The one and only vessel of the Magellan expedition to return to the port of origin was the Victoria. The Magellan Project is purchasing the Cherubini 48 of the same name. This schooner rigged vessel will serve as the project expedition flagship and educational platform. We welcome support and sponsorship for The Magellan Project at every level for our program to launch the retracing in September of 2017. Donations to The Magellan Project are tax deductible in the USA.
List of Posts
- We Found The Boat!
- Who Closed the Circle First?
- The Royal World of Magellan
- A Pound of Cloves
- The End of the Beginning
While many people correctly associate the first recorded circumnavigation of the Earth with Ferdinand Magellan, most do not know that Magellan only made it part of the way. On April 27th, 1521, Magellan died at the Battle of Mactan in the archipelago he named San Lazaro, known today as The Philippines.
Juan Sebastian del Cano captained the Victoria, the only surviving ship of the original five, home to Spain, arriving just two weeks short of when and where the Magellan Armada de Moluccas left from three years earlier. Cano was a competent mariner. As the ranking leader among the 18 Europeans onboard the returning Victoria, he initially received all the Spanish royal recognition for the first circumnavigation.
Subsequently in 1526 Cano rose to the rank of Captain General on what started out as a seven ship fleet trying to sail west to the Spice Islands via the Magellan expedition route. On August 6th, 1526, he died of scurvy in the mid-Pacific Ocean less than one week after replacing Jufre de Loaisa, the initial Captain General of the fleet, who also died of scurvy. Cano was buried at sea. The smudge on his record is his participation in the mutiny against Magellan over Easter weekend at Port St. Julian in 1520. His death sentence for participation in the mutiny was not carried out. The need for competent mariners spared him to a hard labor sentence that progressed to return to duty on deck and eventually to be the only surviving captain of the expedition. Sebastian del Cano’s name is associated with the Earth’s first circumnavigation mostly only by historians.
There is the possibility Magellan’s slave Enrique was the first person to circumnavigate the earth. Magellan had participated in the Portuguese conquest of Malacca in 1511. While there, Magellan purchased Enrique, then estimated to be 14 years old, as a slave. While still a servant to Magellan when the Armada de Moluccas departed Spain in 1519, Enrique da Malacca was listed with the fleet as a supernumerary (interpreter) and was being paid 1,500 maravedis per month. Antonio Pigafetta, the de facto expedition chronicler, was only paid 1,000 maravedis per month. One can say Enrique was no longer a slave at this point but instead an indentured well-paid servant.
Pigafetta reported Enrique was from Sumatra. Linguists suggest a Sumatran would not have understood the language of the central Philippines (Visayan) as Enrique did when the expedition first reached the Philippines in early 1521. Enrique’s language skills facilitated Magellan’s alliance with the leaders there at the time and played a key role in the mass baptisms that were to follow.
Enrique was possibly raised in the central Philippines and sold into slavery in Sumatra, eventually being taken to Malacca where he was purchased by Magellan. Another possibility is for Enrique to have been born of Filipino parents in Sumatra or Malacca where he lived in a ‘Filipino Town’ community similar to ‘China Town’ communities around the world, from whence he came to the service of Magellan.
Enrique disappears from the historical record after the Massacre of Cebu, 4 days after the Battle of Mactan.
The historical record documents both Enrique and Magellan being in Malacca before returning to Portugal, travelling to Spain, and then sailing west as far as Cebu. Cebu is 1,528 miles from Malacca. Dividing this distance by the circumference of the Earth (24,901) shows they both came at least 94% of the way to a complete circumnavigation.
If Enrique was not indeed the first human to encompass the planet, he deserves an A for the effort.
The royalty Magellan rubbed shoulders with consisted of two competing majesties; King Manual of Portugal and King Charles of Spain. The intricacies of these two sovereigns provide a fabric of intrigue and ambition outpacing the best of good fiction. The intense rivalry between Spain and Portugal at the time was not simply an international competition between the two world powers of the day, it was an inbred family feud.
Ferdinand Magellan was born in Portugal. Having served under Manual’s predecessor, John II, Magellan distinguished himself as a brave mariner and soldier in Portugal’s foray into Southeast Asia and Malacca Straits. This was during Portugal’s successful military thrust to consolidate and control the eastward route around Africa and India to the Spice Islands.
