History of Portugal (1415–1542)

History of Portugal (1415–1542)

History of Portugal

caption=Prince Henry, the Navigator
:"For additional context, see History of Portugal and Portuguese Empire."

During the history of Portugal (1415-1542), Portugal discovered an eastern route to India that rounded the Cape of Good Hope, discovered Brazil, established trading routes throughout most of southern Asia, colonized selected areas of Africa, and sent the first direct European maritime trade and diplomatic missions to China.

Reasons for exploration

As a seafaring people in the south-westernmost region of Europe, the Portuguese were the natural leaders of exploration which had been carried on during the Middle Ages. Portugal, having a long shoreline with many harbours and rivers flowing westward to the ocean, had been an ideal environment to raise generations of adventurous seamen. Being faced with the options of either accessing other European markets by sea (by exploiting its seafaring prowess) or by land (and facing the task of crossing Castile and Aragon territory) it is not surprising that goods were sent via the sea to England, Flanders, Italy and the Hanseatic league towns. Having fought to achieve and to retain independence, the nation's leadership had a desire for fresh conquests. Added to this was a long struggle to expel the Moors that was religiously sanctioned and influenced by foreign crusaders with a desire for martial fame. Making war on Islam seemed to the Portuguese both their natural destiny and their duty as Christians.

The Portuguese economy had benefited from its connections with neighbouring Muslim states. A money economy was well enough established for 15th century workers in the countryside as well as in the towns to be paid in currency. The agriculture of the countryside had diversified to the point where grain was imported from Morocco (a symptom of an economy dependent upon Portugal's), while specialised crops occupied former grain-growing areas: vineyards, olives, or the sugar factories of the Algarve, later to be reproduced in Brazil (Braudel 1985). Most of all, the Aviz dynasty that had come to power in 1385 marked the semi-eclipse of the conservative land-oriented aristocracy (See The Consolidation of the Monarchy in Portugal.) Also, due to their close connections with several Islamic kingdoms, a constant exchange of cultural ideals made Portugal a centre of knowledge and technological development. Due to these connections with Islamic kingdoms, many mathematicians and experts in naval technology appeared in Portugal, as it became the scientific centre of that time. The Portuguese government impelled this even further by taking full advantage of this and by creating several important research centres in Portugal, among them was the Institute of Sagres, where Portuguese researchers made several breakthroughs in the fields of mathematics and naval technology.

Equipment advantages

Until the 15th century, the Portuguese were limited to coastal navigation using barques and "barinels" (ancient cargo vessels used in the Mediterranean). These boats were small and fragile; and possessed only one mast with a fixed quadrangular candle. These boats did not have the capabilities to overcome the navigational difficulties associated with Southward exploration, as the strong winds, sandbanks and unfavourable maritime conditions easily overwhelmed their abilities. They are associated with the earliest discoveries, such as the Madeira Islands, the Azores, the Canaries, and to the early exploration of the north west African coast as far south as Arguim in the current Mauritania. The ship that truly launched the first phase of the Portuguese discoveries along the African coast, was the caravel. The caravel benefited from a greater capacity to tack. However its small cargo capacity and relatively large crew complement were a significant encumbrance to it’s exploration abilities. Despite this, its successes were considerable.

For astronomical navigation the Portuguese, as did other Europeans, used Arab invented instruments of navigation, such as the astrolabe and the quadrant. They also made use of a home grown instrument known as the cross-staff, or "cane of Jacob".

Henry the Navigator

It was the genius of Prince Henry the Navigator that coordinated and utilized all these tendencies towards expansion. Prince Henry placed at the disposal of his captains the vast resources of the Order of Christ, of which he was the head, and the best information and most accurate instruments and maps that could be obtained. He sought to effect a meeting with the half-fabulous Christian Empire of "Prester John" by way of the "Western Nile" (the Sénégal River), and, in alliance with that potentate, to crush the Turks and liberate the Holy Land. The concept of an ocean route to India appears to have originated after his death. On land he again defeated the Moors, who attempted to retake Ceuta in 1418; but in an expedition to Tangier, undertaken in 1436 by King Edward (1433-1438), the Portuguese army was defeated, and could only escape destruction by surrendering as a hostage Prince Ferdinand, the king's youngest brother. Ferdinand, known as "the Constant", from the fortitude with which he endured captivity, died unransomed in 1443. By sea Prince Henry's captains continued their exploration of Africa and the Atlantic Ocean. In 1433 Cape Bojador was rounded; in 1434 the first consignment of slaves was brought to Lisbon; and slave trading soon became the most profitable branch of Portuguese commerce, until India was reached. The Senegal was reached in 1445, Cape Verde was passed in the same year, and in 1446 Álvaro Fernandes pushed on almost as far as Sierra Leone. This was probably the farthest point reached before the Navigator died in 1460. Another vector of the discoveries were the voyages westward, during which the Portuguese discovered the Sargasso Sea and possibly sighted the shores of Nova Scotia well before 1492.

