Descriptions of the Canary Islands and of the Azores

Scope and Content

The manuscript consists of two works, bound together. The first is a description of the Canary Islands, detailing the history, religion and laws of the natives, called the Guanches, as well as observations on the geography and fauna of the islands. The second work, beginning on folio 43, is a compilation from other works describing the Azores. Bound into the front of the volume is a letter, dated 10 August 1764, by a William Browning detailing the discovery of a well-preserved Guanche body from before the 15th century on one of the islands, and the transportation of the body to Cadiz.

Administrative / Biographical History

The existence of the Canary Islands, a chain of seven islands off the northwest coast of Africa, was known to the Romans and later the Arabs, and European navigators reached the islands in the 13th century. Jean de Béthencourt became king of the islands in 1404 and he conquered Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and Ferro. In 1479 Spanish sovereignty was recognised over the chain and the conquest of the remaining islands was completed in 1496. The islands were an important staging point for 17th-century Spanish shipping to and from the Americas; Christopher Columbus started the trend when he stopping there on his westbound trip to replenish his four ships in 1492. The original inhabitants of the Canaries were the Guanche, probably an offshoot of the Berbers of North Africa. Seen as primitive and politically fractured, their resistance to the individual invasions of their islands was swept aside and they were either sold off as slaves or assimilated into the new culture that the Spanish immigrants brought with them. As a consequence of their non-literacy, very little is known of about them, other than European commentaries such as this manuscript and the various cave drawings scattered across the islands.

The Azores, an archipelago in the Mid-Atlantic, were discovered in 1427 by the Portuguese and their colonisation by them began in 1432. Unlike the Canary Islands the Azores were all devoid of human habitation, being about 1,500 km from the coast of Portugal and about 3,900 km from the east coast of North America. Like the Canary Islands, however, they became an important staging post for Spanish voyages to and from the Americas in the 17th century.

Edmund Scory, or Skory, was the son of Sylvan Scory (d. 1617), M.P. for Newton, Hampshire (1597), and the grandson of John Scory, Bishop of Hereford (d.1585). He attended Balliol College, Oxford but left the University without a degree and instead travelled, with one of his destinations being the Canary Islands. He was described in Wood's Athenae Oxonienses as a man who spent his time hanging on gentlemen and noblemen, with no fixed place of residence. At some point before 1610, however, he decided to take up a literary career and consequently sought a patron, writing An extract out of the historie of the last French king Henry the fourth to solicit support from William Cecil (1591-1668), the son of Robert Cecil and Viscount Cranbourne (afterwards the 2nd Earl of Salisbury), as well as this manuscript to solicit the patronage of Francis Bacon (1561-1626), the noted Elizabethan and Stuart philosopher and statesman.

Source: Andrew Pettegree, 'Scory, John (d. 1585)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press --

Access Information

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Purchased by Mrs Enriqueta Rylands, on behalf of the John Rylands Library, in 1901 from James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford.


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan, project archivist, and John Hodgson, Keeper of Manuscripts and Archives, with reference to:

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on John Scory, Bishop of Hereford.
  • Anthony Wood, Athenae Oxonienses: an exact history of all the writers and bishops who have had their education in the... University of Oxford, from... 1500, to the author's death in November 1695, second edition, very much corrected and enlarged; with the addition of above 500 new lives from the author's original manuscript (London: printed for R. Knaplock, D. Midwinter, and J. Tonson, 1721), pp. 89-90, for information on Sir Edmund Scory.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (English MS 17).

Custodial History

The letter by a William Browning bound at the beginning of the manuscript indicates probable ownership by him in 1764. Purchased by Alexander William Lindsay, 25th Earl of Crawford, on 23 November 1866 from Bernard Quaritch (1819-1899), the German-born London bookseller and a buying agent for the Earl.