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CABOT, SEBASTIAN, Italian explorer and cosmographer; son of John Cabot; leader of an expedition for discovery of a northwest passage, 1508–9; d. 1557.

Sebastian Cabot was born in or before 1484 at Venice, where his father had some years earlier acquired rights of citizenship. This is attested by a Venetian document of 11 Dec. 1484, showing that at this date John Cabot already had sons, and by the English letters patent granted to him in March 1496, in which Sebastian is named second in order of his three sons. Sebastian made four legal declarations of his age in Spain in the years 1536, 1538, and 1543, implying birth-dates respectively before 1486, about 1479, about 1488 and about 1483. If the extreme dates be set aside, this evidence suggests that he was born not much earlier than 1484; and, as he informed Pietro Martire d’Anghiera (Peter Martyr) between 1512 and 1515, he was still “almost a child” (pene infans) when, before the end of 1495, he accompanied his father to England. The inference that John Cabot’s three sons, mentioned in his patent of 1496, must then have been of full age is almost certainly unfounded; the absence of their names from the second patent, which in 1498 authorized the impressment of shipping by their father, suggests in fact that at this date they were still minors.

Sebastian Cabot was accordingly Venetian by birth, and he was so described both in an English record of 1505 and in declarations which he himself made in Spain to Peter Martyr, before 1515, and to the Venetian ambassador, in 1522. Only after his return to England in 1548 did he claim English nationality, doubtless to protect himself against extradition and return to Spain. The false account of his early years which he then put into circulation was reported by Richard Eden (The decades of the newe worlde or west India, 1555): “Sebastian Cabote tould me that he was borne in Brystowe, and that at iiij. yeare ould he was carried with his father to Venice, and so returned agayne into England after certayne years, whereby he was thought to have been born in Venice.”

To Sebastian’s participation in his father’s voyage of discovery in 1497, the only testimony is the eighth printed legend accompanying his world map of 1544 (now in the BN): “This land was discovered by John Cabot the Venetian and Sebastian Cabot his son . . .” Nor does any evidence exist that Sebastian took part in his father’s second expedition in 1498, with which Sebastian’s statements about his own later voyage came to be associated. This gave rise to the erroneous belief, prevalent from the 16th to the 19th century, that Sebastian, and not John, Cabot conducted the two expeditions of 1497 and 1498; hence also the reaction which led Henry Harrisse (1896), with no better justification, to condemn Sebastian’s “disregard of truth” on the supposition that he had claimed credit for his father’s discoveries.

Sebastian Cabot’s name does not appear in any of the documents, from 1501 to 1506, connected with the operations of the Anglo-Portuguese syndicate known as the Company Adventurers into the New Found Lands [see Fernandes and Gonsales]. The royal letters patent issued to the company in 1501 and 1502 did not overlap with or supersede the privileges granted to John Cabot and his heirs in 1496; for these privileges were “heritable in perpetuity,” and Sebastian Cabot was in 1550 to obtain a certified copy of the original document. On 3 April 1505 King Henry VII awarded to “Sebastian Caboot Venycian” an annuity of £20” in consideracion of the diligent service and attendaunce” rendered by him in and about “our Town and poort of Bristowe” (PRO, E. 159, 20 Hen. VII). The terms of this grant, which may have been prompted by information or assumption of John Cabot’s death and the consequent lapse of his pension, do not suggest that Sebastian had been involved in the activities of the Company Adventurers, or indeed in any other oceanic enterprise of interest to the Crown. It is nonetheless possible, if not probable, that in this period he acquired the nautical experience which qualified him to command an expedition in 1508–9 and that the company’s voyages to lands which remain unidentified had some bearing on his own project.

