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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On November 4th, the seigniory called a special meeting of the Council of Seventy, in order to decide what course to adopt. All the members were adherents and nominees of the Medici, but were so enraged by the cowardly surrender of the fortresses that they already had the air of a republican assembly. According to the old Florentine law and custom, no one was allowed to speak unless invited to do so by the seigniory, and was then only expected to support the measures which they had proposed. But in moments of public excitement neither this nor any other law was observed in Florence. On this day there was great agitation in the council; the safety of the country was at stake; the seigniory asked everyone for advice, and all wished to speak. Yet so much were men's minds daunted by the long habit of slavery that when Messer Luca Corsini broke through the old rule, and, rising to his feet uninvited, began to remark that things were going badly, the city falling into a state of anarchy, and that some strong remedy was required, everyone felt amazed. Some of his colleagues began to murmur, others to cough; and at last he began to falter and became so confused that he could not go on with his speech.

However, the debate was soon reopened by Jacopo di Tanai de' Nerli, a youth of considerable spirit, who warmly seconded Corsini's words; but he too presently began to hesitate, and his father, rising in great confusion, sought to excuse him in the eyes of the assembly by saying that he was young and foolish.

Lastly Piero di Gino Capponi rose to his feet. With his finely proportioned form, white hair, fiery glance, and a certain air of buoyant courage like that of a war-horse at sound of trumpet, he attracted universal attention and reduced all to silence. He was known to be a man of few but resolute words and of still more resolute deeds. He now spoke plainly and said: "Piero de' Medici is no longer fit to rule the state; the republic must provide for itself; the moment has come to shake off this baby government. Let ambassadors be sent to King Charles, and, should they meet Piero by the way, let them pass him without salutation; and let them explain that he has caused all the evil, and that the city is well disposed to the French. Let honorable men be chosen to give a fitting welcome to the King; but, at the same time, let all the captains and soldiery be summoned in from the country and hidden away in cloisters and other secret places. And besides the soldiery let all men be prepared to fight in case of need, so that when we shall have done our best to act honestly toward this most Christian monarch, and to satisfy with money the avarice of the French, we may be ready to face him and show our teeth if he should try us beyond our patience, either by word or deed. And above all," he said in conclusion, "it must not be forgotten to send Father Girolamo Savonarola as one of the ambassadors, for he has gained the entire love of the people." He might have added: because he has the entire respect of the King; for Charles had conceived an almost religious veneration for the man who had so long foretold his coming, and declared it to be ordained by the Lord.

The new ambassadors were elected on November 5th, and consisted of Pandolfo Rocellai, Giovanni Cavalcanti, Piero Capponi, Tanai de' Nerli, and Savonarola. The latter allowed the others to precede him to Lucca, where they hoped to meet the King, while he followed on foot according to his usual custom, accompanied by two of his brethren. But, before starting, he again addressed the people, and preached a sermon ending with these words: "The Lord hath granted thy prayers, and wrought a great revolution by peaceful means. He alone came to rescue the city when it was forsaken of all. Wait and thou shalt see the disasters which will happen elsewhere. Therefore be steadfast in good works, O people of Florence; be steadfast in peace! If thou wouldst have the Lord steadfast in mercy, be thou merciful toward thy brethren, thy friends, and thy enemies; otherwise thou too shalt be smitten by the scourges prepared for the rest of Italy. 'Misericordiam volo,' crieth the Lord unto ye. Woe to him that obeyeth not his commands!" After delivering this discourse he started for Pisa, where the other ambassadors, and also the King, speedily arrived.

Meanwhile disturbances went on increasing, and the populace seemed already intoxicated with license. The dwellings of Giovanni Guidi, notary and chancellor of the Riformagioni, and of Antonio Miniati, manager of the Monte, were put to the sack, for both these men, having been faithful tools of the Medici, and their subtle counsellors in the art of burdening the people with insupportable taxes, were objects of general hatred. The house of Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici was also pillaged, together with the garden by St. Mark's, in which so many treasures of art had been collected by Lorenzo. So far, with the exception of a few dagger-thrusts, no blood had been shed; but many were eager for conflict, and it would have certainly begun had not Savonarola's partisans done their best to keep the peace, and had not the friar been hourly expected from Pisa, whither he had repaired on the 13th day of the month with a second embassy. The seigniory also endeavored to quell the disturbances by means of edicts of the severest kind.

But the popular discontent was now heightened by the arrival of other envoys from Pisa with very unsatisfactory tidings. They had informed the King that Florence was friendly to him, and already preparing to welcome him with all the honors due to his royalty; they only asked that, being received as a friend, he should bear himself in that light, and deign to name his terms at once, so that free vent might be given to the public joy. But the only reply Charles condescended to give was that, "Once in the great town, all should be arranged." And it was evident from his majesty's coldness that the solicitations of Piero de' Medici, his earnest prayers, lavish promises of money, and submissive obedience had turned him not in his favor. Consequently the ambassadors had to leave without any definite answer, and could only say that the monarch was by no means well disposed to the republic.

But when the foiled envoys had left Pisa, Savonarola repaired to the French camp, and, passing through that great host of armed men, made his way to the King's presence. Charles, who was surrounded by his generals, received him very kindly, and thereupon, without wasting much time in preliminaries, the friar, in sonorous and almost commanding accents, addressed him with a short exhortation beginning as follows: "O most Christian King, thou art an instrument in the hand of the Lord, who sendeth thee to relieve the woes of Italy, as for many years I have foretold; and he sendeth thee to reform the Church, which now lieth prostrate in the dust. But if thou be not just and merciful; if thou shouldst fail to respect the city of Florence, its women, its citizens, and its liberty; if thou shouldst forget the task the Lord hath sent thee to perform, then will he choose another to fulfil it; his hand shall smite thee, and chastise thee with terrible scourges. These things say I unto you in the name of the Lord." The King and his generals seemed much impressed by Savonarola's menacing words, and to have full belief in them. In fact, it was the general feeling of the French that they were divinely guided to fulfil the Lord's work, and Charles felt a strong veneration for the man who had prophesied his coming and foretold the success of his expedition. Consequently the friar's exhortation inspired him with real terror, and also decided him to behave more honorably to the Florentines. Thus, when Savonarola returned to the city shortly after the other ambassadors, he was the bearer of more satisfactory intelligence.

As the King's intentions were still unknown, fresh relays of ambassadors were sent out to him. But meanwhile French officers and men passed the gates in little bands of fifteen or so at a time, and were seen roving about the town unarmed, jaunty, and gallant, bearing pieces of chalk in their hands to mark the houses on which their troops were to be billeted. While affecting an air of contemptuous indifference, they were unable to hide their amazement at the sight of so many splendid buildings, and at every turn were confounded by the novel scenes presented to their gaze. But what struck them most of all was the grim severity of the palaces, which appeared to be impregnable strongholds, and the towns still scarred with the marks of fierce and sanguinary faction fights. Then, on November 15th, they witnessed a sight that sent a thrill of fear to their souls. Whether by accident or design, a rumor suddenly spread through the town that Piero de' Medici was nearing the gates. Instantly the bell of the seigniory clanged the alarm; the streets swarmed with a furious mob; armed men sprang, as by magic, from the earth, and rushed toward the Piazza; palace doors were barred; towers bristled with defenders; stockades began to be built across the streets, and on that day the French took their first lesson in the art of barricades. It was soon ascertained that the rumor was false, and the tumult subsided as quickly as it had risen. But the foreign soldiers were forced to acknowledge that their tactics and stout battalions would be almost powerless, hemmed in those streets, against this new and unknown mode of warfare. In fact, the Florentines looked on the Frenchmen with a certain pert assurance, as if they would say, "We shall see!" For, having now regained its liberty, this people thought itself master of the world, and almost believed that there was nothing left for it to fear.

Meanwhile splendid preparations were being made in the Medici palace for the reception of King Charles; his officers were to be lodged in the houses of the principal citizens, and the streets through which he was to pass were covered with awnings and draped with hangings and tapestries. On November 17th the seigniory assembled on a platform erected by the San Frediano gate; and numbers of young Florentine nobles went forth to meet the King, who made his state entry at the twenty-first hour of the day. The members of the seigniory then rose and advanced toward him to pay their respects, while Messer Luca Corsini, being deputed to that office, stood forth to read a written address. But just at that moment rain began to fall, the horses grew restless and hustled against one another, and the whole ceremony was thrown into confusion.

