Saturday, September 11, 2021

The Navigator: Prince Henry of Portugal

Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) was the third son of King John I and Queen Philippa of Portugal. He gained military renown when the Portuguese captured Ceuta from the Moors in 1415 and, as a fervent Christian, was an ardent crusader against Islam. 

Henry became fascinated with Africa, a continent about which the Portuguese knew little. He developed a desire to learn about the Muslims who lived there, primarily in hopes of conquering them. However, some of the military campaigns he was later involved in were less successful.

Although he was called Prince Henry the Navigator by the English, Prince Henry never actually sailed on any of the voyages of discovery he sponsored. Instead, Prince Henry established a school for the study of the arts of navigation, mapmaking, and shipbuilding.

This would allow sailors to better guide their ships and to come up with new ship designs. His determination to expand Portuguese trade and territory elsewhere, under the guise of spreading Christianity amongst the heathen, was successful.His goal was to find a route to the rich spice trade of the Indies and to explore the west coast of Africa. Henry directed a grand imperial scheme, dispatching his mariners into the unknown waters of the African coast and the islands of the Atlantic.

Under his direction, a new and lighter ship was developed, the caravel, which would allow sea captains to sail further and faster.

Henry set up an intelligence service to coordinate every scrap. of information he could glean from caravan traders, pilots, and Jewish and Moslem travelers from across North Africa. The first voyages under Prince Henry's sponsorship began the year after the 1415 victory at Ceuta.

During the two-year period from 1444 to 1446, Prince Henry intensified the exploration of Africa, sending between 30 and 40 of his ships on missions.

The last voyage sponsored by Prince Henry sailed over 1,500 miles down the African coast. Although he never sailed on the expeditions, the voyages that he paid for in the mid-1400s helped launch Portugal into the front of the race to find a sea route to the Indies. He laid the foundations for the later 1497–1499 voyage of Vasco da Gama to India and the growth of a global commercial empire that would eventually stretch from India and Malaysia in the east to Brazil in the west.

Before Henry's time, any sustained capacity to conduct deep-sea ailing was several thousands of years in the past, a part of earlier, more technologically primitive, seagoing cultures. After Henry, ocean navigation became a branch of science, a perfected, transmissible technology of universal potential.
The Navigator: Prince Henry of Portugal

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