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.
When you Google for “The Silk Road” today, you find a lot more search results for the drugs-and-guns site than for the historically significant network of travel routes between China, the middle east and ancient Rome. Yet, for centuries this “international commercial highway” was the source of valuable goods, spices, gems and China’s silks for those who had the money to pay.
Watch a short, well-done video at History.com.
When the Great Mongol State (the largest empire in history from 1206 to 1368) began to break down, the anarchic conditions in the middle east made it virtually impossible to travel the Silk Road by land. There was a sea route from China to the Near East, but in 1453, The Turks captured Constantinople and took control of the sea routes in the Black Sea. The Turks also controlled Egypt at this time and created an expensive hardship on both land and sea routes to and within that region as well.
These bottlenecks to trade began to take its toll on the price of goods for the ruling classes in Europe. Gold and silver coffers were being severely drained. As we shall see, viewed from the vantage point of the future, this strain on the wealthy acted as a catalyst to the Age of Discovery.
In the meantime, the little kingdom of Portugal attained its independence from Castile with the help of a contingent of English archers in 1385. Twenty-six years later a treaty was signed.
In the next episode, you will see how the events of this revolution created the life of a significant player in Magellan’s Geodrama, Prince Henry the Navigator.
These articles are small essays from the reading of “Magellan” by Tim Joyner.
The Magellan Project is a seafaring adventure that will retrace the 3-year route of Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world – in time for the 500 year anniversary.
Ongoing documentation, in various media, will be transmitted to the public as it happens. Outreach and cultural research are being planned for the ports o’ call. Collected materials will be compiled to produce a documentary, and all materials will be available to educators and researchers.
This is an ambitious project, and we need your help. See how you can JOIN THE ADVENTURE.
Featured Image (at top)
Silk Road and Related Trade Routes ~Maps / Atlas~
Genghis Khan (where we learn the pronunciation is really ‘Chingas’ )
Watch an entertaining and educational video HERE
Ottoman Empire Map
Map of Portugal (Citation)
By Gabagool (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
China, Central Asia, and the New Silk Road (where we learn about modern-day China’s Silk Road initiative)
We continue the exploration of Tim Joyner’s book Magellan with Chapter 2, The Iberians. Who are the Iberians and what do they have to do with Ferdinand Magellan and his expedition?
There are Eastern Iberians and Western Iberians. The Eastern group have millennias of history in the Caucuses, the descendents of which are Georgians in Russia. The Western group are from what is commonly referred to as the Iberian Peninsula, or Spain and Portugal.
It was the Greeks who named both groups Iberians. There has been much research to determine a genetic, ethnic or language link between them. These lines of study haven’t clearly panned out, although they are still going on. It’s not even clear why the ancient Greeks would have called these two different groups by the same name.
The original Western Iberians occupied only a portion of the squarish peninsula of Spain and Portugal. Here is a sketch from Total War Center that illustrates the point.
How this relates to Magellan’s world becomes quite clear as we continue with this chapter. The Portuguese and Spanish became the first great navigators and seafarers of the west. The following graph puts the role of The Iberians in perspective. They were the first to travel extensively by sea, although that role gave way to the Dutch, French and British in the early 1600s.
(Graph found on the website of Mr. Barnes’ class. Click the image to go there.)