On Sebastian Cabot’s voyage no official documents or contemporary narratives have survived. Its date is recorded by three writers of the 16th century, one of whom had known and spoken with him. These were Peter Martyr, who in his De orbe novo, Decade VII, composed in 1524, referred to the discovery of the “Bachalaos” by Sebastian Cabot in the 16th year back (anno ab hinc sexto decimo), i.e., in 1508 or 1509; Marcantonio Contarini, who reported to the Venetian Senate in 1536 (Wien, Oesterreichische Nationalbibliothek, codex 6122) that Sebastian Cabot had sailed in the reign of Henry VII and returned after the king’s death; and George Best, whose account of Frobisher’s voyages (A true discourse, 1578) ascribed Cabot’s expedition to the year 1508. The validity of these concurring testimonies outweighs the contradictory evidence of other 16th-century writers who, generally confusing Sebastian’s voyage with those of his father, variously dated it in 1496, 1497, or 1498. It commenced either in the spring of 1508 or (with less likelihood) in the spring of 1509, and it ended at some date after 21 April 1509.

The objective and course of the voyage were in later years described by Sebastian Cabot to several persons, who recorded them with slight variants. In his Decade III, composed in 1515 and printed in 1516, Peter Martyr wrote down what he had been told by Cabot, who had been a guest in his house in Seville; further details were added by the editor (probably Giovanni Battista Ramusio) of the Summario de la generale historia de lIndie occidentali (1534) compiled from Peter Martyr and other sources. In 1520–1 Cabot spoke of his “discovery” to a Venetian agent in England, and in 1522 to Gasparo Contarini, Venetian ambassador in Spain, in terms reported by Contarini in a dispatch dated from Valladolid 31 Dec. 1522. In 1550 Ramusio printed, in his Navigationi et viaggi, a garbled account of the voyage supplied by an unnamed “Mantuan gentleman,” who claimed to have had it from Cabot’s mouth some years earlier. In 1551 Cabot, then in England, was in correspondence with Ramusio, who printed in the Terzo volume della navigationi et viaggi (1556) a summary of a letter in which Cabot had described the voyage to him. Finally, during Cabot’s later life in England from 1548 and after his death in 1557, various Englishmen, notably Richard Eden (1555), Sir Humphrey Gilbert in A discourse of a discoverie for a new passage to Cataia (London, 1576; written in 1566), and Richard Willes in The history of travayle in the West and East Indies . . . (London, 1577), made statements about his voyage and discovery of 1508–9 derived from his maps and papers. Other early writers to give details of the voyage, of unknown provenance, are the Spanish chronicler López de Gómara (1552), the Portuguese António Galvão (1563), and the Swiss Urbain Chauveton (1579).

Common to all these sources is the indication that Sebastian Cabot’s expedition was directed, in the first instance, to high arctic latitudes, far north of the coasts traversed by his father in 1497. It is an inescapable inference, drawn by Winship in Cabot bibliography (1900) and Williamson in Voyages of the Cabots (1929), that at some date after 1498 the “intellectual discovery of America” had been made, that Sebastian in 1508 sought a sea passage by the north of the continent, and that he believed himself to have discovered such a passage. Gómara, who may have known Cabot in Spain, makes the positive statement that he intended “to go by the north to Cathay, and to bring thence spices in a shorter time than the Portuguese did by the south,” besides ascertaining “what sort of land the Indies were to inhabit,” i.e., for settlement.

The two most explicit accounts of the voyage, both of which cite Cabot as their authors’ informant, are those of Peter Martyr (1516) and Ramusio (1556); variant details in the other reports must be considered of inferior authority. Peter Martyr: “He equipped two ships at his own cost in Britain, and with three hundred men steered first for the north, until even in the month of July he found great icebergs floating in the sea and almost continuous daylight, yet with the land free by the melting of the ice. Wherefore he was obliged, as he says, to turn and make for the west. And he extended his course furthermore to the southward owing to the curve of the coastline, so that his latitude was almost that of the Straits of Gibraltar and he penetrated so far to the west that he had the island of Cuba on his left hand almost in the same longitude with himself. . . . Those coasts . . . he called the Bacallaos.” Ramusio: “He told me how, having gone on for a long time towards the west and a quarter north along the islands situated by the side of the said land, at the latitude of 67½ degrees under our pole, on the 11th of June, and finding the sea open and without any obstacle, he firmly believed that by that way he could pass towards Eastern Cathay, and he would have done it if the ill-will of the master and sailors, who were mutinous, had not compelled him to turn back.” These reports, supplemented by further details given by Gómara, indicate that Sebastian sailed, with two ships (probably equipped at the joint expense of himself, the king, and the merchants) and 300 men (an improbably high figure), from an English port (unnamed), by way of Iceland and southern Greenland to a landfall on the Labrador coast, which he followed north and west to 67½º N (Gómara, “58 degrees, although he himself says much more”; Galvão, “60 degrees”). Here he found open sea before him, but his crew refused to go on. He then traversed the North American coast south and west to the latitude of Gibraltar (Gómara: “to 38 degrees”) before returning to England.

