I would like to thank Professor Wendy Childs, Dr. Peter Pope and Dr. Jeff Reed for their comments on an earlier draft of this article, and ‘Burning Gold Productions’ (Bristol) for contributing towards some of the research costs involved.
Henry VII and the Bristol expeditions to North America: the Condon documents
Article first published online: 27 AUG 2009
© Institute of Historical Research 2009
Volume 83, Issue 221, pages 444–454, August 2010
How to Cite
Jones, E. T. (2010), Henry VII and the Bristol expeditions to North America: the Condon documents. Historical Research, 83: 444–454. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2281.2009.00519.x
I would like to thank Professor Wendy Childs, Dr. Peter Pope and Dr. Jeff Reed for their comments on an earlier draft of this article, and ‘Burning Gold Productions’ (Bristol) for contributing towards some of the research costs involved.
- Issue published online: 25 JUN 2010
- Article first published online: 27 AUG 2009
Little is known about the Bristol discovery voyages of the years 1496–1508 and, as my recent article in this journal has shown, even less is certain. The current article contributes to research in this field by publishing two ‘new’ documents, which were first discovered in the nineteen-seventies but, for the reasons explained here, have not been published until now. These documents are significant both because they reveal important new information about the voyages and because they serve to confirm some of the remarkable, but previously unsubstantiated, claims made about the expeditions by the late Dr. Alwyn Ruddock.
In the late nineteen-seventies, Margaret Condon, an assistant keeper at the then Public Record Office, made two important document discoveries that related to the earliest English expeditions to North America (1496–1508). One was a letter from Henry VII to his lord chancellor, John Morton (d. 1500), which ordered a stay of judicial proceedings against William Weston, a Bristol merchant who was about to go on a voyage to the ‘new founde land’. The other was an entry in a declared butlerage account, relating to 1502, which recorded the payment of £100 of the king's money to Hugh Elliot of Bristol and his associates. The payment was a reward in support of their costs for having sailed two ships to the ‘new found isle’; this being one of the names by which the lands discovered in North America were known at this time.
Although Margaret Condon was an expert on Henry VII, she knew little about the Bristol discovery voyages and was uncertain of the value of her finds, or even about whether they were entirely new. She therefore did little other than note their existence until 1981, when she came into contact with Professor David Beers Quinn, England's best-known discovery historian. On hearing of Miss Condon's finds, Quinn proposed writing an article about the documents and to this end he drafted a paper.1 What Quinn recognized is that these documents were indeed new finds and that, given that so little is known about either John Cabot's voyages of exploration (1496–8) or of the Bristol expeditions to North America in the subsequent decade, almost any new information about the voyages is valuable. Indeed, among other things, Quinn realized that Henry VII's letter, which he could date to the years 1498–1500, was the first to use the term ‘new founde land’, and that it appeared to be referring to a previously unknown expedition, led by a Bristol man, which must have taken place in either 1499or 1500. The very existence of such a voyage would therefore alter the standard narrative of the early and poorly documented English voyages to the New World. Meanwhile, the butlerage account demonstrated that the king's financial commitment to the voyages was greater than had previously been realized. For, as will be seen later, the £100 reward represented his largest single financial contribution to any of the expeditions launched from Bristol.