Only Messer Francesco Gaddi, one of the officers of the palace, had sufficient presence of mind to press his way through the throng and make a short speech suited to the occasion in French, after which the King moved forward under a rich canopy. The monarch's appearance was in strange contrast with that of the numerous and powerful army behind him. He seemed almost a monster, with his enormous head, long nose, wide, gaping mouth, big, white, purblind eyes, very diminutive body, extraordinarily thin legs, and misshapen feet. He was clad in black velvet and a mantle of gold brocade, bestrode a tall and very beautiful charger, and entered the city riding with his lance levelled—a martial attitude then considered as a sign of conquest. All this rendered the meanness of his person the more grotesquely conspicuous. By his side rode the haughty Cardinal of St. Piero in Vincoli, the Cardinal of St. Malo, and a few marshals. At their heels came the royal bodyguard of one hundred bowmen, composed of the finest young men in France, and then two hundred French knights marching on foot with splendid dresses and equipment. These were followed by the Swiss vanguard, resplendent and party-colored, bearing halberds of burnished steel, and with rich waving plumes on their officers' helmets. The faces of these men expressed the mountaineer spirit of daring, and the proud consciousness of being the first infantry in Europe; while the greater part of them had scornfully thrown aside the cuirass, preferring to fight with their chests bared.

The centre consisted of Gascon infantry, small, light, agile men, whose numbers seemed to multiply as the army advanced. But the grandest sight was the cavalry, comprising the flower of the French aristocracy, and displaying finely wrought weapons, mantles of gorgeous brocade, velvet banners embroidered with gold, chains of gold, and other precious ornaments. The cuirassiers had a terrible aspect, for their horses seemed like monsters with their cropped tails and ears. The archers were men of extraordinary height, armed with very long wooden bows; they came from Scotland and other northern countries, and, in the words of a contemporary historian, "seemed to be beast-like men" ("parevano uomini bestiali").

This well-ordered and disciplined army, composed of so many different nationalities, with such varied attire and strange weapons, was as new and amazing a sight to Florence as to almost all Italy, where no standing armies were as yet in existence, and mercenaries the only soldiery known. It is impossible to give the number of the forces accompanying the King to Florence, for his artillery were marching toward Rome by another route; he had left garrisons in many strongholds, and sent on another body of men by Romagna. Gaddi, who witnessed the entrance of the French, says that their numbers amounted to twelve thousand; Rinuccini, who was also present, estimated them at a lower figure; others at a higher. In any case the city and suburbs were crammed with them.

The procession marched over the Ponte Vecchio ("Old Bridge"), which was gay with festive decorations and sounds of music, wound across the Piazza amid a crowd of triumphal cars, statues, etc., and, passing the Canto dei Pazzi, made the tour of the Cathedral Square, and halted before the great door of the church. The people shouted the name of France with cries of applause, but the King only smiled inanely and stammered some inappropriate words in Italian. Entering the Duomo, he was met by the seigniory, who, to avoid the pressure of the armed host, had been obliged to come around by the back streets. After joining in prayers with their royal guest, they escorted him to the sumptuous palace of the Medici, and the soldiers dispersed to their quarters. That night and the next the whole city was a blaze of illuminations; the intervening day was devoted to feasting and amusements, and then the terms of the treaty began to be discussed.

The terms of the treaty stood as follows: That there should be a good and faithful friendship between the republic and the King; that their subjects should have reciprocal protection; that the King should receive the title of restorer and protector of the liberty of Florence; that he should be paid one hundred twenty thousand florins in three instalments; that he was not to retain the fortresses for more than two years; and if the Neapolitan expedition finished before that date, he was then to give them up without delay; that the Pisans were to receive pardon as soon as they should resume their allegiance to Florence. It was also stipulated that the decree putting a price on the heads of the Medici should be revoked, but that the states of Giuliano and Cardinal Giovanni were to remain confiscated until all Piero's debts had been paid, and that the said Piero was to remain banished to a distance of two hundred miles, and his brothers of one hundred, from the Tuscan border. After the agreement had been drawn up in regular official form, the contracting parties met in the Duomo to swear to the observance of all its clauses, and in the evening there was a general illumination of the city, although the people gave no signs of their previous good-will toward the King.

But no sooner was one difficulty disposed of than another arose. When all was concluded Charles relapsed into his normal state of inertia, and showed no disposition to depart. The city was thronged by the French quartered in the houses, and the Italian soldiery hidden on all sides; the shops were shut up and all traffic suspended; everything was in a state of uncertainty and disorder, and the continual quarrels between the natives and the foreigner might at any moment provoke the most serious complications. There were perpetual robberies and murders by night—a most unusual state of things for Florence; and the people seemed to be on the verge of revolt at the least provocation. Thus matters went on from day to day, and consequently all honest citizens vainly did their utmost to hasten the King's departure. And the universal suspense was heightened by the impossibility of finding any way of forcing him to a decision.

At last another appeal was made to Savonarola, who was exerting all his influence to keep the people quiet, and whose peaceful admonitions during this period of danger and confusion had been no less efficacious than the heroic defiance of Piero Capponi. The friar's sermons at this time were always directed to the general welfare. He exhorted the citizens "to lay aside their animosities and ambitions; to attend the councils at the palace in a righteous spirit, and with a view, not to their personal interest, but to the general good, and with the firm resolve to promote the unity and concord of their city. Then, indeed, would they be acceptable in the Lord's sight." He addressed himself to every class of the people in turn, proving to all that it would be to their own advantage, both in this life and the next, to labor for the defence of liberty and the establishment of unity and concord. When asked to seek the King and endeavor to persuade him to leave, he cheerfully undertook the task and hastened to the royal abode. The officers and lords in attendance were at first inclined to refuse him admittance, fearing that his visit might defeat their plan of pillaging the treasures of this sumptuous palace. But, remembering the veneration in which the friar was held by the King, they dared not refuse his demand and allowed him to pass. Charles, surrounded by his barons, received him very graciously, and Savonarola went straight to the point by saying: "Most Christian Prince, thy stay here is causing great injury both to our own city and thy enterprise. Thou losest time, forgetful of the duty imposed on thee by Providence, and to the serious hurt of thy spiritual welfare and worldly fame. Hearken now to the voice of God's servant! Pursue thy journey without delay. Seek not to bring ruin on this city, and thereby rouse the anger of the Lord against thee."

So at last, on November 28th, at the twenty-second hour of the day, the King departed with his army, leaving the people of Florence very badly disposed toward him. Among their many just causes of complaint was the sack of the splendid palace in which he had been so liberally and trustfully entertained. Nor were common soldiers and inferior officers alone concerned in this robbery; the hands of generals and barons were equally busy, and the King himself carried off objects of the greatest value; among other things a precious intaglio representing a unicorn, estimated by Comines to be worth about seven thousand ducats. With such an example set by their sovereign, it may be easily imagined how the others behaved; and Comines himself tells us that "they shamelessly took possession of everything that tempted their greed." Thus the rich and marvellous collections formed by the Medici were all lost, excepting what had been placed in safety at St. Mark's, for the few things left behind by the French were so much damaged that they had to be sold. Nevertheless, the inhabitants were so rejoiced to be finally rid of their dangerous guests that no one mourned over these thefts. On the contrary, public thanksgivings were offered up in the churches, the people went about the streets with their old gayety and lightheartedness, and the authorities began to take measures to pro vide for the urgent necessities of the new republic.

During this interval the aspect of Florentine affairs had entirely changed. The partisans of the Medici had disappeared from the city as if by magic; the popular party ruled over everything, and Savonarola ruled the will of the whole population. He was unanimously declared to have been a prophet of all that had occurred, the only man that had succeeded in controlling the King's conduct on his entry into Florence, the only man who had induced him to depart; accordingly all hung on Savonarola's lips for counsel, aid, and direction as to their future proceedings. And, as though the men of the old state saw the need of effacing themselves to make way for new blood, several prominent representatives and friends of the Medici house died during this period. Angelo Poliziano had passed away this year, on September 24th, "loaded with as much infamy and public opprobrium as a man could well bear." He was accused of numberless vices and unlimited profligacy; but the chief cause of all the hatred lavished on him was the general detestation already felt for Piero de' Medici, the approach of his downfall and that of all his adherents. Nor was the public rancor at all softened by the knowledge that the last utterances of the illustrious poet and learned scholar had been the words of a penitent Christian. He had requested that his body should be clothed in the Dominican habit and interred in the Church of St. Mark, and there his ashes repose beside the remains of Giovanni Picodella Mirandola, who expired on the very day of Charles VIII's entry into Florence. Pico had long entertained a desire to join the fraternity of St. Mark's, but, delaying too long to carry out his intent, was surprised by death at the early age of thirty-two years. On his death-bed he, too, had besought Savonarola to allow him to be buried in the robe he had yearned to wear.

