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Re: Henry Sinclair's 'voyage' to America

Dear everyone,

A very enjoyable and stimulating  New Year to you all.

I've just been reading the chapter on the 'Sinclair
Earldom' in the 'The New History of Orkney' by the
very respected Orcadian local historian William P L
Thomson - he resides on the island of Burray in
Orkney, and was a former headmaster of Kirkwall
Grammar school and before that Principal Teacher of
Geography in the Anderson High School,Lerwick,

The book is published by the  Mercat Press and the
ISBN number is : 184183 0224). It is a completely
revised edition of  Thomson's 1987 History of Orkney 
in which he hinted there might be 'some truth'in the
Zeno Narrative/ Sinclair voyage story). In this new
edition , however, Thompson is totally dismissive of
the 'Voyage'.  Here are a few extracts :

  ' it has been Earl Henry's singular fate to enjoy an
ever-expanding posthumous reputation which has little
to do anything he achieved in his lifetime.  As a
result of the fabulous inventions of van Bassan
(charitably described as ' a very confident
genealogist') and the credulouswork of Father Hay,
Henry became a 'Prince' and was credited with titles
and honours which he never possessed and with a
royalmariage which nevr took place.  ......

... Roland Saint-Clair, author of 'The Saint-Clairs of
the Isles (1898), was sceptical about some of these
tales, but he combined thorough knowledgeof the
documentary sources with a reluctance to abandon
stories which reflected so well on his
Sinclairancestors. .....

... There is nothing in contemporary records to
suggest that such a voyage took place, and the
Atlantic crossing does not even appear among the
fabulous narratives of Van Bassan andFather Hay.

... Those who believe in Henry's transatlantic voyage
not only accept the imaginary places and non-existent
islands which appear in the dubious Zeno narrative and
the even more dubious Zeno map,but modern elaboration
of the tale supposes contacts with Nova Scotia which
even Zeno does not support.  Furthermore any Orkney
connection depends entirely on believing that achief
by the name of 'Zichmni' was none other than Henry
Sinclair,the name 'Zichmni' being optimistically
interpreted as a rendering either of 'Sinclair' or
'D'Orkney'.  If Earl Henry was actually Zichmni who
playsa central part in the story, it is somewhat
surprising that Orkney is neither mentioned ijn the
narrative nor shown on the Zeno map,although the name
'Orcades' had been universally known ever since Roman
times.  As well as the voyage to America, the
narrative credits Zichmni with campaigns supposedly
fought in islands which have been identified as
Shetland and/or Faroe, and this adds an entirely
fictional element to Henry's Viking image.  The
adentures of Zichnmi are not consistnt with what we
know about Earl Henry.  Henry's fictitious trip to
Anmerica continues to receive a good deal of
unfortunate publicity, but it belongs to fantasy
rather than to real history.

The counter view is that Henry was aLothian gentleman
of middling rank who was mainly an absentee from
Orkney andwas content to draw a modest income from his
impoverished estates. (following the population
decline following the ravages of the Black Death of
1349 and the medieval economic depression from c 1300
to 1500 - The bit here in brackets was inserted by me
based on what Thomson write elsewhere in the book)

.... far from being an independent 'Prince' (an
entirely spurious title), Henry was bound by an
installation charter which placed all sorts of
constraints on hisauthority.

Nevertheless it is possible to see how the legend of
Henry as a magnificent 'Prince' originated: the Earl
of Orkney occupied a unique position in Norway, and on
ceremonial occasions he was second in precedence only
to the Archbishop of Nidaros.  In Scotland Henry was
of middling importance - he is quite well documented
as one of a group of gentlemen associated with the
Earl of Douglas who played an active part in Lothian
and Borderspolitics - but he occupied a much grander
position in Norway.  In 1308 Hakon V had abolished the
title of earl with the exception of the royal princes
and the Earl of Orkney.  As the only person entitled
to the dignity of earl outside theimmediate royal
family, the Earl of Orkney occupied a unique if
somewhat anomalous position.  Hisrole, however,
wasconfined to ceremonial occasions and brought him no
extra wealth r power. In the main Henry fulfilled this
limited role in aconscientious way, and was quite
frequently to be found in Scandinavia

....At an unknown date betwen 1396 and 1402 Henry was

...... Henry's death as a patriotic earl fighting 'for
te defence of hiscountry' is a furtherpart of his
image as an earl in the saga-mould. His death has been
linked to an incident described by Holinshed when an
Englisg fleet fishing off Aberdeen was attacked by
Scots and, in retaliation, raided some of the Orkney
islands.  It is a reflection on his Viking-image that
Henry may have met his death when his Norwegian
earldom was mistaken for a part of Scotland. ''

(extracts taken from pages 166 to 171 - excuse my
typing errors!)

 Honestly, folks, isn't it time we all grow up  a bit,
continue to enjoy one another's company and Email
crack - though not too obsessively or exclusively - 
and drop this Zeno nonsense about 'Prince' Henry once
and for all.

Comments please!!

Once again, all the very best for 2002

Jack Sinclair

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