Apart from drafting a paper at the end of 1981, Quinn also passed information about the butlerage account to Dr. Alwyn Ruddock, a historian he had known since the nineteen-thirties.2 He did this because he had been aware since 1965 that, while researching in the Italian archives, Ruddock had found some important documents relating to the Cabot voyages.3 Moreover, Quinn knew that, since this discovery, Ruddock had been working on a book about the Bristol voyages, which was to incorporate both her Italian finds and some new discoveries she had made in English archives.4 Quinn understood the quality of Ruddock's scholarship and he recognized the value of the articles she had produced on the subject.5 He therefore seemed to have thought it wise to find out what Ruddock's plans were before publishing. In response to his letters, Ruddock confirmed that the information in the butlerage account was new to her and she proposed including it in her forthcoming book about the voyages of John and Sebastian Cabot, with ‘due acknowledgements’ to Condon.6 But her correspondence also revealed that she was still planning on publishing. This, combined perhaps with the fact that Ruddock's husband had died recently, seems to have persuaded Quinn to leave matters to her. At any rate, he did nothing more until 1985 when, in a renewed exchange with Condon, he noted that:
I have not done any more research on the material you found and so hopefully passed on to me in 1981 . . . One reason I held back [was] because I hoped against hope that Alwyn Ruddock would at last get out her book on Columbus and Cabot, but there is no sign of it after another four years so I do not feel any compunction about publishing in what she regards as her area.7
Despite the assertion that he would now publish, Quinn again held back. Once more, this seems to have been related to his renewed correspondence with Ruddock. From the letters they exchanged over the next few years, it gradually became clear to Quinn how much Ruddock had found.8 As it happened, it was therefore not until 1992, when Quinn became committed to writing an addendum to a reissued Historical Association booklet about Sebastian Cabot, that he decided to publicize Condon's finds. To this end, he wrote a draft and sent this to Ruddock to comment on.9 Her reaction was unfavourable. This was not because Ruddock felt that Condon's finds were not worth publishing; indeed, she urged Quinn to go ahead and publish these, suggesting that it would be better if he ‘concentrated more on reporting the new discoveries at greater length and cut out the guesswork’.10 What Ruddock took exception to was Quinn's interpretation of the finds and the theories he advanced about their significance. For instance, on William Weston's voyage she suggested that:
The document Miss Condon has found does not show Henry VII trying to find some other men in Bristol to make a further expedition after John Cabot's last voyage ended in failure, as you say in your draft. William Weston (not John Weston) was a leading figure supporting John Cabot's 1498 voyage. The document is not dated but it must belong to the months immediately before the departure of the 1498 voyage. Weston, like John Cabot, returned from this voyage. He is an interesting figure but seems to have been broken financially and died not long afterwards.
All this, and there is more in this vein, suggested that Ruddock was far ahead of Quinn in her research. Since Ruddock really seemed finally to be ready to publish, Quinn wrote to inform Condon that:
Since I saw you I have been in contact with Dr Ruddock and it seems clear that she has so much extra material on the Cabots, notably John, that it would be unwise for me to go so far in speculation as I do in the draft I sent to you sometime ago.11
Quinn then abandoned his plans to do further work on this subject. The final version of his booklet contained no mention of Margaret Condon's finds and he left the field to Ruddock.12 By this time, Quinn, aged eighty-three, was anyway withdrawing from scholarship; so when he found out that Ruddock had secured a book contract with the University of Exeter Press, it appears that he felt it best to leave matters to her.13
In the event Alwyn Ruddock never did complete her book. Quinn died in 2002 and Ruddock in December 2005. Moreover, on her death, Ruddock ordered the complete destruction of all her research, including everything that related to the Bristol voyages. Given that it had long been rumoured that her finds were, in Quinn's own words, ‘revolutionary’, I set out to see what could be recovered from Ruddock's research. The outcome of this search, up to the start of 2007, has already been published in this journal, along with details of Ruddock's remarkable claims.14 These included her apparent discovery of who financed the voyages and why they did so, further information about the earliest voyages of 1496/7 and, most importantly, information about the achievements of the 1498 voyage, which were said to encompass the exploration of the greater part of North America's east coast and the establishment of the continent's first Christian settlement.
Following the publication of my article on ‘Alwyn Ruddock’, a search was undertaken of the 165 boxes of research notes and correspondence that Quinn, before his death, had left to the Library of Congress.15 This work alerted me to Margaret Condon's unpublished finds and led me to contact her. The purpose of this article is thus to do what should have been done a quarter of a century ago and publish, with Miss Condon's assistance and support, the documents she discovered, together with some of her own investigations of the matter. In addition, this article will discuss some related documents and will draw attention to both the general significance of the finds and their implications.
Document 1. Letter: Henry VII to John Morton, lord chancellor16
To the moost reverend fader in god our right
trusty and right entierly welbeloved the
Cardynall Archiebisshop of Canterbury Primat
of all England and Chaunceller of the same
HR By the king
Moost reverend fader in god right trusty and right entirely welbeloved We grete you hertly wele And wher as we bee enfourmed that upon certain matiers of variaunce depending before you in the court of oure Chauncery betwixt John Esterfelde of our Towne of Bristowe marchant on the oon partye and William Weston of the same marchant on the other. A certain injuncion lately passed out of our said Court ayenst the said William. Soo it is that we entende that he shall shortly with goddes grace passe and saille for to serche and fynde if he can the new founde land. Wherfor and for other causes and consideracions us specially moeving we wol and desire you to see that almaner processes and suytes concernyng the said matiers and Inujuncion bee utterly put in suspense and delaye till that the said William shalbe retourned from the said journey Soo that by reason of the same he susteigne noo losse ner dammage during his absence As our greet trust is in you Yeven under our signet at oure Manour of Grenewiche the xijth day of Marche.
