Henry the Navigator

Henry the Navigator (4 March 1394 – 13 November 1460) is regarded as the founder (and prominent financier) of Portugal’s golden age of discover, when this small country circumnavigated the globe and established profitable colonies stretching from Brazil to China.

 

During Henry’s life he established the basis of Lisbon University, encouraged seafaring exploration and expanded Portugal’s territories far into Northern Africa. It is rightly so that the Portuguese regard Henry the Navigator as the father of early exploration and as a national hero. Henry the Navigator was born of the Portuguese royal blood line as the third child of King John I and Philippa of Lancaster on the 4th of March 1394. King John I and Queen Philippa reign was regarded as bring stability and prosperity to Portugal. King John was a learned man for the era, have an extensive religious education as a child and a passion for culture and knowledge later in life. Prince Henry was receptive to his father’s education and this encouraged his forward thinking views and desire to explore and discover.

 

One of Henry’s first political achievements in 1415 was to encourage his father to conquer Ceuta which lies in present day Morocco. This town was a significant Muslim port and its capture finally prevented the threat of invasion from North African and halted the piracy along Portugal’s coast from Barbary pirates. The port also gave Portugal access to control the lucrative Saharan dessert trade routes that terminated in Ceuta. Henry was 21 at the time of capture of Ceuta and the city and lands offered adventure and excitement as the North African coasts were almost unknown to Europeans.

 

At 25 Henry was appointed as the governor of the Algarve and more important to Henry in 1420 became a member of the Portuguese Knights Templar, as the governor of the Order of Christ in Portugal. This secretive order were influential throughout Europe and commanded vast sums of money with which Henry was able to funds his ambitious plans; the exploration of North Africa.

 

The ships of the era were constructed to transport heavy cargo over short distances and not designed for maneuverable essential for coastal exploration. Henry used both his political influence and acquired wealth to design a new class of ship that was lighter and faster with a distinctive lateen (triangle sail). This class of ship was known as the caravel and was the backbone to the success of Portugal’s exploration, with the ability to sail faster and further than anything else of the era. Henry was encouraged to explore further after the death of his father and ascension of his elder brother, Edward, to the Portuguese throne in 1433. King Edward allowed Henry to retain any profits from newly established trade routes with towns or regions that he discovered. This was significant enticement for Henry but main the main draw was that he was give the sole right to fund expeditions

 

Henry was encouraged to explore further after the death of his father and ascension of his elder brother, Edward, to the Portuguese throne in 1433. King Edward allowed Henry to retain any profits from newly established trade routes with towns or regions that he discovered. This was significant enticement for Henry but main the main draw was that he was give the sole right to fund expeditions beyond the Cape Bojador in the Western Sahara. Due to the difficult currents and tidily flows most 15th century explores considered the Cape of Bojador as end of the world..

 

Prince Henry decided Lagos in the Algarve as his base for exploitation; from here he funded voyages that explored the Mediterranean and North African coast and western side of Africa. One of the early successfully voyages in 1434 funded by Henry that was commanded by Gil Eanes, passed the Cape Bojador disproving many early beliefs of the world.

 

The expedition parties which explored the African coast traveled in the small caravel ships and in groups of only 2 or 3 ships. The routes that the early explores took was always close to the land, laying anchor each night in suitable shallow waters. Though these expeditions were lightly equipped and covered uncharted waters they reached as far as Guinea.

 

Henry the Navigator was also influential back in his home country, in 1431he established the Estudo Geral, which was the precursor for Lisbon University. This education establishment was a centre for the study of the sciences where collective think was encouraged. Henry the Navigator was a deeply religious man and choose to live his life as a celebrate who never married or had any children.

 

At the time of Henry’s death in 1460 Portal had become a strong sea faring nation with significant income due to sea trading routes and this is almost due entirely to Henry so it is right that he is consider as the father of the Portuguese golden age.

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