In October, 1495, John II died and Magellan’s relationship to the royal world of Portugal changed. As King John’s son had previously died, the heir to the throne became John’s cousin Manuel. John was also Manuel’s brother-in-law, being married to Manuel’s sister Leonor. Manuel’s older brother Diogo had been stabbed to death in 1484 by King John. Like many royal families of the time, history records the Portuguese royal family as surrounded by conspiracies, inbreeding, murder, and exiled nobility.
King Manuel was close to Magellan’s age and they served as pages to the royal court in their youth. They knew one another. Magellan had minor nobility heritage, Manuel’s bloodline took him into the inner sanctum.
Manuel disliked Magellan and treated him dismissively years later when Magellan asked for royal backing to lead an expedition sailing west to the Spice Islands. This royal refusal occurred after Magellan had returned from his years of military service in the Far East and northern Africa. Subsequently, Magellan asked King Manuel for royal permission to seek backing for his expedition elsewhere. Permission was given in the demeanor of a royal insult: Magellan was not allowed to kiss the king’s hand upon leaving his presence after the request was granted in an offhand manner.
Around this same time, in 1516, a 16-year-old Charles was proclaimed King of Spain.
Here the royal stories collide into the strange.
In 1516, King Manuel is 47 years old, King Charles is 16.
As royal marriages connected and consolidated dynasties, the female relatives of Charles were married into this tradition. Manuel married two of Charles’s aunts; Isabella and Maria. Manual and Isabella were married in 1497 and Isabella died in 1498 shortly after giving birth to their one and only child. Manuel and Maria were married in 1501. Maria died in 1517. Manuel and Maria had eight children. One of these children, John III, succeeded to the throne of Portugal upon Manuel’s death in 1519 (coincidentally the same year of Magellan’s death). John III would marry Charles’s sister Catherine.
Charles would marry the daughter of Manuel and his aunt Maria; Isabella.
But first, Manuel would marry King Charles’s 20 year old sister Eleanor in 1518. Manuel’s son John III had been engaged to Charles’s sister Eleanor but dad claimed the daughter-in-law to be as his own wife. Manuel and Eleanor had two children.
Charles ascended to the throne of Spain by virtue of what today would be called nepotism but then was considered a divine right. Charles was born and spent his childhood and adolescence in what is today’s Belgium. When Charles was proclaimed King of Spain he was not yet fluent in Spanish. Grandson of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the backers of the Christopher Columbus expedition to sail west to the Spice Islands, Charles would, 25 years later, be the royal supporter and financier of Magellan’s exploration.
Charles actually shared the royal Spanish throne with his mother Joan. His parents, Joan and Philip the Handsome (a Hapsburg), were in married in 1496 and produced 6 children. Raised and tutored in the royal court, the multilingual Joan was considered one of the most educated women of her day. When Philip died suddenly in 1506, some suspected he was poisoned by his father-in-law Ferdinand. Joan’s emotional stability declined. Reports of her traveling the kingdom with her husband’s body are in the historical record. She became known as Joan the Mad.
Charles ruled as King of Spain and on behalf of his mother, Queen of Spain. Queen Joan would spend the rest of her life from February, 1509 until her death on Good Friday, April 12th, 1555 at the age of 75 confined to the Convent of Santa Clara in Valladolid, Castile, Spain.
In February and March of 1518, the just-turned-18 King Charles was giving royal audience to Magellan and considering his proposal to lead an expedition west and then south around the new world and then west again to the Spice Islands.
Dividing up the world
The 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas had divided the world between the empires of Portugal and Spain. All lands east of the agreed upon meridian drawn from pole to pole through the Atlantic Ocean 270 leagues west of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands were to be under Portuguese control. All lands west of the meridian (the New World minus Brazil) were to be under Spanish control. The anti-meridian line and where it divided the back side of the world from north to south, east and west, wasn’t considered at the time. Now occurred the question on whose side of the anti-meridian did the Spice Islands lie?
A fundamental difference between the Portuguese and Spanish maritime explorations and endeavors at this time was the Spanish penchant for quasi-public obsessive record keeping and chart making, compared to the secretive Portuguese archives.