The end of these two celebrated Italians recalled to mind the last hours and last confession of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and was by many regarded as a sign that the Medicean adherents had been unwilling to pass away without acknowledging their crimes, without asking pardon from the people whom they had so deeply oppressed, and from the friar, who was, as it were, the people's best representative. It was certainly remarkable that all these men should turn to the convent of St. Mark, whence had issued the first cry of liberty, and the first sign of war against the tyranny of the Medici.


At the moment that Florence expelled the Medici, the republic was divided among three different parties. The first was that of the enthusiasts, directed by Girolamo Savonarola, who promised the miraculous protection of the Divinity for the reform of the Church and establishment of liberty. These demanded a democratic constitution; they were called the "Piagnoni." The second consisted of men who had shared power with the Medici, but who had separated from them; who wished to possess alone the powers and profits of government, and who endeavored to amuse the people by dissipations and pleasures, in order to establish at their ease an aristocracy. These were called the "Arabbiati." The third party was composed of men who remained faithful to the Medici, but, not daring to declare themselves, lived in retirement; they were called "Bigi."

These three parties were so equally balanced in the balia named by the parliament, on December 2, 1494, that it soon became impossible to carry on the government. Girolamo Savonarola took advantage of this state of affairs to urge that the people had never delegated their power to a balia which did not abuse the trust.

"The people," he said, "would do much better to reserve this power to themselves, and exercise it by a council, into which all the citizens should be admitted." His proposition was agreed to; more than one thousand eight hundred Florentines furnished proof that either they, their fathers, or their grandfathers had sat in the magistracy; they were consequently acknowledged citizens and admitted to sit in the general council. This council was declared sovereign on July 1, 1495; it was invested with the election of magistrates, hitherto chosen by lot, and a general amnesty was proclaimed, to bury in oblivion all the ancient dissensions of the Florentine republic.

So important a modification of the constitution seemed to promise this republic a happier futurity. The friar Savonarola, who had exercised such influence in the council, evinced at the same time an ardent love of mankind, deep respect for the rights of all, great sensibility, and an elevated mind. Though a zealous reformer of the Church, and in this respect a precursor of Luther, who was destined to begin his mission twenty years later, he did not quit the pale of orthodoxy; he did not assume the right of examining doctrine; he limited his efforts to the restoration of discipline, the reformation of the morals of the clergy, and the recall of priests, as well as other citizens, to the practice of the gospel precepts. But his zeal was mixed with enthusiasm; he believed himself under the immediate inspiration of Providence; he took his own impulses for prophetic revelations, by which he directed the politics of his disciples, the Piagnoni.

He had predicted to the Florentines the coming of the French into Italy; he had represented to them Charles VIII as an instrument by which the Divinity designed to chastise the crimes of the nation; he had counselled them to remain faithful to their alliance with that King, the instrument of Providence, even though his conduct, especially in reference to the affairs of Pisa, had been highly culpable.

This alliance, however, ranged the Florentines among the enemies of Pope Alexander VI, one of the founders of the league which had driven the French out of Italy. He accused them of being traitors to the Church and to their country for their attachment to a foreign prince. Alexander, equally offended by the projects of reform and by the politics of Savonarola, denounced him to the Church as a heretic, and interdicted him from preaching. The monk at first obeyed, and procured the appointment of his friend and disciple the Dominican friar, Buonvicino of Pescia, as his successor in the Church of St. Mark; but on Christmas Day, 1497, he declared from the pulpit that God had revealed to him that he ought not to submit to a corrupt tribunal; he then openly took the sacrament with the monks of St. Mark, and afterward continued to preach. In the course of his sermons he more than once held up to reprobation the scandalous conduct of the Pope, whom the public voice accused of every vice and every crime to be expected in a libertine so depraved—a man so ambitious, perfidious, and cruel—a monarch and a priest intoxicated with absolute power.

In the mean time the rivalry encouraged by the court of Rome between the religious orders soon procured the Pope a champion eager to combat Savonarola; he was a Dominican—the general of the Augustines, that Order whence Martin Luther was soon to issue. Friar Mariano di Ghinazzano signalized himself by his zeal in opposing Savonarola. He presented to the Pope Friar Francis of Apulia, of the order of Minor Observantines, who was sent to Florence to preach against the Florentine monks, in the Church of Santa Croce. This preacher declared to his audience that he knew Savonarola pretended to support his doctrine by a miracle. "For me," said he, "I am a sinner; I have not the presumption to perform miracles; nevertheless, let a fire be lighted, and I am ready to enter it with him. I am certain of perishing, but Christian charity teaches me not to withhold my life if in sacrificing it I might precipitate into hell a heresiarch, who has already drawn into it so many souls."

This strange proposition was rejected by Savonarola; but his friend and disciple, Friar Dominic Buonvicino, eagerly accepted it. Francis of Apulia declared that he would risk his life against Savonarola only. Meanwhile a crowd of monks, of the Dominican and Franciscan orders, rivalled each other in their offers to prove by the ordeal of fire, on one side the truth, on the other the falsehood, of the new doctrine. Enthusiasm spread beyond the two convents; many priests and seculars, and even women and children, more especially on the side of Savonarola, earnestly requested to be admitted to the proof. The Pope warmly testified his gratitude to the Franciscans for their devotion. The Seigniory of Florence consented that two monks only should devote themselves for their respective orders, and directed the pile to be prepared. The whole population of the town and country, to which a signal miracle was promised, received the announcement with transports of joy.

On April 17, 1498, a scaffold, dreadful to look on, was erected in the public square of Florence; two piles of large pieces of wood, mixed with fagots and broom, which should quickly take fire, extended each eighty feet long, four feet thick, and five feet high; they were separated by a narrow space of two feet, to serve as a passage by which the two priests were to enter and pass the whole length of the piles during the fire.

Every window was full; every roof was covered with spectators; almost the whole population of the republic was collected round the place. The portico called the Loggia dei Lanzi, divided in two by a partition, was assigned to the two orders of monks. The Dominicans arrived at their station chanting canticles and bearing the holy sacrament. The Franciscans immediately declared that they would not permit the host to be carried amid flames. They insisted that the friar Buonvicino should enter the fire, as their own champion was prepared to do, without this divine safeguard. The Dominicans answered that "they would not separate themselves from their God at the moment when they implored his aid." The dispute upon this point grew warm.

Several hours passed away. The multitude, which had waited long and began to feel hunger and thirst, lost patience; a deluge of rain suddenly fell upon the city, and descended in torrents from the roofs of the houses; all present were drenched. The piles were so wet that they could no longer be lighted; and the crowd, disappointed of a miracle so impatiently looked for, separated, with the notion of having been unworthily trifled with. Savonarola lost all his credit; he was henceforth rather looked on as an impostor.

Next day his convent was besieged by the Arabbiati, eager to profit by the inconstancy of the multitude; he was arrested with his two friends, Domenico Buonvicino and Silvestro Marruffi, and led to prison. The Piagnoni, his partisans, were exposed to every outrage from the populace; two of them were killed, their rivals and old enemies exciting the general ferment for their destruction. Even in the seigniory the majority was against them, and yielded to the pressing demands of the Pope. The three imprisoned monks were subjected to a criminal prosecution.

Alexander VI despatched judges from Rome with orders to condemn the accused to death. Conformably with the laws of the Church, the trial opened with the torture. Savonarola was too weak and nervous to support it; he vowed in his agony all that was imputed to him, and, with his two disciples, was condemned to death. The three monks were burned alive, May 23, 1498, in the same square where, six weeks before, a pile had been raised to prepare them a triumph.


A.D. 1497


Newfoundland prides herself on being the oldest colony of the English crown. By virtue of John Cabot's discovery, in A.D. 1497, she also claims the honor of being the first portion of the New-World continent to be discovered and made known by Europeans. This was fourteen months before Columbus, on his third expedition, beheld the American mainland.

