no means a settled one, and, as it never blew strong enough to swell the sea, it would not serve to carry them back again through so great an extent of sea as they had now passed over. In spite of every argument used by the admiral, assuring them that the alterations in the wind were occasioned by the vicinity of the land, by which likewise the waves were prevented from rising to any height, they were still dissatisfied and terrified.

On Sunday, September 23d, a brisk gale sprung up west-northwest, with a rolling sea, such as the people had wished for. Three hours before noon a turtle-dove was observed to fly over the ship; toward evening an alcatras, a river fowl, and several white birds were seen flying about, and some crabs were observed among the weeds. Next day another alcatras was seen and several small birds which came from the west. Numbers of small fishes were seen swimming about, some of which were struck with harpoons, as they would not bite at the hook.

The more that the tokens mentioned above were observed, and found not to be followed by the so anxiously looked-for land, the more the people became fearful of the event and entered into cabals against the admiral, who they said was desirous to make himself a great lord at the expense of their danger. They represented that they had already sufficiently performed their duty in adventuring farther from land and all possibility of succor than had ever been done before, and that they ought not to proceed on the voyage to their manifest destruction. If they did they would soon have reason to repent their temerity, as provisions would soon fall short, the ships were already faulty and would soon fail, and it would be extremely difficult to get back so far as they had already gone. None could condemn them in their own opinion for now turning back, but all must consider them as brave men for having gone upon such an enterprise and venturing so far. That the admiral was a foreigner who had no favor at court; and as so many wise and learned men had already condemned his opinions and enterprise as visionary and impossible, there would be none to favor or defend him, and they were sure to find more credit if they accused him of ignorance and mismanagement than he would do, whatsoever he might now say for himself against them.

Some even proceeded so far as to propose, in case the admiral should refuse to acquiesce in their proposals, that they might make a short end of all disputes by throwing him overboard; after which they could give out that he had fallen over while making his observations, and no one would ever think of inquiring into the truth. They thus went on day after day, muttering, complaining, and consulting together; and though the admiral was not fully aware of the extent of their cabals, he was not entirely without apprehensions of their inconstancy in the present trying situation, and of their evil intentions toward him. He therefore exerted himself to the utmost to quiet their apprehensions and to suppress their evil design, sometimes using fair words, and at other times fully resolved to expose his life rather than abandon the enterprise; he put them in mind of the due punishment they would subject themselves to if they obstructed the voyage. To confirm their hopes, he recapitulated all the favorable signs and indications which had been lately observed, assuring them that they might soon expect to see the land. But they, who were ever attentive to these tokens, thought every hour a year in their anxiety to see the wished-for land.

On Tuesday, September 25th, near sunset, as the admiral was discoursing with Pinzon, whose ship was then very near, Pinzon suddenly called out, "Land! land, sir! let not my good news miscarry," and pointed out a large mass in the southwest, about twenty-five leagues distant, which seemed very like an island. This was so pleasing to the people that they returned thanks to God for the pleasing discovery; and, although the admiral was by no means satisfied of the truth of Pinzon's observation, yet to please the men, and that they might not obstruct the voyage, he altered his course and stood in that direction a great part of the night. Next morning, the 26th, they had the mortification to find the supposed land was only composed of clouds, which often put on the appearance of distant land; and, to their great dissatisfaction, the stems of the ships were again turned directly westward, as they always were unless when hindered by the wind. Continuing their course, and still attentively watching for signs of land, they saw this day an alcatras, a rabo-de-junco, and other birds as formerly mentioned.

On Thursday, September 27th, they saw another alcatras coming from the westward and flying toward the east, and great numbers of fish were seen with gilt backs, one of which they struck with a harpoon. A rabo-de-junco likewise flew past; the currents for some of the last days were not so regular as before but changed with the tide, and the weeds were not nearly so abundant.

On Friday, the 28th, all the vessels took some of the fishes with gilt backs; and on Saturday, the 29th, they saw a rabo-de-junco, which, although a sea-fowl, never rests on the waves, but always flies in the air, pursuing the alcatrases. Many of these birds are said to frequent the Cape de Verd Islands. They soon afterward saw two other alcatrases and great numbers of flying-fishes. These last are about a span long, and have two little membranous wings like those of a bat, by means of which they fly about a pike-length high from the water and a musket-shot in length, and sometimes drop upon the ships. In the afternoon of this day they saw abundance of weeds lying in length north and south, and three alcatrases pursued by a rabo-de-junco.

On the morning of Sunday, September 30th, four rabo-de-juncos came to the ship; and from so many of them coming together it was thought the land could not be far distant, especially as four alcatrases followed soon afterward. Great quantities of weeds were seen in a line stretching from west-north-west to east-north-east, and a great number of the fishes which are called emperadores, which have a very hard skin and are not fit to eat. Though the admiral paid every attention to these indications, he never neglected those in the heavens, and carefully observed the course of the stars. He was now greatly surprised to notice at this time that Charles' Wain, or the Ursa Major constellation, appeared at night in the west, and was north-east in the morning. He thence concluded that their whole night's course was only nine hours, or so many parts in twenty four of a great circle; and this he observed to be the case regularly every night. It was likewise noticed that the compass varied a whole point to the northwest at nightfall, and came due north every morning at daybreak. As this unheard-of circumstance confounded and perplexed the pilots, who apprehended danger in these strange regions and at such unusual distance from home, the admiral endeavored to calm their fears by assigning a cause for this wonderful phenomenon. He alleged that it was occasioned by the polar star making a circuit round the pole, by which they were not a little satisfied.

Soon after sunrise on Monday, October 1st, an alcatras came to the ship, and two more about ten in the morning, and long streams of weeds floated from east to west. That morning the pilot of the admiral's ship said that they were now five hundred seventy-eight leagues west from the island of Ferro. In his public account the admiral said they were five hundred eighty-four leagues to the west; but in his private journal he made the real distance seven hundred seven leagues, or one hundred twenty-nine more than was reckoned by the pilot. The other two ships differed much in their computation from each other and from the admiral's pilot. The pilot of the Nina, in the afternoon of the Wednesday following, said they had only sailed five hundred forty leagues, and the pilot of the Pinta reckoned six hundred thirty-four. Thus they were all much short of the truth; but the admiral winked at the gross mistake, that the men, not thinking themselves so far from home, might be the less dejected.

