The Navigator Who Never Navigated

April 09, 2012

Henry the NavigatorHenry the navigator (1394-1460)

Portuguese Prince and promoter of exploration. Though he never navigated, Henry more than anyone else inaugurated the Age of Exploration that produced such remarkable results in the late 15th century. For him, Portugal might not have undertaken its dazzling but exhausting leadership in overseas expansion.

Son of King John I of Portugal, and born from a British mother, Philippa. In 1415, young Henry participated brilliantly in the capture of Ceuta, on the Moroccan shore opposite Gibraltar. Henry later conceived the idea of exploring the sea route down the west coast of Africa. This would lead him to India, though he may not have seen that far ahead.

To finance the ambitious project, his father made him grand master of the well-endowed Order of Christ. In this role, Henry remained rigidly celibate all his life. At Sagres, near Cape St. Vincent, he established a center for exploration, gathering all the writings and experts available. Superstition and navigational difficulties slowed progress down the African coast, until one captain, Gil Eanes, pushed past Cape Bojador in 1434.

Henry had taken an active part in colonizing Madeira and the Azores, the islands of the atlantic, some of which had been discovered before his day. He also tried to buy the Canaries which, however, finally went to Spain. By the time Henry died, Portugal was thoroughly commited to the policy of exploration and expansion, that led to the voyage (1497-99) of Vasco da Gama, around the Cape of Good Hope to India, and the establishment of the first modern colonial empire.



Consult: E.D.S. Bradford, Wind from the North (1960).

E.D.S. Bradford, Wind from the North (1960)
Click here to buy book A Wind from the North: The life of Henry the Navigator by Ernle Dusgate Selby Bradford from Amazon.

Source Encyclopedia International by Robert G. Albion, Harvard University.

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