The Smugglers' City
Department of History, University of Bristol


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Raimondo de Raimondi de Soncino, Milanese Ambassador in England, to Ludvico Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, 18 December 1497

Source: A.B. Hinds (ed.), Calendar of State Papers, Milan, Vol. I (HMSO, 1912), no. 552, pp. 336-8. English Translation from Italian.
Manuscript: Milan Archives (Potenze Estere: Inghilterra).
Web version by: Sam Cronin (2004)

p. 336

Perhaps amid the numerous occupations of your Excellency,
it may not weary you to hear how his Majesty here has gained
a part of Asia, without a stroke of the sword. There is in this
Kingdom a man of the people, Messer Zoane Caboto
by name, of kindly wit and a most expert mariner. Having
observed that the sovereigns first of Portugal and then of Spain
had occupied unknown islands, he decided to make a similar
acquisition for his Majesty. After obtaining patents that the
effective ownership of what he might find should be his, though
reserving the rights of the Crown, he committed himself to Fortune
in a little ship, with eighteen persons. He started from Bristol,
a port on the west of this kingdom, passed Ireland, which is still
further west, and then bore towards the north, in order to sail
to the east, leaving the north on his right hand after some days.
After having wandered for some time he at length arrived at the
mainland, where he hoisted the royal standard, and took
possession for the king here; and after taking certain tokens he returned.

p. 337

This Messer Zoane, as a foreigner and a poor man, would not
have obtained credence, had it not been that his companions,
who are practically all English and from Bristol, testified that
he spoke the truth. This Messer Zoane has the description of
the world in a map, and also in a solid sphere, which he has made,
and shows where he has been. In going towards the east he
passed far beyond the country of the Tanais. They say that the
land is excellent and temperate, and they believe that Brazil
wood and silk are native there. They assert that the sea there
is swarming with fish, which can be taken not only with the net,
but in baskets let down with a stone, so that it sinks in the
water. I have heard this Messer Zoane state so much.

These same English, his companions, say that they could bring
so many fish that this kingdom would have no further need of
Iceland, from which place there comes a great quantity of
fish called stockfish. But Messer Zoane has his mind set
upon even greater things, because he proposes to keep along the
coast from the place at which he touched, more and more
towards the east, until he reaches an island he calls Cipango [Japan],
situated in the equinoctial region, where he believes that all the
spices of the world have their origin, as well as the jewels. He
says that on the previous occasions he has been to Mecca, whither
spices are borne by caravans from distant countries. When he
asked those who brought them what was the place of origin of
these spices, they answered that they did not know, but that
other caravans came with this merchandise to their homes in
distant countries, and these again said that the goods had been
brought to them from other remote regions. He therefore
reasons that if the easterns declare to the southerners that these
things come from places far away from them, and so on from one
to the other, always assuming that the earth is round, it follows
as a matter of course that the last of all must take them in the
north towards the West.

p. 338

He tells me all this in such a way, and makes everything so plain,
that I also feel compelled to believe him. What is much more,
his Majesty, who is wise and not prodigal, also gives him some
credence, because he is giving him a fairly good provision, since
his return, so Messer Zoane himself tells me. Before very long
they say that his Majesty will equip some ships, and in addition
he will give them all the malefactors, and they will go to that
country and form a colony. By means of this they hope to make
London a more important mart for spices than Alexandria. The
leading men in this enterprise are from Bristol, and great seamen,
and now they know where to go, say that the voyage will not take
more than a fortnight, if they have good fortune after leaving Ireland.

I have also spoken with a Burgundian, one of Messer Zoanne's
companions, who corroborates everything. He wants to go
back, because the Admiral, which is the name they give to Messer
Zoane, has given him an island. He has given another to his
barber, a Genoese by birth, and both consider themselves counts,
while my lord the Admiral esteems himself at least a Prince.

I also believe that some poor Italian friars will go on this
voyage, who have the promise of bishoprics. As I have made
friends with the Admiral, I might have an archbishopric if I
choose to go there, but I have reflected that the benefices which
your Excellency reserves for me are safer, and I therefore beg
that possession may be given me of those which fall vacant in my
absence, and the necessary steps taken so that they may not be
taken away from me by others, who have the advantage of being
on the spot. Meanwhile I stay on in this country, eating ten or
twelve courses at each meal, and spending three hours at the table
twice every day, for the love of your Excellency, to whom I
humbly commend myself.

London, the 18th of December, 1497

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