I’ve been talking quite a bit about the Zeno Narrative recently because it is of primary importance as the sole piece of actual evidence that Henry Sinclair ever visited America. As it turns out, I shouldn’t have wasted so much time working on analyzing the Zeno Narrative point by point because someone else has already done so. In 1898 Frederic W. Lucas (1842-1932) published a “criticism and indictment” on the Zeno Narrative—a full length book—analyzing the Zeno story in extensive detail. A copy of the book has been posted on Archive.org.
Lucas was a solicitor whose hobby was studying the early history of voyages to America. He was flabbergasted that anyone would take Richard Henry Major’s fanciful and highly speculative claims about the Zeno Narrative seriously, and he sought to analyze the narrative down to its origins, finding the literary sources Nicolò Zeno the younger used in compiling it, particularly the works of Olaus Magnus.
Lucas brings up some interesting points that I think are worth emphasizing. In the Narrative, Zichmni is never said to have reached the far-distant lands of Estotiland and Drogeo, which some have tried to identify with North America. This means that Zichmni, by the narrative’s own claims, never made it to America. Only by Major explicitly rejecting the Narrative’s own claim that Zichmni sailed to Greenland can Zichmni be taken from Greenland to America. Lucas also notes that the Zeno Narrative has Zichmni explicitly tell Nicolò Zeno the elder that he (Zichmni) is a fellow Italian—and therefore not a Scot! (Major claims this is simply a “mistake” introduced by the 1558 author.) Lucas further notes that this entire passage is borrowed directly from as Spanish writer named Jeronimo Aguilar, who included an identical scene.
In discussing the alleged identity of Zichmni with Henry Sinclair, who was bound to the King of Norway by restrictions of fealty, I love the fact that Lucas actually notes that Thomas Sinclair was a leading force behind this nuttiness and calls him out on his hypocrisy. He notes that Thomas Sinclair wants to recognize his ancestor as a hero, while the “proof of this would involve the conviction of [Henry] Sinclair of grave and disgraceful crimes; for if he had done what Zichmni is said to have done, in despite of his oaths of fealty, he must have been a perjured rebel and traitor, a hypocrite and imposter” (p. 97).
But for our purposes, Lucas’ most interesting claim is his tentative identification of Zichmni’s original. It was not, he said, Henry Sinclair but rather a well-known Baltic pirate named Wichmannus (Latinized from Wichmann), whose name is nearly identical to the fictional prince. This pirate was known to have menaced the seas from 1388 to his death in 1401, and Lucas notes that Zichmni’s history of raiding small islands is a very close analog to the piratical activities of Wichmannus. Just as Norway tried to destroy Zichmni’s small force, the Hanseatic League did the same with Wichmannus’ crew. Lucas notes that Renaissance Italian did not contain a letter to represent “W,” and “Z” would have been an appropriate substitute—at least as much as Fred Pohl’s later suggestion that Zichmni was a misreading of the unattested name “d’Orkney” due to bad handwriting. However, Lucas, unlike other writers, recognizes this is speculation.
Later Holy Bloodline-Templar Conspiracy writers hated this idea. Tim Wallace-Murphy and Marilyn Hopkins, in Templars in America (2004), caricatured Lucas’ suggested as his “peculiar belief,” and they failed to recognize that it was a suggestion, not a declaration. Outraged that the noble story of the Templars in America could be ascribed to such low-class savagery as piracy, they dismissed Lucas’ entire book-length exposé on the strength of this one line, arguing that Venetian nobles would never have consented to consort with pirates and therefore the Zeno narrative was true (p. 188). Wallace-Murphy and Hopkins, of course, failed to address the complaint that the narrative was a complete fiction and that Zeno was drawing on literary sources for a fictional narrative—after all he promoted his fictional Zichmni to the rank of Prince, hardly a direct adaptation of Wichmannus’ life.
Sadly, Lucas’ fell out of print despite critical acclaim, while Major’s book remained in print under the auspices of the Hakluyt Society, leading astray generations of researchers who had easy access to the false information of Major but limited access to its debunking by Lucas. Until the advent of electronic texts, this unfortunate bias in library collections and book catalogs shaped the Sinclair-Zichmni debate.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.