The next day, being Tuesday, October 2d, they saw abundance of fish, caught one small tunny, and saw a white bird with many other small birds, and the weeds appeared much withered and almost fallen to powder. Next day, seeing no birds, they suspected that they had passed between some islands on both hands, and had slipped through without seeing them, as they guessed that the many birds which they had seen might have been passing from one island to another. On this account they were very earnest to have the course altered one way or the other, in quest of these imaginary lands. But the admiral, unwilling to lose the advantage of the fair wind which carried him due west, which he accounted his surest course, and afraid to lessen his reputation by deviating from course to course in search of land, which he always affirmed that he well knew where to find, refused his consent to any change. On this the people were again ready to mutiny, and resumed their murmurs and cabals against him. But it pleased God to aid his authority by fresh indications of land.

On Thursday, October 4th, in the afternoon, above forty sparrows together and two alcatrases flew so near the ship that a seaman killed one of them with a stone. Several other birds were seen at this time, and many flying-fish fell into the ships. Next day there came a rabo-de-junco and an alcatras from the westward, and many sparrows were seen. About sunrise on Sunday, October 7th, some signs of land appeared to the westward, but being imperfect no person would mention the circumstance. This was owing to fear of losing the reward of thirty crowns yearly for life which had been promised by their Catholic majesties to whoever should first discover land; and to prevent them from calling out "Land, land!" at every turn without just cause, it was made a condition that whoever said he saw land should lose the reward if it were not made out in three days, even if he should afterward actually prove the first discoverer. All on board the admiral's ship, being thus forewarned, were exceedingly careful not to cry out "Land!" on uncertain tokens; but those in the Nina, which sailed better and always kept ahead, believing that they certainly saw land, fired a gun and hung out their colors in token of the discovery; but the farther they sailed, the more the joyful appearance lessened, till at last it vanished away. But they soon afterward derived much comfort by observing great flights of large fowl and others of small birds going from the west toward the southwest.

Being now at a vast distance from Spain, and well assured that such small birds would not go far from land, the admiral now altered his course from due west which had been hitherto, and steered to the southwest. He assigned as a reason for now changing his course, although deviating little from his original design, that he followed the example of the Portuguese, who had discovered most of their islands by attending to the flight of birds, and because these they now saw flew almost uniformly in one direction. He said likewise that he had always expected to discover land about the situation in which they now were, having often told them that he must not look to find land until they should get seven hundred fifty leagues to the westward of the Canaries, about which distance he expected to fall in with Hispaniola, which he then called Cipango;[17] and there is no doubt that he would have found this island by his direct course, if it had not been that it was reported to extend from north to south. Owing therefore to his not having inclined more to the south, he had missed that and others of the Caribbee islands, whither those birds were now bending their flight, and which had been for some time upon his larboard hand. It was from being so near the land that they continually saw such great numbers of birds; and on Monday, October 8th, twelve singing birds of various colors came to the ship, and after flying round it for a short time held on their way. Many other birds were seen from the ship flying toward the southwest, and that same night great numbers of large fowl were seen, and flocks of small birds proceeding from the northward, and all going to the southwest. In the morning a jay was seen, with an alcatras, several ducks, and many small birds, all flying the same way with the others, and the air was perceived to be fresh and odoriferous as it is at Seville in the month of April. But the people were now so eager to see land and had been so often disappointed that they ceased to give faith to these continual indications; insomuch that on Wednesday, the 10th, although abundance of birds were continually passing both by day and night, they never ceased to complain. The admiral upbraided their want of resolution, and declared that they must persist in their endeavors to discover the Indies, for which he and they had been sent out by their Catholic majesties.

It would have been impossible for the admiral to have much longer withstood the numbers which now opposed him; but it pleased God that, in the afternoon of Thursday, October 11th, such manifest tokens of being near the land appeared that the men took courage and rejoiced at their good-fortune as much as they had been before distressed. From the admiral's ship a green rush was seen to float past, and one of those green fish which never go far from the rocks. The people in the Pinta saw a cane and a staff in the water, and took up another staff very curiously carved, and a small board, and great plenty of weeds were seen which seemed to have been recently torn from the rocks. Those of the Nina, besides similar signs of land, saw a branch of a thorn full of red berries, which seemed to have been newly torn from the tree.

From all these indications the admiral was convinced that he now drew near to the land, and after the evening prayers he made a speech to the men, in which he reminded them of the mercy of God in having brought them so long a voyage with such favorable weather, and in comforting them with so many tokens of a successful issue to their enterprise, which were now every day becoming plainer and less equivocal. He besought them to be exceedingly watchful during the night, as they well knew that in the first article of the instructions, which he had given to all the three ships before leaving the Canaries, they were enjoined, when they should have sailed seven hundred leagues west without discovering land, to lay to every night from midnight till daybreak. And, as he had very confident hopes of discovering land that night, he required every one to keep watch at their quarters; and, besides the gratuity of thirty crowns a year for life, which had been graciously promised by their sovereigns to him that first saw the land, he engaged to give the fortunate discoverer a velvet doublet from himself.

After this, as the admiral was in his cabin, about ten o'clock at night, he saw a light on shore; but it was so unsteady that he could not certainly affirm that it came from land. He called to one Pedro Gutierrez and desired him to try if he could perceive the same light, who said he did; but one Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, on being desired to look the same way, could not see it, because he was not up time enough, as neither the admiral nor Gutierrez could see it again above once or twice for a short space, which made them judge it to proceed from a candle or torch belonging to some fisherman or traveller, who lifted it up occasionally and lowered it again, or perhaps from people going from one house to another, because it appeared and vanished again so suddenly. Being now very much on their guard, they still held on their course until about two in the morning of Friday, October 12th, when the Pinta, which was always far ahead, owing to her superior sailing, made the signal of seeing land, which was first discovered by Rodrigo de Triana at about two leagues from the ship. But the thirty crowns a year were afterward granted to the admiral, who had seen the light in the midst of darkness, a type of the spiritual light which he was the happy means of spreading in these dark regions of error. Being now so near land, all the ships lay to, everyone thinking it long till daylight, that they might enjoy the sight they had so long and anxiously desired.

When daylight appeared, the newly discovered land was perceived to consist of a flat island fifteen leagues in length, without any hills, all covered with trees, and having a great lake in the middle. The island was inhabited by great abundance of people, who ran down to the shore filled with wonder and admiration at the sight of the ships, which they conceived to be some unknown animals. The Christians were not less curious to know what kind of people they had fallen in with, and the curiosity on both sides was soon satisfied, as the ships soon came to anchor. The admiral went on shore with his boat well armed, and having the royal standard of Castile and Leon displayed, accompanied by the commanders of the other two vessels, each in his own boat, carrying the particular colors which had been allotted for the enterprise, which were white with a green cross and the letter F on one side, and on the other the names of Ferdinand and Isabella crowned.

