Raimondo Soncino, who wrote the following letter, was an Italian clergyman, spending some time in England in the reign of Henry VII. He gives one of the earliest reports of the voyage of John Cabot, this letter being written only about three months after Cabot’s return from his voyage of exploration. The letter not only gives some idea of the plans of Cabot, and the new English interest in discoveries and trade, but shows the keen interest of Italians, such as the writer of the letter and the duke of Milan, to whom it is addressed, in all that was going on in the world.
Perhaps among your Excellency’s many occupations, it may not displease you to learn how his Majesty here has won a part of Asia without a stroke of the sword. There is, in this kingdom, a Venetian fellow, Master John Caboto by name, of fine mind, greatly skilled in navigation, who, seeing that those most serene kings, first the king of Portugal and then the king of Spain, have occupied unknown islands, determined to make a like acquisition for his Majesty aforesaid.
And having obtained royal grants that he should have the usufruct of all that he should discover, provided that the ownership of the same is reserved to the crown, with a small ship and eighteen persons he committed himself to fortune; and, having set out from Bristol, a western port of this kingdom, he passed the western limits of Ireland. Then standing to the northward, he began to sail toward the oriental regions, leaving (after a few days) the north star on his right 312 hand. Having wandered about considerably, at last he struck the mainland, where he planted the royal banner and took possession on behalf of this king, and having taken certain tokens, returned thence.
The said Master John, as being foreign born and poor, would not be believed, if his comrades, who are almost all Englishmen and from Bristol, did not testify that what he says is true. This Master John has the description of the world on a chart, and also on a solid globe which he has made, and he shows where he landed, and that going toward the east he passed considerably beyond the country of the Tanais. And they say that it is a very good and temperate country, and they think that Brazil wood and silk grow there; and they affirm that that sea is covered with fishes, which are caught not only with the net but with baskets, a stone being tied to the baskets in order that they may sink in the water. And this I heard the said Master John relate.
to reach Japan And the aforesaid Englishmen, his comrades, say that they will bring so much fish that this kingdom will no longer have need of Iceland, from which country there comes a very great store of fish, which are called stockfish. But Master John has set his mind on something greater; for he expects to go farther on toward the east from that place already occupied, constantly hugging the shore, until he shall be over against an island, by him called Cipango, situated in the equinoctial region, where he thinks all the spices of the world, and also the precious stones, originate.
He says that in former times he was at Mecca, whither spices are brought by caravans from distant countries, and that those who brought them, on being asked where the said spices grow, answered that they do not know, but that other caravans come to their homes with this merchandise from distant countries, and these again report that they are brought to them from other remote regions.
And he argues thus, — that if the Orientals affirmed to the Southerners that these things come from a distance from them, and so from hand to hand; presupposing the rotundity of the earth it must be that the last ones get them at the north
that the spice
regions can be
sailing to the
north and west toward the west; and he said it in such a way that, having nothing to gain or lose by it I too believe it; and, what is more, the king here, who is wise and not lavish, likewise puts some faith in him; for ever since his return he has made good provision for him, as the same Master John tells. And it is said that in the spring his Majesty aforenamed will fit out some ships, and will, besides, give him all the convicts, and they will go to that country to make a colony, by means of which they hope to establish in London a greater emporium of spices than there is in Alexandria. The chief men of the enterprise are of Bristol, great sailors, who, now that they know where to go, say that it is not a voyage of more than fifteen days, nor do they ever have storms after they get away from Ireland.
petition for a
good office I have also talked with a Burgundian, a comrade of Master John’s, who confirms everything, and wishes to return thither because the admiral (for so Master John already entitles himself) has given him an island; and he has given another one to a barber of his from Castiglione-of-Genoa, and both of them regard themselves as counts, nor does my lord, the admiral, esteem himself anything less than a prince. I think that with this expedition there will go several poor Italian monks, who have all been promised bishoprics. And, as I have become a friend of the admiral’s, if I wished to go thither I should get an archbishopric. But I have thought that the benefices which your Excellency has in store for me are a surer thing. Therefore I beg that if these should fall vacant in my absence, you will cause possession to be given to me, taking measures to do this when it is needed, in order that they be not taken from me by others, who, because they are present, can be more diligent than I. During my stay in this country I have frequently been brought to the pass of eating ten or twelve dishes at every meal, and sitting at table three hours at a time twice a day, for the sake of your Excellency, — to whom I now humbly commend myself.
Very humble servant,