1498 John Cabot’s Third Expedition

On February 3, 1498, King Henry VII renewed “John Kabotto’s” patent. But instead of twenty vessels, or even twelve, he allotted to Cabot the right to impress [rent for public service] “six vessels as large as 200 tonnes.” Cabot was to pay for fitting them out with his own money “at the normal rates of the crown.”

No ship manifests exist, but historians have uncovered scattered clues revealing who left with Cabot on his third attempt to reach Cathay. His patent said nothing about drafting inmates or gathering a workforce. If Sebastian Cabot joined his father on the voyage, he was on the one ship that would limp home after a storm.

King Henry permitted the Venetian to take along any of “our officers or ministers or subjects” who wanted to join him. Those “subjects” probably included the “poor Italian friars” who had been promised bishoprics, the “Genoese surgeon”(1) and the “Burgundian” [Martin Behaim]. Ambassador Raimundo di Raimundis had written to his boss, Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan that the surgeon and the Burgundian were promised islands if they joined the team. [An island near Newfoundland was later named Nuremberg.]

Records indicate that King Henry helped finance several merchants to participate – either among the six vessels or in vessels of their own. The royal daybooks for March 17 through March 22, 1498, state that his treasury either loaned or paid twenty pounds to one Launcelot Thirkill of London so that he could “press a ship going to the new llande.” A subsequent payment or loan of thirty pounds was made to Launcelot Thirkill and Thomas Bradley between April 1 and 3. That same April money was granted to a John Cair who was “going to the new Isle.”

[Important to the story later, royal treasury records show that in 1500, the King sued Bradley and Thirkill to recover the money he had loaned them in 1498, which indicates the merchants will return after the voyage.]

Medieval scholar Dr. Alwyn Ruddock found links between Cabot’s expedition and a prominent Bristol citizen and merchant named John Esterfeld. She suspected King Henry loaned him money to participate as well. Since 1495, Esterfeld had been the Admiral of England for the city and county of Bristol, so he must have been a leading member of the Society of Merchant Adventurers. He had also been the mayor, bailiff, and sheriff of Bristol at various points in time, as well as a representative of the port in Parliament. Dealing in wood, wine, sugar, cloth, hides, calf-skins, and oil, his ships traded in the ports of France, Portugal, and Spain.

A letter Dr. Ruddock unveiled from King Henry to his Lord Chamberlain added William Weston to the list of possible passengers. John Esterfeld had filed a suit against William Weston, which the King, in his letter, was asking him to release because he, King Henry, wanted Weston to sail to the “new found land.”

Several ships, either among Cabot’s tiny fleet or separately, transported various products for trade in the orient.

A week after King Henry loaned money to Thirkill, Bradley, and Cair, but before John Cabot departed, a tragedy befell France that would greatly affect the monarchs of England, Portugal and Spain.

On April 8, 1498, while playing indoor tennis, the French King Charles VIII fell, cracked his head open on a door lintel, and died. Charles was succeeded by his cousin, the Duc d’Orleans as Louis XII. This was very bad news for Ambassador Raimundis’ boss, Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. Louis XII held a claim to the Duchy of Milan through his grandmother. He adopted the title Duke of Milan for himself and allied with Venice. Ludovico Sforza was forced to flee to Burgundy. In turn, Ambassador Raimundis was left in a vulnerable position, so he fled to Flanders.

Master John Cabot’s launch was announced in the Michaelmas-1497 to September-1498 issue of the Great Chronicle of London. It stated that King Henry of England had manned and victualed “a ship at Bristol in search for an island which the Venetian John Cabot knew well, and which was replenished with rich commodities.” The article stated that London merchants were sending “in company of said ship sailing out of Bristol … three or four small ships freighted with slight and gross merchandise,” including “coarse cloth caps, lace point, and other trifles.”

From the above article, historians place the number count for Cabot’s fleet at five vessels. A letter written later by the Spanish Ambassador Pedro de Ayala(2) to the Catholic Monarchs suggests the fleet may have been smaller. “The people of Bristol had equipped [and sent out] two, three, or four caravels to go in search of the island of Brasil and the Seven Cities.”

The fleet, which was substantially smaller than the flotilla Columbus commanded on his second voyage, departed from Bristol in May of 1498.

Either that month or in June, right after Cabot’s departure, and while Columbus was stopping in the Madeiras on his third voyage, King Henry VII dealt with the Pretender Perkin Warbeck again. Henry desperately wanted to hide the scandal from the Catholic Monarchs. If it turned out that the Pretender’s claim was accepted by the British people, Catherine of Aragon would no longer be engaged to an heir to the English throne. England would oust Henry and his sons Arthur and Henry from her shores, if they did not hang the men for treason first. [And John Cabot would be without a sponsor.]