The whole company kneeled on the shore and kissed the ground for joy, returning God thanks for the great mercy they had experienced during their long voyage through seas hitherto unpassed, and their now happy discovery of an unknown land.

The admiral then stood up, and took formal possession in the usual words for their Catholic majesties of this island, to which he gave the name of San Salvador. All the Christians present admitted Columbus to the authority and dignity of admiral and viceroy, pursuant to the commission which he had received to that effect, and all made oath to obey him as the legitimate representative of their Catholic majesties, with such expressions of joy and acknowledgment as became their mighty success; and they all implored his forgiveness of the many affronts he had received from them through their fears and want of confidence. Numbers of the Indians or natives of the island were present at these ceremonies; and, perceiving them to be peaceable, quiet, and simple people, the admiral distributed several presents among them. To some he gave red caps, and to others strings of glass beads, which they hung about their necks, and various other things of small value, which they valued as if they had been jewels of high price.

After the ceremonies, the admiral went off in his boat, and the Indians followed him even to the ships, some by swimming and others in their canoes, carrying parrots, clews of spun cotton yarn, javelins, and other such trifling articles, to barter for glass beads, bells, and other things of small value. Like people in the original simplicity of nature, they were all naked, and even a woman who was among them was entirely destitute of clothing. Most of them were young, seemingly not above thirty years of age, of a good stature, with very thick black lank hair, mostly cut short above their ears, though some had it down to their shoulders, tied up with a string about their head like women's tresses. Their countenances were mild and agreeable and their features good; but their foreheads were too high, which gave them rather a wild appearance. They were of a middle stature, plump, and well shaped, but of an olive complexion, like the inhabitants of the Canaries, or sunburnt peasants. Some were painted with black, others with white, and others again with red; in some the whole body was painted, in others only the face, and some only the nose and eyes. They had no weapons like those of Europe, neither had they any knowledge of such; for when our people showed them a naked sword, they ignorantly grasped it by the edge. Neither had they any knowledge of iron, as their javelins were merely constructed of wood, having their points hardened in the fire, and armed with a piece of fish-bone. Some of them had scars of wounds on different parts, and, being asked by signs how these had been got, they answered by signs that people from other islands came to take them away, and that they had been wounded in their own defence. They seemed ingenious and of a voluble tongue, as they readily repeated such words as they once heard. There was no kind of animals among them excepting parrots, which they carried to barter with the Christians among the articles already mentioned, and in this trade they continued on board the ships till night, when they all returned to the shore.

In the morning of the next day, being October 13th, many of the natives returned on board the ships in their boats or canoes, which were all of one piece hollowed like a tray from the trunk of a tree; some of these were so large as to contain forty or forty-five men, while others were so small as only to hold one person, with many intermediate sizes between these extremes. These they worked along with paddles formed like a baker's peel or the implement which is used in dressing hemp. These oars or paddles were not fixed by pins to the sides of the canoes like ours, but were dipped into the water and pulled backward as if digging. Their canoes are so light and artfully constructed that if overset they soon turn them right again by swimming; and they empty out the water by throwing them from side to side like a weaver's shuttle, and when half emptied they ladle out the rest with dried calabashes cut in two, which they carry for that purpose.

This second day the natives, as said before, brought various articles to barter for such small things as they could procure in exchange. Jewels or metals of any kind were not seen among them, except some small plates of gold which hung from their nostrils; and on being questioned from whence they procured the gold, they answered by signs that they had it from the south, where there was a king who possessed abundance of pieces and vessels of gold; and they made our people to understand that there were many other islands and large countries to the south and southwest. They were very covetous to get possession of anything which belonged to the Christians, and being themselves very poor, with nothing of value to give in exchange, as soon as they got on board, if they could lay hold of anything which struck their fancy, though it were only a piece of a broken glazed earthen dish or porringer, they leaped with it into the sea and swam on shore with their prize. If they brought anything on board they would barter it for anything whatever belonging to our people, even for a piece of broken glass; insomuch that some gave sixteen large clews of well-spun cotton yarn, weighing twenty-five pounds, for three small pieces of Portuguese brass coin not worth a farthing. Their liberality in dealing did not proceed from their putting any great value on the things themselves which they received from our people in return, but because they valued them as belonging to the Christians, whom they believed certainly to have come down from heaven, and they therefore earnestly desired to have something from them as a memorial. In this manner all this day was spent, and the islanders, as before, went all on shore at night.

[Footnote 1: In the other editions this part of the sentence reads, "concerning the islands of India beyond the Ganges, recently discovered."]

[Footnote 2: The name of Isabella (Helisabet) is also omitted in the title of one of Plannck's editions; it is found in the two other Roman editions.]

[Footnote 3: The correct form is Gabriel Sanchez.]

[Footnote 4: April 29th.]

[Footnote 5: A mistake of the Latin translator. Columbus sailed from Palos, August 3, 1492; on September 8th he left the Canaries, and on October 11th, or thirty-three days later, he reached the Bahamas.]

[Footnote 6: In Spanish, San Salvador, one of the Bahama Islands. It has been variously identified with Grand Turk, Cat, Watling, Mariguana, Samana, and Acklin Islands. Watling's Island seems to have much in its favor.]

[Footnote 7: Perhaps Crooked Island, or, according to others, North Caico.]

[Footnote 8: Identified by some with Long Island, by others with Little Inagua.]

[Footnote 9: Identified variously with Fortune Island and Great Inagua.]

[Footnote 10: The island of Cuba.]

[Footnote 11: China.]

[Footnote 12: Hispaniola, or Hayti.]

[Footnote:13 From Catalonia by the sea-coast to Fontarabia in Biscay.]

[Footnote 14: Identified with Dominica.]

[Footnote 15: Supposed to be Martinique.]

[Footnote 16: March 14, 1493.]

[Footnote 17: The name given by Marco Polo to an island or islands supposed to be the modern Japan, for outlying portions of which Columbus mistook the West Indies.]


A.D. 1492


Soon after his accession to the throne of England, Henry VII married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, uniting the rival houses of York and Lancaster. But notwithstanding this adjustment of the rival interests, the rule of Henry, the Lancastrian, failed to satisfy the Yorkists; and this party, with the aid of Margaret of Burgundy—sister of Edward IV—and James IV of Scotland, set up two impostors, one after the other, to claim the English throne. At the same time there was living a real heir of the house of York—young Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of the Duke of Clarence, brother to Edward IV. Henry had taken the precaution to keep this genuine Yorkist in the Tower.

