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.

Monday, 21 November 2022

The Newfoundland fifteenth century gold coin

The recent announcement of the discovery of a gold quarter noble of the reign of King Henry VI on the coast of Newfoundland continues to generate articles in the media. 

The website Ancient Origins has a piece about the coin and its possible implications for contact by someone from England before the arrival of the Cabots. The suggested hypothesis is that it was the quest for the ‘Island of Brasile’ which had brought Bristol sailors who found cod in profusion on the Grand Banks that had brought English sailors to the island. 

The tradition of islands in the Atlantic to the west included what is now known as Madeira  and another called Brazil was well established long before what is now actually known as Brazil was discovered and settled in 1500 by the Portuguese. Was the idea of the island a folk memory of the findings of earlier explorers? It also appears likely that early Portuguese navigators concealed or limited knowledge of their discoveries to safeguard their commercial and, indeed, political interests with early maps progressively showing less rather than more of the newly discovered coastlines of the mid-Atlantic. Similarly English navigators might well have been chary of publicising new and rich fishing grounds.

In this case absolute certainty will probably always elude us even if more archaeological evidence were to be revealed, and always assuming that there has been no modern interference. More dateable material could well confirm contact earlier than has been hitherto believed but the names of any of those involved are doubtless unrecorded beyond what is already known about the 1481 voyage mentioned in the article.

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