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Lynn, Nicholas (fl. 1386–1411), Carmelite friar and astronomer, presumably came from Bishop's Lynn in Norfolk. By his own account he was a friar and a member of the order of the Blessed Mary Mother of God of Mount Carmel, and during the late fourteenth century he became a lecturer in theology at Oxford. John Bale described him as ‘philosophus, cosmographus et astronomus inter omnes sui temporis celeberrimus’ (‘the most celebrated philosopher, cosmographer, and astronomer among all of his time’; BL, Harley MS 3838, fols. 72v–73).

In 1386 Lynn composed, at the request of John of Gaunt, a Kalendarium designed for the years from 1387 to 1462. Succeeding a similar work by Walter Elvedene, Lynn's Kalendarium is designed for the latitude and longitude of Oxford and includes a daily calendar with saints' days, the daily position of the sun in the zodiac, the lengths of artificial and vulgar days, times of new and full moons, hourly shadow lengths depending on the altitude of the sun, dates and times of solar and lunar eclipses, and daily ascensions of the signs of the zodiac, as well as charts of solar and lunar eclipses, tables to determine the celestial houses, a table to show what time of day or night a given planet reigns, a means of discovering the dates of movable feasts, and other tables concerned with the motion of the sun and the moon. At the end of the Kalendarium is a series of explanatory canons, some of which show the most propitious times for phlebotomy (bloodletting as a medical treatment), a matter of interest so important to physicians that long after the Kalendarium had expired scribes still copied them. Lynn's Kalendarium survives in whole or in part in more than sixteen manuscripts and in one printed edition. Geoffrey Chaucer referred to it in his Treatise on the Astrolabe.

Richard Hakluyt in his 1589 Voyages identified Nicholas Lynn as a Franciscan friar said to have sailed in 1360 from Norfolk to the polar regions, and to have written an account (now lost) of his adventures, entitled Inventio fortunata, which he presented to Edward III. Hakluyt's information was originally derived from the Dutch cartographer Gerardus Mercator. In 1569 Mercator published a map of the Arctic regions bearing a legend stating that, according to the Dutch explorer Jacobus Cnoyen of 's-Hertogenbosch, an English priest in 1364 reported to the king of Norway that four years earlier an unnamed Franciscan mathematician from Oxford had visited the Arctic region and measured the height of mountains with an astrolabe. John Dee read Mercator's published report and asked for more details. Mercator said in reply that the friar was the author of the Inventio fortunata, which he had presented to the king of England. Dee then assigned the Oxford Franciscan to the haven of Bishop's Lynn in Norfolk, and added that he took his name from this port. Dee did not, however, mention the forename of the friar. It was Hakluyt, who read and quoted both Mercator and Dee, who was the first to state that the Franciscan mathematician and Arctic explorer from Oxford was Nicholas Lynn. Although the voyage from Bishop's Lynn to the Arctic attributed to the Franciscan may well have occurred, as many such voyages did, and although the Inventio fortunata may well have been written, since it was cited by the mapmaker John Ruysch in 1508, there is no surviving evidence to identify the Carmelite Nicholas Lynn with the Franciscan explorer of 1360.

Towards the end of his life Lynn resided in the Carmelite convent at Cambridge, where, according to Emden, he became a subdeacon in 1410 and a deacon in 1411. The date of his death is not known.

Sigmund Eisner


The Kalendarium of Nicholas of Lynn, trans. G. MacEoin, ed. and trans. S. Eisner (1980) · J. D. North, Chaucer's universe (1988), 92 · M. P. Kuczynski, ‘A new manuscript of Nicholas of Lynn's Kalendarium: Chapel Hill MS 522, fols. 159r–202r’, Traditio, 43 (1987), 299–319 · Emden, Cam., 370 · Emden, Oxf., 2.1194 · R. Hakluyt, Voyages, 1 (1962), 99–101 · E. G. R. Taylor, ‘A letter dated 1577 from Mercator to John Dee’, Imago Mundi, 13 (1956), 56–68 · A. Diller, ‘The mysterious Arctic traveller of 1360: Nicholas of Lynn’, Isis, 30 (1939), 277–8 · G. Sarton, ‘The mysterious Arctic traveller of 1360, Nicholas of Lynn?’, Isis, 29 (1938), 98–9 · D. M. Smith, Guide to bishops' registers of England and Wales: a survey from the middle ages to the abolition of the episcopacy in 1646, Royal Historical Society Guides and Handbooks, 11 (1981) · M. C. Seymour, The metrical version of Mandeville's travels (1973), 126 · E. F. Jacob, ed., The register of Henry Chichele, archbishop of Canterbury, 1414–1443, 4 vols., CYS, 42, 45–7 (1937–47) · BL, Harley MS 3838, fols. 72v–73 · BL, Cotton MS Vitellius C.vii, fols. 264–9