If Sebastian Cabot’s account be admitted, he must be held to have passed through Hudson Strait to the mouth of Hudson Bay. He believed himself to have discovered the opening of the northwest passage to Cathay, and the maps drawn by him in later life and described by English writers, notably Willes (1577), showed a broad lead running west from a point between 61º and 64ºN for about ten degrees before broadening out, with a southerly trend, into the Pacific. These maps are now lost; but the representation of the passage in the surviving globe of Gemma Frisius, 1537, which according to Willes depicted it in the same way, enables us to visualize Sebastian’s concept of the passage, the discovery of which he claimed. The search for a seaway to Cathay was to dominate his subsequent career in Spanish and English service and to furnish motives for some obscure and tortuous transactions in it.

On 1 May 1512 Cabot was paid for making a map of Gascony and Guyenne and in the same month he accompanied the English army sent to Spain for the invasion of France. Whether he hoped to obtain Spanish support for further exploration is a matter for conjecture. It is however significant that in 1511 the Spanish government had projected an expedition “to ascertain the secret of the new land” called “Terra nova” and that soon after his arrival in June 1512 Cabot went to the Spanish court at Burgos and had an interview with colonial officials. On 13 September King Ferdinand instructed the English commander to send Cabot to him; and on 20 October Cabot was appointed a naval captain in the Spanish service. He was given leave to return to England and bring back his family, and he settled at Seville. In 1515 he received the further appointment of “Pilot to his Majesty.” Although he had been consulted by the king on matters of discovery in March 1514, and in the following year Peter Martyr wrote of a projected expedition, which was to sail in 1516, “for him to discover this hidden secret of nature,” i.e., the western passage, no voyage by him under the Spanish flag at this time is recorded. Ferdinand’s death in January 1516 may have stopped the project, and his successor Charles V appointed Cabot on 5 Feb. 1518 to the office of pilot-major in the Casa de la Contratación, in succession to Juan Díaz de Solís.

The abandonment of the Spanish plans for a voyage in 1516 perhaps explains why Cabot kept other strings to his bow and maintained communication with the governments of England and Venice. He may have visited London briefly in 1516, and an abortive English voyage “unto the new found land” in 1517 was said by Richard Eden, in 1553, to have been projected “under the governaunce” of Cabot and Thomas Spert. Better attested is Cabot’s association, in the years 1520–21, with the plans formulated by Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey for a voyage “towardes the Newefound Iland.” Cabot (as he told Gasparo Contarini at the end of 1522) was offered by Wolsey “high terms if I would sail with an armada of his on a voyage of discovery.” Although, in conversation with Contarini, he professed to have made his acceptance of the offer conditional on the permission of the king of Spain, the English merchant companies invited to invest in the venture were given to understand that he would be the commander. The reluctance of the London companies to subscribe was partly based on this proposal. The Drapers, considering the matter in March 1521 after consultation with the Mercers, suggested the employment of native-born English “maisters & mariners . . . having experience, and exercised in and about the forsaid lland”; and they thought it too risky to hazard ships and goods “uppon the singuler trust of one man, callyd as we understond, Sebastyan, whiche Sebastyan, as we here say, was never in that land hym self, all if he makes reporte of many thinges as he hath hard his ffather and other men speke in tymes past.” Against the scepticism of the merchants about Cabot’s claims as an explorer must be weighed the evident acceptance of these claims by Wolsey, who must have been aware of the voyage of 1508–9 and its results. For reasons not relevant to this issue the project of 1520–21 was abandoned.