The Portuguese may well have explored the southern coast and tip of the New World and kept their findings secret. Magellan had access to the archives of Portugal before leaving in 1517 for Spain. Historians have connected Magellan with a ‘John of Lisboa’ who may have related information about a strait Magellan always insisted he knew of.
When Magellan took his Portuguese maritime knowledge, military, and naval experience to Spain along with his proposal to lead a west sailing expedition to claim the Spice Islands, the advisers around the young King Charles took notice. What took Columbus 8 years to accomplish in getting royal backing for an expedition took Magellan and his team a couple of months.
Royal support was given and preparation for the Armada de Moluccas began.
Upon learning of Charles’s support for Magellan’s plan, King Manuel dispatched agents and spies to Seville to report on and attempt sabotage of the expedition’s preparations.
Entreaties to Magellan to return to Portugal by King Manuel’s ambassador to the Spanish court were rebuffed.
Magellan was branded a traitor. His family and property in Portugal harassed. Vasco de Gama called for his head.
When the armada did eventually get under way, Manuel dispatched two fleets of armed vessels to intercept the armada; one of the fleets sailed west and the other east. Neither was successful in stopping the armada’s ultimate goal of reaching the Spice Islands.
Intrigue on the Spanish side wasn’t much better. As a citizen of Portugal, Magellan was distrusted by suspicious Spanish nobles, nobles
barely trusting of their new, young, foreign-born King.
A powerful player in the inner circle of power surrounding the young king was Juan Rodriguez Fonseca, Bishop of Burgos and Archbishop of Rosana in Italy. Fonseca was a powerful administrator and served as vice-president of the Supreme Council of the Indies. Fonseca supported the mission and involved himself in details of its approval, preparation, and launch.
Fonseca had Juan de Cartagena appointed as Inspector General of the armada, second in command to Magellan. Cartagena was a trusted confident of Fonseca, a proud Spanish noble with zero maritime and military experience. Cartagena would attempt several mutinies in the expedition’s first year. Magellan eventually marooned Cartagena with a chaplain (a fellow conspirator) in the port of San Julian upon the armada’s departure sailing south to discover the passage to the ocean on the other side of the New World.
King Charles all the while went onto carve his name in the walls of history on other fronts; named Holy Roman Emperor in 1519, his reign coincided with Martin Luther’s charges against the Catholic Church, the Reformation and the spread of Protestantism. Although started by his grandparents Ferdinand and Isabella, Charles reign was also contemporary with and supportive of the continued Spanish Inquisition. Charles reigned over Cortez’s defeat of the Aztecs and Pizarro’s defeat of the Incas, filling the royal coffers with silver and gold mined by enslaved Native Americans. His imperial troops sacked Rome in 1527, holding Pope Clement VII virtual hostage, preventing the annulment of Henry VIII of England’s marriage to Charles’s aunt Catherine. So he could take another wife, Henry VIII “broke with Rome.” The English Reformation and Anglican Church of England were the result.
As the Middle Ages faded and the Renaissance blossomed in the late 15th and early 16th century, the inspired art of human genius, empire building world exploration, endless intrigue, brutality, and religious upheaval coexisted in the swirl of milestone events throughout the period.
The royal world of Magellan was both witness to, and player in this dynamic era of change.
One aspect of the expedition that is of interest today might be the economics of the expedition’s financing. There is little doubt that Magellan was a deeply religious man. Even then as now, the project was subject to certain expectations of a return on investment and required a large commitment of financing from investors. The King of Portugal declined Magellan’s’ request to finance the original concept Magellan pitched in 1513. The King of Spain was eventually persuaded to sponsor the expedition for an expected period of two years.
So what exactly was Magellan promised for his efforts? And what did the expedition sponsors and financiers expect?
The entire expedition lasted 3 years and involved 5 ships and 270 men.
The value of the cargo off loaded in Spain at the conclusion was said to be more than enough to pay the original loans back. A single ship laden with cloves from the Spice Islands was all that remained after 3 years. Cloves were worth more than their weight in gold at the time.
Out of curiosity and a sense of research I ordered a pound of cloves from the Amazon web site. For $16.47 I received a package of fresh cloves. Not knowing much else as to what to do with them I put some in a pot of water on the stove and allowed them to fill the air with a fragrance that evoked memories of Christmas and family dinners for me.
