Henry the Navigator

Prince Henry, son of King JOHN I. of Portugal, after participating in the conquest of CEUTA in 1415, was fascinated with the opportunities opened by the opening of new trade routes with Africa and beyond. This was possible only across the sea, as Muslim Morocco boycotted (or fought) the christian strongholds on the coast. The wars with Morocco continued, in 1418 Ceuta was successfully defended, a Portuguese attack on Tangiers 1437 failed, Alcazar taken in 1458. During the Moroccan wars, Madeira was discovered by accident in 1418.
Yet no christian captain had dared to sail beyond CAPE BOJADOR, because there the winds were always blowing from the north and the sailors were afraid never being able to return.
In 1419, Henry the Navigator (Infante Dom Henrique) was appointed Governor of the Algarve; he set up a school for navigators in SAGRES (1424). He encouraged captains to sail further south, explore a stretch of coastland, write down their observations in unknown waters in a ship's log and have a precise map of the coast drawn. He hired the best map and instrument makers of Europe to teach at his school. The idea was to cut into the lucrative gold trade with Morocco's African trading partners across the Sahara, to establish contact with African christian princes living beyond the lands of Islam (Legend of Prester John), to claim lands hitherto unknown for Portugal, to spread Catholicism among the discovered peoples; Prince Henry regarded his enterprise part of the crusade movement. The succession of his brother Duarte to the Portuhuese throne in 1433 provided his enterprise the necessary support.
In 1433 did Gil Eanes (also spelled Eannes) pass Cape Bojador. From now on, Africa's coast was explored step by step; by 1445, CAPE VERDE had been reached. In the initial stage (-1448) Prince Henry was the driving force behind the Portuguese explorations; the captains were reluctant to sail befond the 200 leagues of unknown coastland they were obliged to survey by contract; this, and the fact that the African coast seemed to offer limited economic prospects, caused the relatively slow progress of the exploration of the African coast. In the 1450es and 1460es, the developing lucrative trade with the coastal inhabitants of the Guinea coast brought in merchants who took over the initiative.
Prince Henry died in 1460. Although he did not live to see the greatest successes of his school - the discovery of the CAPE OF GOOD HOPE in 1488 and the discovery of the sea route to India by VASCO DA GAMA in 1498, he is to be credited with having started the exploration of the world's oceans.

Files from Discoverer's web : Henry the Navigator
History of Africa : Europeans get a Foothold, from Robinson Research World of Knowledge
Article Henry the Navigator, from Catholic Encyclopedia
History of Sagres, from sagres.net
Prince Henry the Navigator, from Mappa Mundi
REFERENCE David Birmingham, A Concise History of Portugal, Cambridge Concise Histories, 1993, 210 pp.

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 14th 2004

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