Henry the Navigator

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Henry the Navigator
Duke of Viseu, Infante of Portugal
Henry the Navigator1.jpg
Infante Henrique; St. Vincent Panels[1]
Duke of Viseu
Tenure 1394–1460
Successor Fernando I
House House of Aviz
Father John I of Portugal
Mother Philippa of Lancaster
Born (1394-03-04)4 March 1394
Porto, Kingdom of Portugal
Died 13 November 1460(1460-11-13) (aged 66)
Sagres, Kingdom of the Algarve
Burial Batalha Monastery
Religion Roman Catholicism
Occupation Explorer, Patron
This article is about the Portuguese prince. For the Dutch prince sometimes known as "Henry the Navigator", see Prince Henry of the Netherlands.

Infante Dom Henrique de Avis, Duke of Viseu (4 March 1394 – 13 November 1460), better known as Henry the Navigator (Portuguese: Henrique, o Navegador) was an important figure in 15th-century Portuguese politics and in the early days of the Portuguese Empire. Through his administrative direction, he is regarded as the main initiator of what would be known as the Age of Discoveries. Henry was the third child of the Portuguese king John I and responsible for the early development of Portuguese exploration and maritime trade with other continents through the systematic exploration of Western Africa, the islands of the Atlantic Ocean, and the search for new routes.

King John I was the founder of the House of Aviz. Henry encouraged his father to conquer Ceuta (1415), the Muslim port on the North African coast across the Straits of Gibraltar from the Iberian Peninsula. He learnt of the opportunities from the Saharan trade routes that terminated there, and became fascinated with Africa in general; he was most intrigued by the Christian legend of Prester John and the expansion of Portuguese trade. Henry is regarded as the patron of Portuguese exploration.

Early life

Frontispiece of Zurara's Crónicas dos Feitos de Guiné (Paris codex), with the phrase talent de bien faire and the pyramids, of Henry`s motto

Henry was the third son born to King John I and his wife Philippa, sister of King Henry IV of England. He was baptized in Porto, and may have been born there, probably when the royal couple was living in the city's old mint, now called Casa do Infante (Prince's House), or in the region nearby. Another possibility is that he was born at Monastery of Leça do Bailio, in Leça da Palmeira, during the same residential passage of the royal couple in the city of Porto and in the near region.

Henry was 21 when he, his father and brothers captured the Moorish port of Ceuta in northern Morocco, that had long been a base for Barbary pirates who raided the Portuguese coast, depopulating villages by capturing their inhabitants to be sold in the African slave market. Following this success, Henry started to explore the coast of Africa, most of which was unknown to Europeans. His objectives included finding the source of the West African gold trade and the legendary Christian kingdom of Prester John, and stopping the pirate attacks on the Portuguese coast. At that time the ships of the Mediterranean were too slow and too heavy to make these voyages. Under his direction, a new and much lighter ship was developed, the caravel, which could sail further and faster,[2] and, above all, was highly maneuverable and could sail much nearer the wind, or into the wind. This made the caravel largely independent of the prevailing winds, and enabled her to explore the shallow waters and rivers as well as the open ocean with wide autonomy. In 1419, Henry's father appointed him governor of the province of the Algarve.

Resources and income

On 25 May 1420, Henry gained appointment as the governor of the very rich Order of Christ, the Portuguese successor to the Knights Templar, which had its headquarters at Tomar, in central Portugal. Henry would hold this position for the remainder of his life, and the order was an important source of funds for Henry's ambitious plans, especially his persistent attempts to conquer the Canary Islands, which the Portuguese had claimed to have discovered before the year 1346.

Henry also had other resources. When John I died, Henry's eldest brother, Edward became head of the castles council, and granted Henry a "Royal Flush" of all profits from trading within the areas he discovered as well as the sole right to authorize expeditions beyond Cape Bojador. He also held various valuable monopolies on resources in the Algarve. When Edward died eight years later, Henry supported his brother Peter for the regency during Afonso V's minority, and in return received a confirmation of this levy.

The Prince Regent Peter also had an important role and responsibility in the Portuguese maritime expansion in the Atlantic Ocean and Africa during his administration. Henry promoted the colonization of the Azores during Peter's regency (1439–1448).