At the close of the fifteenth century, the impelling motive of discovery among the Old-World nations, and their adventurous mariners, was the hope of finding a short western passage to the riches of the East Indies. This was the chief lure of the period, added to the ambition of Old-World monarchs to extend their territorial possessions and bring them within the embrace of their individual flags. Henry VII of England aided the Cabots, father and son, to fit out two expeditions from Bristol to explore the coasts of the New World and extend the search for hitherto unknown countries. The result of these enterprises was the discovery of Newfoundland and Labrador as well as other lands, and England's claim to the possession of the greater portion of the North American continent.

Probably no question in the history of this continent has been the subject of so much discussion as the lives and voyages of the two Cabots. Their personal character, their nationality, the number of voyages they made, and the extent and direction of their discoveries have been, and still are, keenly disputed over. The share, moreover, of each in the credit due for the discoveries made is a very battle-ground for historians. Some learned writers attribute everything to John Cabot; others would put him aside and award all the credit to his second son, Sebastian. The dates even of the voyages are disputed; and very learned professors of history in Portugal do not hesitate to declare that the voyages are apocryphal, the discoveries pretended, and the whole question a mystification.

Nevertheless, solely upon the discoveries of the Cabots have always rested the original claims of the English race to a foothold upon this continent. In the published annals of England, however, no contemporary records of them exist; nor was there for sixty years in English literature any recognition of their achievements. The English claims rest almost solely upon second-hand evidence from Spanish and Italian authors, upon contemporary reports of Spanish and Italian envoys at the English court, upon records of the two letters-patent issued, and upon two or three entries lately discovered in the accounts of disbursements from the privy purse of King Henry VII. These are our title-deeds to this continent. The evidence is doubtless conclusive, but the whole subject of western discovery was undervalued and neglected by England for so long a period that it is no wonder if Portuguese savants deny the reality of those voyages, seeing that their nation has been supplanted by a race which can show so little original evidence of its claims.

It is not my intention to wander over all the debatable ground of the Cabot voyages, where every circumstance bristles with conflicting theories. The original authorities are few and scanty, but mountains of hypotheses have been built upon them, and too often the suppositions of one writer have been the facts of a succeeding one. Step by step the learned students before alluded to have established certain propositions which appear to me to be true, and which I shall accept without further discussion. Among these I count the following:

1. That John Cabot was a Venetian, of Genoese birth, naturalized at Venice on March 28, 1476, after the customary fifteen years of residence, and that he subsequently settled in England with all his family.

2. That Sebastian, his second son, was born in Venice, and when very young was taken by his father to England with the rest of the family.

3. That on petition of John Cabot and his three sons, Lewis, Sebastian, and Sancio, letters-patent of King Henry VII were issued, under date March 5, 1496, empowering them, at their own expense, to discover and take possession for England of new lands not before found by any Christian nation.

4. That John Cabot, accompanied perhaps by his son Sebastian, sailed from Bristol early in May, 1497. He discovered and landed upon some part of America between Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, and Cape Chidley, in Labrador; that he returned to Bristol before the end of July of the same year; that, whatever might have been the number of vessels which started, the discovery was made by John Cabot's own vessel, the Matthew of Bristol, with a crew of eighteen men.

5. That thereupon, and in consideration of this discovery made by John Cabot, King Henry VII granted new letters-patent, drawn solely to John Cabot, authorizing a second expedition on a more extended scale and with fuller royal authority, which letters-patent were dated February 3, 1498; that this expedition sailed in the spring of 1498, and had not returned in October. It consisted of several ships and about three hundred men. That John and Sebastian Cabot sailed on this voyage. When it returned is not known. From the time of sailing of this expedition John Cabot vanishes into the unknowable, and from thenceforth Sebastian alone appears in the historic record.

These points are now fully supported by satisfactory evidence, mostly documentary and contemporary. As for John Cabot, Sebastian said he died, which is one of the few undisputed facts in the discussion; but if Sebastian is correctly reported in Ramusio to have said that he died at the time when the news of Columbus' discoveries reached England, then Sebastian Cabot told an untruth, because the letters-patent of 1498 were addressed to John Cabot alone. The son had a gift of reticence concerning others, including his father and brothers, which in these latter days has been the cause of much wearisome research to scholars. To avoid further discussion of the preceding points is, however, a great gain.

From among the numerous opinions concerning the landfall of John Cabot three theories emerge which may be seriously entertained, all three being supported by evidence of much weight: 1. That it was in Newfoundland. 2. That it was on the Labrador coast. 3. That it was on the island of Cape Breton.

Until a comparatively recent period it was universally held by English writers that Newfoundland was the part of North America first seen by Cabot. The name "Newfoundland" lends itself to this view; for in the letters-patent of 1498 the expression "Londe and iles of late founde," and the wording of the award recorded in the King's privy-purse accounts, August 10, 1497, "To hym that founde the new ile LI0," seem naturally to suggest the island of Newfoundland of our day; and this impression is strengthened by reading the old authors, who spell it, as Richard Whitbourne in 1588, "New-found-land," in three words with connecting hyphens, and often with the definite article, "The Newe-found-land." A cursory reading of the whole literature of American discovery before 1831 would suggest that idea, and some writers of the present day still maintain it. Authors of other nationalities have, however, always disputed it, and have pushed the English discoveries far north to Labrador, and even to Greenland. Champlain, who read and studied everything relating to his profession, concedes to the English the coast of Labrador north of 56 deg. and the regions about Davis Straits; and the maps, which for a long period, with a few notable exceptions, were made only by Spaniards, Portuguese, and Italians, bear out Champlain's remonstrances. It seems, moreover, on a cursory consideration of the maps, probable that a vessel on a westerly course passing south of Ireland should strike somewhere on the coast of Newfoundland about Cape Bonavista, and, Cabot being an Italian, that very place suggests itself by its name as his probable landfall. The English, who for the most part have had their greatness thrust upon them by circumstances, neglected Cabot's discoveries for fifty years, and during that time the French and Portuguese took possession of the whole region and named all the coasts; then, when the troubled reign of Henry VIII was over, the English people began to wake up, and in fact rediscovered Cabot and his voyages. A careful study, however, of the subject will be likely to lead to the rejection of the Newfoundland landfall, plausible as it may at first sight appear.

In the year 1831 Richard Biddle, a lawyer of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, published a memoir of Sebastian Cabot which led the way to an almost universal change of opinion. He advanced the theory that Labrador was the Cabot landfall in 1497. His book is one of great research, and, though confused in its arrangement, is written with much vigor and ability. But Biddle lost the historian in the advocate. His book is a passionate brief for Sebastian Cabot; for he strangely conceives the son to have been wronged by the ascription to John Cabot of any portion of the merit of the discovery of America. Not only would he suppress the elder Cabot, but he covers the well-meaning Hakluyt with opprobrium and undermines his character by insinuations, much as a criminal lawyer might be supposed to do to an adverse witness in a jury trial. Valuable as the work is, there is a singular heat pervading it, fatal to the true historic spirit. Hakluyt is the pioneer of the literature of English discovery and adventure—at once the recorder and inspirer of noble effort. He is more than a translator; he spared no pains nor expense to obtain from the lips of seamen their own versions of their voyages, and, if discrepancies are met with in a collection so voluminous, it is not surprising and need not be ascribed to a set purpose; for Hakluyt's sole object in life seems to have been to record all he knew or could ascertain of the maritime achievements of the age.

Biddle's book marks an epoch in the controversy. In truth, he seems to be the first who gave minute study to the original authorities and broke away from the tradition of Newfoundland. He fixed the landfall on the coast of Labrador; and Humboldt and Kohl added the weight of their great learning to his theory. Harrisse, who in his John and Sebastian Cabot had written in favor of Cape Breton, has, in his latest book, The Discovery of America, gone back to Labrador as his faith in the celebrated map of 1544 gradually waned and his esteem for the character of Sebastian Cabot faded away. Such changes of view, not only in this but in other matters, render Mr. Harrisse's books somewhat confusing, although the student of American history can never be sufficiently thankful for his untiring research.