In 1487 a spurious earl of Warwick appeared in Ireland. Receiving powerful support in that country, he was actually crowned in the Cathedral of Dublin. In order to defeat this imposture Henry exhibited the real earl to the people of London. He also vanquished the army of the pretender at Stoke, in June, 1487. This false earl was found to be Lambert Simnel, son of an Oxford joiner. He became a scullion in King Henry's kitchen.

The second of these impostors, known as Perkin Warbeck, contrived to make himself a figure of some importance in the history of England. Supposedly born in Flanders, he first appears upon the historic stage in 1492, when he landed at Cork. Going soon after to France, he was recognized by the court as Duke of York, according to his claim. How he was coached for his part, and how the drama in which he played it was acted out, are told by Bacon in what is perhaps the best specimen we have of that great author's style in historical composition.

Warbeck was executed in 1499, and, although Bacon gives us no dates, the whole history, covering about seven years, may be said to form a practically continuous series of incidents. The character of this adventurer has been made quite prominent in literature, having been the subject of Ford's tragedy, The Chronicle History of Perkin Warbeck (1634), of a play by Charles Macklin, King Henry VII, or the Popish Impostor (1716), and of Joseph Elderton's drama, The Pretender.

This youth of whom we are now to speak was such a mercurial as the like hath seldom been known, and could make his own part if at any time he chanced to be out. Wherefore, this being one of the strangest examples of a personation that ever was in elder or later times, it deserveth to be discovered and related at the full—although the King's manner of showing things by pieces and by dark lights hath so muffled it that it hath been left almost as a mystery to this day.

The Lady Margaret,[1] whom the King's friends called Juno, because she was to him as Juno was to Aeneas, stirring both heaven and hell to do him mischief, for a foundation of her particular practices against him, did continually, by all means possible, nourish, maintain, and divulge the flying opinion that Richard, Duke of York, second son to Edward IV, was not murdered in the Tower, as was given out, but saved alive. For that those who were employed in that barbarous act, having destroyed the elder brother, were stricken with remorse and compassion toward the younger, and set him privily at liberty to seek his fortune.

There was a townsman of Tournai, that had borne office in that town, whose name was John Osbeck, a convert Jew, married to Catherine de Faro, whose business drew him to live for a time with his wife at London, in King Edward's days. During which time he had a son[2] by her, and being known in the court, the King, either out of a religious nobleness because he was a convert, or upon some private acquaintance, did him the honor to be godfather to his child, and named him Peter. But afterward, proving a dainty and effeminate youth, he was commonly called by the diminutive of his name, Peterkin or Perkin. For as for the name of Warbeck, it was given him when they did but guess at it, before examinations had been taken. But yet he had been so much talked of by that name, as it stuck by him after his true name of Osbeck was known.

While he was a young child, his parents returned with him to Tournai. There he was placed in the house of a kinsman of his called John Stenbeck, at Antwerp, and so roved up and down between Antwerp and Tournai, and other towns of Flanders, for a good time, living much in English company and having the English tongue perfect. In which time, being grown a comely youth, he was brought by some of the espials of the Lady Margaret into her presence. Who, viewing him well, and seeing that he had a face and personage that would bear a noble fortune, and finding him otherwise of a fine spirit and winning behavior, thought she had now found a curious piece of marble to carve out an image of a Duke of York. She kept him by her a great while, but with extreme secrecy.

The while she instructed him by many cabinet conferences. First, in princely behavior and gesture, teaching him how he should keep state, and yet with a modest sense of his misfortunes. Then she informed him of all the circumstances and particulars that concerned the person of Richard, Duke of York, which he was to act, describing unto him the personages, lineaments, and features of the King and Queen, his pretended parents; and of his brother and sisters, and divers others, that were nearest him in his childhood; together with all passages, some secret, some common, that were fit for a child's memory, until the death of King Edward. Then she added the particulars of the time from the King's death, until he and his brother were committed to the Tower, as well during the time he was abroad as while he was in sanctuary. As for the times while he was in the Tower, and the manner of his brother's death, and his own escape, she knew they were things that a very few could control. And therefore she taught him only to tell a smooth and likely tale of those matters, warning him not to vary from it.

It was agreed likewise between them what account he should give of his peregrination abroad, intermixing many things which were true, and such as they knew others could testify, for the credit of the rest, but still making them to hang together with the part he was to play. She taught him likewise how to avoid sundry captious and tempting questions which were like to be asked of him. But, this she found him so nimble and shifting as she trusted much to his own wit and readiness, and therefore labored the less in it.

Lastly, she raised his thoughts with some present rewards and further promises, setting before him chiefly the glory and fortune of a crown if things went well, and a sure refuge to her court if the worst should fall. After such time as she thought he was perfect in his lesson, she began to cast with herself from what coast this blazing star should first appear, and at what time it must be upon the horizon of Ireland, for there had the like meteor strong influence before. The time of the apparition to be when the King should be engaged in a war with France. But well she knew that whatsoever should come from her would be held suspected. And therefore, if he should go out of Flanders immediately into Ireland, she might be thought to have some hand in it. And besides the time was not yet ripe, for that the two kings were then upon terms of peace. Therefore she wheeled about; and to put all suspicion afar off, and loath to keep him any longer by her, for that she knew secrets are not long-lived, she sent him unknown into Portugal, with the Lady Brampton, an English lady, that embarked for Portugal at that time, with some privado of her own, to have an eye upon him, and there he was to remain, and to expect her further directions.

In the mean time she omitted not to prepare things for his better welcome and accepting, not only in the kingdom of Ireland, but in the court of France. He continued in Portugal about a year, and by that time the King of England called his parliament and declared open war against France. Now did the sign reign, and the constellation was come, under which Perkin should appear. And therefore he was straight sent unto by the Duchess to go for Ireland, according to the first designment. In Ireland he did arrive, at the town of Cork. When he was thither come, his own tale was, when he made his confession afterward, that the Irishmen, finding him in some good clothes, came flocking about him, and bare him down that he was the Duke of Clarence that had been there before. And after, that he was the base son of Richard III. And lastly, that he was Richard, Duke of York, second son to Edward IV. But that he, for his part, renounced all these things, and offered to swear upon the holy evangelists that he was no such man; till at last they forced it upon him, and bade him fear nothing, and so forth. But the truth is that immediately upon his coming into Ireland he took upon him the said person of the Duke of York, and drew unto him complices and partakers by all the means he could devise. Insomuch as he wrote his letters unto the Earls of Desmond and Kildare to come in to his aid, and be of his party; the originals of which letters are yet extant.