As can be seen, this letter amounts to an instruction from the king to his lord chancellor, John Morton, to suspend all legal proceedings relating to a chancery court case between John Esterfeld and William Weston, merchants of Bristol. The king had intervened because it was his intention that William should shortly sail on an expedition to the ‘new founde land’. Although the year is not given, the letter must have been written on either 12 March 1498, 1499 or 1500. Since the letter refers to the ‘new founde land’, it must post-date John Cabot's discovery in the summer of 1497; since Morton died in September 1500, it can not be later than that. Moreover, as Condon noted, the years 1498–1500 are the only three during the chancellorship of Cardinal Morton (1494–1500) in which the king was at Greenwich on 12 March.17 In theory the letter could have been written in any one of these years. On the other hand, 1498 can almost certainly be ruled out because, during the spring of that year, John Cabot was himself preparing a five-ship expedition to North America. In 1496 Cabot had been granted a royal patent that gave him a monopoly over the exploration and exploitation of any lands he discovered to the west. This was followed on 3 February 1498 by a further patent, which extended the explorer's privileges.18 In addition, the king had shown his favour by granting Cabot a pension of twenty pounds per annum and had contributed both a ship and some finance to the 1498 expedition.19 Given this, it seems highly unlikely that Henry VII would have been willing to suspend legal proceedings in one of his courts to allow someone to undertake an unlicensed expedition that would have broken the terms of his own patent. A date of 1498 can thus only be considered plausible if Weston had been sailing as part of Cabot's expedition. Yet, the wording of the document seems to preclude this possibility. In the letter the king states that ‘we entende that he [Weston] shall shortly with goddes grace passe and saille for to serche and fynde if he can the new founde land’.20 This implies that Weston was to lead the expedition and, as such, would be responsible for the navigation. Neither of these things would have been true if Weston had been sailing with Cabot in 1498. It is therefore almost certain that the king's instruction refers to a previously unknown expedition in the spring of either 1499 or 1500.
As noted earlier, when Ruddock read Quinn's 1992 draft, she assumed that the document Condon had found was referring to Weston's participation in the 1498 expedition. On the other hand, Quinn had only very briefly mentioned Condon's find in his draft and he provided Ruddock with neither a copy of the letter nor the document reference to it. Indeed, his direct discussion on what was found was limited to the following sentence:
Miss Condon found that the king attempted to obtain the services of two further Bristol men, the veterena [sic] merchant John Esterfield and a somewhat less well-known trader, John [sic] Weston, who will ‘shortly . . . pass and sail for to search and find if he can, the New Found Island [sic]’.21
The most charitable thing that can be said about this passage is that it was a hurried draft, given that Quinn got William Weston's name wrong, the destination wrong and mistakenly claimed that John ‘Esterfield’ was part of the expedition. Since this passage is all that Ruddock had to go on, her belief that Condon had found something referring to the 1498 voyage is understandable. In her response to Quinn's draft, as quoted above, Ruddock revealed that she already knew a great deal about Weston's involvement with Cabot. She noted that ‘William Weston (not John Weston) was a leading figure supporting John Cabot's 1498 voyage’. She was later also to provide additional information about Weston, stating that he was an ‘important Bristol supporter’ of Cabot who was later to receive compensation from the king for his involvement in ‘the first North-West Atlantic voyage’, which she said took place in 1499.22