The discovery in Germany by von Martius in 1843 of an engraved mappemonde bearing date of 1544, and purporting to be issued under the authority of Sebastian Cabot, soon caused a general current of opinion in favor of a landfall in Cape Breton. The map is unique and is now in the National Library at Paris. It bears no name of publisher nor place of publication. Around it for forty years controversy has waxed warm. Kohl does not accept the map as authentic; D'Avezac, on the contrary, gives it full credence. The tide of opinion has set of late in favor of it, and in consequence in favor of the Cape Breton landfall, because it bears, plainly inscribed upon that island, the words "prima tierra vista," and the legends which are around the map identify beyond question that as the landfall of the first voyage. Dr. Deane, in Winter's Narrative and Critical History, supports this view. Markham, in his introduction to the volume of the Hakluyt Society for 1893, also accepts it; and our own honorary secretary (the late Sir John Bourinot), in his learned and exhaustive monograph on Cape Breton, inclines to the same theory.

I do not propose here to discuss the difficult problems of this map. For many years, under the influence of current traditions and cursory reading, I believe the landfall of John Cabot to have been in Newfoundland; but a closer study of the original authorities has led me to concur in the view which places it somewhere on the island of Cape Breton.

At the threshold of an inquiry into the "prima tierra vista" or landfall of 1497, it is before all things necessary to distinguish sharply, in every recorded detail, between the first and second voyages. I venture to think that, if this had always been done, much confusion and controversy would have been avoided. It was not done by the older writers, and the writers of later years have followed them without sufficiently observing that the authorities they were building upon were referring almost solely to the second voyage. Even when some occasional detail of the first voyage was introduced, the circumstances of the second voyage were interwoven and became dominant in the narrative, so that the impression of one voyage only remains upon the mind. We must therefore always remember the antithesis which exists between them. Thus, the first voyage was made in one small vessel with a crew of eighteen men, the second with five ships and three hundred men. The first voyage was undertaken with John Cabot's own resources, the second with the royal authority to take six ships and their outfit on the same conditions as if for the King's service. The first voyage was a private venture, the second an official expedition. The first voyage extended over three months and was provisioned for that period only; the second was victualled for twelve months and extended over six months at least, for how much longer is not known. The course of the first voyage was south of Ireland, then for a while north and afterward west, with the pole star on the right hand. The course of the second, until land was seen, was north, into northern seas, toward the north pole, in the direction of Iceland, to the cape of Labrador, at 58 deg. north latitude. On the first voyage no ice was reported; on the second the leading features were bergs and floes of ice and long days of arctic summer. On the first voyage Cabot saw no man; on the second he found people clothed with "beastes skynnes." During the whole of the first voyage John Cabot was the commander; on the second voyage he sailed in command, but who brought the expedition home and when it returned are not recorded. It is not known how or when John Cabot died; and, although the letters-patent for the second voyage were addressed to him alone, his son Sebastian during forty-five years took the whole credit in every subsequent mention of the discovery of America, without any allusion to his father. This antithesis may throw light upon the suppression of his father's name in all the statements attributed to or made by Sebastian Cabot. He may always have had the second voyage in his mind. His father may have died on the voyage. He was marvellously reticent about his father. The only mention which occurs is on the map seen by Hakluyt, and on the map of 1544, supposed, somewhat rashly, to be a transcript of it. There the discovery is attributed to John Cabot and to Sebastian his son, and that has reference to the first voyage. From these considerations it would appear that those who place the landfall at Labrador are right; but it is the landfall of the second voyage—the voyage Sebastian was always talking about—not the landfall of John Cabot in 1497.

If Sebastian Cabot had not been so much wrapped up in his own vainglory, we might have had a full record of the eventful voyage which revealed to Europe the shores of our Canadian dominion first of all the lands on the continents of the western hemisphere. Fortunately, however, there resided in London at that time a most intelligent Italian, Raimondo di Soncino, envoy of the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, one of those despots of the Renaissance who almost atoned for their treachery and cruelty by their thirst for knowledge and love of arts. Him Soncino kept informed of all matters going on at London, and especially concerning matters of cosmography, to which the Duke was much devoted. From his letters we are enabled to retrace the momentous voyage of the little Matthew of Bristol across the western ocean—not the sunny region of steady trade-winds, by whose favoring influence Columbus was wafted to his destination, but the boisterous reaches of the northern Atlantic—over that "still vexed sea" which shares with one or two others the reputation of being the most storm-tossed region in the world of ocean. That the land discovered was supposed to be a part of Asia appears very clearly from the same letters. It was in the territory of the Grand Cam. The land was good and the climate temperate; and Cabot intended on his next voyage, after occupying that place, to proceed farther westward until he should arrive at the longitude of Japan, which island he evidently thought to be south of his landfall and near the equator.

It should be carefully noted that, in all the circumstances on record which are indisputably referable to this first voyage, nothing has been said of ice or of any notable extension of daylight. These are the marks of the second voyage; for if anything unusual had existed in the length of the day it would have been at its maximum on Midsummer's Day, June 24th, the day he made land. Nothing is reported in these letters which indicates a high latitude. Now Labrador is a cold, waste region of rocks, swamps, and mountains. Even inside the Straits of Belle-Isle it is so barren and forbidding as to call forth Cartier's oft-cited remark that "it was like the land God gave to Cain." The coast of Labrador is not the place to invite a second voyage, if it be once seen; but the climate of Cape Breton is very pleasant in early summer and the country is well wooded.

From the contemporary documents relating specially to the first voyage, it is beyond question that Cabot saw no human being on the coast, though he brought back evidences of their presence at some previous time. It is beyond doubt, also, on the same authority, that the voyage lasted not longer than three months, and that provisions gave out, so that he had not time to land on the return voyage. It was, in fact, a reconnoitring expedition to prepare the way for a greater effort, and establish confidence in the existence of land across the ocean easily reached from England. The distance sailed is given by Soncino at four hundred leagues; but Pasqualigo, writing to Venice, gives it at seven hundred leagues, equivalent to two thousand two hundred twenty-six miles, which is very nearly the distance between Bristol and Cape Breton as now estimated.

All these circumstances concerning the first voyage are derived from John Cabot's own reports, and are extracted from documents dated previous to the return of the second expedition, and therefore are, of necessity, free from admixture with extraneous incidents. Antonio Galvano, an experienced Portuguese sailor and cosmographer, writing in 1563, like the others, knows of one voyage only, which he fixes in 1496. He interweaves, like them, in his narrative many circumstances of the second voyage, but it is important to note that from some independent source is given the landfall at 45 deg., the latitude very nearly of Cape Breton, on the island of Cape Breton. Another point is also recorded in the letters that, on the return voyage, Cabot passed two islands to the right, which the shortness of his provisions prevented him from examining. This note should not be considered identical with the statement recorded by Soncino in his first letter, for this last writer evidently means to indicate the land which Cabot found and examined; he says that Cabot discovered two large and fertile islands, but the two islands of Pasqualigo were passed without examination. They were probably the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon; but that John Cabot had no idea of a northward voyage at that time in his mind would appear from his intention to sail farther to the east on his next voyage until he reached the longitude of Cipango. Moreover, the reward recorded in the King's privy-purse accounts "to hym that founde the new ile," and the wording, thrice repeated, of the second letters-patent, "the land and isles of late found by the said John," indicate that it was not at that time known whether the mainland of Cathay had been reached, or, as in the discoveries of Columbus, islands upon the coast of Asia.

From the preceding narrative, based solely upon documents written within twelve months of the event—which documents are records of statements taken from the lips of John Cabot, the chief actor, at the very time of his return from the first voyage—it will, I trust, appear that in 1497, at a time of year when the ice was not clear from the coasts of Labrador, he discovered a part of America in a temperate climate, and that this was done without the name of Sebastian Cabot once coming to the surface, excepting when it appears in the patent of 1496, together with the names of Lewis and Sancio, his brothers. While the circumstances recorded are incompatible with a landfall at Labrador, they do not exclude the possibility of a landfall on the eastern coast of Newfoundland, which is so varied in its character as to correspond with almost any conditions likely to be found in a landfall on the American coast; but inasmuch as, from other reasons, it will, I think, appear that the landfall was at Cape Breton, it will be a shorter process to prove by a positive argument where it was than to show by a negative argument where it was not.

