The Men of Bristol and the Atlantic Discovery Voyages of the Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries
By Annabel Peacock
MA Thesis, University of Bristol, 2007
Abstract: This dissertation is concerned with the Atlantic voyages which departed from Bristol in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Very little is known about the individuals from the city who played a part in these expeditions and this dissertation is an attempt to address that deficiency. In the last decades of the twentieth century the historian Alwyn Ruddock was rumoured to have made some significant finds regarding the Bristol voyages of discovery, finds which would have rewritten the history books. However, Ruddock died in 2005 leaving little more than several letters and a book proposal produced in 1992 to hint at the revolutionary discoveries she had made. The following chapters aim to investigate the leads she left regarding those men from Bristol who played a part in the voyages, investigating not only their possible role in the expeditions, but placing that within the wider context of their lives.
The first and second chapters will consider two of the men Ruddock stated were involved with the voyages of John Cabot in the late 1490s: John Esterfeld and William Weston, both merchants of Bristol. In chapter three a primary document which directly connects the men with Cabot and the Atlantic expeditions, and what it could refer to, will be examined.
Chapters four and five will go on to consider other Bristol men who possibly played a part in the voyages. Initially the life and career of John Esterfeld junior, another whose involvement was suggested by Ruddock, will be examined, followed by an investigation into the lives of Hugh Elyot and Robert Thorne, men long thought to have played some part in the Atlantic expeditions. The conclusion will consider the weight of the evidence and what it reveals about the Bristol men who were involved in the Atlantic voyages of discovery from the city.