Nicholas of Lynne

Nicholas of Lynne (fl. 1386), Carmelite, was lecturer in theology to his order at Oxford. In 1386, at the request of John of Gaunt, he composed a calendar from 1387 to 1462, arranged for the latitude and longitude of Oxford, with an elaborate apparatus of astronomical tables, which were used by Chaucer in his ‘Treatise on the Astrolabe.' Hakluyt states that Nicholas made a voyage to the lands near the North Pole in 1360. His authorities, Gerardus Mercator and John Dee [q. v.], who make no reference to Nicholas by name, derive their information from James Cnoyen of Bois-le-Duc, a Dutch explorer of uncertain date.

Cnoyen's book, written ‘Belgica lingua,' is lost. Mercator made extracts from it for his own use, and sent them in 1577 to John Dee. These extracts are preserved (Brit. Mus. MS. Cotton, Vitell. C. vii. ff. 264-9). From them it appears that Cnoyen's knowledge was obtained from the narrative of ‘a priest who had an astrolabe.' The narrative was presented to the king of Norway in 1364. According to this priest's account, an Oxford Franciscan, who was a good astronomer, made a voyage in 1360 through all the northern regions, ‘and described all the wonders of those islands in a book which he gave to the king of England, and inscribed in Latin "Inventio Fortunatae."'

No evidence has been discovered to connect, as Hakluyt does, the unnamed Franciscan of Oxford with the Carmelite Nicholas. Dee (ib.) suggests that he may have been the Minorite Hugo of Ireland, a traveller who flourished and wrote about 1360 (see Bale, Script., and Wadding, Script.) The ‘Inventio' has not been found. The earliest allusion to it is in the margin of a map by John Ruysch, which appeared at Rome in the Ptolemy of 1508. Nothing is said about the authorship of the book, and there is reason to doubt whether the writer of the marginal note had seen the original. The expression in the note, ‘mare sugenum' (which surrounded the magnetic rock), may be merely an echo of Cnoyen's ‘een zugende zee.'


[Arundel MSS. 347 and 207 contain the Calendar, parts of which are also found in several other manuscripts. Chaucer's Astrolabe, ed. Skeat, p. 3; Hakluyt's Voyages, i. 134-5; Mercator's Atlas, ed. 1606, p. 44; B. F. De Costa's Inventio Fortunata, New York, 1881.]

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 40 by Andrew George Little

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