Before discussing how Schöner obtained the globe that served as the model for his 1515 and 1520 globes, we should consider some other possible recipients: first, the king of Portugal1; second, Columbus2; third, the pope3; and fourth, Regiomontanus, who appears to have assisted Toscanelli.4

Let us consider the king of Portugal.

In my book 1421 I gave a brief description of Magellan quashing a mutiny by claiming to have seen a map in the king of Portugal’s library. This story is now fleshed out. (I do not disparage Magellan, who in my eyes stands head and shoulders above all the early European explorers—honest, brave, clever, determined, but above all decent and fair, not least to people who could not protect themselves.)

Magellan’s expedition was well provisioned and fitted out (equipped with Portuguese maps)5 even though he was under the auspices of Spain when he sailed from Sanlúcar de Barrameda on the estuary of the Guadalquivir on September 20, 1519.6 By the time he and his crew reached the coast of Patagonia, in South America, they had finished their hardtack (biscuits) and were reduced to eating rats7 (which the sailors caught and sold), the price of which had trebled. Magellan was in desperate trouble. He was halfway through the strait, surrounded by mountains, with no sign of the Pacific.

A mutiny broke out, and Esteban Gómez seized control of one of Magellan’s five ships, the San Antonio. Pigafetta, the historian aboard Magellan’s flagship, tells us what happened next: “We all believed that it [the strait] was a cul-de-sac; but the captain knew that he had to navigate through a very well-concealed strait, having seen it in a chart preserved in the treasury of the King of Portugal, and made by Martin of Bohemia, a man of great parts.” As I have been accused of inventing this translation, here is the original: “Se non fosse stato il sapere del capitano-generale, non si sarebbe passato per quello stretto, perché tutti credevamo che fosse chiuso; ma egli sapea di dover navigare per uno stretto molto nascosto, avendo ciò veduto in una carta serbata nella tesoreria del Re di Portogallo, e fatta da Martino di Boemia, uomo excellentissimo.”8

When writing 1421, I had tried to find Martin of Bohemia’s chart but had been unable to; it seems to have been destroyed or lost. Because the chart has never been found, some have assumed that Magellan was bluffing, pretending he knew where he was so as to quell the mutiny.

However, there are four pieces of convincing corroborative evidence that Magellan did have a chart that showed not only the strait but also the way across the Pacific.

The first is described in 1421. Magellan showed the king of Lima-sawa in the Philippines a map that, Magellan said, showed how he had reached the Philippines across the Pacific.9

The second is the account of the celebrated Portuguese historian Antonio Galvão (also quoted in 1421), who wrote that the king of Portugal had a map showing the Strait of Magellan:

In the yeere 1428 it is written that Don Peter [Dom Pedro] the King of Portugal’s eldest sonne, was a great traveller. He went into England, France, Al-maine, and from thence into the Holy Land, and to other places; and came home by Italie, taking Rome and Venice in his way: from whence he brought a map of the world which had all the parts of the world and earth described. The Streight of Magelan was called in it the Dragon’s taile.10

Third, the strait was mentioned during the examination of Magellan by King Charles V’s ministers before Magellan set sail. A globe was produced in which the strait was highlighted: “de industria dexò el estrecho en blanco.”

Magellan stressed it was a secret strait: “estrecho de mar no conocido hasta entonces de ninguna persona” (“a strait that was known to nobody until now/then” 11

Finally, the capitulación, the contract between the king of Spain and Magellan signed on March 22, 1518, uses the phrase “para buscar el estrecho de aquéllas mares”—to go in search of the strait.12

So before 1421 was published I sought a map that would have been published before Magellan set sail but still have depicted the strait. There were several candidates. In the Venetian Doges’ Palace there is an early-fifteenth-century map showing Asia and the Pacific (described in chapter 7). This map has two roundels, which state how it was composed from information brought home to Venice by Marco Polo and Niccolò da Conti. Marco Polo returned in 1295 and Niccolò da Conti by 1434, possibly as early as 1424.

Despite showing the Pacific and America, the doge’s map does not show the southern part of the Americas. There is another map in the map room that does show South America and a route from Atlantic to Pacific, but unfortunately it is undated. Waldseemüller’s 1507 world map (see color insert 2) shows South America and the Pacific with remarkable accuracy, but it is centerd on 20° N and stops at 45° S. The strait, which is at 52°40' S, is missing. However, Waldseemüller said in his Cosmographiae Introductio that the Americas “have been found to be surrounded on all sides by sea.”13 So Waldseemüller must have known that there was a way from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

The one European map published before Magellan set sail that does show a strait leading from the Atlantic to the Pacific is Johannes Schöner’s 1515 globe. This was published before Magellan’s examination by Charles V’s ministers and before the capitulaciónbetween Magellan and the king of Spain. It is thus consistent with all the evidence. The authenticity of Schöner’s globes has never been challenged. In 1520, before Magellan’s expedition returned, Schöner published a second copy of a globe, which shows a similar strait.