I might here borrow the quaint phrase of Herodotus and say, "Now I have done speaking of" John Cabot. He has, beyond doubt, discovered the eastern coast of this our Canada, and he has organized a second expedition, and he has sailed in command. Forthwith, upon such sailing, he vanishes utterly, and his second son, Sebastian, both of his brothers having in some unknown way also vanished, emerges, and from henceforth becomes the whole Cabot family. It behooves us, therefore, if we wish to grasp the whole subject, to inquire what manner of man he was.

Sebastian Cabot was born in Venice, and, when still very young, was taken to England with the rest of his family by his father. He was then, however, old enough to have learned the humanities and the properties of the sphere, and to this latter knowledge he became so addicted that he, early in life, formed fixed ideas. He is probably entitled to the merit of having urged the practical application of the truths that the shortest course from point to point upon the globe lies upon a great circle, and also that the great circle uniting Western Europe with Cathay passes over the north pole. This fixed idea of the younger Cabot pervaded all his life and shows in all his reported conversations. He adhered to it with the pertinacity of a Columbus, and, in his later life after his return to England, his efforts, which in youth were directed to a northwest passage, went out toward a northeast passage to Cathay. John Cabot's genius was more practical, as the second letter of Raimondo di Soncino shows. His intention was to occupy on the second voyage the landfall he had made and then push on to the east (west, as we call it now) and south. The diversion of that expedition to the coast of Labrador would indicate that the death of the elder Cabot and the assumption of command by his son occurred early in the voyage. Sebastian Cabot seems to have been not so much a great sailor as a great nautical theorizer. Gomara says he discovered nothing for Spain; and beyond doubt his expedition to La Plata cannot be considered successful, for it was intended to reach the Moluccas. One fixed idea of his life was the course to Cathay by the north. That idea he monopolized to himself. He overvalued its importance and thought to be the Columbus of a new highway to the east. Hence he may have underrated his father's achievements as he brooded over what he considered to be his own great secret. He theorized on the sphere and he theorized on the variation of the compass, and he theorized on a method of finding longitude by the variation of the needle; so that even Richard Eden, who greatly admired him, wrote as follows: "Sebastian Cabot on his death-bed told me that he had the knowledge thereof (longitude by variation) by divine revelation, yet so that he might not teach any man. But I thinke that the goode olde man in that extreme age somewhat doted, and had not, yet even in the article of death, utterly shaken off all worldlye vaine glorie." These words would seem to contain the solution of most of the mystery of the suppression of John Cabot's name in the narratives of Peter Martyr, Ramusio, Gomara, and all the other writers who derived their information from Sebastian Cabot during his long residence in Spain.

And now we may pass on to the consideration of the second voyage; and first among the writers, in order of time as also in order of importance, is Peter Martyr of Anghiera, who published his Decades of the New World in 1516. Sebastian Cabot had then been in Spain for four years, high in office and in royal favor. Peter Martyr was his "familiar friend and comrade," and tells the Pope, to whom these Decades were addressed as letters, that he wrote from information derived from Cabot's own lips. Here, I venture to think, many of the writers on this subject have gone astray; for the whole question changes. Martyr knows of only one voyage, and that was beyond doubt the voyage of 1498; he knows of only one discoverer, and that the man from whose lips he writes the narrative. The landfall is far north, in a region of ice and perpetual daylight. At the very outset the subject is stated to be "those northern seas," and then Peter Martyr goes on to say that Sebastian Cabot furnished two ships at his own charges; and that, with three hundred men, he sailed toward the north pole, where he saw land, and that then he was compelled to turn westward; and after that he coasted to the south until he reached the latitude of Gibraltar; and that he was west of the longitude of Cuba. In other words, he struck land far in the north, and from that point he sailed south along the coast as far as Cape Hatteras. That Labrador was the landfall seems clear; for he met large masses of ice in the month of July. These were not merely the bergs of the western ocean, but masses of field-ice, which compelled him to change his course from north to west, and finally to turn southward. The same writer states that Cabot himself named a portion of the great land he coasted "Baccalaos," because of the quantity of fish, which was so great that they hindered the sailing of his ships, and that these fishes were called baccalaos by the natives. This statement has given rise to much dispute. As to the quantity of fish, all succeeding writers concur that it was immense beyond conception; and probably the swarming of the salmon up the rivers of our Pacific coast may afford a parallel; but that Cabot did not so name the country is abundantly clear. A very exhaustive note on the word will be found at page 131 of Dr. Bourinot's Cape Breton.

Bearing in mind the preceding considerations, the study of the early maps will become profitable, and I would now direct attention to them to ascertain what light they may throw upon the landfall of John Cabot and the island of St. John opposite to it. It must be remembered that John Cabot took the time to go on shore at his landfall, and planted the banners of England and St. Mark there. At that time of year and in that latitude it was light at half-past three, but it was five when he saw land, and he had to reach it and perform the ceremonies appropriate for such occasions; so the island opposite could not be far away. The island, then, will be useful to identify the landfall if we find it occurring frequently on the succeeding maps.

Don Pedro de Ayala, joint Spanish ambassador at London, wrote, on July 25, 1498, to his sovereigns that he had procured and would send a copy of John Cabot's chart of his first voyage. This map of Juan de la Cosa is evidence that Ayala fulfilled his promise. It is a manuscript map made at the end of the year 1500, by the eminent Biscayan pilot, who, if not the equal of Columbus in nautical and cosmographical knowledge, was easily the second to him. Upon it there is a continuous coast line from Labrador to Florida, showing that the claim made by Sebastian Cabot of having coasted from a region of ice and snow to the latitude of Gibraltar was accepted as true by La Cosa, whatever later Spanish writers may have said. Recent writers of authority have arrived at the conclusion that, immediately after Columbus and Cabot had opened the way, many independent adventurers visited the western seas; for there are a number of geographical facts recorded on the earliest charts not easy to account for on any other hypothesis. Dr. Justin Winsor shows that La Cosa, and others of the great sailors of the earliest years of discovery, soon recognized that they had encountered a veritable barrier to Asia, consisting of islands, or an island of continental size, through which they had to find a passage to the golden East. Their views were not, however, generally accepted.

That La Cosa based the northern part of his map upon Cabot's discoveries is demonstrated by the English flags marked along the coast and the legend "Mar descubierto por Ingleses," because no English but the Cabot expeditions had been there; and what is evidently intended for Cape Race is called "Cavo de Ynglaterra." The English flags mark off the coast from that cape to what may be considered as Cape Hatteras. Cabot, as before stated, confidently expected to reach Cathay. He sailed for that as his objective point, and he was looking for a broad western ocean, so that narrow openings were to him simply bays of greater or less depth. The sailors of those early voyages coasted from headland to headland, as plainly appears from many of the maps upon which the recesses of the sinuosities of the coast are not completed lines, and it must be borne in mind that in sailing between Newfoundland and Cape Breton the bold and peculiar contours of both can be seen at the same time. This is possible in anything like clear weather, but, in the bright weather of Midsummer Day, Cape Ray would necessarily have been seen from St. Paul's, and the opening might well have been taken for a deep indentation of the coast. Between "Cavo descubierto" and "Cavo St. Jorge" such an indentation is shown on the map, but the line is closed, showing that Cabot did not sail through.

Cavo descubierto ("the Discovered Cape"), and, close to it, "Mar descubierto por Ingleses!" What can be more evident than that the spot where Europeans first touched the American continent is thus indicated? Why otherwise should it especially be called "the Discovered Cape" if not because this cape was first discovered? It is stated elsewhere that on the same day, opposite the land, an island was also discovered; and in fact upon the Madrid fac-simile two small islands are found, one of which is near Cavo descubierto. The name "the Discovered Cape" at the extreme end of a series of names tells its own story. Cabot overran Cape Race and went south of St. Pierre and Miquelon without seeing them, and, continuing on a westerly course, hit Cape Breton at its most easterly point. An apt illustration occurs in a voyage made by the ship Bonaventure in 1591, recorded in Hakluyt. She overshot Cape Race without knowing it and came to the soundings on the bank south of St. Peter's, where they found twenty fathoms, and then the course was set northwest by north for Cape Ray. The course was sharply altered toward a definite and known point, but, if he did not see Cape Race, not knowing what was before him, Cabot would have had no object in abruptly altering his course, but, continuing his westerly course, would strike the east point of Cape Breton. That point, then, and not Cape North, would be "the Discovered Cape"—the prima vista—and there, not far off "over against the land," "opposite the land" (exadverso), he would find Scatari Island, which would be the island of St. John, so continually attendant on Cape Breton upon the succeeding maps. If this theory be accepted, all becomes clear, and the little Matthew, having achieved success, having demonstrated the existence of Cathay within easy reach of England, returned home, noticing and naming the salient features of the south coast of Newfoundland. She had not too much time to do it, for she was back in Bristol in thirty-four days at most. This theory is further confirmed by the circumstance recorded by Pasqualigo that, as Cabot returned, he saw two islands on the right which he had not time to examine, being short of provisions. These islands would be St. Pierre and Miquelon; for there are two, and only two, important islands possible to be seen at the right on the south coast of Newfoundland on the homeward course. La Cosa, beside the two small islands above noted, has marked on his map three larger islands, I. de la Trinidad, S. Grigor, and I. Verde, but they are not laid down on the map in the places of St. Pierre and Miquelon, nor are there any islands existing in the positions shown. I. de la Trinidad is doubtless the peninsula of Burin, as would appear by its position almost in contact with the land, and its very peculiar shape. In coasting along, it would appear as an island, for the isthmus is very narrow, and St. Pierre and Miquelon would be clearly seen as islands on the right. As for the bearings of the coast, it will appear by a comparison with Champlain's large map that they are compass bearings, for they are the same on both.

