Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562

Author: King Henry VII  | Date: 1497

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The Voyages of the Cabots

The Letters Patents of King Henry the Seventh granted unto John Cabot and his three sons, Lewis, Sebastian, and Santius for the discovery of new and unknown lands.

HENRY, by the grace of God, king of England and France, and lord of Ireland, to all to whom these presents shall come, Greeting.

Be it known that we have given and granted, and by these presents do give and grant for us and our heirs, to our well-beloved John Cabot citizen of Venice, to Lewis, Sebastian, and Santius, sons of the said John, and to the heirs of them, and every (one) of them, and their deputies, full and free authority, leave, and power to sail to all parts, countries, and seas of the east, of the west, and of the north, under our banners and ensigns, with five ships of what burden or quantity soever they be, and as many mariners or men asthey will have with them in the said ships, upon their own proper costs and charges, to seek out, discover, and find whatsoever isles, countries, regions or provinces of the heathen and infidels whatsoever they be, and in what part of the world soever they be, which before this time have been unknown to all Christians: we have granted to them, and also to every of them, the heirs of them, and every of them, and their deputies, and have given them license to set up our banners and ensigns in every village, town, castle, isle, or mainland of them newly found. And that the aforesaid John and his sons, or their heirs and assigns may subdue, occupy and possess all such towns, cities, castles and isles of them found, which they can subdue, occupy and possess, as our vassals, and lieutenants, getting unto us the rule, title, and jurisdiction of the same villages, towns, castles, and firm land so found. Yet so that the aforesaid John, and his sons and heirs, and their deputies, be held and bound of all the fruits, profits, gains, and commodities growing of such navigation, for their every voyage, as often as they shall arrive at our port of Bristol (at the which port they shall be bound and held only to arrive) all manner of necessary costs and charges by them made, being deducted, to pay unto us in wares or money the fifth part of the capital gain so gotten. We giving and granting unto them and to their heirs and deputies, that they shall be free from all paying of customs of all and singular such merchandise as they shall bring with them from those places so newly found. And moreover, we have given and granted to them, their heirs and deputies, that all the firm lands, isles, villages, towns, castles and places whatsoever they be that they shall chance to find, may not of any other of our subjects be frequented or visited without the license of the aforesaid John and his sons, and their deputies, under pain of forfeiture as well of their ships as of all and singular goods of all them that shall presume to sail to those places so found. Willing, and most straightly commanding all and singular our subjects as well on land as on sea, to give good assistance to the aforesaid John and his sons and deputies, and that as well in arming and furnishing their ships or vessels, as in provision of food, and in buying of victuals for their money, and all other things by them to be provided necessary for the said navigation, they do give them all their help and favor. In witness whereof we have caused to be made these our Letters Patents. Witness ourself at Westminster the fifth day of March, in the eleventh year of our reign….

An extract taken of the map of Sebastian Cabot, cut by Clement Adams, concerning his discovery of the West Indies, which is to be seen in Her Majesty’s privy gallery at Westminster, and in many other ancient merchant’s houses.

IN the year of our Lord 1497 John Cabot a Venetian, and his son Sebastian (with an English fleet set out from Bristol) discovered that land which no man before that time had attempted, on the 24 of June, about five of the clock early in the morning. This land he called Prima vista, that is to say, first seen, because as I suppose it was that part whereof they had the first sight from sea. That island which lies out before the land, he called the island of St. John upon this occasion, as I think, because it was discovered upon the day of John the Baptist. The inhabitants of this island wear beasts’ skins, and have them in as great estimation as we have our finest garments. In their wars they use bows, arrows, pikes, darts, wooden clubs, and slings. The soil is barren in some places, and yields little fruit, but it is full of white bears, and stags far greater than ours. It yields plenty of fish, and those very great, as seals, and those which commonly we call salmons: there are soles also above a yard in length: but especially there is great abundance of that kind of fish which the savages call baccalaos. In the island there breed hawks, but they are so black they are very like to ravens, as also their partridges, and eagles, which are in like sort black.