I was also made aware from the various health newsletters I receive that cloves and many other spices such as cinnamon and turmeric had medicinal values beyond merely flavoring food and making things smell better. It seems these medicinal properties for the spices were well known in the middle ages and this knowledge persisted in various forms of folk medicine right up to the modern day.
“At Seville on 24 August 1519 Magellan signed his last will and testament….One-tenth of all he may gain from the voyage to the Moluccas is to be set apart for legacies; one-third to build a new chapel around Santa Maria de la Victoria, where the monks may forever pray for the repose of his soul…” From The Great Explorers by Samuel Elliot Morrison
Although there are exceptions, few people begin the day knowing it will be their last. Magellan had experienced many a close shave with fate, this day held another battle to be fought and won. With a pattern of decisive action, the iron willed man had muscled his way through many a tight spot. He had no reason to think his God and tactics would fail him today.
But fail him they did at Mactan Island in the central Philippines on April 27th, 1521.He went down fighting in the knee deep water of what is now called Magellan Bay. He and his band of marines tried to retreat to their shallops at the outer edge of the shallows: the majority cut and ran, a core of eight stood together giving way slowly.
His position among the men and his distinct armor gave him away as the prize. Thrown rocks knocked his helmet off twice. He received a wound to his arm and tried without success to draw his sword as the enemy fell upon him. A scimitar slashed his leg and he fell forward into the water. He was last seen looking back at his retreating men scrambling aboard their small vessels. A frenzy of stabbing spears ended Magellan’s life. His body was never given up.
Although the initial landing force of 48 held their own against a substantially larger defending force, the advantage of gunpowder and crossbows was lost when the ammunition ran out. Armor, swords, and lances weren’t sufficient to withstand a barrage of bamboo spears, stakes, and rocks coming in from hundreds of furious warriors. Magellan and seven others died, the rest went back across the waterway to Cebu. Chief Lapu Lapu and his warriors won the Battle of Mactan. Historian’s estimate of the dead; home team 15, visitors 8.
An evangelical cloud of misjudgment preceded the disaster. 1000 warriors in thirty war canoes watched the debacle from offshore at Magellan’s insistence. Rajah Humabon had advised Magellan against the attack but had still provided the 1000 warriors familiar with the defenses of Mactan to join in the battle. Instead, they witnessed the defeat. Magellan’s intent to demonstrate the power of his God fell to earth. The invincibility of all the king’s men came up short. Humabon would soon turn on the survivors of this flawed ally of his with a disguised slaughter.
Magellan’s 10 year servant/slave Enrique, who amazingly spoke the local language, was wounded in the Battle of Mactan. He knew his master’s will stipulated his freedom upon Magellan’s death. The newly promoted captain general, Duarte Barbosa, stated otherwise, ordering the despondent Enrique ashore to negotiate with Humabon.
Enrique brought back notice of a feast scheduled for May 1st. 26 more members of the Magellan expedition were slaughtered in the trap. Enrique was spared and the fleet Chaplain Valderrama was seen being led quietly away to the home of a Humabon’s brother before the carnage commenced. Enrique and the priest are lost to history.
From the decks of the Victoria, Trinidad, and Conception, the tumult of screams came screeching across the water from shore. Left with only enough survivors onboard to sail 2 of the 3 ships, the Conception was taken to the southwest side of Bohol Island and scuttled.
Just three weeks prior to the Battle of Mactan, the expedition’s arrival in the central Philippines (originally named Islas de San Lazaro by Magellan) during Easter week was quite different from the previous year’s Semana Santa mutiny attempt at Port San Julian in present day Argentina. Subsequent to Magellan’s arrival here, thousands of locals had been baptized into the Holy Catholic Church. The ritual of the Mass apparently appealed to the indigenous culture of idol worship. Firepower, pomp and circumstance, along with a successful faith healing by Magellan of Humabon’s brother, wowed the ranks of the population and its leaders. With Enrique as interpreter, Magellan had taken to pontificating sermons with such enthusiasm that his faith was contagious. Magellan’s faith was so strong at this point, he outpaced his most well-armed guardian angels.
