Unicorns and the Northwest Passage

In 1576, Humphry Gilbert published A discourse of a discouerie for a new passage to Cataia to drum up the political and economic support he needed to raise a venture from England to China via the yet-to-be-discovered Northwest Passage.

A portion of Gilbert’s book explored an argument about which was the best way to get to China – by the Northeast Passage over Russia, or the Northwest Passage over America. Gilbert recounts a debate he had on the subject with a man he refused to name – which was probably Anthony Jenkinson, an employee of the Muscovy Company and a proponent of the Northeast Passage.

Gilbert Portrait
Portrait of Humphrey Gilbert

According to Gilbert, the argument made by the unnamed proponent (Jenkinson) for the Northeast Passage rested on three points. The second of these points involved a unicorn horn. Read more