Brave New World

Map of NewfoundlandAccording to many, Prince Henry's voyage to Nova Scotia took place in 1398-99 - certainly, there are no records of him in Orkney or Scotland at this time. He was also conspicuously absent from the signing of the Treaty of Kalmar - uniting Norway, Sweden and Denmark - in 1397, when he was represented by various dignitaries from Orkney and Shetland. (This would have been at the time when he prepared for his voyage.)

Interesting in this context is the hostility and intrigue surrounding marine trade at the time. The Germanic Hanseatic League had carved out a virtual monopoly on trade in the north - which, as researcher Niven Sinclair argues, prompted Queen Margaret, the regent of Norway, to try to create a rival 'Norse Commonwealth'. This would explain why the expedition was shrouded in mystery and the lack of official documentation. It is likely that his trip to England in 1392 was in some way connected with Queen Margaret's plan - certainly he could only have been absent from the signing of the Treaty of Kalmar with her approval.

A LongshipIt is now known that the Vikings reached Novia Scotia - which they called Vinland - in the 10th century. Perhaps these earlier adventures inspired Henry's own expedition to the New World.

A New World meant almost unlimited potential for commerce. Venetian eyes were also fixed on this new horizon, particularly since the Moslem fleets had taken control of the sea lanes to the Levant -Venice's most important trade routes. Bereft of this source of revenue, they sought to form new alliances and exploit any new sources of trade - which no doubt explains the Zeno brothers' involvement.

Venetian FlagPrince Henry is recorded as dying in battle in August 1400 - just months after his return from America - when English raiders made a surprise attack on Kirkwall. (There is some doubt about this raid due to rather vague record-keeping: there is the possibility that the raiders were, in fact, a hit squad sent by the Hanseatic League.)

 

The Line Continues

If, as many believe, Prince Henry left a colony behind in America, its link to Europe was severed by his sudden death. In any case, his successor - also Henry - could not have maintained it, being sent to accompany James the Crown Prince of France on his hazardous journey from Scotland to France. But despite his presence, the ship was captured by the English, and both Prince James and Earl Henry St Clair were imprisoned for many years.

Prince Henry's grandson, Sir William, the third and last St Clair Earl of Orkney, is best remembered today as the builder of the enigmatic Rosslyn Chapel in the mid-1400s.

In 1468 the Orkneys formed part of Princess Margaret of Norway's dowry when she married James III, and they became assimilated into the realm of Scotland. Now the direct possession of the Scottish Crown, Orkney lost its earls forever.

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