Somewhat before this time, the Duchess had also gained unto her a near servant of King Henry's own, one Stephen Frion, his secretary for the French tongue; an active man, but turbulent and discontented. This Frion had fled over to Charles, the French King, and put himself into his service, at such time as he began to be in open enmity with the King. Now King Charles, when he understood of the person and attempts of Perkin, ready of himself to embrace all advantages against the King of England, instigated by Frion, and formerly prepared by the Lady Margaret, forthwith despatched one Lucas and this Frion, in the nature of ambassadors to Perkin, to advertise him of the King's good inclination to him, and that he was resolved to aid him to recover his right against King Henry, a usurper of England and an enemy of France; and wished him to come over unto him at Paris.

Perkin thought himself in heaven now that he was invited by so great a king in so honorable a manner. And imparting unto his friends in Ireland, for their encouragement, how fortune called him, and what great hopes he had, sailed presently into France. When he was come to the court of France, the King received him with great honor; saluted and styled him by the name of the Duke of York; lodged him and accommodated him in great state; and, the better to give him the representation and the countenance of a prince, assigned him a guard for his person, whereof Lord Congresall was captain. The courtiers likewise, though it be ill mocking with the French, applied themselves to their King's bent, seeing there was reason of state for it. At the same time there repaired unto Perkin divers Englishmen of quality—Sir George Neville, Sir John Taylor, and about one hundred more—and among the rest this Stephen Frion, of whom we spake, who followed his fortune both then and for a long time after, and was, indeed, his principal counsellor and instrument in all his proceedings.

But all this on the French King's part was but a trick, the better to bow King Henry to peace. And therefore, upon the first grain of incense that was sacrificed upon the altar of peace at Boulogne, Perkin was smoked away. Yet would not the French King deliver him up to King Henry, as he was labored to do, for his honor's sake, but warned him away and dismissed him. And Perkin, on his part, was ready to be gone, doubting he might be caught up underhand. He therefore took his way into Flanders, unto the Duchess of Burgundy, pretending that, having been variously tossed by fortune, he directed his course thither as to a safe harbor, noways taking knowledge that he had ever been there before, but as if that had been his first address. The Duchess, on the other part, made it as new strange to see him, pretending, at the first, that she was taught and made wise, by the example of Lambert Simnel, how she did admit of any counterfeit stuff, though, even in that, she said she was not fully satisfied.

She pretended at the first, and that was ever in the presence of others, to pose him and sift him, thereby to try whether he were indeed the very Duke of York or no. But, seeming to receive full satisfaction by his answers, she then feigned herself to be transported with a kind of astonishment, mixed of joy and wonder, at his miraculous deliverance, receiving him as if he were risen from death to life, and inferring that God, who had in such wonderful manner preserved him from death, did likewise reserve him for some great and prosperous fortune. As for his dismission out of France, they interpreted it, not as if he were detected or neglected for a counterfeit deceiver, but, contrariwise, that it did show manifestly unto the world that he was some great matter, for that it was his abandoning that, in effect, made the peace, being no more but the sacrificing of a poor, distressed prince unto the utility and ambition of two mighty monarchs.

Neither was Perkin, for his part, wanting to himself, either in gracious or princely behavior, or in ready or apposite answers, or in contenting and caressing those that did apply themselves unto him, or in petty scorn and disdain to those that seemed to doubt of him; but in all things did notably acquit himself, insomuch as it was generally believed, as well among great persons as among the vulgar, that he was indeed Duke Richard. Nay, himself, with long and continued counterfeiting, and with oft telling a lie, was turned by habit almost into the thing he seemed to be, and from a liar to a believer. The Duchess, therefore, as in a case out of doubt, did him all princely honor, calling him always by the name of her nephew, and giving the delicate title of the "White Rose of England," and appointed him a guard of thirty persons, halberdiers, clad in a party-colored livery of murrey and blue, to attend his person. Her court likewise, and generally the Dutch and strangers, in their usage toward him, expressed no less respect.

The news hereof came blazing and thundering over into England that the Duke of York was sure alive. As for the name of Perkin Warbeck, it was not at that time come to light, but all the news ran upon the Duke of York; that he had been entertained in Ireland, bought and sold in France, and was now plainly avowed and in great honor in Flanders. These fames took hold of divers; in some upon discontent, in some upon ambition, in some upon levity and desire of change, and in some few upon conscience and belief, but in most upon simplicity, and in divers out of dependence upon some of the better sort, who did in secret favor and nourish these bruits. And it was not long ere these rumors of novelty had begotten others of scandal and murmur against the King and his government, taxing him for a great taxer of his people and discountenancer of his nobility. The loss of Britain and the peace with France were not forgotten. But chiefly they fell upon the wrong that he did his Queen, in that he did not reign in her right. Wherefore they said that God had now brought to light a masculine branch of the house of York, that would not be at his courtesy, howsoever he did depress his poor lady.

And yet, as it fareth with things which are current with the multitude and which they affect, these fames grew so general as the authors were lost in the generality of the speakers; they being like running weeds that have no certain root, or like footings up and down, impossible to be traced. But after a while these ill-humors drew to a head, and settled secretly in some eminent persons, which were Sir William Stanley, lord chamberlain of the King's household, the Lord Fitzwater, Sir Simon Montfort, and Sir Thomas Thwaites. These entered into a secret conspiracy to favor Duke Richard's title. Nevertheless, none engaged their fortunes in this business openly but two, Sir Robert Clifford and Master William Barley, who sailed over into Flanders, sent, indeed, from the party of the conspirators here, to understand the truth of those things that passed there, and not without some help of moneys from hence; provisionally to be delivered, if they found and were satisfied that there was truth in these pretences. The person of Sir Robert Clifford, being a gentleman of fame and family, was extremely welcome to the Lady Margaret, who, after she had conference with him, brought him to the sight of Perkin, with whom he had often speech and discourse. So that in the end, won either by the Duchess to affect or by Perkin to believe, he wrote back into England that he knew the person of Richard, Duke of York, as well as he knew his own, and that this young man was undoubtedly he. By this means all things grew prepared to revolt and sedition here, and the conspiracy came to have a correspondence between Flanders and England.

