CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 14 . . . . March 16, 2001
Given that the Newport Tower has no architectural parallel anywhere in New England, that it was constructed in keeping with the precise geometrical principles of Templar sacred architecture and that it contains a multitude of features comparable with those still existing in pre-fifteenth century buildings in Orkney and northern Scotland, it is hard to dismiss the evidence in favour of a Sinclair settlement in New England and of a Templar influence as well. Remote as such a possibility seemed to me at first, after spending some time exploring the origin, history and the heroic and romantic lore surrounding the Jerusalem based, and much traveled Templar knights, their arrival on the shores of North America in the late fourteenth century did not appear at all improbable.It is historically accepted that near the turn of the first millennium, Norse adventurers explored and founded colonies in Iceland, Greenland, landed at L'Anse aux Meadows, in what is now Newfoundland, and founded a short lived settlement. War, plague, and the medieval mini ice age forced them to abandon their westerly settlements: however, the adventures of Leif the Lucky, Eric the Red and other Viking sailors remained alive in the much-told sagas. Are there other great tales of Canadian quests, however, that have been lost in the mists of time?
Could it be possible, asks Mark Finnan, that Prince Henry Sinclair, Admiral of the Seas, Lord Chief Justice of Scotland, and vassal of the Norwegian king, sailed to Nova Scotia, in 1398. Could this unknown Scottish Lord have founded settlements and left unique structures that have their origins in mystical architecture, as well as becoming the basis for the legendary character of Gooscap in Mi'kmaq mythology? The Nova Scotia historian tells an entertaining tale of Sinclair's life that is sure to convince many readers that Nova Scotia was indeed founded by a Scot two hundred years before Champlain established his settlement. Others may be more skeptical, but they will be intrigued by his research and respectful of his dogged quest.
Although many Canadian history teachers and students will find Finnan's book intriguing, it deserves a wider audience. He has created a full-bodied historical figure in Prince Henry. If this adventurer prince's story had been limited to his Nova Scotia exploits, it would have been of interest only to Sinclair clansman and sea-loving antiquarians. However, Finnan fashions a multi-dimensional character in this fourteenth century knight-errant and captures much of the spirit of that turbulent time in European history. Sinclair we learn was an adherent of the once powerful and mystical order of the Knights Templar who had been declared heretics by the French king. He fought in the crusades and traveled the known world, was an initiate of the Grail legend and the mysteries of the East, and rose to power in the bleak windswept islands of northern Scotland. This Lord of the Orkney Isles was truly a remarkable medieval man.
Reading this book should convince students that history is not a dead and moldering subject. Instead, they may see that history is open to new speculations and interpretations that freshen our perspectives of the past, enlivens our imaginations and frees us from the strictures of the dreaded oxymoron, conventional wisdom.
Ian Stewart is a frequent contributor to CM and the book review page of the Winnipeg Free Press.
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