He was born in the Azores, from Corte-Real family, who in 1500 and 1501 sailed to Labrador and the Arctic seas; and his brothers Miguel and Vasco. Their voyages opened the way for important Portuguese fisheries on the Newfoundland coast.
In his youth Jerónimo fought in Africa and Asia according to the custom of noblemen in that age. There is a tradition that he was present at the affair of Tangier on May 18, 1553, when Dom Pedro de Menezes met his death. Returning home, it is supposed about 1570, he spent the rest of his days in retirement.
In 1578 he placed his sword at the disposal of King Sebastian for the fatal expedition to Africa, but the monarch dispensed him from the journey (it is said) on account of his age, and in 1586 we find him acting as proved or of the Misericórdia of Évora. He married D. Luísa da Silva, but left no legitimate issue.
Corte-Real was painter as well as soldier and poet, and one of his pictures "Almas" is still preserved in the church of S. Antão at Évora. His poetical works are believed to have been composed in his old age at the mansion on his estate near Évora, known as Valle de Palma.
He was buried in Évora on 16 November 1588.
O Segundo cerco de Diu (The Second Siege of Diu), an epic in 21 cantos, deals with the historic siege of that Indian island-fortress of the Portuguese. First printed in 1574, it had a second edition in 1783, while a Spanish version appeared at Alcalà in 1597. Austriada, an epic in 15 cantos celebrating the victory of John of Austria (Don Juan de Austria) over the Turks at Lepanto, was written in Spanish and published in 1578. King Philip II accepted the dedication in flattering terms and visited the poet when he came to Portugal.
Naufrágio de Sepulveda (The Shipwreck of Sepulveda), an epic in 17 cantos, describes the tragic shipwreck on the South African coast and the death of D. Manuel de Sepulveda with his beautiful wife and young children, a disaster which drew some feeling stanzas from Camões (Lusi ads, v. 46). The poem was published four years after the death of Corte-Real by his heirs, and had two later editions, while a Spanish version appeared in Madrid in 1624 and a French in Paris in 1844. Auto dos quatro novíssimos do homem is a short poem printed in 1768.
Except the Naufragio de Sepulveda, which is highly considered in Portugal, Corte-Real's poetry has hardly stood the test of time, and critics of later generations have refused to ratify the estimate formed by contemporaries, who considered him, at least, the equal, if not the superior, of Camões. His lengthy epics suffer from a want of sustained inspiration, and are marred by an abuse of epithet, though they contain episodes of considerable merit, vigorous and well-coloured descriptive passages, and exhibit a pure diction.
See Subsídios para a biographia do poeta Jeronymo Corte-Real (Évora, 1899); also Ernesto do Canto's Memoir on the family in Nos. 23 and 24 of the Archivo dos Azores, and Dr Sousa Viterbo's Trabalhos nauticos dos Portuguezes, ii. 153 et seq.
- Henry Harrisse, Les Corte-Real et leurs voyages au Nouveau Monde, and Gaspar Corte-Real: la date exacte de sa dernire expedition au Nouveau Monde, Paris, 1883