If the evidence from the king's letter is put together with Ruddock's apparent discovery of a 1499 voyage into the north-west Atlantic, led by William Weston, it seems likely that the letter from Henry VII was written on 12 March 1499. To suppose this, it would be necessary to assume either that Weston did not go on the 1498 voyage, or that he went there and then returned, along with the other Bristol ships that Ruddock said went back from Newfoundland to Bristol at the end of 1498.23 Weston could then have sailed in 1499, having first gained from the king a stay of execution on the injunction issued on him by chancery. Having secured his legal position until his return, Weston might then have sailed to Newfoundland and from there headed up the coast of Labrador, perhaps in the hope of finding a north-west passage to the Orient. Such an interpretation would make sense of the wording of the king's letter, with its implication that Weston was in charge of the planned voyage. That Weston was an important supporter of Cabot would also help to explain how Weston could have conducted an expedition without getting a separate royal patent from the king. As pointed out earlier, in 1496 Cabot acquired a patent for his expeditions that granted him monopoly rights to explore and exploit any lands he discovered. This included the particular proviso that any new lands he found ‘may not be frequented or visited by any other subjects of ours whatsoever without the licence of the aforesaid John and his sons and of their deputies’.24 Since no further exploration patents were granted until 1501, Weston's own voyage to ‘the new founde land’ (that is, to the land already discovered by Cabot) would only have been legally possible if the voyage was undertaken under Cabot's patent. This would have been possible in one of two circumstances. Either Cabot had made Weston one of his ‘deputies’ or, in return for Weston's support, Cabot had formally assigned the Bristolian some of his rights from the patent. This was certainly an option legally; indeed, in the case of some of the Bristol expeditions that took place a few years later, it is clear that exploration patent rights were assigned to third parties.25
In the absence of the documents on which Ruddock based her claims, it is impossible to say for certain whether Weston's expedition took place in 1499 or 1500. On the other hand, it does seem extremely unlikely that the expedition took place in 1498 and there are very good reasons for supposing that Weston was operating under Cabot's patent. If nothing else, the letter therefore records the existence of the first English-led expedition to North America, commanded by a previously unknown Bristol explorer, who was probably linked to Cabot. The letter also contains, as Quinn pointed out, the first recorded reference to the ‘new founde land’, which should be of particular interest to the inhabitants of the eponymous Canadian province.26
To try to find out more about Weston's voyage and his motives for engaging in it, one of the most obvious courses of action was to search for the chancery case to which the king's letter refers. Fortunately, the transcript of the chancery petition, which includes Weston's answer and John Esterfeld's replication, has survived.27 As is normal with such early chancery court cases, the petition can only be dated internally through its reference to the lord chancellor. In this case, the petition was intended for John Morton, who became a cardinal in 1494 and who died in September 1500. Although this does not help to date the letter more precisely, the petition is instructive. It revealsthat William Weston and his wife Agnes were being prosecuted by John Esterfeld of Bristol, merchant, in the latter's capacity as the executor of the will of John Foster (d. 1492).28 Foster was Agnes's father and, on his death, he had left her a house on Corn Street in Bristol, which was one of the principal commercial streets in the town. The house was, however, only left ‘during the life of the said Agnes’ and, in return for occupying it, she was to maintain the property, pay a quit-rent of sixteen shillings per year to various religious institutions and pay, when required, up to ten shillings per year for the maintenance of an almshouse and associated chapel that Foster had established. If William and Agnes failed to maintain the Corn Street house, John Esterfeld was instructed to enter into the property within two months and sell it. Two-thirds of the revenue generated from the sale would then go towards the costs of endowing the almshouse and securing its future in perpetuity.
John Esterfeld's petition to the lord chancellor recited the terms of Foster's will and noted that William and Agnes had not paid the quit-rent. In addition, Esterfeld claimed that the Westons had refused him access to the house, which prevented him from either checking the condition of the property or showing it to those who might be interested in purchasing the reversion, thereby allowing the capital value of the house to be released before Agnes died. Esterfeld believed, however, that the property had not been maintained properly, having ‘ben credibly enformed that theseid mese is greately in decaye for lacke of reparacions’. While he had tried to pursue the matter in common law, this had proved unsuccessful, which was why he had taken the case to chancery, which could judge the matter on grounds of equity.