The King, on his part, was not asleep, but to arm or levy forces yet, he thought, would but show fear, and do this idol too much worship. Nevertheless, the ports he did shut up, or at least kept a watch on them, that none should pass to or fro that was suspected; but for the rest, he chose to work by counter-mines. His purposes were two—the one to lay open the abuse, the other to break the knot of the conspirators. To detect the abuse there were but two ways—the first, to make it manifest to the world that the Duke of York was indeed murdered; the other to prove that, were he dead or alive, yet Perkin was a counterfeit. For the first, thus it stood. There were but four persons that could speak upon knowledge to the murder of the Duke of York—Sir James Tyrell, the employed man from King Richard; John Dighton and Miles Forest, his servants, the two butchers or tormentors; and the priest of the Tower, that buried them. Of which four, Miles Forest and the priest were dead, and there remained alive only Sir James Tyrell and John Dighton.

These two the King caused to be committed to the Tower. and examined touching the manner of the death of the two innocent princes. They agreed both in a tale, as the King gave out, to this effect: That King Richard, having directed his warrant for the putting of them to death to Brackenbury, the lieutenant of the Tower, was by him refused. Whereupon the King directed his warrant to Sir James Tyrell, to receive the key of the Tower from the lieutenant, for the space of a night, for the King's special service. That Sir James Tyrell accordingly repaired to the Tower by night, attended by his two servants aforenamed, whom he had chosen for that purpose. That himself stood at the stair-foot, and sent these two villains to execute the murder. That they smothered them in their beds, and, that done, called up their master to see their naked dead bodies, which they had laid forth. That they were buried under the stairs, and some stones cast upon them. That when the report was made to King Richard that his will was done, he gave Sir James Tyrell great thanks, but took exception to the place of their burial, being too base for them that were king's children. Whereupon another night, by the King's warrant renewed, their bodies were removed by the priest of the Tower, and buried by him in some place which, by means of the priest's death soon after, could not be known.

Thus much was then delivered abroad to be the effect of those examinations; but the King, nevertheless, made no use of them in any of his declarations, whereby, as it seems, those examinations left the business somewhat perplexed. And, as for Sir James Tyrell, he was soon after beheaded in the Tower-yard for other matters of treason. But John Dighton, who, it seemeth, spake best for the King, was forthwith set at liberty, and was the principal means of divulging this tradition. Therefore, this kind of proof being left so naked, the King used the more diligence in the latter for the tracing of Perkin. To this purpose he sent abroad into several parts, and especially into Flanders, divers secret and nimble scouts and spies, some feigning themselves to fly over unto Perkin and to adhere to him, and some, under other pretence, to learn, search, and discover all the circumstances and particulars of Perkin's parents, birth, person, travels up and down, and in brief to have a journal, as it were, of his life and doings. Others he employed, in a more special nature and trust, to be his pioneers in the main counter-mine.

The King of Scotland—James IV—having espoused the cause of Warbeck, and attended him upon an invasion of England, though he would not formally retract his judgment of Perkin, wherein he had engaged himself so far, yet in his private opinion, upon often speech with the Englishmen, and diverse other advertisements, began to suspect him for a counterfeit. Wherefore in a noble fashion he called him unto him, and recounted the benefits and favors that he had done him in making him his ally, and in provoking a mighty and opulent king, by an offensive war, in his quarrel, for the space of two years together; nay, more, that he had refused an honorable peace, whereof he had a fair offer, if he would have delivered him; and that, to keep his promise with him, he had deeply offended both his nobles and people, whom he might not hold in any long discontent; and therefore required him to think of his own fortunes, and to choose out some fitter place for his exile; telling him withal that he could not say but that the English had forsaken him before the Scottish, for that, upon two several trials, none had declared themselves on his side; but nevertheless he would make good what he said to him at his first receiving, which was that he should not repent him for putting himself into his hands; for that he would not cast him off, but help him with shipping and means to transport him where he should desire. Perkin, not descending at all from his stage-like greatness, answered the King in few words, that he saw his time was not yet come; but, whatsoever his fortunes were, he should both think and speak honor of the King. Taking his leave, he would not think on Flanders, doubting it was but hollow ground for him since the treaty of the Archduke, concluded the year before; but took his lady, and such followers as would not leave him, and sailed over into Ireland.

When Perkin heard of the late Cornwall insurrection he began to take heart again, and advised upon it with his council, which were principally three—Herne, a mercer, that fled for debt; Skelton, a tailor; and Astley, a scrivener; for Secretary Frion was gone. These told him that he was mightily overseen, both when he went into Kent and when he went into Scotland—the one being a place so near London and under the King's nose; and the other a nation so distasted with the people of England, that if they had loved him ever so well, yet they could never have taken his part in that company. But if he had been so happy as to have been in Cornwall at the first, when the people began to take arms there, he had been crowned at Westminster before this time; for these kings, as he had now experience, would sell poor princes for shoes. But he must rely wholly upon people; and therefore advised him to sail over with all possible speed into Cornwall; which accordingly he did, having in his company four small barks, with some sixscore or sevenscore fighting men.

He arrived in September at Whitsand Bay, and forthwith came to Bodmin, the blacksmith's town, where they assembled unto him to the number of three thousand men of the rude people. There he set forth a new proclamation stroking the people with fair promises, and humoring them with invectives against the King and his government. And as it fareth with smoke, that never loseth itself till it be at the highest, he did now before his end raise his style, entitling himself no more Richard, Duke of York, but Richard IV, King of England. His council advised him by all means to make himself master of some good walled town; as well to make his men find the sweetness of rich spoils, and to allure to him all loose and lost people, by like hopes of booty as to be a sure retreat to his forces in case they should have any ill day or unlucky chance of the field. Wherefore they took heart to them and went on, and besieged the city of Exeter, the principal town for strength and wealth in those parts.

Perkin, hearing the thunder of arms, and preparations against him from so many parts, raised his siege, and marched to Taunton, beginning already to squint one eye upon the crown and another upon the sanctuary; though the Cornish men were become, like metal often fired and quenched, churlish, and that would sooner break than bow; swearing and vowing not to leave him till the uttermost drop of their blood were spilt. He was at his rising from Exeter between six and seven thousand strong, many having come unto him after he was set before Exeter, upon fame of so great an enterprise, and to partake of the spoil, though upon the raising of his siege some did slip away.

When he was come near Taunton, he dissembled all fear, and seemed all the day to use diligence in preparing all things ready to fight. But about midnight he fled with threescore horses to Bewdley[3], in the New Forest, where he and divers of his company registered themselves sanctuary-men, leaving his Cornish men to the four winds, but yet thereby easing them of their vow, and using his wonted compassion not to be by when his subjects' blood should be spilt. The King, as soon as he heard of Perkin's flight, sent presently five hundred horse to pursue and apprehend him before he should get either to the sea or to that same little island called a sanctuary. But they came too late for the latter of these. Therefore all they could do was to beset the sanctuary, and to maintain a strong watch about it, till the King's pleasure were further known.