Warbeck had escaped from the Tower of London and taken sanctuary in a monastery in southern England. Henry managed to capture him. Again, he promised the Pretender his life if he admitted his fraud, but Warbeck refused the offer. Henry’s soldiers took Warbeck to Westminster Hall and placed him in the stocks. The next day, June 14, 1499, the guards marched Warbeck to the scaffold in Cheapside [a suburb of London]. This time Warbeck read a confession. “First it is to be known that I was born in the town of Turney in Flanders, and my father’s name is John Osbek, which said John Osbek was controller of the town of Turney. And my mother’s name is Kathryn D’Affaro [de Faro].” Warbeck then explained how some English men had forced him to pretend to be King Richard’s bastard son, Richard IV.

After the confession, King Henry VII softened and placed the Pretender under house arrest. The guards provided Warbeck with accommodations in Henry’s court and allowed him to move around freely. However, they kept a close eye on him and did not allow him to be with his wife.

That was not the end of Warbeck’s trouble making.

On July 25, 1498, the two Spanish ambassadors living in London, Rodrigo de Puebla and Pedro de Ayala, wrote to their king and queen informing them about Cabot’s expedition.

Pedro De Ayala, who had been part of the negotiations between Portugal and Spain regarding the Treaty of Tordesillas, was particularly upset that Cabot had tread into Spanish territory. He wrote, “I think your Majesties have already heard how the King of England has already equipped a fleet to explore certain islands or a mainland which he has been assured certain persons who set out last year from Bristol in search of the same have recovered….I have seen the map made by the discoverer, who is another Genoese [actually Venetian] like Colón [Columbus], who has been in Seville and at Lisbon [with Jerome Muenzer?] seeking to obtain persons to aid him in his discovery. Having seen the course they are steering, and the length of the voyage, I find that [the land] they have discovered, or are in search of, is possessed by your Highnesses because it is at the cape which fell to your Highnesses by the convention of Portugal.

“I told [King Henry] that I believed the islands were those found by Your Highnesses, and although I gave him the main reason, he would not have it. Since I believe Your Highnesses will already have notice of all this and also of the chart or mappe mondi which this master has made, I do not send it now, although it is here, and so far as I can see exceedingly false, in order to make believe that these are not part of the said islands [the West Indies]. [Historians desperately hope that map will surface one day.]

Ayala stated that His Majesty King Henry had invested in the expedition and “hoped this affair(3) may turn out profitable.”

Soon after departure, the ships ran into a storm. One or all the vessels made it to Ireland for shelter. There are two versions of what happened to Cabot and his ships after that. According to Richard Hakluyt in his Principal Navigations [published 1589-1600), one ship limped home, badly damaged from a storm. That would have been the ship Sebastian Cabot took passage on, if he was on the expedition with his father. The remaining four vessels, along with their Admiral, were never heard from again. It was generally believed they were lost at sea during the storm that damaged the ship that returned. If Cabot kept a ship’s log, it sank to the bottom of the sea with him in the Matthew.

A second ending to this story is evolving from information Dr. Ruddock dug up, but which has yet to be confirmed. [The Cabot Project researchers are working on that.] After the ships were delayed by the storm in Ireland:

Carbonariis and his Friars

We told you earlier about Pope Alexander VIs deputy tax collector in England, Giovanni Antonio de Carbonariis. And we mentioned the “poor Italian friars” who, according to the Milanese Ambassador Raimundo di Raimundis, had been promised bishoprics if they accompanied Cabot back to Newfoundland. Apparently Carbonariis joined the “poor friars” as their fearless leader.

Probably with the help of the Vatican, Carbonariis and his friars obtained their own ship named the Dominus Nobiscum [God be With Us]. After surviving the storm in some port in Ireland, they continued on to Newfoundland, debarked, and set up a mission. The most likely location would be the town known as Carbonear today. [If you say Carbonear with an Italian accent, it sounds just like Carbonariis.] Carbonear is across Conception Bay from St. John’s. [If this story is true, and the Prince Madog story is not true, then Carbonear was the first European settlement in North America after the Viking settlement.[(4)

We know Carbonariis joined the expedition because on June 20, 1498, a month after Cabot departed, Agostino Spinola,(5) who had assumed the position of Ambassador to the Duke of Milan after Raimundo di Raimundis fled to Flanders, wrote a letter from London to the new Duke of Milan, Louis XII [who was also the King of France]. In the letter Spinola stated that he had received a letter addressed to Messer Giovani Antonio de Carbonariis. “I will keep the [letter] until his return. He left recently with five ships, which his Majesty sent to discover new lands.”

We know Carbonariis made it as far as Ireland from a letter written the following month, on July 25, 1498, by the Spanish ambassador Pedro de Ayala(6) to his Catholic Monarchs, “News has come that one of [Cabot’s ships], in which sailed the other Friar Buyl [Carbonariis] has made land in Ireland in a great storm with the ship badly damaged. The Genoese [Cabot] kept on his way.” [That means another ship, not the one on which Carbonariis was sailing, was the damaged vessel that limped home].