To Contarini in 1522 Cabot asserted that he withdrew from the venture, in remorse at forgetting the interests of his “native land” (Venice), after conversation with a Venetian friar in London, to whom he said that he “had the means of rendering Venice a partner in this navigation and of showing her a passage whereby she would obtain great profit; which is the truth for I have discovered it.” After returning to Seville Cabot continued this intrigue through a Ragusan intermediary with the Council of Ten in Venice, who instructed Contarini to interview Cabot and, if he thought fit, to invite him to Venice “to explain his project.” When Cabot visited Contarini in December 1522, at the latter’s request, he was alarmed to discover that his private negotiations were known to the Venetian ambassador, whom he begged “to keep the thing secret, as it would cost me my life”; he declined to reveal his plan to any but the Ten, but offered to go to Venice, with the emperor’s permission, “on the plea of recovering his mother’s dowry.” Correspondence on the arrangements for this proposed visit continued until the end of July 1523. That it was then broken off is probably to be ascribed to the difficulty which Cabot, as pilot-major, would have had in obtaining leave of absence at a time when negotiations between Spain and Portugal on the Moluccas were imminent.

The duties of the pilot-major, as laid down for the first incumbent, Amerigo Vespucci, in 1508, embraced instruction in navigation and in instrument-making, the examination and licensing of pilots, the scrutiny and correction of the official charts, and the compilation of hydrographic information from pilots’ journals. The pilot-major was accordingly the principal geographical consultant of the Spanish government in matters concerning overseas navigation. Following the return of the Vitoria, the only surviving ship of Magellan’s squadron, in 1522, diplomatic exchanges were set on foot regarding the location of’ the Spice Islands in relation to the eastern extension of the raya, or demarcation line agreed in the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) between Spain and Portugal. On 15 April 1524 Cabot, with two other experts, signed a “Report on the longitude of the Molucca Islands,” and on 25 April, with 12 others, a letter to the emperor informing him of the breakdown of the discussions between the Spanish and Portuguese members of the commission or junta of pilots.

In 1524 a company of Seville merchants was formed to promote a commercial voyage to the Pacific by way of South America. In September Cabot, who had been appointed to the command, secured the consent of the Council of the Indies and the Crown’s support of the expedition by contributions to its cost and equipment. Charles V’s interest in the venture appears to have differed from that of its original sponsors and to have been directed to exploration of the South American coasts before “going to the Indies.” In the course of 1525, the preparations for the voyage were completed, not without much intrigue reflecting the divergent objectives of its promoters. The fleet comprised 4 ships and about 200 men. Cabot, who retained his office of pilot-major, to be served in his absence by two deputies, and had secured reversion of its supplementary emoluments to his wife, was appointed captain-general, with Martín Méndez as lieutenant-general and Miguel de Rodas as pilot in the capitana; the other ships were commanded by Gregorio Caro, Francisco de Rojas, and Miguel Rifos; their companies included the cosmographer Alonso de Santa Cruz and two Englishmen, Roger Barlow and Henry Patiner.

The expedition “for the discovery of Tharsis, Ophir and Eastern Cathay” sailed from Sanlucar de Barrameda on 3 April 1526 south to the Canaries and to the Cape Verde Islands. The SSW course then adopted by Cabot against the advice of the pilots took them into a zone of calms, with adverse winds; they spent over a month crossing to a landfall north of Pernambuco, three months coasting south to Cabo Frio, and another month to Santa Catarina island in 27°S, where the capitana ran aground and was lost on 28 October. By now Cabot, from the information of Portuguese settlers and Spanish survivors of earlier expeditions, had decided to explore the Plata region in search of the precious metals in which it was believed to be rich. Méndez, Rojas, Rodas, and other officers who, mindful of the commercial objectives of the expedition, opposed this decision were marooned at Santa Catarina. In February 1527 Cabot’s squadron entered the Rio de la Plata and five months were spent exploring the estuary. In August a fort named San Salvador was constructed at the junction of the Rio Uruguay and the Rio San Salvador, and the two larger ships were left there. With the brigantine and a galley built at Santa Catarina, Cabot took an exploring party in search of gold up the Rio Paraná, building the small fort of Sancti Spiritus on the Rio Carcarañá, and then up the Rio Paraguay. After losing 18 men in an ambush he returned to San Salvador, meeting on the way Diego García, leader of a new Spanish expedition to the Plata. Cabot sent one ship back to Spain, to convey his reports and his accusations against the mutineers and to request fresh supplies, and spent the winter of 1528–29 at San Salvador. In the spring he went back upstream to Sancti Spiritus, where, during his temporary absence in the autumn of 1529, the fort was captured and sacked by Indians; Cabot recovered the heavy guns and withdrew to San Salvador where, at a council on 6 Oct. 1529, it was decided to return to Spain. In company with García, Cabot sailed to São Vicente, where Rojas joined García; thence, after purchasing 50 Indian slaves and coasting Brazil, Cabot arrived at Seville on 22 July 1530 with one ship and 24 men.