In his answer to the petition, William Weston tacitly accepted the principal facts laid out by Esterfeld. Weston did not dispute the summary of the will, he did not pretend to have paid any of the stipulated quit-rents and he did not deny that he had refused Esterfeld entry to the house. Although Weston repudiated the allegation that the house had fallen into disrepair, he provided no evidence to the contrary and offered no justification for why he was stopping Esterfeld from viewing it. Weston's defence rested instead on two claims. First, he argued that he and Agnes had acquired an ‘estate’ in the house, for the duration of Agnes's life, before John Foster's death. This being so, John Foster had no right to force further conditions on them in his will. Second, Weston argued that most of the quit-rent Foster had required of them was intended to pay the ground rent on the land on which the almshouse and chapel stood. This land was owned, respectively, by Tewkesbury abbey and the convent of St. Mary Magdelen in Bristol. Weston argued that, if the executors had fulfilled the requirements of the will in full, they would by this time have used the proceeds of the sale of other property bequeathed by Foster to purchase the land on which the almshouse and chapel stood and ensure their perpetual endowment. Doing this would have obviated the need to pay rent to the religious houses. In response, Esterfeld first pointed out that John Foster had made a lease of the property, which bound them to the conditions specified in the will. This flew in the face of the Westons' claim to have acquired any sort of informal estate in the property. Beyond this, Esterfeld noted that Foster's will simply stated that Agnes was to pay the stipulated quit-rents, as a beneficiary of the will, so long as she lived: there was no stated link between the ground rents payable to the two religious houses and the quit-rents payable by Agnes. This made Agnes liable to pay thesemoneys, whether or not the land on which the almshouse and chapel stood was purchased from the two houses.
The outcome of the case is not recorded on the chancery petition. On the other hand, a sense of what transpired can be inferred from the king's letter to the lord chancellor, which ordered the latter to put a stay on ‘a certain injunction lately passed out of our said court against the said William’, that could result in him experiencing ‘loss’ or ‘damage’ during his voyage to the ‘new founde land’. While the nature of the injunction is not specified, given the terms of the dispute, which centred on the condition of the house, it seems likely that Weston had, at the very least, been ordered to allow Esterfeld access so that its condition could be assessed and the reversion sold. Yet, even if this was all that the injunction required, it would have been tantamount to an eviction order if the inspection revealed that the house had indeed fallen into disrepair, for Esterfeld would then have firm grounds under common law for expelling the Westons from the property.
Given the difficulty in which Weston found himself following the injunction, it may be wondered whether his decision to undertake an expedition to the ‘new founde land’ was influenced by his desire to keep his house, or at any rate to put off the day of its repossession. By doing so, he would at least have extended his occupancy of a large and prestigious property, with a market rental of sixty-three shillings per year.29 On the basis of the available evidence it is not possible to determine whether Weston had been planning to undertake the voyage before the injunction was issued. However, the temporary suspension of the injunction by the king certainly gave him a motive for going on the expedition, for while he was away, his house would be safe from seizure. And if the expedition proved successful, Weston might well have hoped that the king would find ways to extricate him from his legal troubles, either by using his influence on the lord chancellor, or by asking Esterfeld to drop the case, or by offering Weston sufficient financial reward that he could repair the property and perhaps pay the arrears on the quit-rent.
Although the chancery case does not help to refine the dating of the king's letter, it does provide some insight into the man who undertook the voyage; and it offers at least one motive for his attempting it. The case also reveals that Weston and Cabot had something in common. Both were debtors who had financial reasons to leave their home cities. In Cabot's case, this occurred around 1488 when he left Venice as an insolvent debtor, thereafter to be pursued in various countries by the Venetian courts.30 In the case of Weston, his troubles stemmed from his failure to pay his rent and, apparently, maintain his house. As far as Weston was concerned, the strategy may have worked, at least to some extent. Ruddock claimed that he was ‘compensated’ on his return for his exploration of the north-west Atlantic and while the evidence for this has yet to be identified, it is clear that William Weston kept his house, for in 1505, Agnes, his widow, was still recorded as living there.31 It therefore seems that the property only reverted to become part of ‘Foster's Land’ after Agnes's death, comprising part of an estate that has served to keep Foster's Almshouse running to this day.
