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PERVERSION OF FACTS AND DATES
BY HARRIS AND PINKERTON-CABOT's
RETURN TO ENGLAND-PROBABLE INDUCEMENTS-ERRONEOUS REASON
ASSIGNED BY MR. BARROW-CHARLES V. MAKES A DEMAND ON THE KING
OF ENGLAND FOR HIS RETURN-REFUSED-PENSION TO CABOT-DUTIES
CONFIDED TO HIMMORE EXTENSIVE THAN THOSE BELONGING TO THE
OFFICE OF PILOT-MAJOR_INSTANCES.
Of the manner in which the order and nature of Cabot's services have been misrepresented by English writers, some idea may be formed from the following passage of Harris transplanted into Pinkerton's Collection of Voyages, (vol. xii. p. 160.)
“ Sebastian Cabot was employed by their Catholic Majesties, Ferdinand and Isabella, [Isabella having been dead twenty-two years, and Ferdinand ten years before he sailed] on a voyage for the discovery of the coasts of Brazil (!) in which he had much better success than Americus Vespucius, who missed the River of Plate, whereas Cabot found it, and sailed up it 360 miles (Hakluyt's six score leagues] which gave him such a character at the court of their Catholic Majesties, that on his return [in 1531] he was declared piloto maggiore or grand pilot of Spain, and resided several years at Seville with that character, and had the examination and approbation of all the pilots intrusted by that government. Yet after some years, he thought fit to return into England, and was employed by King Henry VIII. in conjunction with Sir Thomas Pert, who was Vice-Admiral of England, and built a fine house near Blackwall, called Poplar, which name still remains, though the house is long ago decayed. This voyage of his was in 1516, [fifteen years before the return from the La Plata !] on board a ship of 250 tons with another of the like size." [mistaken reference to the English Expedition of 1527.]
The motives which really induced Cabot to abandon a situation of high honour and emolument in Spain, as well as the exact period of his return to England, we have no means of determining. It is plain, from what will presently appear, that he had experienced no mortifying slight of his services, or attempt to withdraw the ample provision for his support. We are permitted, therefore, to believe that he was drawn to England by an attachment, strengthening with the decline of life, to his native soil and the scene of his early associations and attachments. The ties were not slight or likely to decay. Born in Bristol and returning from Venice whilst yet a boy, he had grown up in England to manhood, and it was not until sixteen years after the date of the first memorable patent that he entered the service of Spain, from which again he withdrew in 1516.
A reasonable presumption must, however, be distinguished from rash and absurd assertion. Mr. Barrow supposes (Chronological History of Voyages, p. 36) that Cabot returned on the invitation of Robert Thorne of Bristol. Unfortunately for this hypothesis it appears* that Thorne died in 1532, sixteen years before the period at which Cabot quitted Spain.
The same writer remarks, (p. 36, “His return to England was in the year 1548, when Henry VIII. was on the throne.” Surely Mr. Barrow cannot seriously think that, at this late day, his bare word will be taken against all the historians and chroniclers who declare that Henry VIII. died in January 1547.4
At his return Cabot settled in Bristol,I without the least anticipation, in all probability, of the new and brilliant career on which he was shortly to enter, fifty-three years after the date of his first commission from Henry VII.
Whatever may have been the motives of the Emperor for consenting to the departure of the Pilot-Major he would seem to have become very soon alarmed at the inconvenience that might result from his new position. The youth who then filled the throne of England had already given such evidence of capacity as to excite the attention of Europe ; and anticipations were universally expressed of the memorable part he was destined to perform. Naval affairs had seized his attention as a sort of passion. Even when à child " he knew all the harbours and ports both of his own dominions and of France and Scotland, and how much water they had, and what was the way of coming into them.”* The Emperor saw how perilous it was that a youthful monarch with these predispositions, should have within reach the greatest seaman of the age, with all the accumulated treasures of a protracted life of activity and observation. A formal and urgent demand, therefore, was made by the Spanish ambassador that “ Sebastian Cabote, Grand Pilot of the Emperor's Indies then in England,” might be sent over to Spain, as a very necessary man for the Emperor, whose servant he was, and had a Pension of him.”+ Strype, after quoting from the documents before him, drily adds, “ Notwithstanding, I suspect that Cabot still abode in England, at Bristol, (for there he lived) having two or three years after set on foot a famous voyage hence, as we shall mention in due place.” It is a pleasing reflection, adverted to before, and which may here be repeated, that Cabot was never found attempting to employ, to the annoyance of Spain, the minute local knowledge of her possessions, of which his confidential station in that country must have made him master. I
* Fuller's Worthies, Somersetshire; and Stow's Survey of London.
+ This blunder is gravely copied into Dr. Lardner's Cyclopædia, History of Maritime and Inland Discovery, vol. ii. p. 138, together with Mr. Barrow's assertion, that the pension of £166 138. 4d. was equal to five hundred Marks !
Strype's Historical Memorials, vol. ii. p. 190.
