Henry the Navigator ( ;
Porto, 4 March 1394 – 13 November 1460 in Sagres) was an
infante (prince) of the Kingdom
of Portugal and an important figure in the early days of the
Portuguese Empire, being
responsible for the beginning of the European worldwide
- This article is about the Portuguese prince. For
the Dutch prince sometimes known as "Henry the Navigator", see
Prince Henry of the
Henry the Navigator was the third child of King John I of Portugal
, the founder of the
dynasty, and of Philippa of Lancaster
, the daughter of
John of Gaunt
encouraged his father to conquer Ceuta (1415), the
Muslim port on the North African coast across the Straits of
Gibraltar from the Iberian peninsula,
with profound consequences on Henry's worldview: Henry became aware
of the profit possibilities in the Saharan
trade routes that terminated there and became fascinated with
Africa in general; he was most intrigued by
the Christian legend of Prester John
and the expansion of Portuguese trade.
It is a
common conception that Henry gathered at his Vila on the Sagres peninsula a school of navigators and map-makers. He did employ some cartographers to help
him chart the coast of Mauritania in the wake of voyages he sent there, but for the
rest there was no center of navigational science or any supposed
observatory in the modern sense of the
word, nor was there an organized navigational center.
“Crónica da Guiné” Henry is described as a person with no luxuries,
not avaricious, speaking with soft words and calm gestures, a man
of many virtues that never allowed any poor person leave his
presence empty handed.
born in 1394 in Porto, probably
when the royal couple was being housed in the old mint of the city, nowadays called Casa do Infante (Prince's House).
was the third son born to Philippa
, the sister of King Henry IV of England
21 when he, his father and brothers conquered the Moorish port of Ceuta in northern
Morocco, that had been for a long time the base for
Barbary pirates that assaulted the
Portuguese coast, depopulating villages by capturing their
inhabitants to be sold in the African slave market.
was successful, as it inspired Henry to explore down the coast of
, most of which was unknown to Europeans
. The desire to locate the
source of the West African
find the legendary Christian kingdom of Prester John
, and stop the pirate attacks on
the Portuguese coast were three of his main interests in the
region. The ships that sailed the Mediterranean at that time were
too slow and too heavy to make these voyages. Under his direction,
a new and much lighter ship was developed, the caravel
, which would allow sea captains to sail
further, faster and much more efficiently. In 1419, his father
appointed him the governor of the province of the Algarve
Resources and income
On 25 May 1420, Henry gained appointment as the governor of the
very rich Order of Christ
Portuguese successor to the Knights
, which had its headquarters at Tomar
. Henry would hold this position for the
remainder of his life, and the order was an important source of
funds for Henry's ambitious plans, especially his persistent
attempts to conquer the Canary Islands, which the Portuguese had claimed to have
discovered before the year 1346.
Henry also had other resources. When John I
died, Henry's eldest brother, Edward became head of the castles
council, and granted Henry a "Royal Flush" of all profits from
trading within the areas he discovered as well as the sole right to
authorize expeditions beyond Cape Bojador.
He also held various valuable monopolies on
resources in the Algarve. When Duarte died eight years later, Henry
supported his brother Pedro
for the regency during Afonso V of
's minority, and in return received a confirmation of
this levy. Henry also promoted the colonization of the Azores
during Pedro's regency (1439–1448).
Vila do Infante, patron of Portuguese exploration
According to João de Barros
Algarve he repopulated a village that he called Terçanabal (maybe
from * dársen'Anibal). This village was situated in a strategic
position for his maritime enterprises and was later called Vila do
Vila do Infante, or Town of the Prince, on the Sagres peninsula,
Henry sponsored voyages down the coast of Mauretania that were primarily exploration
expeditions, later on bringing back to the nearby town of Lagos, from whence
they set out, numerous African slaves and goods.
The first contacts with the African slave market were made by
expeditions to ransom Portuguese subjects enslaved by pirate
attacks on Portuguese ships or villages. Henry justified this on
the grounds that he was converting these captives to Christianity.