April 27th, 1565, 44 years later to the day of Magellan’s death, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi led the first renewed Spanish contact with the inhabitants of Cebu. It was a hostile encounter. Cebu was set on fire. The following day, one of Legazpi’s sailors came across a charred wooden box containing the wooden image of the Christ child given by Magellan to Humabon’s wife Lisabeta. The Catholic cathedral franchise industry pounced on the relic, building a series of churches that would eventually become the Basilica of the Holy Child on the reported spot of its finding.
The relic draws a line of visitors to this day into the church on Magellan Square, slowly winding by the glass incased ‘Santo Nino’, near the waterfront of old Cebu.
Across the bay from here, the Battle of Mactan is reenacted annually every April 27th with lots of chickens and pigs giving up their lives for the cause.
Magellan is known incorrectly to the world as the great circumnavigator, Lapu Lapu is known in the Philippines as the great circumciser. Both are as famous in the Philippines as the ‘forefathers’ are in the USA.
The Philippines is the only predominantly Christian nation in Asia. It all started right here with the evangelical zeal Magellan unintentionally gave up his life with to begin. The story of the world’s first nonfiction geodrama is wrapped around this seminal period in the history of the Philippines.
Only after the one surviving vessel foundered into the port of San Lucar de Barrameda in Spain in 1522, was the world first encircled without question. The barely floating ‘Victoria,’ full of cloves and nutmeg, carried the news of a story that would change the world.
May 10th-14th, 2015
Visiting the Island of Mactan and Cebu is useful in understanding the background and geography of this dynamic location along the route of the first recorded circumnavigation.
What is now Magellan Bay is pretty much the same as described by the expedition chronicler Antonio Pigafetta in his account of the Battle of Mactan: shallow waters extending far from a mangrove lined shoreline. The present day locals in the area continue to fish these and the surrounding waters.
Onshore around the “Magellan Monument” and “Lapu Lapu Shrine,” locals sell tropical fruits and produce, fish and seafood, and rice along with modern day junk food and drinks from dozens of little stands. For whatever monkey reason there is within us, the t-shirt stands are here in force too as they seem to be at all significant historical sites around the world.
Some of the local folks here probably share chromosomes with the locals from 500 years ago. A research project of sampled DNA analysis of the area’s current general population would be interesting to look at for the mixed strains of Malaysian and European genes sure to be found.
McDonalds has its arches high in the air above its restaurant about a mile from where the Battle of Mactan occurred. I think of it as McGellans.
Renting a Honda ‘Scoobie’ motor scooter from a small business near the monument and shrine (owned and operated by a Swiss ex-pat), I say my prayers, don a helmet, and head across the bridge to Cebu in the noisy free-form traffic of cars, trucks, busses, motorcycles, tricycles, and pedestrians – a dusty adventure in search of the ‘Museo Sugbo.’
The search and find is worth the risk taken – archeological displays of pre- and post-European contact are well presented.
Archeologists have unearthed extensive Thai and Vietnamese ceramics in Cebu area burial sites, ceramics unique to this area of the modern day Philippines. Magellan’s onboard expedition scribe noted a ship from Siam (present day Thailand) on anchor in Cebu harbor when Magellan’s remaining 3 ships arrived.
Widespread archeological evidence of trade with Cathay (present day China) is found throughout the Philippines, and some good examples of Chinese porcelain are on display at the Museo Sugbo. The Chinese apparently sailed by a code of live and let live and let’s trade while we are at it.
The ‘live as we say you should, or else die by our God-guided hand’ attitude of Magellan didn’t work out so well for him here.
On the day of the Battle of Mactan on April 27th, 1521, a pre-battle negotiation of sorts took place. Magellan sent a messenger ashore.
In hindsight, Magellan should have taken Lapu Lapu up on his offer. One extra goat, pig, bag of rice and millet hardly seem worth dying for. But die he did that day.
While at Mactan and Cebu I could find no record of archeological digging related to the Battle of Mactan. Lapu Lapu refused to give up Magellan’s body or the bodies of the seven other expedition mariners killed in the battle. These downed fighters were wearing armor, and contemporary burial practices at the time as noted by archeologists here show the deceased being buried with worldly possession and keepsakes. Speculation will allow there are still some pieces of rusted metal to be found from the Battle of Mactan somewhere in the area associated with the burials of the victors. Beneath the present day cement, asphalt, and resorts of Mactan Island and Lapu Lapu City lay stories yet to be told.