Treaty of Tordesillas

Meanwhile colonization progressed in the Azores and Madeira, where sugar and wine were now produced; above all, the gold brought home from Guinea stimulated the commercial energy of the Portuguese. It had become clear that, apart from their religious and scientific aspects, these voyages of discovery were highly profitable. Under Afonso V (1443-1481), surnamed the African, the Gulf of Guinea was explored as far as Cape St Catherine ("Cabo Santa Caterina") [cite book
last = Collins
first = Robert O.
coauthors = Burns, James M.
title = A History of Sub-Saharan Africa
origyear = 2007
accessdate = 2007-11-09
publisher = Cambridge University Press
isbn = 0521867460
pages = pp. 179
chapter = Part II, Chapter 12: The arrival of Europeans in sub-Saharan Africa
quote = in 1475 when his contract expired Rui de Sequeira had reached Cabo Santa Caterina (Cape Saint Catherine) south of the equator and the Gabon River.
] [cite book
last = Arthur Percival
first = Newton
title = The Great Age of Discovery
origyear = 1932
accessdate = 2007-11-09
year = 1970
month =
publisher = Ayer Publishing
isbn = 0833725238
pages = pp. 48
chapter = Vasco da Gama and The Indies
quote = and about the same time Lopo Gonçalves crossed the Equator, while Ruy de Sequeira went on to Cape St. Catherine, two degrees south of the line.
ref =
] [cite book
last = Koch
first = Peter O.
authorlink =
coauthors =
editor =
others =
title = To the Ends of the Earth: The Age of the European Explorers
origdate =
origyear = 2003
origmonth =
url =
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accessdate = 2007-11-12
accessyear =
accessmonth =
edition =
series =
date =
year =
month =
publisher = McFarland & Company
location =
language =
isbn = 0786415657
oclc =
doi =
id =
pages = pp 62
chapter = Following the Dream of Prince Henry
chapterurl =
quote = Gomes was obligated to pledge a small percentage of his profits to the royal treasury. Starting from Sierra Leone in 1469, this monetarily motivated entrepreneurial explorer spent the next five years extending Portugal's claims even further than he had been required, reaching as far south as Cape St. Catherine before his contract came up for renewal.
ref =
] , and three expeditions (1458, 1461 and 1471) were sent to Morocco; in 1471 Arzila (Asila) and Tangier were captured from the Moors. Under John II (1481-1495) the fortress of São Jorge da Mina, the modern Elmina, was founded for the protection of the Guinea trade. Diogo Cão, or Can, discovered the Congo in 1482 and reached Cape Cross in 1486; Bartolomeu Dias doubled the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, thus proving that the Indian Ocean was accessible by sea. After 1492 the discovery of the West Indies by Christopher Columbus rendered desirable a delimitation of the Spanish and Portuguese spheres of exploration. This was accomplished by the Treaty of Tordesillas (June 7, 1494) which modified the delimitation authorized by Pope Alexander VI in two bulls issued on May 4, 1493. The treaty gave to Portugal all lands which might be discovered east of a straight line drawn from the Arctic Pole to the Antarctic, at a distance of 370 leagues west of Cape Verde. Spain received the lands discovered west of this line. As, however, the known means of measuring longitude were so inexact that the line of demarcation could not in practice be determined (see J. de Andrade Corvo in "Journal das Ciências Matemáticas," xxxi.147-176, Lisbon, 1881), the treaty was subject to very diverse interpretations. On its provisions were based both the Portuguese claim to Brazil and the Spanish claim to the Moluccas (see East Indies#History). The treaty was chiefly valuable to the Portuguese as a recognition of the prestige they had acquired. That prestige was enormously enhanced when, in 1497-1499, Vasco da Gama completed the voyage to India.

Columbus' discovery of what they thought was India at that time, is something that historians dispute in terms of the consequences that lead to this discovery. One theory which has some support, due to recent proof that has come to light, is that Columbus was indeed Portuguese as stated initially, but he was a spy from the Portuguese kingdom sent to Spain to redirect Spain's efforts elsewhere than the territories Portugal had its focus on. However, this is controversial. Actions such as this would come as no surprise, though, since competition between the two kingdoms was intense and both had their secret service networks which were in constant conflict with one another, by providing misleading information and in hiding territories and trade routes discovered by each country (but especially Portugal) by either keeping them concealed or by providing false dates and also false locations. This constant secrecy effort was what led to the creation of many "false" documents and thus many of the remaining documents from that time may not be reliable. As a consequence some historians believe that territories such as Brazil, several African locations along its coastline and north America (due to the voyages made westward) may have been discovered before the known dates.