I have dwelt at length upon the map of La Cosa, because, for our northern coasts, it is in effect John Cabot's map. After the return of the second expedition, the English made a few voyages, but soon fell back into the old rut of their Iceland trade. The expedition was beyond question a commercial failure, and therefore, like the practical people they are, they neglected that new continent which was destined to become the chief theatre for the expansion of their race. Their fishermen were for many years to be found in small numbers only on the coast, and, as before, their supply of codfish was drawn from Iceland, where they could sell goods in exchange.

Meantime the Bretons and Normans, and the Basques of France and Spain, and the Portuguese grasped that which England practically abandoned. That landfall which Cabot gave her in 1497 cost much blood and treasure to win back in 1758. The French fishermen were on the coast as early as 1504, and the names on La Cosa's map were displaced by French names still surviving on the south coast and on what is called the "French shore" of Newfoundland. Robert Thorne in 1527—and no doubt others unrecorded—in vain urged upon the English government to vindicate its right. According to the papal bulls and the treaty of Tordesillas, the new lands were Portuguese east of a meridian three hundred seventy leagues west of the Cape de Verd Islands and Spanish to the west of it. Baccalaos and Labrador were considered to be Portuguese; and, upon the maps, when any mention is made of English discoveries they are accordingly relegated to Greenland or the far north of Labrador. The whole claim of England went by abandonment and default. The Portuguese, as the Rev. Dr. Patterson has shown, named all the east coast of Newfoundland, and their traces are even yet found on the coasts of Nova Scotia and of Cape Breton.

Therefore it is that the maps we have now to refer to are not so much Spanish as Portuguese. They will tell us nothing of the English, nor of Cabot, but we shall be able to follow his island of St. John—the only one of his names which survived. The outlines of some very early maps are given by Kunstmann, Kretschmer, and Winsor, but until 1505 they have no bearing upon our problem. In that year Reinel's map was made, and, although Newfoundland forms part of terra firma, the openings north and south of it are plainly indicated by unclosed lines. Cape Race has received its permanent name, "Raso" and, although only the east coast of Newfoundland is named, there is no possibility of mistaking the easternmost point of Cape Breton. Just opposite (ex adverso) is laid down and named the island of Sam Joha, in latitude 46 deg., the precise latitude of Scatari Island. Here, then, in 1505, is in this island of St. John an independent testimony to the landfall of 1497—not off Cape North, which does not yet appear, nor inside the gulf, for it is not even indicated—but in the Atlantic Ocean, at the cape of Cape Breton—the "Cavo descubierto" of La Cosa.

I have not considered it necessary to prove that if Cabot's landfall were Cape North he could not have discovered the low lying shore of Prince Edward Island on the same day. I have preferred to show that Prince Edward Island was not known as an island and did not appear on any map for one hundred years after John Cabot's death. If Cabot had possessed a modern map, and had been looking for Prince Edward Island, and had pushed on without landing at the north cape of Cape Breton, and had shaped his course southward, he might have seen it in a long Midsummer Day, but Cabot did not press on. He landed and examined the country, and found close to it St. John's Island, which he also examined. Upon that easternmost point of this Nova Scotian land of our common country John Cabot planted the banner of St. George on June 24, 1497, more than one year before Columbus set foot upon the main continent of America, and now, after four hundred years, despite all the chances and changes of this Western World, that banner is floating there, a witness to our existing union with our distant mother-land across the ocean.



A.D. 1498


The same goal which attracted the Spaniards westward drew the Portuguese south, the desire to find a sea route to India, and thus garner the enormous profits of the trade in spices and other Indian wealth. In the early years of the fifteenth century the Portuguese, overshadowed by the Spanish kingdom, which almost enclosed their country, realized that they could extend their territory only by colonizing beyond seas. They began, therefore, to send out expeditions, and in 1410 discovered the island of Madeira. Soon afterward discoveries were undertaken by Prince Henry, called the "Navigator," whose whole life was given to these enterprises. Before his death, 1460, his Portuguese mariners, in successive voyages, had worked their way well down the western coast of Africa. In 1462 an expedition reached Sierra Leone, almost half way down the continent. Nine years later the equator was passed, and in 1486 Bartholomew Dias sailed around the southern point of Africa, which he had been sent to discover. On his return voyage, 1487, he found the Cape of Good Hope, having before doubled it without knowing that he had done so.[2]

To Portuguese navigators the way to India by this route was soon made clear. In 1497 Vasco da Gama was placed by King Emanuel I of Portugal in command of an expedition of three small ships sent to discover such a route. He sailed from Lisbon in July of that year, in November doubled the Cape of Good Hope, arrived at Calicut, on the Malabar coast of India, in May, 1498, and in September, 1499, returned to Lisbon. He was accompanied by his brother Paulo, who, with other of the celebrated navigator's companions, appears in the following account of this great achievement. The quaint narrative was written by the chronicler who accompanied the expedition in person.

The ships being equipped and ready, one Sunday the King went with Queen Dona Maria to hear mass, which was said pontifically by the bishop Calcadilha, who also made a discourse in praise of the voyage, and holy design of the King in regard to the new discovery which he was commanding to be made; and he called upon the people to pray to the Lord that the voyage might be for his holy service, and for the exalting of his holy faith, and for the increase of the good and honor of the kingdom of Portugal. At the mass the good brothers Da Gama and their associates were present, richly dressed, and the King showed them great honor and favor, as they stood close to the curtain, where also were the principal lords of the realm and gentlemen of the court. Mass being over, the King came out from the curtain and spoke to the captains, who placed themselves on their knees before him; and they spoke to him, saying:

"Sire, the honor we are receiving from your highness is so great that with a hundred bodies and lives which we might expend in your service we never could repay the least part of it, since greater honors were never shown by a sovereign to his vassals than you have shown us, as the great prince, king, and lord that you are, with such magnanimity and honor that, if at this very moment we should die, our lineage should remain in the highest degree of honor which is possible, only because your highness has chosen and sent us for this work, while you have so many and such noble vassals to whom to commit it; for which we are already recompensed before rendering this service, and until we end our lives in performing it. For this we beg of the mercy of the Lord, that he direct us, and we may perform such works that he, the Lord, and your highness also, may be served in some measure in this so great favor that has been shown us, as he knows that such is our desire; and should we not be deserving to serve him in this voyage, and so holy undertaking, may the Lord be pleased though we may pay with our lives for our shortcomings in the work. We promise your highness that our lives will be the matters of least moment that we shall adventure in this so great favor that has been shown us, and that we will not return before your highness with our lives in our bodies without bringing some certain information of that which your highness desires."

And they all again kissed the hands of the King and of the Queen. Then the King came forth from the cathedral and went to his palace, which then was in the residence of the alcazar in the castle. There went before him the captains, and before them the standard which was carried by their ensign in whom they trusted, and on arriving at the palace the King dismissed them, and they again kissed his and the Queen's hand. Vasco da Gama on a horse, with all the men of the fleet on foot, richly dressed in liveries, and accompanied by all the gentlemen of the court, went down to the wharf on the bank, and embarked in their boats, and the standard went in that of Paulo da Gama. Then, taking leave of the gentlemen, they went to the ships, and on their arrival they fired all their artillery, and the ships were dressed out gayly with standards and flags and many ornaments, and the royal standard was at once placed at the top of the mast of Paulo da Gama; for so Vasco da Gama commanded. Discharging all their artillery, they loosened the sails, and went beating to windward on the river of Lisbon, tacking until they came to anchor at Belen, where they remained three days waiting for a wind to go out.