Perkin, having at length given himself up, was brought into the King's court, but not to the King's presence; though the King, to satisfy his curiosity, saw him sometimes out of a window or in passage. He was in show at liberty, but guarded with all care and watch that were possible, and willed to follow the King to London. But from his first appearance upon the stage in his new person of a sycophant or juggler, instead of his former person of a prince, all men may think how he was exposed to the derision not only of the courtiers, but also of the common people, who flocked about him as he went along, that one might know afar off where the owl was by the flight of birds; some mocking, some wondering, some cursing, some prying and picking matter out of his countenance and gesture to talk of; so that the false honor and respects, which he had so long enjoyed, were plentifully repaid in scorn and contempt.

As soon as he was come to London the King gave also the city the solace of this May-game; for he was conveyed leisurely on horseback, but not in any ignominious fashion, through Cheapside and Cornhill, to the Tower, and from thence back again unto Westminster, with the churme of a thousand taunts and reproaches. But to amend the show, there followed a little distance of Perkin an inward counsellor of his, one that had been sergeant farrier to the King. This fellow, when Perkin took sanctuary, chose rather to take a holy habit than a holy place, and clad himself like a hermit, and in that weed wandered about the country till he was discovered and taken. But this man was bound hand and foot upon the horse, and came not back with Perkin, but was left at the Tower, and within few days after executed.

Soon after, now that Perkin could tell better what himself was, he was diligently examined; and after his confession taken, an extract was made of such parts of it as were thought fit to be divulged, which was printed and dispersed abroad; wherein the King did himself no right; for as there was a labored tale of particulars of Perkin's father and mother and grandsire and grandmother and uncles and cousins, by names and surnames, and from what places he travelled up and down; so there was little or nothing to purpose of anything concerning his designs or any practices that had been held with him; nor the Duchess of Burgundy herself, that all the world did take knowledge of, as the person that had put life and being into the whole business, so much as named or pointed at. So that men, missing of that they looked for, looked about for they knew not what, and were in more doubt than before; but the King chose rather not to satisfy than to kindle coals.

It was not long but Perkin, who was made of quicksilver, which is hard to hold or imprison, began to stir. For, deceiving his keepers, he took him to his heels, and made speed to the sea-coasts. But presently all corners were laid for him, and such diligent pursuit and search made as he was fain to turn back and get him to the house of Bethlehem, called the priory of Sheen (which had the privilege of sanctuary), and put himself into the hands of the prior of that monastery. The prior was thought a holy man and much reverenced in those days. He came to the King, and besought the King for Perkin's life only, leaving him otherwise to the King's discretion. Many about the King were again more hot than ever to have the King take him forth and hang him. But the King, that had a high stomach and could not hate any that he despised, bid, "Take him forth and set the knave in the stocks"; and so, promising the prior his life, he caused him to be brought forth. And within two or three days after, upon a scaffold set up in the palace court at Westminster, he was fettered and set in the stocks for the whole day. And the next day after the like was done by him at the cross in Cheapside, and in both places he read his confession, of which we made mention before; and was from Cheapside conveyed and laid up in the Tower.

But it was ordained that this winding-ivy of a Plantagenet should kill the true tree itself. For Perkin, after he had been a while in the Tower, began to insinuate himself into the favor and kindness of his keepers, servants of the lieutenant of the Tower, Sir John Digby, being four in number—Strangeways, Blewet, Astwood, and Long Roger. These varlets, with mountains of promises, he sought to corrupt, to obtain his escape; but knowing well that his own fortunes were made so contemptible as he could feed no man's hopes, and by hopes he must work, for rewards he had none, he had contrived with himself a vast and tragical plot; which was, to draw into his company Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick, then prisoner in the Tower, whom the weary life of a long imprisonment, and the often and renewing fears of being put to death, had softened to take any impression of counsel for his liberty.

This young Prince he thought these servants would look upon, though not upon himself; and therefore, after that, by some message by one or two of them, he had tasted of the Earl's consent, it was agreed that these four should murder their master, the lieutenant, secretly, in the night, and make their best of such money and portable goods of his as they should find ready at hand, and get the keys of the Tower, and presently let forth Perkin and the Earl. But this conspiracy was revealed in time, before it could be executed. And in this again the opinion of the King's great wisdom did surcharge him with a sinister fame, that Perkin was but his bait to entrap the Earl of Warwick. And in the very instant while this conspiracy was in working, as if that also had been the King's industry, it was fated that there should break forth a counterfeit Earl of Warwick, a cordwainer's son, whose name was Ralph Wilford; a young man taught and set on by an Augustin friar, called Patrick. They both from the parts from Suffolk came forward into Kent, where they did not only privily and underhand give out that this Wilford was the true Earl of Warwick, but also the friar, finding some light credence in the people, took the boldness in the pulpit to declare as much, and to incite the people to come in to his aid. Whereupon they were both presently apprehended, and the young fellow executed, and the friar condemned to perpetual imprisonment.

This also happening so opportunely, to represent the danger to the King's estate from the Earl of Warwick, and thereby to color the King's severity that followed; together with the madness of the friar so vainly and desperately to divulge a treason before it had gotten any manner of strength; and the saving of the friar's life, which nevertheless was, indeed, but the privilege of his order; and the pity in the common people, which, if it run in a strong stream, doth ever cast up scandal and envy, made it generally rather talked than believed that all was but the King's device. But howsoever it were, hereupon Perkin, that had offended against grace now the third time, was at last proceeded with, and by commissioners of oyer and determiner, arraigned at Westminster upon divers treasons committed and perpetrated after his coming on land within this kingdom, for so the judges advised, for that he was a foreigner, and condemned, and a few days after executed at Tyburn; where he did again openly read his confession, and take it upon his death to be true. This was the end of this little cockatrice of a king that was able to destroy those that did not espy him first. It was one of the longest plays of that kind that had been in memory, and might perhaps have had another end if he had not met with a king wise, stout, and fortunate.

[Footnote 1: Sister to Edward IV, and widow of Charles le Temeraire, Duke of Burgundy.]

[Footnote 2: Bernard Andre, the poet laureate of Henry VII, states in his manuscript life of his patron, that Perkin, when a boy, was "servant in England to a Jew named Edward, who was baptized, and adopted as godson by Edward IV, and was on terms of intimacy with the King and his family." Speed, mistranslating Andre's words, makes Perkin the son of the Jew, instead of the servant; and Bacon amplifies the error, and transforms John Osbeck into the convert Jew, who, having a handsome wife, it might be surmised why the licentious King "should become gossip in so mean a house." Hume adds: "People thence accounted for that resemblance which was afterward remarked between young Perkin and that monarch." The surmise of Bacon, grounded upon the error of Speed, is clinched into the positive assertion of Hume as to a popular belief for which there is not the slightest ground.—Charles Knight.]

