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.
This is the story of how Prince Henry of Portugal became the instigator of serious sea exploration in the west. It’s a story of how one family’s tragedy turned into history’s good fortune.
Portugal’s independence from Castile was won largely through the efforts of Prince Henry’s father, King João I. The King had the support of the knights of the local, minor nobility and of the artisans and merchants of the region. Between the knight’s fighting prowess and the merchants’ money, they prevailed against mighty Castile.
The King awarded the Knights with land grants and positions of status and financial ease, a medieval system that was passed on for generations, even into Britain. In fact, these medieval ideals were the roots of the chivalry made famous by the Knights of the Round Table in England.
The King’s three oldest, youthful and energetic sons, wished to prove their manliness in real combat rather than jousts and competitions. They convinced their father to let them capture a Moroccan fortress by the name of Ceuta on the north coast of Africa. Not only did they justify this with religious righteousness (driving the Moors out of the region), but the fortress was a destination point for gold-carrying caravans from West Africa.
Prince Henry proved himself such a worthy commander at this successful and highly profitable endeavor, that he was knighted and made Governor of the southern coast of Portugal and Ceuta.
Defending the fortress from repeated counterattacks proved to be costly and wearying, though, and the West African traffic (and gold) shifted to Tangier and other coastal cities. Finally, Henry decided to attack Tangier.
It was a catastrophe. Not only did he lose the battle, but his little brother was captured by the Moors, and Henry could not raise the ransom fast enough to save him. What a terrible day it must have been when the family learned that the beloved, younger prince died in captivity.
Afterwards, Prince Henry’s favor, and his will to participate in court, declined. One of his older brothers’ son became King, and Henry retreated into the seclusion and asceticism of a monk on his estate in the coastal city of Sagres.
There, he used his time and mind to study navigation and send out fleets to claim lands for Portugal along the west coast of Africa. On their way back from these expeditions, his ships had to sail a long way out into the deep waters west of Portugal to have the wind. With the knowledge gained from these far offshore travels, Henry developed a school of navigation, designed new equipment for navigation and the next generation of sailing ship, the caravel.
These short articles are from the reading of Magellan by Tim Joyner. The book, Magellan is the main resource being used for the route and timing of The Magellan Project.
The Magellan Project is a seafaring, documentary adventure that will retrace the 3-year route of Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world – in time for the 500-year anniversary. It’s an ambitious project, and we need your help. See how you can JOIN THE ADVENTURE.
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.
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.
“From time immemorial this spot has been set aside to commemorate the erection of a cross in Cebu by the expedition of Magellan. When King Humabon of Cebu and his Queen, son and daughters, together with some 800 of their subjects were baptized by Father Pedro Valderrama. This hallowed site was improved in 1735 by Rev. Juan Albarran, Prior of San Agustin and in 1834 by Rt. Rev. Santos Gomez Marañon, Bishop of Cebu. The image of the Santo Niño found by the expedition of Legaspi in a house near the present site of the Cathedral of Cebu is venerated by the faithful in the nearby Church of San Agustin.”
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.