According to the Zeno letters, on reaching Frislanda the stranded sailors were rescued by a Prince Zichmni. According to most authors, the leading candidate was the historical Henry St. Clair.
Historically, Henry St. Clair was Earl of Orkney and the feudal Baron of Roslin. The earl also owned Rosslyn Castle, something I have used in this story. Incidentally, he was also grandfather of the builder of Rosslyn Chapel. He was prince of the Orkneys, placed in a similar role by the King of Norway – according to the legend of Zichmni the prince defeated the King of Norway in battle, St. Clair merely inherited the position.
Most of St. Clair’s life is well documented. None of his biographies to date refer to him as being involved in any voyage across the Atlantic. According to the History of the Orkneys by William Thomson, St. Clair’s posthumous reputation has little to do with his achievements in life. Equally curious is why the Zeno manuscript should refer to a man named St. Clair as Zichmni – Sinclair discusses this in detail, particularly spelling of his name as Zinkler in a document preserved in Copenhagen.
One of the greatest mysteries surrounding St. Clair is confirming his exact date of death. The usual assumption among historians is that he died around 1401 when the English invaded the Orkneys. Intriguingly, his assumed date of death is similar to that of both Zeno brothers though this cannot be verified.
Speculation that Zichmni was the enigmatic Henry St. Clair was first put forward in the 18th century by the historian Johann Reinhold Forster. Since that time many writers have agreed with his assertions, notably Andrew Sinclair who identified Henry St. Clair as the only possible candidate. While it is true that the Earl of Orkney fits most of the criteria, there still leaves the question regarding the authenticity of the letters. According to many Templar authors, including Sinclair, Sora and Michael Bradley, St. Clair’s voyage, as Zichmni, was interrelated with the Templar order that may have survived in Scotland. It has been claimed elsewhere that the St. Clairs were related through marriage to the de Payens family through the founder, Hugues de Payens. That said, another biography of the first Templar Grand Master suggests he married an Elizabeth de Chapps rather than a St. Clair. According to other historians there is no connection between the St. Clairs and the Templars: some have even stated that members of the St. Clair family testified against the order at the trials.
In the case of this novel, the life of the Zenos, Zichmni and the map is largely based on the 1558 account, though I have made much of it up. The letters suggest the explorers did indeed keep notes of their travels but any diaries they wrote are lost if they even existed. The diaries in the novel are fictitious. Regarding the tale’s historicity, I believe the evidence at hand is insufficient to prove the voyage took place. Nonetheless, the evidence does concur with legends associated with the Micmac Indians, indigenous of New England and the Atlantic Provinces. Writing in 1536, Venetian Marco Barbaro, a relative of the Zenos also included reference to the voyage in his Discendenze Patrizie spelling Zichmni as Zicno.