Dr. Alwyn Ruddock suggested that in the following spring of 1499, Carbonariis and his friars left on their own small voyage of discovery to Labrador. She may have uncovered an old legend perpetuated by Richard Hakluyt in Principal Navigations about an expedition that took place in 1527 on a ship called Dominicus Noviscum and another expedition that occurred that year with two ships, the Sampson and the Mary of Guildford.

English chronicler Samuel Purchas wrote about the Sampson and the Mary of Guildford in his book Purchas My Pilgrims(7) published in 1625. Purchas wrote that Henry VIII sent “two fair ships, well manned and victualed, having in them divers [a variety of] cunning men, to seek strange regions.” The two ships departed Plymouth, England, on June 10, 1527, for Newfoundland. The Sampson, which was separated from her consort in a storm, was never heard from again. The Mary of Guildford ended up in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Dr. Ruddock also noted that she was trying to connect Carbonariis with an island that appeared on a Portuguese chart in 1503 named Ilha de Frey Luis [Island of Brother Luis]. She wondered if that island was a hermit retreat for the friars of Carbonariis.

What historians do know is that Carbonariis and his friars did not return to Bristol. There are no more records of Friar Carbonariis after he left with Cabot. His position as Collector of Papal Revenues was refilled as of four years later by a scholar and cleric named Polydore Vergin [aka Polidoro Virgilio], who King Henry VII commissioned to write a history of England.

Vergin’s conclusion on what happened to Cabot’s expedition would say nothing about Carbonariis. “There was talk at about this time that some sailors on a voyage had discovered lands lying in the British ocean, hitherto unknown. This was easily believed because the Spanish sovereigns in our time had found many unknown islands. Whereto fore, King Henry at the request of one John Cabot, a Venetian by birth, and a most skillful mariner, ordered to be prepared one ship, complete with crew and weapons; this he handed over to the same John to go and search for those unknown islands. John set out in this same year and sailed first to Ireland. Then he set sail towards the west. In the event he is believed to have found the new lands nowhere but on the very bottom of the ocean, to which he is thought to have descended together with his boat, the victim himself of the self-same ocean; since after that voyage he was never seen again anywhere.”

Cabot’s Demise

Dr. Ruddock proposed a slightly more positive outcome for John Cabot. In her outline for Exeter Press, she included the following subtitles for Chapter Thirteen(8):

Dr. Evan T. Jones of Bristol University and his Cabot Project researchers have provided the following translation:

After the storm subsided, Cabot in the Matthew left Ireland and returned to Newfoundland. From there he sailed south along the North American coast searching for Quinsay. Juan de la Cosa’s map from 1500 suggests Cabot may have laid claims along the way if they were not made later by another English explorer [perhaps William Weston].

Cabot was perfectly capable of taking latitudinal measurements. He knew when he passed Florida that he was entering Spanish waters. He sailed through the Gulf of Mexico and into the Caribbean. Then, as he coasted eastward along the northern shore of today’s Venezuela, he came across captain Alonso de Hojeda (1468-1515)(9), who was working for Admiral Columbus. We know Hojeda could have been in that area because a Spanish document stated that on May 20, 1499, “Alonso de Hojeda set sail from Spain for the West Indies.”

Spanish historian Martín Fernández de Navarrete wrote, in 1829, a Collection of voyages and discoveries in which he stated, “It is certain that [Alonso de] Hojeda in his first voyage encountered certain Englishmen in the vicinity of Coquibaçoa(10). We show you the location of Coquibaçoa on the map below.

There is speculation that Hojeda absconded Cabot’s charts and sent him home with a warning. Some say the Spanish murdered the English. But for the following reasons, Dr. Ruddock believed Cabot made it home safely.

The Bristol custom office continued to pay revenues for Cabot’s pension during the time between 1498 and Michalmas [September] 1499. Someone was also paying the rent of forty-shillings a month on Cabot’s home in Bristol.

Historians originally assumed that Cabot’s wife and or sons were collecting the revenue and paying the rent. But, Dr. Ruddock’s outline indicated that she found evidence that Cabot was still alive until 1500, and that he died in either Bristol or London a few months later. [The Cabot Project people are still trying to find the source of her statement and more information.]

Actual documentation confirms that in the year 1500, Alonso de Hojeda, Juan de la Cosa and, possibly, Amerigo Vespucci, spent the summer surveying the coast of Central America for the Spanish Monarchs. Amerigo Vespucci had inherited the venture capital business from Giannotto Berardi when he passed away. There is some speculation that Vespucci was not really on the voyage – that he only made it look like he was so he could name the new continents America after himself, rather than after Columbus, Cabot, Hojeda, or De La Cosa. Historians find it odd that the continents were given the man’s Christian name [first name] rather than his surname [last name].