Afonsine Ordinances

While the Crown was thus acquiring new possessions, its authority in Portugal was temporarily overshadowed by the growth of aristocratic privilege. After the death of Edward, further attempts to curb the power of the nobles were made by his brother, D. Pedro, duke of Coimbra, who acted as regent during the minority of Afonso V of Portugal (1438-1447). The head of the aristocratic opposition was the Duke of Braganza, who contrived to secure the sympathy of the king and the dismissal of the regent. The quarrel led to civil war, and in May 1449, D. Pedro was defeated and killed. Thenceforward the grants made by John I were renewed, and extended on so lavish a scale that the Braganza estates alone comprised about a third of the whole kingdom. An unwise foreign policy simultaneously injured the royal prestige, for Afonso married his own niece, Joanna, daughter of Henry IV of Castile, and claimed that kingdom in her name. At the Battle of Toro, in 1476, he was defeated by Ferdinand and Isabella, and in 1478 he was compelled to sign the Treaty of Alcantara, by which Joanna was relegated to a convent. His successor, John II (1481-1495) reverted to the policy of matrimonial alliances with Castile and friendship with England. Finding, as he said, that the liberality of former kings had left the Crown "no estates except the high roads of Portugal," he determined to crush the feudal nobility and seize its territories. A "cortes" held at Évora (1481) empowered judges nominated by the Crown to administer justice in all feudal domains. The nobles resisted this infringement of their rights; but their leader, Ferdinand, duke of Braganza, was beheaded for high treason in 1483; in 1484 the king stabbed to death his own brother-in-law, Ferdinand, duke of Vizeu; and eighty other members of the aristocracy were afterwards executed. Thus John "the Perfect," as he was called, assured the supremacy of the Crown. He was succeeded in 1495 by Emanuel (Manuel) I, who was named "the Great" or "the Fortunate," because in his reign the sea route to India was discovered and a Portuguese Empire founded.

Portuguese in Asia

The effort to colonize and maintain territories scattered around the entire coast of Africa and its surrounding islands, Brazil, the Indies and Indic territories such as in Malaysia, Japan, China, Indonesia and Timor was a challenge for a population of only one million.Combined with constant competition from the Spanish this led to a desire for secrecy about every trade route and every colony. As a consequence, many documents that could reach other European countries were in fact fake documents with fake dates and faked facts, to mislead any other nation's possible efforts.

thumb|500px|right|An anachronous map of the Portuguese Empire (1415-1999). Red - actual possessions; Pink - explorations, areas of influence and trade and claims of sovereignty; Blue - main sea explorations, routes and areas of influence. The disputed discovery of Australia is not shown.

This tendency to secrecy and falsification of dates, casts doubts about the authenticity of many primary sources. Several historians have hypothesized that John II may have known of the existence of Brazil and North America as early as 1480 thus explaining his wish in 1494 (at the signing of the Treaty of Tordesillas, to push the line of influence further west. Many historians suspect that the real documents would have been placed in the Library of Lisbon. Unfortunately, due to the fire following the earthquake of 1755, nearly all of the library's records were destroyed.Fact|date=August 2007.

Chronology of the Portuguese Voyages of Discovery

*1147—Voyage of the Adventurers. Soon before the siege of Lisbon by the crusaders, a Muslim expedition left in search of legendary Islands offshore. They were not heard of again.

*1336—Possible first expedition to the Canary Islands with additional expeditions in 1340 and 1341, though this is disputed. [B. W. Diffie, "Foundations of the Portuguese Empire, 1415 -1580", Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, p. 28.]

*1412—Prince Henry, the Navigator, orders the first expeditions to the African Coast and Canary Islands.

*1419—João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira discovered Porto Santo island, in the Madeira group.

*1420—The same sailors and Bartolomeu Perestrelo discovered the island of Madeira, which at once began to be colonized.

*1422—Cape Nao, the limit of Moorish navigation is passed as the African Coast is mapped.

*1427—Diogo de Silves discovered the Azores, which was colonized in 1431 by Gonçalo Velho Cabral.

*1434—Gil Eanes sailed round Cape Bojador, thus destroying the legends of the ‘Dark Sea’.

*1434—the 32 point compass-card replaces the 12 points used until then.

*1435—Gil Eanes and Afonso Gonçalves Baldaia discovered Garnet Bay (Angra dos Ruivos) and the latter reached the Gold River (Rio de Ouro).

