Thanks to the use of ultraviolet light, the details on a scroll of 500-year-old parchment have just been read for the very first time and reveal that King Henry VII was an avid supporter of those who attempted to brave the journey to what was then known as the New World.
As Live Science reports, after British merchant William Weston returned on on a journey in 1499 from Terra Nova, Henry VII rewarded him handsomely for his efforts, handing over 30 British pounds sterling which at the time would have been a hefty sum of money and would have had provided Weston with six years worth of income. Researchers point out that this amount of money shows clearly just how happy Henry VII was with the merchant’s keen dedication to visit the New World.
Evan Jones from the University of Bristol originally published a letter back in 2009 in which King Henry VII explained that William Weston was getting ready for a long journey to the “new found land” and, while this was certainly not the first expedition that left England for the New World, it was a first as far as British-led expeditions go.
John Cabot, who was a Venetian explorer, sailed twice from English ports to the New World in 1497 and 1498, but it was Weston who undertook the journey in 1499, much to the great delight of Henry VII. The newest research on the 500-year-old scroll was undertaken by Jones and Margaret Condon, who spent a great amount of time analyzing official tax records to understand more about the journeys that Europeans were taking to the New World at this time.
However, reading the tax records was no easy task as each of these were put on massive rolls of parchment that were created from the skins of sheep. Due to the extreme age of the parchment, the writing was so faded that it was only by using ultraviolet light that anything could be read today, and Condon noted that they almost missed what they were searching for in the roll at first.
“First time I read the roll, I almost missed it. These rolls are beasts to deal with, but also precious and irreplaceable documents. Handling them, it sometimes feels like you’re wrestling, very gently, with an obstreperous baby elephant!”
Researchers have now learned that both John Cabot and William Weston received financial rewards from Henry VII after they discussed future missions with him in 1498.
As Jones explained, “Finding this new evidence is wonderful. What’s amazing about these early Bristol voyages is how little we’ve ever known about them. Cabot’s voyages have been famous since Elizabethan times and were used to justify England’s later colonization of North America. But we’ve never known the identity of his English supporters. Until recently, we didn’t even know that there was an expedition in 1499.”
While historians are uncertain how Cabot’s voyage to the New World ended in 1498, it is known that Henry VII was certainly excited to get sailing again after hiring Weston for the next journey.