We have more reason to believe that the English [John Cabot, William Weston, or others] were sailing in the Caribbean as early as the year 1500 because on June 8, 1501, Ferdinand and Isabella instructed Alonso de Hojeda to return to Coquibaçoa “that you go and follow that coast which you have discovered, which runs east and west, as it appears, because it goes toward the region where it has been learned that the English were making discoveries; and that you go setting up marks with the [coat of] arms of their Majesties, or other signs that may be known, such as shall seem good to you, in order that it be known that you have discovered that land, so that you may stop the exploration of the English in that direction.”(11) The Catholic Monarchs promised Hojeda that if he “stopped the English,” he would receive six leagues of land along the coast of Española.

Sebastian Cabot’s Account

John Cabot’s son Sebastian later become a significant mariner and left written accounts of several of his voyages, one of which, he claimed, he took with his father. Historians complain, however, that Sebastian often distorted or confused the facts. Sometimes Sebastian adopted his father’s voyages were his own. Sometimes he mixed the facts about his father’s voyages with a voyage he made himself from 1508 to 1509 to search for the Northwest Passage.

In 1516, Pietro Martine, who wrote a biography of Sebastian Cabot, and another of Christopher Columbus, and who knew them both personally, stated that Sebastian coasted south along North America all the way to the Caribbean, sailing between the coast and Cuba [clearly proving that Cuba was an island]. But some historians think this description was really about John Cabot’s voyage in 1498. The reason they think this is because in 1534, Matire published a new book that deleted the story he had originally included about Sebastian.

For the purposes of this book about Crossing the Ocean Sea, we can firmly say that the English were sailing around the Caribbean as early as 1500 if not before. We can not which English?

Except for the writings of Sebastian Cabot, the letters written on July 25, 1498 by the two Spanish ambassadors, Rodrigo de Puebla and Pedro De Ayala to the Catholic Monarchs are the last documents written by contemporaries of John Cabot about his expedition that still survive today.

In 1997, to help celebrate the 500th anniversary of Cabot’s voyage, Bristol Harbour built a replica of the Matthew – with a tiny cheat, she has a motor. A crew of Bristol men sailed her to Newfoundland following the most commonly believed path of Cabot’s course. Today, anyone can visit the Matthew replica in Bristol Harbour.(12)

Author in front of the replica of the Matthew in Bristol Harbour, October, 2008.


  1. Ship surgeons, sometimes spelled churgions, accomplished several tasks, usually with a blade of some sort. They cut hair and beards. But they were more than the equivalent of today’s barbers. They performed medical feats, such as extracting teeth and amputating limbs.
  2. Correspondence of Don Pedro de Ayala, the Spanish ambassador in London, 1498
  3. Historian Douglas Hunter suspected that by “previous affairs that came to nothing,” Ayala was referring to the 1480 expedition of John Jay, Jr and Thomas Lloyd, and the 1483 expedition of Thomas Croft.
  4. This theory was presented by James A Williamson in 1962 in his book The Cabot Voyages. Mr. David O. True had notified Williamson that the old place-name Carbonear was very similar to the unique name Carbonariis.
  5. We do not know the relationship of Agostino Spinola and Benedetto. Agostino Spinola was the link between Carbonariis and the Florentine financiers in London.
  6. De Puebla and Carbonariis had another connection. To cut expenses, De Puebla lived at the Augustinian friary in London, the same order to which Giovanni Antonio de Carbonariis belonged.
  7. Purchas, Samuel. Purchas his Pilgrims, Volume III, p. 809
  8. Hunter, Douglas. The Race to the New World: Christopher Columbus, John Cabot, and a Lost history of Discovery, Palgrave Macmillan, a division of St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1001. p. 248-249
  9. Also spelled Alonso de Ojeda
  10. Quote from Niall Kilkenny’s website: The Columbus Myth Exposed At Last!: How the Spanish Inquisition Stole the New World from England! http://www.reformation.org/columbus-myth-exposed.html. His source: Collection of voyages and discoveries [Spanish = Colección de los viages y descubriementos in Spanish], vol. III, Madrid, 1829, p. 41 also quoted by Douglas Hunter, ibid. p 243
  11. Ibid
  12. www.matthew.co.uk


  1. The Cabot Project Web Site: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/history/research/cabot/
  2. Hunter, Douglas. The Race to the New World: Christopher Columbus, John Cabot, and a Lost history of Discovery, Palgrave Macmillan, a division of St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1001
  3. The Diary of Martin Sanudo, 1493
  4. Writings of historian Angelo Trevisan, secretary to the Venetian ambassador in Spain.

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