As Sir Peter Russell remarks in his biography, "In Henryspeak,
conversion and enslavement were interchangeable terms." The view
that Henry's court rapidly grew into the technological base for
exploration, with a naval arsenal and an observatory, etc., is
believed by some historians, though not actually proven. Henry did
possess geographical curiosity, though, and therefore employed
cartographers. Jehuda Cresques
, received an
invitation to come to Sagres and probably make maps for Henry, a
position he accepted. Henry was somewhat interested in profits from
his voyages. From the first Africans that were brought to Lagos for
sale in 1444 (see his contemporary biography by Zurara), he
received from the merchants the value corresponding to the fifth
part (o quinto) as the expedition had been sponsored by the
nearby port of Lagos provided a
convenient harbor from which these expeditions left.
voyages were made in very small ships, mostly the caravel
, a light and maneuverable vessel that used
the lateen sail
which had been the
prevailing rig in Christian Mediterranean navigation since late antiquity
. Most of the voyages sent out
by Henry consisted of one or two ships that navigated by following
the coast, stopping at night to tie up along some shore.
Early results of Henry's explorers
Henry's time, Cape
Bojador remained the most southerly point known to
Europeans on the unpromising desert coast of Africa, although the
Periplus of the Carthaginian
Hanno the Navigator described a
journey farther south about 2,000 years earlier.
second fruit of this work João Gonçalves Zarco,
Bartolomeu Perestrelo and
Tristão Vaz Teixeira
rediscovered the Madeira
Islands in 1420, and at Henry's instigation Portuguese
settlers colonized the islands.
In 1427, one of Henry's navigators, probably Gonçalo Velho
, discovered the Azores
. Portugal soon colonized these islands in
Gil Eanes, the commander of one of Henry's
expeditions, became the first European known to pass Cape Bojador in 1434.
This was a breakthrough as it was
considered close to the end of the world, with difficult currents
that did not encourage commercial enterprise.
Henry also continued his involvement in events closer to home.
he donated houses for the Estudo
Geral to reunite all the sciences — grammar, logic,
rhetoric, arithmetic, music and astronomy — into what would later
become the University of Lisbon.
For other subjects like medicine or
philosophy, he ordered that each room should be decorated according
to each subject that was being taught.
functioned as a primary organizer of the Portuguese expedition to
Tangier in 1437.
This proved a disastrous failure;
Henry's younger brother Fernando
was given as a hostage
to guarantee that the Portuguese would fulfill the terms of the
peace agreement that had been made with Çala Ben Çala
. The agreement was
first broken by the Moors, who attacked the Portuguese and captured
the Portuguese wounded when they were being carried to the ships,
killing those who tried to resist. The Archbishop of Braga
and the count of
refused to approve the terms in
the reunion of the Portuguese Cortes
, thus condemning
Fernando to remain in miserable captivity until his death eleven
years later. Henry for most of his last twenty-three years
concentrated on his exploration activities, or on Portuguese court
Using the new ship type, the expeditions then pushed onwards.
Nuno Tristão and Antão Gonçalves reached Cape Blanco in 1441.
The Portuguese sighted the Bay of Arguin
in 1443 and built an important
fort there around the year 1448. Dinis Dias soon
came across the Senegal River and
rounded the peninsula of Cap-Vert in 1444.
By this stage the explorers had
passed the southern boundary of the desert, and from then on Henry
had one of his wishes fulfilled: the Portuguese had circumvented
the Muslim land-based trade routes across the western Sahara Desert
, and slaves and gold began
arriving in Portugal. By 1452, the influx of gold permitted the
minting of Portugal's first gold cruzado
coins. A cruzado was equal to 400 reis
at the time. From 1444 to 1446, as many as forty vessels
sailed from Lagos on Henry's
behalf, and the first private mercantile
Alvise Cadamosto explored the Atlantic
coast of Africa and discovered several islands of the Cape Verde archipelago between 1455 and 1456.
first voyage, which started on 22 March 1455, he visited the
Madeira Islands and the Canary Islands. On the second voyage, in
1456, Cadamosto became the first European to reach the Cape Verde
Islands. António Noli
claimed the credit. By 1462, the Portuguese had explored the
coast of Africa as far as the present-day nation Sierra Leone.
Twenty-eight years later, Bartolomeu Dias
(can be spelt Diaz) proved
that Africa could be circumnavigated when he reached the southern
tip of the continent. This is now known as the "Cape of Good Hope."
In 1498, Vasco da Gama
was the first
sailor to travel from Portugal to India.
- Arkan Simaan, L'Écuyer d'Henri
le Navigateur, Éditions l'Harmattan, Paris. Historical novel
based on Zurara's chronicles, written in
French. ISBN : 978-2-296-03687-1
- Mentioned in the prologue of the SNES game, Uncharted Waters.
- Appears as the Portuguese Leader in the Age of Empires 3 Videogame