The Vinland Sagas: The Men Who Discovered America Before Columbus

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle heads off to medieval America and the world of the sagas

Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, when he landed on mainland North America, thus sparking the colonisation of the continent by the Europeans.

This is the mainstream conception, and it’s entirely wrong. Columbus never landed on the mainland of the continent we now call North America. Even if he had, he wouldn’t have been the first European to do so. European settlement in North America had first occurred almost half a millennium before Columbus was even born. In around the year 1000, a group of Icelandic explorers made a series of journeys along the northern rim of the Atlantic, and attempted to found a colony somewhere along the Atlantic seaboard of the continent of North America, probably somewhere around what is now Newfoundland and the Gulf of St Lawrence.

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Five Fascinating Facts about William Caxton

Interesting trivia about the pioneer of English printing

1. The first book printed by Caxton in English was a book about Troy. Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye (alternatively spelt Recueil des Histoires de Troye) was printed by Caxton in 1475. It was the first book printed in English, though it wasn’t actually printed in England: at the time, Caxton was living in Belgium and it was published in Bruges in 1475. (Actually, the date of publication may have been 1474 or even 1473, but ‘ca. 1475’ is the date given by Caxton.) The book was a translation of a French courtly romance written by a chaplain to Philip III, Duke of Burgundy, named Raoul Lefevre. Caxton would go on to print nearly 90 different books over the next two decades. Caxton’s translation of this Troy book would also inspire an early Elizabethan play. Caxton’s Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye would serve as the model for the Tudor morality play Horestes (1567), about the Greek myth of Orestes (most memorably dramatized by ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus).

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Interesting Facts about Magna Carta

A short and interesting history of Magna Carta and its surprising legacy

So few of the facts about Magna Carta in popular circulation are true. Its enduring place in popular consciousness is, however, indisputable. Its influence even extends to music: Kurt Weill composed a cantata, The Ballad of Magna Carta, about it. The rapper Jay Z even named his twelfth album after Magna Carta (albeit more because of a pun on his real name, Carter, than because he is a fan of the document, we assume). In this post, we’ll seek to debunk some common myths about Magna Carta and discuss some of the most interesting facts about it.

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