The Infante Henrique, Duke of Viseu (Porto, March 4, 1394 – Sagres,
November 13, 1460); , was an infante (prince) of the Portuguese House of AvizThe
Infante Henrique, Duke of Viseu (Porto, March 4, 1394 – Sagres, November 13,
1460); , was an infante (prince) of the Portuguese House of Aviz
The Infante Henrique,
Duke of Viseu (Porto, March 4, 1394 – Sagres, November 13, 1460); , 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.
Henry was the third son born to Philippa of Lancaster, the sister of King Henry
IV of England. Henry was 21 when he, his father and brothers conquered the
Moorish port of Ceuta in northern Morocco, that had been for a long time the
base for Barbary pirates that assaulted the Portuguese coast, depopulating
villages by capturing their inhabitants to be sold in the African slave market.
This attack was successful, as it inspired Henry to explore down the coast of
Africa, most of which was unknown to Europeans. The desire to locate the source
of the West African gold trade, find the legendary Christian kingdom of Prester
John, and stop the pirate attacks on the Portuguese coast were three of his main
interests in the region. The ships that sailed the Mediterranean at that time
were too slow and too heavy to make these voyages. Under his direction, a new
and much lighter ship was developed, the caravel, which would allow sea captains
to sail further, faster and much more efficiently. In 1419, his father appointed
him the governor of the province of Algarve.
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).
Vila do Infante, patron of Portuguese exploration
According to João de Barros, in Algarve he repopulated a village that he called
Terçanabal (maybe from * dársen'Anibal). This village was situated in a
strategic position for his maritime enterprises and was later called Vila do
From his Vila do Infante, or Town of the Prince, on the Sagres peninsula, Henry
sponsored voyages down the coast of Mauretania that were primarily exploration
expeditions, later on bringing back to the nearby town of Loola, from whence
they set out, numerous African slaves and goods. 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." 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. Henry did possess geographical curiosity, though, and
therefore employed cartographers. Jehuda Cresques, a noted cartographer,
received an invitation to come to Sagres and probably make maps for Henry, a
position he accepted. Henry was somewhat interested in profits from his voyages.
From the first Africans that were brought to Lagos for sale in 1444 (see his
contemporary biography by Zurara), he received from the merchants the value
corresponding to the fifth part (o quinto) as the expedition had been sponsored
by the shipowners.
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 of the Arabs. 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.
Early results of Henry's explorers
Panel of glazed tiles by Jorge Colaço (1922) representing Henry the Navigator at
the Promontory of Sagres. Lisboa, Pavilhão Carlos Lopes.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,
LisbonHenry 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
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.
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
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.
Beazley, C. Raymond (1894). Prince Henry the Navigator, the Hero of Portugal and
of Modern Discovery, 1394-1460 A.D.: With an Account of Geographical Progress
Throughout the Middle Ages As the Preparation for His Work. London: G. P.
Boxer, Charles (1991). The Portuguese Seaborne Empire, 1415–1825. Carcanet
Press. ISBN 978-0856359620.
Major, Richard Henry . The life of Prince Henry of Portugal, surnamed the
Navigator: and its results. London: Asher & Co.. OCLC 64421592.
Martins, J. P. Oliveira (1914). The golden age of Prince Henry the Navigator.
London: Chapman and Hall.
Russell, Peter E. (2000). Prince Henry "the Navigator": a life. New Haven: Yale
University Press. ISBN 0300082339. OCLC 42708239.
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