This is a replica of the Santo del Niño, a Flemish-made doll of the infant Jesus given by Magellan to Rajah Humabon’s wife after a mass baptismal in what is the present day Cebu City.
Forty-four years to the day after Magellan was killed in the Battle of Mactan across the water from Cebu Harbor, a Spanish mariner/conquistador found this in an abandoned home (The villagers had fled to the hills when the Spanish ships arrived.) near the site of the Magellan Cross.
The Basilica of the Santo del Niño was built beside the Magellan Cross site to house this religious relic where people line up to this day, filing by the glass encased doll, saying their prayers and crossing themselves.
This sign is at the site of the Magellan Cross, where Magellan staked out the 1st franchise of the Catholic Church in the Philippines in April, 1521. The Philippines is the only predominately Christian country in Asia and it all began right here. Reportedly, fragments of the original cross erected by Magellan and crew is somehow encased in the current standing cross.
Just to put Magellan into historical context, here are some events and dates to consider. 1519 was the year Magellan set out on his expedition.
The cosmological belief system at the time was “geocentric.” Complex celestial trigonometry was used to navigate by heavenly bodies which were assumed to be rotating around the Earth.
The Spanish Inquisition is in its 39th year.
March 4th, 1519, Hernando Cortez lands in Mexico. By November he is in Montezuma’s Court in Mexico City, overthrowing the Aztec Empire by intrigue and with the assistance of Dona Marina’s interpretative language skills. “To the victor go the spoils” of gold and silver for Spain and her thugs.
May 4th, 1519 Leonardo da Vinci dies.
June 28th, 1519 Charles I of Spain becomes Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. The 18-year-old Charles is Magellan’s sponsor and the grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella. Charles rules until 1556.
1519 Martin Luther questions the infallibility of papal decrees.
The retracing voyage will begin the journey in the Philippines where Magellan was killed. The voyage will begin here as this is the core of the commingling of European and Asian cultures resonating through the centuries to the present day.
The European perspective on this commingling has been the primary history taught in schools in the U.S. The Philippine and Southeast Asian perspective on the history of this contact is just as important and interesting, and provides an opportunity to broaden our understanding of this historic development.
For example, the majority of the world thinks Magellan completed the expedition. Filipinos, however, are taught in elementary school that Magellan introduced the Roman Catholic Church to the Philippines, and was killed by Chief Lapulapu and his warriors on Mactan Island. There is even an annual reenactment of the Battle of Mactan on April 27th. This is common knowledge to Filipinos across their country.
The Malaysian ethnic group across the islands of Southeast Asia are descendants of mariner nomads that settled across the region thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. The European contact and Magellan’s arrival led to a valuable network connection for the world’s maritime industry that continues to this day. Historically referred to as ‘Manila Men,’ Filipino mariners were sought after for their maritime skills and continued the Malaysian mariner nomad culture.
The period of the “Manila Galleon” trade from 1565-1814 spans 250 years of a Filipino diaspora that extended across the Pacific Ocean and contributed to the wealth of Spain as spices, silk, jewels and porcelain were added to the gold and silver riches of the new world booty.
The “Manila Men” were sought-after mariners in the Pacific whaling industry as smart, hardworking sailors with pleasant dispositions. The diaspora came to include both men and women, and continues to the present day as Filipinos staff ships, medical professions and service industries around the world.
Filipino Americans are the second largest Asian American minority group in the United States. The “Alaskaneros” Filipino population has grown to be the largest Asian minority in Alaska at approximately 16,000. The first historical documentation of a Filipino arriving in Alaska is in 1780.
Despite Magellan having preceded Cook by 250 years, the two great explorers share a common thread of interaction with cultures and religions completely unknown to one another. Magellan’s contact with the Philippines in 1521 was the beginning of the Spain’s ultimate domination of the islands until 1898. The Philippines are the only predominately Christian country in Asia and Filipinos are predominately Roman Catholic.
An anthropological study of pre-Magellan beliefs in the Philippines from a Filipino perspective would shed interesting light on the incredible success and popularity of Catholicism in this Malaysian ethnic group over the course of time since 1st contact.