If we assume for the moment that Schöner’s 1515 globe was the same as that which Toscanelli copied for Columbus, we face two questions: First, what would Columbus’s reaction have been? Second, is there a similar map that can be positively identified as having been received and acted upon by Columbus?

Columbus knew the Portuguese were pushing down the coast of Africa to exploit the eastern trade routes to the Indian Ocean and beyond. It seems clear from Toscanelli’s letter to Columbus that Columbus was interested in finding a western route to China: “I perceived your magnificent and grand desire to navigate from parts of the east to the west [i.e., to sail westward to China],” Toscanelli wrote, “in the way that was set forth in the letter that I sent you [a copy of the letter to Canon Martinez] and which will be demonstrated better on a round sphere.” In short, Toscanelli is clearly helping Columbus achieve his aim of reaching China by sailing west.

Columbus then received the map from Toscanelli (chapter 9, note 1), which indeed shows the way westward to China as Toscanelli described it. However, it also shows an unknown continent (America) between Portugal and China. What would Columbus have made of this new continent? Very likely he would have done his best to get his hands on it. He was a greedy man, as we know from his lawsuit with the king of Spain (Pleitos de Colón.)14

In the “Privileges and Prerogatives” that Columbus signed with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella eighteen years later, before his “first voyage” to the Americas, Columbus had abandoned any thought of going to China. He was after the land that had been discovered on the western side of the Atlantic Ocean.


For as much as you, Christopher Columbus, are going by our command, with some of our vessels and men, to discover and subdue some islands and Continent in the ocean, and it is hoped that by God’s assistance some of the said islands and Continent in the ocean will be discovered and conquered by your means and conduct, therefore it is but just and reasonable that since you expose yourself to such danger to serve us, you should be rewarded for it. And we being willing to honour and favour You for the reasons aforesaid; Our will is, that you, Christopher Columbus, after discovering and conquering the said islands and Continent in the said ocean, or any of them, shall be our Admiral of the said islands and Continent you so shall discover and conquer; and that you be our Admiral, Viceroy, and Governor in them and that for the future you may call and style yourself D [Don] Christopher Columbus and that your sons and successors in the said employment may call themselves Dons, Admirals, Viceroys and Governors of them; and that you may exercise the office of Admiral, with the charge of Viceroy and Governor of the said islands and Continent….

Given at Granada on the 30th of April in the year of our Lord 1492, I the Queen, I the King, by their Majesties Command, John Coloma, Secretary to the King and Queen.15

Columbus’s diaries show that he sailed with maps of the western Atlantic.16 The log entry for Wednesday, October, 4, 1492, when he was approaching the Caribbean,17 says this: “I should steer west south west to go there [that is, to reach the islands he is seeking] and in the spheres which I have seen and in the drawings of Mappae Mundi it is in this region.”18

Is there a map we can tie to Columbus before he set sail?

Marcel Destombes described two maps that he had studied in the Biblioteca Estense Universitaria now in Modena. I quote Arthur Davies’ description of Destombes’s discovery:

One was a chart of the Atlantic and bordering lands listed as CGA 5A. This map originally extended further north, west and south but had been cut so that it now extends from Normandy to Sierra Leone and eastwards to Naples and Tunis. Destombes concluded from [what Destombes calls] Rhumb lines that the map was designed to extend west as far as the legendary islands of Antilia and Satanaxia (Puerto Rico and Guadeloupe). He [Destombes] assigned his map without hesitation to Bartholomew Columbus on the basis of his excellent lettering and its Genoese style of cartography.19

In high excitement, Marcella and I set off for Modena. Dr. Aurelio Aghemo was most courteous and helpful and enabled me to have a photo of two versions20 of CGA5, a copy of which is reproduced in color insert 2. As may be seen, the two maps have been torn in half and the left halves, which could show the Americas, have been destroyed. We can say for sure this tear is deliberate, for the coast of West Africa down to Cape Blanco (21° N) is shown, as is the Gulf of Guinea farther south. The bit of coast between the two, that is, the coast along the “bulge” of Africa, is missing. Someone does not want people to know what was originally on the left-hand portion of those two maps. So what gives us a lead as to what the missing part once showed?

Clearly it showed the Atlantic—but how much of it and how far west? Did the map originally go as far west as Professor Destombes thought? Did it show the Americas, and if so, how much?

Professor Destombes used what he called rhumb lines to support his supposition. I initially tried a different approach by analyzing what was depicted on CGA5A, which from now we will call the Columbus map because of Bartholomew Columbus’s writing on it. The map has several distinctive features, not least a mass of names around the Bight of Benin, south of the “bulge” of Africa. My first step was to see if those names corresponded with the names on other maps drawn around 1480–1485, the most likely date of the Columbus map (Professor Davies indicates that Columbus had his map before 1492).