Between this date and the end of the year he was arraigned on criminal charges brought by the Crown, by Rojas, and by relatives of Méndez and Rodas, both of whom had died. On charges of disobeying instructions, committing arbitrary acts, and causing the death of officers under his command, he was tried by the Council of the Indies and condemned, in May–July 1531, to two years’ banishment to Africa and payment of heavy damages; on appeal, the sentence of banishment was, on 1 Feb. 1532, increased to four years. During these proceedings, the emperor was absent in Germany; on his return in the spring of 1532 Cabot presented to him a description of the Plata region, with a proposal for another voyage to “Tharsis, Ophir, Eastern Cathay and Cipangu.” While his salary and arrears of pay were attached to pay the damages and costs arising from the lawsuits, Cabot never went into exile; and, although no pardon has been traced, he evidently resumed his duties as pilot-major during 1532. There could hardly be a clearer indication that Charles V was satisfied with the geographical results of the expedition to the Plata (even if it be too much to identify, with J. A. Williamson, the emperor as “the real wrecker of the Spice Islands voyage”) and that he expected further useful service from Cabot.

The voyage nonetheless exposed Cabot’s weaknesses as a man of action: he had abandoned the grounded capitana prematurely; he was guilty of hasty and vindictive, yet ineffectual, reaction to discontent among his subordinates. The charges against his reputation as a navigator are unconvincing and must be held unproven.

On 24 June 1533 Cabot wrote to the secretary of the Council of the Indies about three maps which he had made for the emperor and about a method of determining longitude from magnetic variation. In 1534 the Casa de la Contratación conducted an inquiry into his examination of pilots; that he was vindicated is attested by a royal cédula of 11 December instructing him to examine pilots for the Indies. In the following year Cabot gave evidence on the pleitos brought against the Crown by the heirs of Columbus; in the course of it he affirmed ignorance whether the lands to the north of the Gulf of Mexico were “a continent or not.” On 11 March 1541, in Seville, he signed a contract with two German printers “Lazaro Noremberguer” (Lazaro Aleman or Cromberger) and “Gabriel Miçel” (Gabriel Witzel?) to produce a world map, showing the latest discoveries, which they were to print; this contract seems to have been renewed in 1545, when the map had already been engraved, although no imperial privilege had yet been obtained. The map can almost certainly be identified with the large world map accompanied by 22 printed legends in Spanish and Latin, the 17th of which ascribes it to Sebastian Cabot and to the year 1544; this map, the unique copy of which is in the Bibliothèque nationale, Paris, is the only surviving example of Cabot’s cartographic work. That it is copied from the Spanish padrón real, or official master-chart, is improbable, and its derivation, in the main, from a world map of the Dieppe school is patent; but references, in the map itself and in the 7th, 8th, and 17th legends, to the voyages of the Cabots may well stem from Sebastian, as do no doubt the instructions for navigation in the 17th legend.

In these years Sebastian Cabot, as pilot-major, was concerned with the revision of the padrón real and with problems of chart-construction, on which opinion among the Spanish cosmographers and pilots was divided. This work brought Cabot not infrequently into conflict with other pilots and cosmographers of the Casa de la Contratación and perhaps diminished the emperor’s confidence in him. The most controversial issue in which he was involved was the proposal made in 1544 by the cosmographer Diego Gutiérrez to correct the padrón real by the introduction of a double graduation for latitude. Cabot supported Gutiérrez and produced reports on the numerous errors of the padrón; but the opinion of other cosmographers prevailed, and Cabot was in 1545 forced to acquiesce in the official condemnation of Gutiérrez’ proposed reform and to require him to make his charts accord with the padrón.

