Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Sunday, 24 October 2021

Knowledge of Markland

Following on from my previous post Markland may not figure much in contemporary knowledge of geography but the knowledge in the later middle ages of the existence of part of the coastlands of Canada or possibly the United States that the name denominated was perhaps more significant than we might think. The fact that there was land there was not just the preserve of Icelandic Sagas but survived in western Europe and entered the written record in perhaps surprising places. 

A recent study had shown that at least some of the Genoese were aware of such lands in the earlier fourteenth century and certainly by 1345. The Medievalists.net site has an article about this at Italians knew about North America in the 14th century, historian finds
I recall reading some years ago how in 1292 - exactly two centuries before Columbus - ships set sail westards from Seville. What happened to them is unknown, but that they had some idea of looking for land, and presumably trade, in the western Atlantic Ocean seems clear. 

By the mid-fifteenth century the Portuguese had found and taken over Madeira and were picking up rumours of the Island of Brazil.

Alongside this there is, of course, the solid evidence that the Papacy certainly knew about Greenland, which was the seat of a functioning Bishop, with a cathedral, until 1378 and of a titular one until 1537. By the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the increasing cooling of the environment had caused the abandonment of the European colony but the idea it was still part of Christendom survived. Wikipedia has articles about that at Garðar, Greenland and at Garðar Cathedral Ruins. It also has something about the decline of the two areas of occupancy in Western Settlement

Medieval people were curious about what lay beyond the world they knew or knew of. Some areas they believed were inaccessible because of the intense heat at the Equator, or were occupied by strange beings, as is pointed out in Columbus believed he would find 'blemmyes' and 'sciapods' – not people – in the New World

Nonetheless interest there was, as is evidenced by the popularity of the record of the travels of Sir John Mandeville, as discussed on History Extra at A knight's (tall) tale: why medieval traveller Sir John Mandeville was more popular than Marco Polo

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