A discourse of Sebastian Cabot touching his discovery of part of the West India out of England in the time of King Henry the Seventh, used to Galeacius Butrigarius the Pope’s Legate in Spain, and reported by the said Legate in this sort:

DO you not understand said he (speaking to certain gentlemen of Venice) how to pass to India toward the northwest, as did of late a citizen of Venice, so valiant a man, and so well practiced in all things pertaining to navigations, and the science of cosmography, that at this present he has not his like in Spain, insomuch that for his virtues he is preferred above all other pilots that sail to the West Indies, who may not pass thither without his license, and is therefor called Piloto mayor, that is, the grand Pilot. And when we said that we knew him not, he proceeded, saying, that being certain years in the city of Seville, and desirous to have some knowledge of the navigations of the Spaniards, it was told him that there was in the city a valiant man, a Venetian born named Sebastian Cabot, who had the charge of those things, being an expert man in that science, and one that could make cards for the sea with his own hand, and by this report, seeking his acquaintance, he found him a very gentle person, who entertained him friendly, and showed him many things, and among others a large map of the world, with certain particular navigations, as well of the Portugals, as of the Spaniards, and he spoke further to him to this effect:

"When my father departed from Venice many years since to dwell in England, to follow the trade of merchandises, he took me with him to the city of London, while I was very young, yet having nevertheless some knowledge of letters of humanity, and of the sphere. And when my father died in that time when news was brought that Don Christopher Columbus a Genoese had discovered the coasts of India, whereof was great talk in all the court of king Henry the 7, who then reigned, insomuch that all men with great admiration affirmed it to be a thing more divine than human, to sail by the west into the east where spices grow, by a way that was never known before, by this fame and report there increased in my heart a great flame of desire to attempt some notable thing. And understanding by reason of the sphere, that if I should sail by way of the northwest, I should by a shorter tract come into India, I thereupon caused the King to be advertised by my devise, who immediately commanded two carvels to be furnished with all things appertaining to the voyage, which was as far as I remember in the year 1496, in the beginning of summer. I began therefore to sail toward the northwest, not thinking to find any other land than that of Cathay, and from thence to turn toward India, but after certain days I found that the land ran towards the north, which was to me a great displeasure. Nevertheless, sailing along by the coast to see if I could find any gulf that turned, I found the land still continent to the 56, degree under our Pole. And seeing that there the coast turned toward the east, despairing to find the passage, I turned back again, and sailed down by the coast of that land toward the equinoctial (ever with intent to find the said passage to India) and came to that part of this firm land which is now called Florida, where my victuals failing, I departed from thence and returned into England, where I found great tumults among the people, and preparation for wars in Scotland: by reason whereof there was no more consideration had to this voyage.

Whereupon I went into Spain to the Catholic king, and Queen Elizabeth, which being advertised what I had done, entertained me, and at their charges furnished certain ships, wherewith they caused me to sail to discover the coasts of Brazil, where I found an exceeding great and larger river named at this present Rio de la Plata, that is, the river of silver, into the which I sailed and followed it into the firm land, more than six score leagues, finding it everywhere very fair, and inhabited with infinite people, which with admiration came running daily to our ships. Into this river run so many other rivers, that it is in manner incredible.

After this I made many other voyages, which now pretermit, and waxing old, I give myself to rest from such travels, because there are now many young and lusty pilots and mariners of good experience, by whose forwardness I do rejoice in the fruit of my labors, and rest with the charge of this office, as you see….


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Chicago: Henry and Sebastian Cabot, "The Voyages of the Cabots," Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562 in America, Vol.1, Pp.198-205 Original Sources, accessed April 14, 2024,

MLA: Henry, and Sebastian Cabot. "The Voyages of the Cabots." Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562, in America, Vol.1, Pp.198-205, Original Sources. 14 Apr. 2024.

Harvard: Henry, Cabot, S, 'The Voyages of the Cabots' in Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562. cited in , America, Vol.1, Pp.198-205. Original Sources, retrieved 14 April 2024, from