Cabot’s views on magnetic variation and its relation to longitude are quoted by several contemporaries. As early as 1522 he described to Contarini a method of “ascertaining by the compass the distance between two places from east to west”; he more than once emphasized the significance of marking in maps the line of no variation as a meridian; and he is reported to have expounded his views to King Edward VI, in England, between 1549 and 1553. A second method proposed by Cabot for finding the longitude, and described by Alonso de Santa Cruz, made use of the declination of the sun, observed with the quadrant.

Cabot seems to have become increasingly dissatisfied with Spanish service, and as early as 1538 he was soliciting employment in England; a memorandum from Sir Thomas Wyatt, ambassador in Spain, quotes him as “desirous, if he might not serve the King [of England], at least to see him, as his old master.” What reply came from England is unknown; that Cabot was the “pilot from Seville,” recorded in a dispatch from London as being retained there in 1541 by the king, is very doubtful. Six years later, after Henry VIII’s death, the English government evidently invited Cabot into its service; on 9 Oct. 1547 the Privy Council issued a warrant for £100 “for the transporting of one Shabot, a pilot, to come out of Hispain.” Cabot now made guarded arrangements for his departure: on 6 March 1548 he delegated his duties as pilot-major to Hernando Blas and Diego Gutiérrez, on 11 May he made his will, and on 9 July he was granted five months’ leave of absence “to go to Germany.” Payments of his salary were authorized by royal cédulas of 19 Oct. and 8 Nov. 1548; but by this time Cabot was probably no longer in Spain. On 6 Jan. 1549 King Edward VI granted him an annuity of £166 13s. 4d., payable from Michaelmas 1548 (perhaps the date of his arrival in England), “in consideration of . . . services done and to be done unto us” by him; and on 11 Sept. 1549 Henry Ostryge took up the £100 warrant “for conducting of Sebastian Sabott.”

The Emperor, Charles V, in a dispatch forwarded from Brussels to the Privy Council on 25 Nov. 1549, demanded the return of Cabot, “a verie necessary man for the Emperor whose servant he is [and] hath a pension of him.” To this the council replied on 21 April 1550 that “Cabot . . . of himself refused to go either into Spain or to the Emperor, and that he being of that mind and the King’s subject, no reason nor equity would that he should be forced to go against his will”; an interview between Cabot and the Spanish ambassador in London was equally unfruitful; and a final request, addressed by the Emperor to Queen Mary on 9 Sept. 1553, to give Cabot leave to come to Spain for consultation was answered by Cabot on 15 Nov. 1554, excusing himself on grounds of ill-health, although (he added) before dying “I want to disclose to Your Majesty the secret which I possess.” This was not the only door kept open by Cabot, for in 1551 he had been in correspondence with Venice, offering professional advice and enquiring once more about his patrimony.

Hakluyt’s statement that Cabot was appointed “Grand Pilot of England” by Edward VI is of doubtful validity. Cabot was certainly consulted in or before 1553 about a plan for an Anglo-French descent on Peru (the “secret” of which he wrote to Charles V); but his principal task was to be that of expert adviser on the English ventures for discovery of a northeast passage. He became governor of the company subsequently known as the Muscovy Company, which was constituted in the spring of 1553; and in this capacity he drew up the instructions, dated 9 May 1553, for the company’s first voyage, under Sir Hugh Willoughby and Richard Chancellor. Cabot remained governor after the grant of a new charter to the company in 1555, and he assisted in the preparation of the expedition sent out by the company in 1556 under Stephen Borough. Borough’s narrative, printed by Hakluyt, relates that Cabot himself (now aged about 74) came down to Gravesend, went aboard the pinnace, and then, entertaining the ship’s company at the inn, “for very joy . . . entred into the dance himselfe amongst the rest of the young and lusty company.”