*1441—Nuno Tristão reached Cape White.

*1443—Nuno Tristão penetrated the Arguim Gulf.

*1444—Dinis Dias reached Cape Green (Cabo Verde).

*1445—Álvaro Fernandes sailed beyond Cabo Verde and reached Cabo dos Mastros (Cape Red)

*1446—Alvaro Fernandes reached the northern Part of Portuguese Guinea

*1452—Diogo de Teive discovers the Islands of Flores and Corvo.

*1458—Luis Cadamosto discovers the first Cape Verde Islands.

*1460—Death of Prince Henry, the Navigator. His systematic mapping of the Atlantic,reached 8º N on the African Coast and 40º W in the Atlantic (Sargasso Sea) in his lifetime.

*1461—Diogo Gomes and António Noli discovered more of the Cape Verde Islands.

*1461—Diogo Afonso discovered the western islands of the Cabo Verde group.

*1471—João de Santarém and Pedro Escobar crossed the Equator. The southern hemisphere was discovered and the sailors began to be guided by a new constellation, the Southern Cross. The discovery of the islands of São Tome and Principe is also attributed to these same sailors.

*1472—João Vaz Corte-Real and Álvaro Martins Homem reached the Land of Cod, now called Newfoundland.Fact|date=July 2008

* 1482—Diogo Cão reached the estuary of the Zaire (Congo) and placed a landmark there. Explored 150 km upriver to the Ielala Falls.

*1484—Diogo Cão reached Walvis Bay, south of Namibia.

*1487—Afonso de Paiva and Pero da Covilhã traveled overland from Lisbon in search of the Kingdom of Prester John. (Ethiopia)

*1488—Bartolomeu Dias, crowning 50 years of effort and methodical expeditions, rounded the Cape of Good Hope and entered the Indian Ocean. They had found the "Flat Mountain" of Ptolemy's Geography.

*1489/92—South Atlantic Voyages to map the winds

*1490—Columbus leaves for Spain after his father-in-law's death.

*1492—First exploration of the Indian Ocean.

*1494—The Treaty of Tordesillas between Portugal and Spain divided the world into two parts, Spain claiming all non-Christian lands west of a north-south line 370 leagues west of the Azores, Portugal claiming all non-Christian lands east of that line.

*1495—Voyage of João Fernandes, the Farmer, and Pedro Barcelos to Greenland. During their voyage they discovered the land to which they gave the name of Labrador (lavrador, farmer)

*1494—First boats fitted with cannon doors and topsails.

*1498—Vasco da Gama led the first fleet around Africa to India, arriving in Calicut.

*1498—Duarte Pacheco Pereira explores the South Atlantic and the South American Coast North of the Amazon River.

*1500—Pedro Álvares Cabral, blown off course by a storm, discovered Brazil on his way to India.

*1500—Gaspar Corte-Real made his first voyage to Newfoundland, formerly known as Terras Corte-Real.Fact|date=July 2008

*1502—Miguel Corte-Real set out for New England in search of his brother, Gaspar. João da Nova discovered Ascension Island. Fernão de Noronha discovered the island which still bears his name.

*1503—On his return from the East, Estevão da Gama discovered Saint Helena Island.

*1506—Tristão da Cunha discovered the island that bears his name. Portuguese sailors landed on Madagascar.

*1509—The Gulf of Bengal crossed by Diogo Lopes Sequeira. On the crossing he also reached Malacca.

*1512—António de Abreu discovered Timor island.

*1513—The first trading ship to touch the coasts of China, under Jorge Álvares and Rafael Perestrello later in the same year.

*1517—Fernão Pires de Andrade and Tomé Pires were chosen by Manuel I of Portugal to sail to China to formally open relations between the Portuese Empire and the Ming Dynasty during the reign of the Zhengde Emperor.

*1522—Australia discovered by Cristovão de Mendonça (1522) and Gomes de Sequeira (1525). (This assertion is currently awaiting wide acceptance pending the evidence).

*1526—Discovery of New Guinea.

*1541—Fernão Mendes Pinto, Diogo Zeimoto and Cristovão Borralho reached Japan.

*1542—The coast of California explored by João Rodrigues Cabrilho.

*1557—Macau (Macao) given to Portugal by the Emperor of China as a reward for services rendered against the pirates who infested the China Sea.


*Braudel, Fernand, "The Perspective of the World" 1985


ee also

*Portuguese people
*History of Portugal
*Naval history
*The Establishment of the Monarchy in Portugal (1095-1279)
*The Consolidation of the Monarchy in Portugal (1279-1415)
*Portuguese Empire (1415-1999)
*Portuguese colonization of the Americas

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