Henry the Navigator

The Infante Henrique, Duke of Viseu (Porto, March 4, 1394 – Sagres, November 13, 1460); pron. IPA[ẽ’ʁik(ɨ)]), was an infante (prince) of the Portuguese House of Aviz and an important figure in the early days of the Portuguese Empire, being responsible for the beginning of the European worldwide explorations. He is known in English as Prince Henry the Navigator or the Seafarer (Portuguese: o Navegador).

Prince Henry the Navigator was the third child of King John I of Portugal, the founder of the Aviz dynasty, and of Philippa of Lancaster, the daughter of John of Gaunt. 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, with profound consequences on Henry’s worldview: Henry became aware of the profit possibilities in 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.

It is a common conception that Henry gathered at his Vila on the Sagres peninsula a school of navigators and map-makers. He did employ some cartographers to help him chart the coast of Mauritania in the wake of voyages he sent there, but for the rest there was no center of navigational science or any supposed observatory in the modern sense of the word, nor was there an organized navigational center. In “Crónica da Guiné” Henry is described as a person with no luxuries, not avaricious, speaking with soft words and calm gestures, a man of many virtues that never allowed any poor person leave his presence empty handed.

Resources and income

On May 25, 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. 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, that the Portuguese claimed having discovered before the year 1346.

Henry also had other resources. When John I died, Henry’s eldest brother, Duarte 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 Duarte died eight years later, Henry supported his brother Pedro for the regency during Afonso V of Portugal’s minority, and in return received a confirmation of this levy. Henry also promoted the colonization of the Azores during Pedro’s regency (1439–1448).

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. This was a breakthrough as it was considered close to the end of the world, with difficult currents that did not encourage commercial enterprise.

Henry and the navigators in the monument to the Portuguese discoveries, Lisbon

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 Fernando 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 agreement was first broken by the Moors, who attacked the Portuguese and captured the Portuguese wounded when they were being carried to the ships, killing those who tried to resist. The Archbishop of Braga and the count of Arraiolos refused to approve the terms in the reunion of the Portuguese Cortes, thus condemning Fernando to remain in miserable captivity until his death eleven years later. Henry for most of his last twenty-three years concentrated on his exploration activities, or on Portuguese court politics.

Henry’s tomb in the Monastery of Batalha.

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 March 22 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 present-day nation Sierra Leone. Twenty-eight years later, Bartolomeu Dias (can be spelt Diaz) proved that Africa could be circumnavigated when he reached the southern tip of the continent. This is now known as the “Cape of Good Hope.” In 1498, Vasco da Gama was the first sailor to travel from Portugal to India.

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_the_Navigator

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