Did a Scottish nobleman lead an expedition to America nearly 100 years before Columbus? Mounting evidence suggests that in 1398 'Prince' Henry St Clair, Earl of Orkney, visited Nova Scotia and even established a colony there. The theory about the New World colony originated with a work known as the Zeno Narrative published in Venice in 1558, telling of a voyage to America at the end of the 1390s with a prince of the Scottish islands.
Prince Henry St. Clair
The St Clairs held a special place in the history of Scotland. Strong supporters of Robert Bruce, the 3rd Baron, Sir William, fought at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, along with two of his sons. Sir Henry St Clair, the 6th Baron - Prince Henry's grandfather - was one of the signatories of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath that defiantly announced Scotland's independence from England. On Robert Bruce's death Sir Henry's son William was one of three Scottish knights who set out to take his heart to the Holy Land.
The Zeno Narrative & Map
The story of Prince Henry St Clair's voyage to North America was written by the Venetian Nicolò Zeno in 1558. Zeno was a historian and prominent citizen and his book, known as 'The Zeno Narrative' included a map of the islands and countries of the North Atlantic. Zeno's source - or so he claimed - was letters written by two of his ancestors, another Nicolò, and his brother Antonio, who had served in the fleet of a Prince of the islands north of Scotland. Antonio's letters (as given in the Zeno Narrative) also refer to a book he had written that described the lands they visited in greater detail.
In 1849 a cannon was found off the shore of Louisburg Harbour on Cape Breton Island, and has since been conclusively identified as one commonly used by the Venetian navy - specifically the type used by Carlo Zeno to break the Genoese blockade of Venice in 1380. Further evidence in the form of stone buildings lend further credence to the claim that Prince Henry had contacted America before Columbus.
The Micmac - an Indian people located in the area where it is believed that Prince Henry arrived in America - along with other tribes in the surrounding regions, have a legend of a white hero who came from across the sea. The legends describe the hero as a 'prince', and say that he first met the Micmacs at Pictou - the place identified as the second landfall of Prince Henry's expedition. Wise and kindly, Prince Henry is also said to have taught the Micmacs all the arts of hunting, fishing and cultivation (as well as some astronomy). He travelled in a great stone canoe, also described as a floating island with trees - taken as a reference to a European sailing ship with its masts.
A Templar Colony?
Was Prince Henry looking for a new homeland for the Knights Templar? Formed during the Crusades, the Knights Templar had become the most powerful and wealthy institution in medieval Europe after the Church itself. As a band of warrior-monks, they had become the most feared soldiers of Christendom - the special forces of their day. But after two centuries of unrivalled power in Europe and the Holy Land, the Order was suddenly suppressed on charges of heresy, blasphemy and obscenity after King Philip IV of France, gave secret orders that all Templars were to be arrested in France. Similar action was taken in the rest of Europe.
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