The Smugglers' City
Department of History, University of Bristol






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Pedro de Ayala, the Spanish envoy in London, to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in Spain, 25 July, 1498

Source: Luis A. Robles Macías, ‘Revised transcription of Pedro de Ayala’s 1498 report about English voyages of exploration’, pp. 11-13. This is a translated and slightly abridged version of the article by the same author entitled ‘Transcripción revisada del informe de Pedro de Ayala de 1498 sobre las expediciones inglesas de descubrimiento’, Revista de Indias, 74, no. 262 (2014). Note that the translation below replaces an earlier and less accurate from H.B. Biggar (ed.), The Precursors of Jacques Cartier, 1497-1534 (Ottawa, 1911), pp. 28-9, which was posted on this page from 2006-2015. The new translation is reproduced with the author’s permission.

I believe Your Highnesses have already heard how the king of England1 has equipped a fleet to explore certain islands or mainland which he has been assured certain persons who set out last year from Bristol in search of the same have discovered. I have seen the chart2 made by the discoverer, who is another Genoese like Colon3, who has been in Seville and in Lisbon seeking to obtain persons to aid him in this discovery. For the last seven years the people of Bristol have equipped two, three, four caravels to go in search of the island of the brazil and the seven cities. According to the fancy of this Genoese4, the king made up his mind to send [vessels], because last year5 [he] brought him sure proof6 they had found land. The fleet he prepared, which consisted of five vessels, was provisioned for a year. News has come [that] one of these, in which sailed another Friar Buil7 has made land in Ireland in a great storm with the ship badly damaged. The Genoese kept on his way. Having seen the course they are steering and the length of the voyage, I find that what they have discovered or are in search of is possessed by Your Highnesses because it is at the end [of] what8  fell to Your Highnesses by the convention with Portugal9. It is hoped they will be back by September; I let Your Highnesses know about it. The king has spoken to me several times on the subject. He hopes to obtain very great profit10. I believe the distance is not four hundred leagues. I11 told him that I believed they were those [islands?] found by Your Highnesses, and although I gave him some reason12, he would not have it. Since I believe Your Highnesses will already have notice of all this and also of the chart or mappa mundi13 which this man has made, I do not send it now, although it is here, and to my eye14 exceedingly false, in order to make believe that they [the new lands] are not part of the said islands [of Your Highnesses].

1  Henry VII, king of England and lord of Ireland from 1485 to his death in 1509.
2  In the original “carta”, translated by Biggar as ‘map’.
3  The explorer known in English as Christopher Columbus was called Cristobal Colon in Spain. This fragment of Ayala’s latter is often quoted as a proof of Columbus’s Genoese origin. However, John Cabot was not Genoese.
4  Most published transcriptions place a dot after the word ‘ginoves’ (Genoese) instead of after “ciudades” (cities).
5  1497, given that the letter is dated July 25, 1498.
6  The original says “le truxo certinidad”, which Biggar translated as “sure proof was brought him”.
7  Bernardo Boyl or Boil was an Aragonese friar who took part in Columbus’s second voyage to the Indies after having been named by the Pope apostolic vicar for those lands. But Ayala probably does not mean that Boil actually took part in Cabot’s expedition.
8  Biggar wrote “at the cape which” while in the original it says “al cabo que”.
9  Most likely the Treaty of Tordesillas, signed in 1494 between the king of Portugal and the sovereigns of Castile and Aragon, which established the border between their respective territories along a meridian located 370 leagues to the West of Cape Verde islands.
10  The original says “spera auer muy gran interesse.” Biggar departed significantly from it by writing “the affair may turn out to be profitable”.
11  The original says “lo”, probably a mistake for “yo”.
12  Biggar transcribed the original here as “aun le dia la una razon” and translated “although I gave him the main reason”. This was one of the very few transcription mistakes Biggar made, for the original actually reads “aun le di alguna razon”. The same mistake was found in Harrisse’s transcription.
13  The original says ‘napamundi’, possibly a mistake for “mapamundi”, but the form with initial ’n’ can be found in some contemporary Iberian documents.
14  The original says “ami ver”, which Biggar translated as “so far as I can see”.

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