I quickly found that the Waldseemüller (1507) and the Columbus map shared common names in Guinea, from Rio de Lago to Capo di Monte, though the Columbus map showed more names and much more detail. I then reduced the Columbus map and the Waldseemüller to the same scale and cut out West Africa from the Columbus map, placing it on top of the Waldseemüller, so names common to both were in the same place. Finally I projected the rhumb lines from the Columbus map onto the Waldseemüller. Five sets terminated precisely and neatly on Cuba and South America from the Waldseemüller (using the Canaries as 0° W, as Waldseemüller did)—see color insert 2.

Destombes was quite right—the rhumb lines extended to Antilia and Satanazes and farther—to the Pacific coast of South America. It cannot be a coincidence that all the ends of the rhumb lines fall on a circle. In my submission, this is the evidence that the Columbus brothers had a map that showed the Americas. Columbus himself acknowledged in his logs that he had seen Caribbean islands on a world map. He was also contracted to become viceroy of land across the ocean. This hypothesis is further supported by Schöner’s 1515 copy of a globe, which shows the Americas, and accords precisely with Toscanelli’s description.

Moreover, as we will see in the next chapter, the Columbus map, Schöner’s globe, and the Waldseemüller are all derived from the same source.

Let’s turn now to Johannes Schöner, who must have been a recipient of the original globe because his drawing matches Toscanelli’s description. Schöner certainly could not have met Toscanelli or the Chinese ambassador. He was not born until January 16, 1477, in Karlsstadt, in what is now the German province of Thuringen. He attended school nearby at Erfurt. The area, as I know well, is a pleasant wooded countryside famous for its plums. It is about as far from the sea as is possible in Europe, with no nautical tradition whatsoever.

Johannes does not appear to have been a renowned scholar; he left school to study at the University of Erfurt but seems to have flunked his exams—he left with no degree. He was ordained a priest in 1515 and became a prebend, an apprentice, at the church of Saint Jacob Bamberg. He was punished for failing to celebrate mass and relegated to the small village of Kirchenbach, where he was detailed to officiate at early-morning mass.21 How, one may wonder, did this priest produce not only maps of South America and the Antarctic before Magellan set sail, but also elaborate star globes of the Southern Hemisphere?22

There are no prizes for guessing the obvious answer: he must have copied them. But from whom?

In January 1472, Toscanelli’s friend Regiomontanus had a printing press installed in Nuremberg, as earlier described. When Regiomontanus died in 1475, his press reverted to Bernard Walther, who had provided the finance for it. In a letter to a friend on July 4, 1471, Regiomontanus wrote:

Quite recently I have made observations in the city of Nuremberg…for I have chosen it as my permanent home not only on account of the availability of instruments, particularly the astronomical instruments on which the entire science is based, but also on account of the great ease of all sorts of communication with learned men living everywhere, since the place is regarded as the centre of Europe because of the journeys of the merchants.23

In 1495, Johannes Schöner also moved to Nuremberg, where he studied practical astronomy under the same Bernard Walther who had financed Regiomontanus and taken back his printing press. When Walther died, Schöner inherited Regiomontanus’s library and printing press as well as Regiomontanus’s nautical instruments, globes, and treatises; Schöner published Regiomontanus’s Tabula and his book on spherical triangles. All of these legacies are now in the Austrian National Library in Vienna.24

Regiomontanus had intended to publish his own world map but died before doing so.25 Schöner inherited this unpublished map and published it under his own name. Hence his 1515 and 1520 copies. After Magellan returned, Schöner published his 1523 globe, which he maintained did not improve upon his 1515 and 1520 (pre-Magellan) maps.26 The 1523 globe did, however, correct the width of the Pacific across which Magellan had by then (1523) sailed.

Finally, is there any corroborative evidence that Pope Eugenius IV or his successors obtained a world map showing the Americas before Columbus set sail for the Americas?

After Columbus’s death, his family instituted legal proceedings against the Spanish monarchy, the Pleitos de Colón (Pleadings of Columbus). Evidence was given at these proceedings on behalf of Martín Alonso Pinzón, Columbus’s flag captain. Pinzón’s son stated that his father had seen a copy of a map of the Americas at the papal court in Rome and had based his own expedition to the Americas upon it.27 However, his father had decided to join Columbus’s expedition instead.

From Schöner, Magellan, Columbus, Regiomontanus, and Pinzón, we now have evidence corroborating the existence, noted by Toscanelli in his letters, of a world map showing the Americas. Toscanelli told the truth. He had met the Chinese ambassador, who had given him a globe or map showing the way to the Americas and around the world. We must now find the original that Toscanelli copied.

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