Patent Granted by King Henry VII to John Cabot and his Sons, March 1496.
By this public document, Henry VII indicated his official, royal support for Cabot's
enterprise. As an agent of the English Crown, Cabot was empowered to investigate, claim
and possess lands "which before this time were unknown to all Christians" - which meant
he could not intrude on Spanish and Portuguese discoveries. The king would receive one
fifth of the value of merchandise brought back to Bristol, though he had invested no
money of his own.
Reproduced from H.P. Biggar, ed., The Precursors of
Jacques Cartier 1497-1534: A Collection of Documents relating to the Early History
of the Dominion of Canada (Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau 1911) 7-10. Original
document housed in the Public Record Office, London.
For John Cabot and his Sons.
The King, to all to whom, etc. Greeting: Be it known and made manifest that we have
given and granted as by these presents we give and grant, for us and our heirs, to our
well beloved John Cabot, citizen of Venice, and to Lewis, Sebastian and Sancio, sons of
the said John, and to the heirs and deputies of them, and of any one of them, full and
free authority, faculty and power 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 whatsoever burden and quality they may be, and with so many and
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 of them, and to the heirs and deputies of them and of
any one of them, and have given licence to set up our aforesaid banners and ensigns
in any town, city, castle, island or mainland whatsoever, 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 so discovered;
in such a way nevertheless that of all the fruits, profits, emoluments, commodities,
gains and revenues accruing from this voyage, the said John and sons and their heirs
and deputies shall be bound and under obligation for their every voyage, as often as
they shall arrive at our port of Bristol, at which they are bound and holden only to
arrive, all necessary charges and expenses incurred by them having been deducted, to
pay to us, either in goods or money, the fifth part of the whole capital gained, we
giving and granting to them and to their heirs and deputies, that they shall be free
and exempt from all payment of customs on all and singular the goods and merchandise
that they may bring back with them from those places thus newly discovered.
And further we have given and granted to them and to their heirs and deputies, that
all mainlands, islands, towns, cities, castles and other places whatsoever discovered
by them, however numerous they may happen to be, may not be frequented or visited by
any other subjects of ours whatsoever without the licence of the aforesaid John and
his sons and of their deputies, on pain of the loss as well of the ships or vessels
daring to sail to these places discovered, as of all goods whatsoever. Willing and
strictly commanding all and singular our subjects as well by land as by sea, that
they shall render good assistance to the aforesaid John and his sons and deputies,
and that they shall give them all their favour and help as well in fitting out the
ships or vessels as in buying stores and provisions with their money and in providing
the other things which they must take with them on the said voyage.
In witness whereof, etc.
Witness ourself at Westminster on the fifth day of March.
By the King himself, etc.
On 5 March 1496, King Henry VII granted a letters patent to John Cabot and his sons.
This permitted them to investigate, claim and possess any new lands so long as they
did not intrude on Spanish or Portuguese territories.
From André Vachon, in collaboration with Victorin Chabot and André Desrosiers,
Dreams of Empire: Canada before 1700, Records of Our History series, English transl.
by John F. Flinn (Ottawa, Ontario: Public Archives of Canada, ©1982) 23. Plate 7.
Courtesy of Public Records Office, London, England: Chancery, Warrants for the Great Seal,
Series II, C 82/146, no. 6.