Document 2. Declared butlerage account, Michaelmas 1500–Michaelmas 150432
Bristoll In denar' per Hugonem Eliott et Robertum Poppeham
firmarii prisagii vinorum Regis ibidem solut ut pro dono
sive Regardo domini Regis concess' in sustentacionem et
supportacionem onerum dict' Hugonis et aliarum personarum
Navigenc' in iibus Nav' versus Insulam de novo Invent'
etc. per warraunt' domini Regis etc. C li
Bristol. In money by Hugh Eliott and Robert Poppeham
farmers of the king's prise of wine in the same place paid as a gift
or reward by our lord king's grant in maintenance and
support of the burdens of the said Hugh and other persons
sailing in 2 ships to the new found isle
etc. by our lord king's warrant £100
If the king's letter about William Weston is likely to be thought the more exciting of Margaret Condon's finds, her other discovery is also significant. The declared butlerage account records dues received and payments made from prisage and butlerage. These were dues levied on wine, prisage being a form of purveyance charged on wine imported by English merchants and butlerage a two shillings per tun duty payable on wine imported by aliens. The collection of these dues was commonly farmed out and, in Bristol at this time, the farmers were Hugh Eliot and Robert Popham.33 When the king wanted to pay out money in a particular port, this was often done by instructing the customer or butler to disburse the money from the royal dues that had been collected there. This had, for instance, happened a few years earlier, when John Cabot had his pension of twenty pounds per year paid from customs collected at Bristol.34 In 1502, the king probably chose to pay the reward of £100 out of the dues collected on prisage because one of the men he wanted to reward, Hugh Eliot, was himself one of the farmers of prisage and butlerage. This would have made the business of accounting and verification easier.
Although the above entry is not given a precise date, Margaret Condon was able to ascertain that it almost certainly related to the two years ending Michaelmas 1502. She did this by comparing the payments in the declared butlerage account, which covers the years 1500–4, with another surviving declaration from 1502–4.35 From this, she was able to work out the ‘discharge’ for 16–18 Henry VII (1500–2). Her calculations are reproduced in full below.36
From E 351/454 we know that the charge on the accountants after initial deductions was £387 6s.
This leaves an unexplained £100, which, as is clear from E 351/454, was not going into the Exchequer. This must therefore be our reward.
That Eliot received a reward for undertaking an expedition to North America is not altogether surprising. It has long been known that Hugh Eliot and his long-term business partner, Robert Thorne, were involved in the early Bristol discovery expeditions. Indeed, in 1527, the latter's son, Robert Thorne the younger, wrote to the English ambassador in Spain that Hugh Eliot and his father were ‘the discoverers of the Newfound Landes’, an assertion that was disseminated widely after John Dee and Richard Hakluyt published this claim in the late sixteenth century.37 While it has sometimes been believed that this discovery had taken place in 1494 (that is, before Cabot's voyage), archival research in the nineteenth and twentieth century has only been able to demonstrate Thorne's and Eliot's active engagement in the voyages from 1502 to 1504. In particular, on 7 January 1502 Robert Thorne, William Thorne and Hugh Eliot were granted a bounty of twenty pounds for buying a ship called the Gabriel of 120 tons on the grounds that ‘with the same ship the said merchauntes offre to doo unto us service at alle tymes at our commaundement’.38 It appears that the services the king had in mind were those of exploration, since the Gabriel went that summer on an expedition to North America.39 Moreover a reward of twenty pounds was paid in late September 1502 ‘to the merchauntes of bristoll that have bene in the newe founde launde’.40 Following this, Hugh Eliot and others were, on 9 December, granted a new ‘licencia inquirendi terram ignotam’.41 In this context, the payment that Condon found is comprehensible. The size of the payment is surprising, however, for the £100 reward dwarfed all the other rewards the king made to the explorers of this period, including those to John Cabot in 1497/8.42 Indeed, the £100 reward was the largest single payment the king made towards the cost of any of the expeditions, and while the payments dispersed in support of the 1498 voyage, which amounted collectively to £113 8s, were greater, these appear to have been figured as a loan or investment rather than as a gift.43 Apart from this point, it may be noted that the butlerage entry is interesting in that it states that the reward is for a voyage, or voyages, in ‘2 ships to the Isle of new finding’. This is significant because only one ship, the Gabriel, is known to have been involved in the 1502 expedition.
