I mentioned the travels of St Brendan of Clonfert, and referred to that other trans-Atlantic voyager from early times, Nicholas of Lynn… who may, or may not have travelled across the ocean; I mentioned him in my 50,000 word challenge, somehow I had travelled from my own story, to the tales of others and their relationship with rivers, seas and oceans.
The voyages of St Brendan may be more famous, but are they more true than those of a lesser known monk, Nicholas of Lynn, mathematician, astronomer, monk.
Nicholas of Lynn, (Nicolas de Linna) was born in 1330 in the Norfolk town of King’s Lynn, on the edge of the Wash. He became a Franciscan friar and an academic at Oxford University and is believed to have travelled to the Arctic Circle in about 1360. He is known to have written a book describing his voyage and adventure, but unfortunately there are no copies still in existence. It was called Inventio Fortunate, ‘Fortunate Discovery’ and it was an account of his travels and journeys north.
However, two hundred years after he supposedly went on his adventure, Thomas Blunderville, an English humanist writer and mathematician, well-known and well-regarded for work on logic, astronomy and education did not believe that Nicholas of Lynn could have made his voyage. More recently some weight has been added to the argument that in actual fact, Nicholas did indeed visit the Arctic, as Inventio Fortunate seems to have been a reasonably accurate description of Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago. Whether Nicholas himself travelled to Greenland and Iceland, or whether he just rewrote the tales he heard, there are parts of ‘Fortunate Discovery’ which almost conclusively indicate an Icelandic or Greenlandic source.
It may be that although Nicholas wrote about the voyages as if he himself had made them, he might have heard them from another sources; it seems very likely to some, that he got his information, not first hand by travelling through the Arctic, but from a priest named Ivar Bárdarson. Bárdarson was actually the administrator of the See of Gardar in Greenland, from about 1340 to about 1360. He had obviously travelled around these very areas and would have known – from his own experience or from talking to other travellers, about the eastern seaboard of the Canadian Arctic. He wrote a description of Greenland which had a wide circulation and was translated; the explorer Henry Hudson took it with him on some if not all of his voyages.
Hudson was an interesting man too, who met a tragic fate; he was born some time between 1565-1570, and made two attempts on behalf of English merchants to find a prospective Northwest Passage to China, then known as Cathay. It was believed that there was a route above the Arctic Circle and Hudson also explored the region around modern where New York now stands while he was looking for this supposed western route to Asia. He was actually under the employ of the Dutch East India Company and explored and gave his name to the Hudson River; it was mainly thanks to him that there was a Dutch colony there for a while – New York, famously was originally called New Amsterdam.
Hudson went on to discover the Hudson Strait and Hudson Bay on his final expedition. However, these harsh and dangerous conditions bred harshness and danger for Hudson and his son. They overwinterd on the shore of James Bay, named not after King James I for whom Hudson was not working, but Thomas James, a Welsh captain who explored the area two decades later between 1630 and 1631.
Hudson wanted to continue to the west, to continue his search, and maybe just to explore and see what there was. However, all but seven of his crew mutinied. Hudson, his son and seven men were set adrift and were never seen again or heard of again. Unless they were fortunate enough to meet some friendly Inuit, they must have drowned, or starved, or maybe were even attacked by some creature, a polar bear maybe.
Meanwhile, one hundred and fifty years earlier, Ivar Bardarson returned to Norway, possibly between 1361 and 1364; this is where Nicholas of Lynn may have met him in person. From their meeting he may have written his ‘Fortunate Discovery’ .