Vila do Infante and Portuguese exploration

Portrait believed to be the true likeness of Henry the Navigator. Detail from the fifth panel of the polyptych of St. Vincent by Nuno Gonçalves, c.1470

According to João de Barros, in Algarve he repopulated a village that he called Terçanabal (from terça nabal or tercena nabal).[3] This village was situated in a strategic position for his maritime enterprises and was later called Vila do Infante.

From the Order of Christ`s headquarters in Tomar, where Henry had all the infrastructure (expanding it in his administration), the documentation and his cosmographic center, as well as from his Vila do Infante (in 15th Century Portuguese, "Estate or Town of the Prince") on the Sagres peninsula, located at the southwesternmost point of Iberia and with sea access to both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, Henry sponsored voyages down the coast of Africa. These voyages went as far as Guinea and were primarily expeditions of exploration; later on they brought back to the nearby town of Lagos, from whence they set out, numerous African slaves and goods.

It is traditionally suggested that Henry gathered at his villa on the Sagres peninsula a school of navigators and map-makers. However modern historians hold this to be a misconception. He did employ some cartographers to chart the coast of Mauritania after the voyages he sent there, but there was no center of navigation science or observatory in the modern sense of the word, nor was there an organized navigational center.[4] The first contacts with the African slave market were made by expeditions to ransom Portuguese subjects enslaved by pirate attacks on Portuguese ships or villages. Henry justified this on the grounds that he was converting these captives to Christianity. As Sir Peter Russell remarks in his biography, "In Henryspeak, conversion and enslavement were interchangeable terms." He was a very strong Christian, and saw his efforts almost as a continuation of the crusades. His actions against native people who were not Christians were violent, and helped start a violent world trend. However his religious beliefs were sincere. The view that Henry's court rapidly grew into the technological base for exploration, with a naval arsenal and an observatory, etc., is believed by some historians, though not actually proven.[4][5][6][7] Henry did possess geographical curiosity, though, and therefore employed cartographers. Jehuda Cresques, a noted cartographer, has been said to have accepted an invitation to come to Portugal to make maps for the infante. Henry collected a 20% tax (o quinto) on the profits made by naval expeditions, which was the usual practice in the Iberian states of that time.

The nearby port of Lagos provided a convenient harbor from which these expeditions left. The voyages were made in very small ships, mostly the caravel, a light and maneuverable vessel that used the lateen sail which had been the prevailing rig in Christian Mediterranean navigation since late antiquity.[8] Most of the voyages sent out by Henry consisted of one or two ships that navigated by following the coast, stopping at night to tie up along some shore.

Results of Henry's explorers

Henry's tomb in the Monastery of Batalha

Until Henry's time, Cape Bojador remained the most southerly point known to Europeans on the unpromising desert coast of Africa, although the Periplus of the Carthaginian Hanno the Navigator described a journey farther south about 2,000 years earlier.

As a second fruit of this work João Gonçalves Zarco, Bartolomeu Perestrelo and Tristão Vaz Teixeira rediscovered the Madeira Islands in 1420, and at Henry's instigation Portuguese settlers colonized the islands.

In 1427, one of Henry's navigators, probably Gonçalo Velho, discovered the Azores. Portugal soon colonized these islands in 1430.

Gil Eanes, the commander of one of Henry's expeditions, became the first European known to pass Cape Bojador in 1434.

During Prince Henry`s time and after, the Portuguese navigators discovered and perfected the North Atlantic "Volta do Mar" (the turn of the sea or return from the sea). This was a major step in the history of navigation, when an understanding of winds in the age of sail was crucial to Atlantic navigation, from Africa and the open ocean to Europe, and enabling the main route between the New World and Europe in the North Atlantic, in future voyages of discovery. Understanding the Atlantic gyre and the volta do mar enabled them to beat upwind to the Strait of Gibraltar and home, after navigating favorably to the south and southwest, towards the Canary Islands or the southwest. The pilots first had to sail far to the west — counter-intuitively, in the wrong direction, that is, farther from continental Portugal, then for northeast, to the area around the Azores islands, and to east — in order to catch usable following winds, and return to Europe. Christopher Columbus would use it on his transatlantic voyages.

