Henry The Navigator portrait

Prince Henry the Navigator

Prince Henry the Navigator was born on March 4, 1394 in Porto, Portugal, as the third son of King John I The Good. At the age of 21, Henry and his brother and father took over the Moorish port at the Battle of Ceuta. The port was the base of the Berber pirates who were prowling the Portuguese coasts, kidnapping the inhabitants of the coastal villages and selling them on the African slave market. The prince, motivated by success, began to explore the unknown coasts of Africa. He wanted to find sources of gold trading and find the lost kingdom of Father John. The problem was, however, the ships of the time, far too big, heavy and not agile enough to cope with such an expedition.

Prince Henry the Navigator ordered to build caravels, ships perfect for such a mission – light, fast, agile and less susceptible to wind. The invention of the caravel proved to be a turning point for Portuguese travel. When Henry was 25, his father appointed him Governor of the Algarve. A year later he became the Grand Master of the Order of Knights of Christ, successors of the Templars. He held this position for the rest of his life. It was at least profitable, the property of the Order could be embezzled and intended to finance further expeditions of Henry, inter alia, to conquer the Canary Islands.

In 1425, a diplomatic mission in Europe was held under the leadership of brother Henry – Peter. During the journey, Peter managed to create a map of the world using a Venetian cartographer. Six years later he contributed to the creation of the University of Lisbon – he gave the contemporary University in Coimbra rooms that would allow to teach every subject (grammar, logic, arithmetic, music, rhetoric and astronomy) in rooms specially equipped for this purpose. In 1433 Henry’s father, King John I Good, left and the throne was taken over by Henry’s brother, Edward I Aviz.

It was quite profitable for Henry, because he obtained all the benefits of trading in the areas he discovered and a monopoly on authorizing any trips further than the Cape of Ras Bujour. He also obtained the exclusive right to fish tuna in the Algarve. After Edward’s death, Peter became the regent king, because Edward’s son was too young to wield power. Piotr, however, played a huge role in the development of Portuguese discoveries in the Atlantic and in Africa. During his regency, Henry wanted to colonize the Azores.

In 1437, Prince Henry the Navigator organized an expedition to Tangier. The expedition ended with the capture of his younger brother Henry, Ferdinand, which was to guarantee that the Portuguese had kept the peace conditions of Çala Ben Çala. Ferdinand remained in captivity until his death six years later. Henry sponsored various expeditions by collecting a 20% tax on profits. It must be admitted that in those days such expeditions were quite common in the Iberian peninsula.

The organization of the expeditions in the nearby port of Lagos was a facilitation for the expeditions. Such ventures were usually organized using small and agile caravels. Starting with Henry, Portuguese sailors have mastered the navigation technique known as “Volta do Mar” which was a milestone in the development of sailing. Because of accuracy, Henry never was a navigator – he was given the nickname only about four centuries after his death. The first discovery in which the prince had his part took place shortly after the acquisition of Ceuta. He was keenly interested whence a caravan bringing gold to the city sets off. During the reign of John I, two explorers – Teixeira and Zarco were sent to the African coast.

In 1418, two travelers were removed from the course, they came to the island of Porto Santo, which was ordered by the order of Prince Henry the Navigator to colonize. After two years, the settlers moved to the nearby island – Madeira. Expeditions organized by Henry thoroughly explored Africa. Until the time of Henry, the most southerly point was the headland of Ras Dudurd. Even the existence of a huge monster that inhabits the end of the world was believed. In 1434, the Cape was crossed by one of the commanders of the expeditions organized by the prince – Gil Eanes became the first European who crossed this border. Then Nuno Tristao and Antao Gonçalves reached the White Cape. They noticed the bay of Arkin, where in 1448 they built a fort of great strategic importance. Shortly thereafter, Dinis Dias found the Senegal River and circled Cape Verde.

In 1444, Prince Henry the Navigator achieved one of his goals – Portuguese merchants and travelers found alternative routes to Muslim routes, and as a result, slaves and gold began to flow into Portugal. This did not have a positive impact on the capitals of North Africa, but it was very profitable for Portugal. A sudden inflow of gold allowed the minting of the first Portuguese coin – cruzado.

In the next years, about 40 ships sailed from the port of Lagos to trade trips on behalf of Prince Henry the Navigator . Alvise Cadamosto in 1455-1456 discovered the Atlantic coast of Africa and the Cape Verde Islands. He also visited the Madeira and the Canary Islands. Until 1462, the Portuguese explored the coast of Africa roughly up to Sierra Leone. Almost three decades later, the famous Bartolomeu Dias proved that the African continent could be circumnavigated. In 1488 he reached the Cape of Good Hope.

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