Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Prince Henry the Navigator

From Nobility. The Portuguese prince who began the Age of Exploration was the great grandson of Edward III of England. To quote:
To achieve these objects, his swift caravels made continual voyages down the African coast, and in 1434, after twelve years of failures, one of his seamen, Gil Eannes, bolder than the rest, and inspired by his master’s zeal and generosity, doubled the terrible Cape. From that date events move quickly, and Henry, while still bearing in mind his crusading ideal, became more and more an explorer for the sake of knowledge, though he also endeavoured to draw commercial profit from the new-found Lands which would recoup his order for the vast expense of the voyages. He showed his scientific sagacity by obtaining from some captured natives (Azenegues) sufficient information about the Senegal to enable his men to recognize it when they reached it; moreover, he not only studied the ancient geographers and medieval maps, but engaged an expert map and instrument-maker, Jayme of Majorca, so that his explorers might have the best nautical information. This last incident probably accounts for the legend of the School of Sagres, which is now discredited. Though Henry certainly spent much time in the Algarve, of which province he was governor, the centre of his maritime activity was not Sagres or the Villa do Infante, but Lagos, where nearly all the early expeditions were equipped. (Read entire post.)

Yesterday was the anniversary of his death. Here is another bibliographical account from Wired:
1460: Infante Henrique (Prince Henry), known to history as Henry the Navigator, dies at 66 in Sagres, Portugal. While not a seafaring man himself, Henry’s zealous advocacy and generous patronage of science, cartography and oceanic navigation effectively opens the age of European exploration.

Henry the Navigator was the third son of Portugal’s King João I, whose ascent to the throne in 1385 touched off a confused period of civil strife and warfare that finally secured Portugal’s independence from Castile. However, the conflicts left much of the royalty impoverished, so Portugal began looking elsewhere for ways of reviving its economy.

At Henry’s urging, the king dispatched a fleet in 1415 to capture the Moorish port of Ceuta. The Moroccan port was a longtime safe haven for the Barbary pirates who marauded along the North African coast. The conquest of Ceuta awakened Henry to the possibilities of the Saharan trade routes and piqued his interest in charting the West African coast south of the Canary Islands.

The world south of Cape Bojador on the African mainland was unknown territory at the time, at least to European sailors. But Henry was determined to discover the extent of the Muslim world, which, as a good Christian of his era, he was hellbent on defeating.

Finding someone willing to sail into what the Europeans called the “Sea of Darkness” was not easy, however. It wasn’t until 1434 that the Portuguese explorer Gil Eannes, a former servant of Henry’s, became the first to round the cape. Exploration and commercial exploitation of the West African coast followed soon enough.

Henry, in his capacity as the governor of the Algarve and backed by the treasury of the Order of Christ, began authorizing expeditions into the Atlantic, which resulted in Portugal colonizing the Madeira Islands, the Azores and the Canary Islands. All the while, he was employing cartographers to chart the growing Portuguese world, as well as funding the building of newer, faster ships to expand the Portuguese reach into distant oceans.

Whether Henry actually established a formal school for navigators and cartographers as claimed — and this is the central pillar on which his lofty reputation rests — is unclear. Certainly navigators and mapmakers were in his employ and played a key role in the expansion of the young Portuguese Empire.

The Portuguese had explored the African coast as far south as present-day Sierra Leone by 1462, two years after Henry’s death. Bartolomeu Dias reached the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa in 1489. Nine years later, Vasco da Gama became the first European sailor to make landfall in India.

None of this would have been possible without the driving spirit of Henry the Navigator. (Read entire post.)
More about Prince Henry, HERE. Share

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