“D. Henrique Infante de Portugal,” Histoire de la Conquete de La Floride: ou Relation de Ce Qui S’est Passé Dans La D’ecouverte de Païs Par Ferdinand de Soto; Composee en Espagnol Par L’Inca Garcillasso de la Vega & Traduite en François Par Sr. Pierre Richelet, 1735, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, E123.C5 rare.
Prince Henry the Navigator
1394 CE - 1460 CE
- Primary Goal:
- To find the Christian Kingdom of Prester John and find a way to Asia by sailing around Africa.
- He set up a navigational school for sailors, sponsored Portuguese sailors to explore the African coast in an effort to navigate around Africa to get to Asia, and started the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Henry was the son of King John I of Portugal and his English wife, Philippa of Lancaster. By the age of twenty-one, Henry played an instrumental role in capturing Cetua from the Spanish Moors. Cetua is located on the North African coast near the Straits of Gibraltar. In 1416, Henry set up the “School of Sagres,” an informal university and the first vocational school in Europe. He gathered mathematicians, astronomers, cartographers, and instrument makers to teach the art of sailing. The development of the caravel-designed ship was built in Lagos, a nearby port of Segres. Henry’s goal was to navigate around Africa to Asia and find the legendary Christian Kingdom of Prester John. Henry’s first group of sailors was sent out in 1415 and went as far as the Canary Islands. The Canaries were known, but were never explored, and Henry could not claim the Canaries for Portugal because the Spanish had already claimed them. Three years later, a second group went out to the Guinea Coast, but they were thrown off course and discovered Porto Santo in the Maderia Islands. Porto Santo was the first European Colony in modern history. Prince Henry’s goal for his crew was to pass Cape Bojador, on the African coast just below the Canaries. Sailors believed that if they went beyond Cape Bojador, their skin would turn black, sea monsters would eat their boats, or the ships would never return home. From 1421 on, Henry sent out expeditions with orders to pass Cape Bojador. The superstitious captains and crews would never follow those orders, coming up with excuses for why they didn’t pass Cape Bojador. In 1423, Gil Eannes, one of those superstitious sailors in the crew, only went as far as the Canaries. Henry talked with him about not following orders and the next time Eannes went out, he became the first sailor to sail past the Cape, and was surprised to discover nothing bad happened. “The seas as easy to sail in as waters at home” was the answer he gave to Henry when asked about his trip. Because of Eannes’s voyage in 1436, the Portuguese had reached Rio de Ouro. From then to 1441, the expeditions were suspended because of the death of Prince Henry’s brother, King Edward, and the disaster with the crusade at Tangier.