By this time the Portuguese navigators had also reached the Sargasso Sea (western North Atlantic region), naming it after the Sargassum seaweed growing there (sargaço / sargasso in Portuguese).[9]

Henry also continued his involvement in events closer to home. In 1431 he donated houses for the Estudo Geral to reunite all the sciences — grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, music and astronomy — into what would later become the University of Lisbon. For other subjects like medicine or philosophy, he ordered that each room should be decorated according to each subject that was being taught.

He functioned as a primary organizer of the Portuguese expedition to Tangier in 1437. This proved a disastrous failure; Henry's younger brother Ferdinand was given as a hostage to guarantee that the Portuguese would fulfill the terms of the peace agreement that had been made with Çala Ben Çala. The Archbishop of Braga and the count of Arraiolos refused to approve the terms in the reunion of the Portuguese Cortes, thus condemning Ferdinand to remain in miserable captivity until his death six years later.

For most of his last 23 years, Henry concentrated on his maritime activities, or on Portuguese court politics.

Henry the Navigator bronze by Léon-Joseph Chavalliaud (1899), outside the Palm House at Sefton Park, Liverpool

Using the new ship type, the expeditions then pushed onwards. Nuno Tristão and Antão Gonçalves reached Cape Blanco in 1441. The Portuguese sighted the Bay of Arguin in 1443 and built an important fort there around the year 1448. Dinis Dias soon came across the Senegal River and rounded the peninsula of Cap-Vert in 1444. By this stage the explorers had passed the southern boundary of the desert, and from then on Henry had one of his wishes fulfilled: the Portuguese had circumvented the Muslim land-based trade routes across the western Sahara Desert, and slaves and gold began arriving in Portugal. By 1452, the influx of gold permitted the minting of Portugal's first gold cruzado coins. A cruzado was equal to 400 reis at the time. From 1444 to 1446, as many as forty vessels sailed from Lagos on Henry's behalf, and the first private mercantile expeditions began.

Alvise Cadamosto explored the Atlantic coast of Africa and discovered several islands of the Cape Verde archipelago between 1455 and 1456. In his first voyage, which started on 22 March 1455, he visited the Madeira Islands and the Canary Islands. On the second voyage, in 1456, Cadamosto became the first European to reach the Cape Verde Islands. António Noli later claimed the credit. By 1462, the Portuguese had explored the coast of Africa as far as the present-day nation Sierra Leone. Twenty-eight years later, Bartolomeu Dias proved that Africa could be circumnavigated when he reached the southern tip of the continent, now known as the "Cape of Good Hope." In 1498, Vasco da Gama became the first European sailor to reach India by sea.

Origin of the 'Navigator' nickname

No one used the nickname 'Navigator' to refer to prince Henry during his lifetime or in the following three centuries. The term was coined by two nineteenth-century German historians: Heinrich Schaefer and Gustav de Veer. Later on it was made popular by two British authors who included it in the titles of their biographies of the prince: Henry Major in 1868 and Raymond Beazley in 1895.[4] In Portuguese, even in modern times, it is uncommon to call him by this epithet; the preferred use is "Infante D. Henrique".[citation needed]

Fiction

Ancestry

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ The traditional image of the Prince presented in this page, and coming from the Saint Vincent Panels, is still under dispute.
  2. ^ Merson, John (1990). The Genius That Was China: East and West in the Making of the Modern World. Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press. p. 72. ISBN 0-87951-397-7A companion to the PBS Series The Genius That Was China 
  3. ^ Bluteau, Rafael (1721). Vocabulario portuguez & latino .... Lisbon: na officina de Pascoal da Sylva. p. 109. 
  4. ^ a b c W.G.L. Randles, "The alleged nautical school founded in the fifteenth century at Sagres by Prince Henry of Portugal called the 'Navigator'", Imago Mundi, London, 1993. pp. 20 - 28
  5. ^ Marques, Alfredo Pinheiro (2005). "Os Descobrimentos e o 'Atlas Miller'" (in Portuguese). Universidade de Coimbra. , p.52
  6. ^ Rocha, Daniel (8 February 2009). "Brasil: historiador nega existência da Escola de Sagres". Público. Retrieved 16 October 2013. 
  7. ^ de Albuquerque, Luís (1990). Dúvidas e Certezas na História dos Descobrimentos Portugueses'. Lisboa. pp. 15–27. 
  8. ^ Castro et al. 2008, p. 2
  9. ^ http://www.bookdrum.com/books/wide-sargasso-sea/9780140818031/setting.html

Sources