The Race to the New World - Christopher Columbus, John Cabot and a Lost History of Discovery
by Hunter, Douglas
pub. by Palgrave McMillan - St. Martins, NY 2011       isbn 978-0-230-34165-4 (hardcover 978-0-230-11011-3) -     - LCCN = 2012011581 - - 277 p. - maps p vii - viii - Notes and commentary p 253-263 - Bibliography p 265-269 - Index p 271-277
This book is a biographical and historical sketch of the lives and efforts of Christopher Columbus and John Cabot.
More than any other book I have read on the 1480-1500 era of discovery, and I have read quite a few, this one refers to and discusses primary documents. I had not known that so many primary documents were extant. It brings to life the correspondence of ambassadors of Venice and Spain to Henry VIIs England as well as letters of Martin Behaim (a German who traveled widely and created a globe of the earth which is still extant today.) The globe which shows the earth as it was known before 1492, without the continents of N. America or S. America. It is the 3 dimensional representation of the Paolo del Pozzo Toscanelli map of the world. This is the map which gave the idea that it was possible to sail west to get to the East. There was disagreement about the size of the earth, by Toscanelli it was possible to sail west to get to the East. By other (more accurate) measurements it was too far across the Ocean Sea to be practical to sail west to get to the known riches of the East.
This book brings together all the major players in the rush to head west in expectation of finding the East with all its riches. It shows John Cabot in a rather poor light as one who rarely finished any project, but took the money at least on 2 major projects. He was one step ahead of his creditors most of his life. He had a judgement against him in a court in Venice from bad realestate deals and that was the cause of him hastely leaving Venice to avoid imprisonment. It mentions his son Sebastian Cabot who practically ignored the successful voyage of his father, and even intimated that it was his (Sebastians) own discovery.
There is considerable unveiling of correspondence between J. Cabot and King Ferdinand of Spain and other Spanish officials, which reveal what Cabot was doing previous to his moving to England.
Hunter also posites a time-line of who did what given what documentary evidence is available, piecing together what might have happened given very convincing lapses in the documentary evicance.
He also sets the whole of the discovery efforts within the situation of the time in Europe with the situation of Venice, the rise of Maximilian I (German Holy Roman Emperor), Joao II (King of Portugal) and his successor Manoel I, Charles VIII of France who invaded Naples (what is now Italy) during this time. There was a serious effort to get England to band together with the Holy Roman Emperor and Spain against France. There were dynastic marriages attempting to link Spain and England as well as some of the other kingdoms, some successful, some not. All this background to efforts of Columbus, Cabot, Behaim and several others to get funding to sail to the west, while the Treaty of Tordesillas (dividing the non-Christian world between Spain and Portugal) and its several modifications were either observed or ignored. During this time Henry VII of England was threatned by an impostor who claimed his throne, Perkin Warbeck who was sheltered by Maximillian I and later by the King of Scotland. Warbeck attempted to take England by force from Scotland. His invasion came to a quick end, but Warbeck escaped. Much later he was capturd by Henry VII, escaped again and eventually recanted his story admitting he was the Flemish son of John Osbek. Eventually the pretender was hung and Henry VII could breath easy.
One of the strange things I learned from this read is that in 1467 the Danish governor of Iceland was murdered by Englishmen when the governor tried to enforce Danish laws limiting fishing for cod in the Icelandic area. Some time later an agreement was reached where English fishermen paid for licenses to Denmark to fish off Iceland. Another item I had never before encountered were the letters written to Christopher Columbus sent by Hugh Say (writting under the name John Day), a merchant in Bristol and in London, England who reported on the activities of Cabot in England.
Some interesting sources include documents from Jerome Munzer a wandering (not quite ambassador) from Germany and his chronicle of his travels through Spain and Portugal. There are the letters of Pedro de Ayala (Spanish ambassador to Scotland vs. Roderigo de Puebla, Spains ambassador to England who served Henry VII of England better than his own monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella).
Read this book if you wish to have a better understanding of European history and complications during the early period of the discovery of the Americas.
~ 2015-03-28 ~

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