[Footnote:3 The Abbey of Beaulieu, near Southampton.]



A.D. 1494


Girolamo Savonarola, the great moral, political, and religious reformer of Italy, was born in Ferrara, September 21, 1452. He was of noble family, studied medicine, but renounced his intended profession and became a Dominican monk. In 1491 he became prior of St. Mark's, Florence. When he began to preach in the Church of St. Mark on the sins of the time, he applied to Italy the prophetic language of the Apocalypse. He predicted the restoration of the Church in Italy through severe divine viistations. His power in the pulpit was overwhelming, and the fame of his preaching was spread abroad, many regarding him as an inspired prophet. In his denunciations he spared neither wealth nor position, laity nor clergy, and he exhorted the people to order their lives by the simple rules of Scripture.

Savonarola refused to pay the customary homage of his office to the ruler of Florence, who at this time was Lorenzo de' Medici. His own office, the preacher declared, was received, not from Lorenzo, but from God. Overlooking the slight, Lorenzo tried by all means to win Savonarola's favor, but the reformer persisted in denouncing him. When a committee asked the preacher to desist from his denunciations and prophetic warnings, he bade them tell Lorenzo to repent of his sins, adding that, if he threatened banishment, the ruler himself would soon depart, while his censor would remain in Florence.

In 1492 Lorenzo died and his son Piero succeeded him. But Savonarola now became the most powerful man in the republic, and he exerted himself for reformation of his own monastery, the Church, and the state itself. Soon he prophesied the downfall of the Medici, against whom he arrayed a considerable part of the Florentine people. He predicted that one should come over the Alps and wreak vengeance upon the tyrants of Italy. In 1494 Charles VIII of France invaded Italy, warred against Naples, and advanced on Florence. Piero de' Medici, thoroughly frightened, surrendered his strongholds and agreed to pay Charles two hundred thousand ducats.

Of Savonarola's career from this time, and the state of Florence up to the day of his death, the two authors here selected give faithful and vivid narratives. In Romola George Eliot portrays the character and acts of this great reformer with a legitimate intensifying, for artistic purposes, of the certified facts of history.


The month of November, 1494, began under sinister auspices in Florence. The unexpected, almost incredible news of the surrender of fortresses which had cost the republic prolonged sieges and enormous expense, and formed the key of the whole Tuscan territory, instantly raised a tumult among the people, and the general fury was increased by letters received from the French camp, and the accounts of the returned envoys. For they told with what ease honorable terms might have been wrested from the King; with what a mixture of cowardice and self-assertion Piero de' Medici had placed the whole republic at the mercy of Charles VIII.

All gave free vent to their indignation, and the people began to gather in the streets and squares. Some of the crowd were seen to be armed with old weapons which had been hidden away for more than half a century; and from the wool and silk manufactories strong, broad-set, dark-visaged men poured forth. On that day it seemed as though the Florentines had leaped back a century, and that, after patient endurance of sixty years' tyranny, they were now decided to reconquer their liberty by violence and bloodshed.

Nevertheless, in the midst of this general excitement, men's minds were daunted by an equally general feeling of uncertainty and distrust. It was true that the Medici had left no soldiers in Florence, and that the people could at any moment make themselves masters of the whole city; but they knew not whom to trust, nor whom to choose as their leader. The old champions of liberty had nearly all perished during the last sixty years, either at the block or in persecution and exile. The few men at all familiar with state affairs were those who had always basked in the favor of the Medici; and the multitude just freed from slavery would inevitably recur to license if left to themselves. This, therefore, was one of those terrible moments when no one could foretell what excesses and what atrocities might not be committed. All day the people streamed aimlessly through the streets, like an impetuous torrent; they cast covetous glances on the houses of the citizens who had amassed wealth by acts of oppression; but they had no one to lead them; only, at the hour of Savonarola's sermon, they all flocked instinctively to the Duomo. Never had so dense a throng been gathered within its walls; all were too closely packed to be able to move; and when at last Savonarola mounted the pulpit he looked down upon a solid and motionless mass of upturned faces. Unusual sternness and excitement were depicted on every countenance, and he could see steel corselets flashing here and there in the cloaked crowd.

The friar was now the only man having any influence over the people, who seemed to hang on his words and look for safety to him alone. One hasty word from his mouth would have sufficed to cause all the houses of the principal citizens to be sacked, to revive past scenes of civil warfare, and lead to torrents of blood. For the people had been cruelly trampled on, and were now panting for a cruel revenge. He therefore carefully abstained from all allusion to politics; his heart was overflowing with pity; he bent forward with outstretched arms from the pulpit, and, in tones which echoed throughout the building, proclaimed the law of peace and charity and union.

"Behold the sword has come upon you, the prophecies are fulfilled, the scourges begun! Behold! these hosts are led by the Lord! O Florence! the time of singing and dancing is at an end; now is the time to shed floods of tears for thy sins. Thy sins, O Florence! thy sins, O Rome! thy sins, O Italy! They have brought these chastisements upon thee! Repent ye, then; give alms, offer up prayers, be united! O my people! I have long been as thy father; I have labored all the days of my life to teach ye the truths of faith and of godly living, yet have I received naught but tribulation, scorn, and contumely; give me at least the consolation of seeing ye do good deeds! My people, what desire hath ever been mine but to see ye saved, to see ye united? 'Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!' But I have said this so many times, I have cried to ye so many times; I have wept for thee, O Florence! so many times, that it should be enough. To thee I turn, O Lord, to thee, who didst die for love of us and for our sins; forgive, forgive, O Lord, the Florentine people, that would fain be thy people."

In this strain he continued to exhort his hearers to charity, faith, and concord with such succeeding earnestness and fervor that he was exhausted and almost ill for several days after. These sermons were less eloquent than some of the others, since he was too deeply moved for reflection or for studied effects; but the tenderness with which he spoke dominated and soothed the people, who, fresh from the tumults without, entered this place of peace to hear the words of the Gospel. So magical was the power of Savonarola's voice in those days that, in all this great stir of public excitement, not a single excess was committed, and the revolution that seemed on the point of being effected by violence on the Piazza was quietly and peacefully accomplished within the walls of the palace. And this miracle, unprecedented in Florentine history, is unanimously attributed by the historians of the time to Savonarola's beneficial ascendency over the minds of the people.

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