In February 1557 his successor as governor of the company was in office. In March Cabot drew his quarterly pension in person; in May the pension was re-granted to him and to William Worthington jointly, and to the survivor of them; in June and September the pension was drawn on behalf of Cabot; and by December, when payment was made to Worthington alone, “de annuitate sua,” Sebastian Cabot must have been dead. No will of his later than that made in Seville on 11 May 1548 has survived.

In 1582 Hakluyt referred to Cabot’s “owne Mappes and discourses drawne and written by himself, which are in the custodie of . . . Master William Worthington,” and to a proposal (by Hakluyt himself?) to publish them. Unhappily nothing came of this; and the only surviving literary remains of Sebastian Cabot are the Spanish documents printed by Harrisse (1882 and 1896), by Toribio Medina (1908), and by Pulido Rubio (1950), the English documents printed by Hakluyt (1589), and indirect quotations from his conversation and letters preserved by 16th-century writers. Of his maps, only the printed world map of 1544, with its legends, survives in a single copy, although a second copy of the Latin legends, in pamphlet form, also exists. Of the version of this map “settout” or “cutt” (engraved?) by Clement Adams, apparently in 1549, with variant readings of the legends, copies were seen in various libraries during the 16th and 17th centuries, and described in terms which show that its revision in England, doubtless at Cabot’s direction, illustrated his concept of the northwest passage of which he supposed himself to be the discoverer. Copies of his map were still in the royal collection about 1660 and probably perished in the burning of the Palace of Whitehall in 1691 and 1697.

An oil painting of Sebastian Cabot in old age, perhaps identical with one seen by Purchas in the royal collection at Whitehall before 1625, was in the 18th and 19th centuries in the possession, successively, of Lord Errol, of C. J. Harford of Bristol, and of Richard Biddle of Pittsburg, Pa. It was destroyed by fire in 1845; copies made by J. G. Chapman are owned by the Massachusetts and New York historical societies and by the Mayor and Corporation of Bristol. The portrait appears to be an ideal one, executed after Cabot’s death.

On Cabot’s family only scattered notices survive. That he was married and had offspring in England before 1512, when he entered Spanish service, is attested by his journey to London at the end of that year to bring his wife and family (su mujer y casa) to Seville; by a reference in a Spanish document of 14 Sept. 1514, indicating that by this date his wife Juana (Joanna?), of the parish of St. Giles in London, was dead; and by the English record of a legacy to his daughter Elizabeth, on 7 May 1516, from her godfather William Mychell of London. Cabot evidently remarried in Spain; and various official documents, from 25 Aug. 1525, name his wife as Catalina de Medrano. Witnesses in the lawsuits following Cabot’s return to Spain in 1530 testified that his wife was a domineering woman who interfered in his affairs; she died on 2 Sept. 1547. A daughter died in 1533; she is unnamed, and it is not known whether she was born in England or Spain. The reference to “sons” of Catalina de Medrano, found in one document only, of 1525, may be merely an official formalism. An English document of 1586 refers to Henry Ostryge, who conveyed Cabot to England in 1548, as his “son-in-law.” No descent from Sebastian Cabot can be proved.

R. A. Skelton

The titles of works here given by author and date only are found under John Cabot. The list is chronological. R. Biddle (1831). H. Harrisse (1882). F. Tarducci (1892). H. Harrisse (1896). C. R. Beazley (1898). G. P. Winship (1900). H. P. Biggar (1903 and 1911). J. Toribio Medina, El veneciano Sebastián Caboto al servicio de España (Santiago de Chile, 1908). J. A. Williamson (1929). R. Almagià (1937). José Pulido Rubio, El piloto mayor de la Casa de la Contratación de Sevilla (Sevilla, 1950). R. Almagià, Commemorazione di Sebastiano Caboto nel IV centenario della morte (Venezia, 1958). J. A. Williamson (1962).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

R. A. Skelton, “CABOT, SEBASTIAN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 24, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cabot_sebastian_1E.html.

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Author of Article:   R. A. Skelton
Title of Article:   CABOT, SEBASTIAN
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1966
Year of revision:   2014
Access Date:   February 24, 2024