Nicholas of Lynn

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Nicholas of Lynn or Lynne, also known in Latin as Nicolas de Linna was an English astronomer of the 14th century.


He was apparently born in the Norfolk (UK) port town of King's Lynn (then "Bishop's Lynn"), possibly as early as 1330, although the confirmed details of his career suggest that a date closer to 1360 is more likely. According to early 16th century literary historian John Bale, he became a Carmelite friar and moved to the university town of Oxford, where he developed a great reputation for his scientific work. In 1386, at the request of the powerful lord John of Gaunt, he published a Kalendarium of detailed astronomical tables. Designed for use in the astrologically-based science of the time, these were very sophisticated, even including rules for synchronising medical treatment with astronomical cycles—-for example, the right phases of the moon for blood-letting. His contemporary Geoffrey Chaucer wrote very approvingly of Nicholas' work, and made much use of it. Nicholas was also supposedly an excellent musician. Later in life he moved to Cambridge, where he was promoted to deacon in 1411.


What he was not, as far as any early biographers were concerned, was an explorer. The identification of Nicholas as the Franciscan (Minorite) friar who wrote a text called the Inventio Fortunata, allegedly describing a voyage to Greenland and beyond, was first proposed by Richard Hakluyt, the late 16th-century historian of exploration, based on information from scientist John Dee. However, Nicholas was a Carmelite, not a Minorite, and if Hakluyt and Dee had read Bale (rather than apparently basing their identification on Chaucer's praise for Nicholas' work with astrolabes), they would have discovered an entry about a Franciscan friar named Hugh of Ireland, who wrote "a certain journey in one volume".


  • Entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (subscription)
  • "The Kalendarium of Nicholas of Lynn" by Nicholas of Lynn, edited and introduced by Sigmund Eisner. University of Georgia Press, Athens, Georgia, 1980. ISBN 0-8203-0449-2
  • "The Astrological Medicine of Chaucer's Physician and Nicholas of Lynn's Kalendarium." American Notes and Queries 22 (1984) pages 62–66

References on the Arctic exploration claim[edit]