There they made a muster of the crews, and the King was there all the time in the monastery, where all confessed and communicated. The King commanded that they should write down in a book all the men of each ship by name, with the names of their fathers, mothers, and wives of the married men, and the places of which they were native; and the King ordered that this book should be preserved in the House of the Mines, in order that the payments which were due should be made upon their return. The King also ordered that a hundred crusadoes should be paid to each of the married men for them to leave it to their wives, and forty crusadoes to each of the single men, for them to fit themselves out with certain things; for, as to provisions, they had not got to lay them in, for the ships were full of them. To the two brothers was paid a gratification of two thousand crusadoes to each of them, and a thousand to Nicolas Coelho.

When it was the day of our Lady of March (the 25, 1497), all heard mass; they then embarked, and loosened the sails, and went forth from the river, the King coming out to accompany them in his boat, and addressing them all with blessings and good wishes. When he took leave of them, his boat lay on its oars until they disappeared, as is shown in the painting of his city of Lisbon. Vasco da Gama went in the ship Sao Rafael, and Paulo da Gama in the Sao Gabriel, and Nicolas Coelho in the other ship, Sao Miguel. In each ship there were as many as eighty men, officers and seamen, and the others of the leader's family, servants and relations, all filled with the desire to undertake the labor that was fitting for each, and with great trust in the favors which they hoped for from the King on their return to Portugal.

Paulo da Gama, as he went out with the Lisbon river, hauled down the royal standard from the masthead; but at the great supplications of his brother, who gave him good reasons why it was fitting that he should carry it, he again hoisted it. The two companions, standing out to sea, as I have said, made their way toward Cape Verd, and for that purpose they stood well out to sea to make the coast, which they knew they would find, as it advanced much to seaward, as they learned from the sailors who had been in the caravels of Janinfante. They ran as far as they could to sea in the direction of the wind, to double the land without difficulty; and thus they navigated until they made the coast, and, having reconnoitred it, they tacked and stood out to sea, hauling on the bowline as much as they could, as so they ran for many days.

And as it seemed to them that now they could double the land, they again tacked toward the coast, also on the bowline, against the wind, until they again saw the coast, much farther on than where the caravels had reached, which the masters knew from the soundings which they got written down from the voyage of Janinfante, and the days which they found to have less sun by the clocks. Having well ascertained this, they stood out again to sea; thus forcing the ships to windward, they went so far out to the sea toward the south that there was almost not six hours of sunlight in the day; and the wind was very powerful, so that the sea was very fearful to see, without ever being smooth either by day or night, but they always met with storms, so that the crews suffered much hardship. After a month that they had run on this tack, they stood into shore and went as long as they could, all praying to the Lord that they might have doubled beyond the land; but when they again saw it they were very sad, though they found themselves much advanced by the signs of the soundings which the pilots took, and they saw land of another shape which they had not before seen.

Seeing that the coast ran out to sea, the masters and pilots were in great confusion, and doubtful of standing out again to sea, saying that the land went across the sea and had no end to it. This being heard of by Vasco da Gama—according, as it was presumed, to the information he had from the Jew Zacuto—he told the pilots that they should not imagine such a thing, and that without doubt they would find the end of that land, and beyond it much sea and lands to run by, and he said to them: "I assure you that the cape is very near, and, with another tack standing out to sea, when you return you will find the cape doubled." This Vasco da Gama said to encourage them, because he saw that they were much disheartened, and with the inclination to wish to put back to Portugal. So he ordered them to put the ships about to sea, which they did, much against their will; for which reason Vasco da Gama determined to stand on this tack so long as to be able to double the end of the land, and besought all not to take account of their labors, since for that purpose they had ventured upon them; and that they should put their trust in the Lord that they would double the cape.

Thus he gave them great encouragement, without ever sleeping or taking repose, but always taking part with them in hardship, coming up at the boatswain's pipe as they all did. So they went on standing out to sea till they found it all broken up with the storm, with enormous waves and darkness. As the days were very short, it always seemed night; the masts and shrouds were stayed, because with the fury of the sea the ships seemed every moment to be going to pieces. The crews grew sick with fear and hardship, because also they could not prepare their food, and all clamored for putting back to Portugal, and that they did not choose to die like stupid people who sought death with their own hands; thus they made clamor and lamentation, of which there was much more in other ships. But the captains excused themselves, saying that they would do nothing except what Vasco da Gama did; and he and his companions underwent great labor.

As he was a very choleric man, at times with angry words he made them be silent, although he well saw how much reason they had at every moment to despair of their lives; and they had been going for about two months on that tack, and the masters and pilots cried out to him to take another tack; but the captain-major did not choose, though the ships were now letting in much water, by which their labors were doubled, because the days were short and the nights long, which caused them increased fear of death; and at this time they met with such cold rains that the men could not move. All cried out to God for mercy upon their souls, for now they no longer took heed of their lives. It now seemed to Vasco da Gama that the time was come for making another tack, and he comforted himself very angrily, swearing that if they did not double the cape he would stand out to sea again as many times until the cape was doubled, or there should happen whatever should please God. For which reason, from fear of this, the masters took much more trouble to advance as much as they could; and they took more heart on nearing the land, and escaping from the tempest of the sea; and all called upon God for mercy, and to give them guidance, when they saw themselves out of such great dangers.

Thus approaching the land, they found their labor less and the seas calmer, so they went on running for a long time, steering so as to make the land and to ease the ships, which they were better able to do at night when the captain slept, which the other ships did also, as they followed the lantern which Vasco da Gama carried; at night the ships showed lights to one another so as not to part company. Seeing how much they had run, and did not find the land, they sailed larger so as to make it; and as they did not find it, and as the sea and wind were moderate, they knew they had doubled the cape; on which great joy fell among them, and they gave great praise to the Lord on seeing themselves delivered from death. The pilots continued to sail more free, spreading all the sails; and, running in this manner, one morning they sighted some mountain peaks which seemed to touch the clouds; at which their pleasure was so great that all wept with joy, and all devoutly on their knees said the Salve. After running all day till night, they were not able to reach it, and discovered great mountain ridges; so, as it was night, they ran along the coast, which lay from east to west; and they took in all the sails, only running under large sails, for these were the orders of the captain-major.

The next day at dawn they again set all the sails and ran to the land, so that at midday they saw a beach which was all rocky, and, running along it, they saw deep creeks, and such large bays that they could not see the land at the end of them; they also found the mouths of great rivers, from which water came forth to the sea with a powerful current; here also, near the land, they found many fish, which they killed with fish-spears. The watchmen in the tops were always on the lookout to see if there were shoals ahead. The crews grew sick with fever from the fish which they ate, on which account they ate no more. The pilots, on heaving the lead, found no bottom; so they ran on for three days, and at night they kept away from the land and shortened sail.

Sailing in this manner, they fell in with the mouth of a large river, and the captain-major ordered a boat to be lowered, and the pilot to sound the entrance of the river; and he said it was superfluous, because if there was a shoal it would be burst through. Then they took in the sails, excepting the great one with which they entered the river, which was very large; and they went up it, the boat going before and sounding, and, approaching land, where they found twelve fathoms, they anchored. There they found very good fish, for the river was of fresh water; but in the whole of the river they found no beach, for there was nothing but rocks and crags. Then Vasco da Gama went to see his brother, and so did Nicolas Coelho, and they all dined with great satisfaction, talking of the hardships they had gone through.

When they had finished dining, Vasco da Gama ordered Nicolas Coelho to go in his boat up the river to see if he found any village. He went up more than five leagues, without finding anything besides many streams which came from between the mountains to pour into the river; there were no woods in the country, nothing but stones on both sides of the river; upon which he returned to the captain-major. Then the following day, before the morning, Vasco da Gama again ordered Nicolas Coelho to go in a boat with sails and oars, and with provisions to eat, and told him to go as far as the head of the river, to see if he could find anyone to speak to, to learn what country they were in. He went up the river a distance of more than twenty leagues, and returned without having found anything.

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