If there is a unifying theme to the two documents that Margaret Condon discovered, it is that Henry VII was more closely and heavily involved in supporting the Bristol expeditions than has previously been recognized. The documents are, however, different in both character and value. While the butlerage account is interesting, it is the letter from the king that is sure to attract the greatest interest, for it relates to a previously unknown voyage that, whether it took place in 1499 or 1500, was the first English-led expedition to North America. That it was commanded by a man who seems likely to have been one of Cabot's supporters adds a further layer of interest, given that none of Cabot's English supporters has ever before been identified by name. In the context of the search to rediscover the documents that Ruddock found, the letter is also valuable in that it confirms one important part of her story. For even though Ruddock was probably wrong to assume, on the basis of the very partial information available to her, that the document Condon had discovered related to 1498, the letter does confirm her assertion that William Weston led an independent voyage to the New World at about this time. If nothing else, all this does provide further evidence that Alwyn Ruddock, while peculiar in her actions, did not simply make up her claims. Similarly, the numerous letters between Quinn and Ruddock, dating back to 1965, confirm that the claims she was making in the nineteen-nineties about her research were not simply the inventions of an aging mind. With these reassurances, the incentive to try to rediscover the documents that Ruddock found is all the greater.
Washington, D.C., Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, David B. Quinn Papers (hereafter Quinn Papers), box 165, folder 9, D. B. Quinn, ‘Henry VII and the western Atlantic voyages: some additional information’ (unpublished draft article, 1981).
Quinn Papers, box 165, folder 9, Alwyn Ruddock to David Beers Quinn, 30 Oct. 1981. For partial transcripts of all the letters referred to in this article, along with other relevant material, see ‘The Quinn papers: transcripts of correspondence relating to the Bristol discovery voyages to North America in the 15th century’, ed. E. T. Jones (University of Bristol, ROSE, 2009) <http://hdl.handle.net/1983/1274> [accessed 1 May 2009]. Quinn and Ruddock had first worked together in the 1930s, when she had been the researcher on his Southampton port book project (The Port Books or Local Customs Accounts of Southampton for the Reign of Edward IV, i: 1469–71, ed. D. B. Quinn, with the assistance of A. A. Ruddock (Southampton Record Soc., xxxvii, 1937)).
Quinn Papers, box 158, folder 7, David Beers Quinn to Alwyn Ruddock, 4 Apr. 1992.
Quinn Papers, box 164, folder 7, David Beers Quinn to Elizabeth Ralph, 1 Feb. 1967; box 23, folder 7, Alwyn Ruddock to David Beers Quinn, 10 Feb. 1967; box 25, folder 8, Alwyn Ruddock to David Beers Quinn, 20 Dec. 1968; box 34, folder 9, Alwyn Ruddock to David Beers Quinn, 13 March 1976. See also A. Ruddock, ‘The discovery of America’, Times Literary Supplement, 3 July 1969, pp. 730–1; D. B. Quinn, ‘The discovery of America’, Times Literary Supplement, 10 July 1969, p. 755.
John Day of Bristol and the English voyages across the Atlantic before 1497’, Geographical Jour., cxxxii (1966), 225–33; ‘The accounts of John Balsall, purser of the Trinity of Bristol, 1480–1’, ed. T. F. Reddaway and A. A. Ruddock, in Camden Miscellany XXIII (Camden 4th ser., vii, 1969), pp. 1–28; ;, ‘
Quinn Papers, box 165, folder 9, Alwyn Ruddock to David Beers Quinn, 30 Oct. 1981.
Quinn Papers, box 42, folder 8, David Beers Quinn to Margaret Condon, 10 Aug. 1985.
Particularly illuminating letters include: Quinn Papers, box 43, folder 7, Alwyn Ruddock to David Beers Quinn, 14 Nov. 1986; box 71, folder 7, 8 Feb. 1988; box 46, folder 8, 19 Jan. 1992 and 9 Feb. 1992.
Quinn Papers, box 158, folder 7, D. B. Quinn, ‘Sebastian Cabot, 1968–92’ (unpublished draft, 1992).
Quinn Papers, box 158, folder 7, Alwyn Ruddock to David Beers Quinn, 22 March 1992.
Quinn Papers, box 158, folder 7, David Beers Quinn to Margaret Condon, 22 Apr. 1992.
D. B. Quinn, Sebastian Cabot and Bristol Exploration (rev. edn., 1993), pp. 34–9.
Quinn Papers, box 158, folder 7, Alwyn Ruddock to David Beers Quinn, 1 Feb. 1993.