* Burnet's History of the Reformation, vol. ii. p. 225. + Strype's Historical Memorials, v. ii. p. 190.
Amongst the Harleian MSS. (No. 523, art. 2,) is a letter to Sir Philip Hoby, then on an embassy to Flanders, from the Council, dated Greenwich, 21st April, 1550, in which is communicated the result of the application made by the Ambassador of Charles V., for the return of Cabot. It seems to prove that there had been no quarrel with the Emperor. The Council, in its own anxiety to retain Cabot, does less than justice to his dignified and fitting reply, when pointedly and somewhat rudely interrogated as to what he would be willing to do at the command of his Sovereign or the Council.
“And as for Sebastian Cabot, answere was first made to the said Ambassador that he was not deteined heere by us, but that he of himself refused to go either into Spayne, or to the Emperor, and that he being of that mind and the King's, subiecte, no reason nor equitie wolde that he shude be forced or compelled to go against his will. Upon the which answere, the said Ambassador said, that if this were Cabot's answere, then he required that the said Cabot, in the presence of some one whom we coud appoint might speke with the said Ambassador, and declare vnto him this to be his mind and answere. Whereunto we condescended, and at the last, sent the said Cabot with Richard Shelley to the ambassador, who as the said Shelley hathe made report to us, affirmed to the said Ambassador, that he was not minded to go neither into Spayne nor to the Emperor. Nevertheles having knowlege of certein things verie necessarie for the Emperor's knowlege, he was well contented for the good will he bere the Emperor to write his minde vnto him, or declare the same here to anie such as shude be appointed to bere him. Whereunto the said Ambassador asked the said Cabot, in case the King's Majestie or we shude command him to go to the Emperor, whether then he wold not do it ; whereunto Cabot mad aunswere, as Shelley reportethe, that if the King's Highnes or we did command him so to do, then he knew welinoughe what he had to do. But it semeth that the Ambassador tooke this answere of Cabot to sound as though Cabot had answered, that being comanded by the King's Highnes or vs, that then he wolde be contented to go to the Emperor wherein we reken the said Ambassador to be deceived, so that the said Cabot had divers times before declared vnto vs that he was fullie determined not to go hens at all.”
The Public Records now supply us with dates. On the 6th January, in the second year of Edward VI., a pension was granted to him of two hundred and fifty marks, (£166 13s. 4d.)
The precise nature of the duties imposed on him does not appear. It is usually stated, and amongst others by Hakluyt, that the office of Grand Pilot of England was now created, and Cabot appointed to fill it; but this is very questionable.* Certain it is that his functions were far more varied and extensive than those implied in such a title. He would seem to have exercised a general supervision over the maritime concerns of the country, under the eye of the King and the Council, and to have been called upon whenever there was occasion for nautical skill and experience. One curious instance occurs of the manner in which the wishes of individuals were made to yield to his opinion of what was required by the exigencies of the public service. We find (Hakluyt, vol. ii. part ii. p. 8) one James Alday offering, as an explanatation of his not having gone as master on a proposed voyage to the Levant, that he was stayed
“ By the prince's letters, which my master, Sebastian Gabota, had obtained for that purpose to my great grief.”
He is called upon (Hakluyt, vol. iii. p. 719) to be present at the examination of a French pilot who had long frequented the coast of Brasil, and there is reason to believe that the minute instructions for the navigation of the La Plata (ib. p. 728) are from himself.
* See Appendix (C.)
PUBLIC EXPLANATION BY CABOT TO EDWARD VI. OF THE PHENOMENA OF THE
VARIATION OF THE NEEDLE-STATEMENT OF LIVIO SANUTO-POINT OF “NO
PUBLISHED AT ROME IN 1508-FOURNIER-ATTENTION TO NOTE THE VARIA
TION BY THE SEAMEN OF CABOT'S SCHOOL-HIS THEORY, IF A NARROW ONE
ALLUSION was made, on a former occasion, to the fact stated by the noble Venetian, Livio Sanuto, that Cabot had explained to the King of England the whole subject of the variation of the needle. There is reason to suppose, from what we know of Sanuto's life, that the incident to which he alludes must have occurred at the period now reached. His statement* is that many years before the period at which he wrote, his friend Guido Gianeti da Fano informed him that Sebastian Cabot was the first discoverer of this secret of nature which he explained to the King of England, near whom the said Gianeti at that time resided and was held, as Sanuto understood from others, in the highest esteem. Cabot also shewed the extent of the variation, and that it was different in different places.t
Sanuto being engaged in the construction of an instrument in
The Geographia is in the Library of the Bristish Museum, title in Catalogue “ Sanuto.” It was published at Venice, 1588, after the author's death.
† “ Fu di tal secreto il riconoscitore, qual egli palesò poi al serenissimo Re d'Inghilterra, presso al quale (come poi da altri intesi) esso Gianetti all'hora honoratissimo si ritrovaa ; et egli dimostrò insieme, quanta fusse questa distanza, e che non appareva in ciascun luogo la medesima.” Lib. prim. fol. 2.