The Tudor Society

5 March 1496 – Henry VII issues letters patent to explorer John Cabot

John Cabot

John Cabot

On this day in history, King Henry VII issued letters patent to navigator and explorer Giovanni Caboto, better known as John Cabot, and his three sons, giving them his royal authority for a voyage of exploration:

"[...] to sail to all parts, regions and coasts of the eastern, western and northern sea, under our banners, flags and ensigns, with five ships or vessels of whatso-ever burden and quality they may be, and with so many and with such mariners and men as they may wish to take with them in the said ships, at their own proper costs and charges, to find, discover and investigate whatsoever islands, countries, regions or provinces of heathens and infidels, in whatsoever part of the world placed, which before this time were unknown to all Christians. We have also granted to them and to any one of them, and have given licence to set up our aforesaid banners and ensigns in any town, city, castle, island or mainland whatso-ever, newly found by them. And that the before-mentioned John and his sons or their heirs and deputies may conquer, occupy and possess whatsoever such towns, castles, cities and islands by them thus discovered that they may be able to conquer, occupy and possess, as our vassals and governors lieutenants and deputies therein, acquiring for us the dominion, title and jurisdiction of the same towns, castles, cities, islands and mainlands discovered [...]"

You can read the full patent on the University of Bristol Department of History's website at or at the Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador website, which includes an image of the document -

Under this royal commission, Cabot set off to find Asia and instead discovered parts of North America, including an island he named "new found land", although it's not clear that it was in fact present day Newfoundland.

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