Alwyn Ruddock: “John Cabot and the Discovery of America”’, Hist. Research, lxxxi (2008), 224–54., ‘
I would like to thank Dr. Jeff Reed (Washington, D.C.) for offering to do this work and for the great efforts he expended in searching through Quinn's archives and in copying the relevant documents for me.
The National Archives of the U.K.: Public Record Office, C 82/332, piece 61 out of 74. A script ‘HR’ was the form of Henry VII's autograph after 1492 (M. M. Condon, ‘An anachronism with intent? Henry VII's council ordinance of 1491/2’, in Kings and Nobles in the Later Middle Ages: a Tribute to Charles Ross, ed. R. A. Griffiths and J. Sherborne (Gloucester, 1986), pp. 228–53, at p. 228). The cover of the letter has a round red wax stain, which is all that remains of his signet seal.
This is based on an unpublished itinerary of Henry VII drawn up by Margaret Condon.
J. A. Williamson, The Cabot Voyages and Bristol Discovery under Henry VII (Cambridge, 1962), pp. 204–5, 226–7.
Williamson, pp. 214–15, 217–18, 220–3.
Quinn, ‘Sebastian Cabot, 1968–92’, p. 1.
Jones, ‘Alwyn Ruddock’, p. 250.
Jones, ‘Alwyn Ruddock’, pp. 245–51.
Williamson, p. 205.
The Matthew of Bristol and the financiers of John Cabot's 1497 voyage to North America’, Eng. Hist. Rev., cxxi (2006), 778–95, at p. 782., ‘
The next earliest known reference to the ‘newe founde lande’ is found in a royal grant of September 1502 (Williamson, p. 249).
‘John Esterfeld vs. William Weston of Bristol: Chancery petition transcript, c.1499’, ed. E. T. Jones (University of Bristol, ROSE, 2009) <http://hdl.handle.net/1983/1273> [accessed 1 May 2009].
‘Will of John Foster, merchant of Bristol, 6 August 1492’, ed. E. T. Jones (University of Bristol, ROSE, 2009) <http://hdl.handle.net/1983/1182> [accessed 1 May 2009].
The Westons' house was located at what is now 41 Corn Street (R. H. Leech, The Topography of Medieval and Early Modern Bristol: pt. 1 (Bristol Record Soc. Publications, xlviii, 1997), pp. xxv, 54). An indenture of 1505 states that the rental value of ‘two parts of the messuage’ (i.e., two-thirds of it) was 42s per year, which implies that the annual rental value of the whole property would have been 63s (‘Foster's Almshouse’, in The Bristol Charities, ed. T. J. Manchee (2 vols., Bristol, 1831), i. 82). Although little is known about the Westons, they do not appear to have possessed great wealth and William Weston himself seems to have been no more than a middling Bristol merchant on the fringes of the civic elite (A. Peacock, ‘The men of Bristol and the Atlantic discovery voyages of the 15th and early 16th centuries’ (unpublished University of Bristol M.A. thesis, 2007), pp. 18–21). Such a lack of wealth or influence might help to explain why William Weston was so keen to avoid eviction from a large property on Bristol's principal commercial street.
Documenti Veneziani su Giovanni Caboto’, Studi Veneziani, xv (1973), 585–97., ‘
Jones, ‘Alwyn Ruddock’, pp. 249–50.
T.N.A.: P.R.O., E 351/454 fo. 34.
Calendar of Patent Rolls 1494–1509, p. 214.
The Cabot Roll: the Custom Roll of the Port of Bristol, 1496–9, ed. E. Scott and A. E. Hudd (Bristol, 1897).
T.N.A.: P.R.O., E 101/84/18.
Quinn Papers, box 165, folder 9, Margaret Condon to David Beers Quinn, 6 Nov. 1981.
Williamson, pp. 201–2.
Williamson, pp. 247–8.
Ruddock, ‘Reputation of Sebastian Cabot’, p. 98.
Williamson, p. 216.
H. P. Biggar, The Precursors of Jacques Cartier, 1497–1534 (Ottawa, 1911), p. 70.
On his return in Aug. 1497, Cabot was initially granted a reward of £10. This was followed by the grant of a pension of £20 per year (Williamson, pp. 214, 217–19).
Williamson, pp. 214–15.