Prince Henry the Navigator (aka Infante Dom Henrique, 1394-1460) was a Portuguese prince who famously helped catch the north African city that Ceuta, sponsored voyages of expedition with the target of building colonies in the north Atlantic and also West Africa, and also began the Portuguese authorized in the African slave trade.

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Prince Henry earn his title ‘the Navigator’ since he assembled a learned team of designers and maritime experts to design new ships, maps, and navigational instruments. Henry then funded explorations to usage this understanding to sail the High Seas and also explore the West african coast. Structure up a substantial body of marine know-how through each expedition, Henry managed the an initial stages of a procedure that got the Portuguese a worldwide empire.


Early Life & Ceuta

Prince Henry to be born in 1394, the third son of john I that Portugal (aka d. João I, r. 1385-1433) and also Queen Philippa, who was English. Possibly not rather the enlightened and learned scholar his Renaissance-era legend extolled, Henry was certainly a devout Christian. Put on a hair shirt and also dedicating himself to a life of celibacy, Henry did no marry or father any type of children. His life was devoted to exploration, empire, and also defeating Muslims where they to be found. He loved pomp and ceremony, the chivalrous code of knights, and he was known for his extravagant parties.


Prince Henry the Navigator charged his team that maritime experts with designing a new kind of delivery which can sail both v & against the wind.

In 1415, the Portuguese attacked the rich Muslim city that Ceuta in north Africa in a rebirth of Christian-Muslim hostilities. The city was well-fortified, however the Portuguese had let it be well-known their fleet plan to assault the Dutch end a profession dispute and so Ceuta to be unprepared. The force had practically 20,000 men, including over 5,000 knights. The king, Prince Henry, and also his brothers jointly commanded this extraordinary pressure that was attempting to rekindle the flames that the old crusades. Things did not begin well. An initial becalmed, thick fog and unpredictable winds then separation up the armada prior to it got to its destination. As soon as the military finally landed, the Portuguese were able to force their method into Ceuta’s fortress v sheer weight of numbers through Henry in the thick of the action. The city fell in a job on 22 August, and a massacre and chaotic ring of looting followed.


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Portuguese Caravel through Lateen Sails
PHGCOM (CC BY-SA)

Henry was knighted because that his key role in the catch of Ceuta, and he to be then do responsible for the defence the the city by his father. In 1419-20, the Prince withstood a massive counterattack top top the city. Henry used Ceuta together a base from which to launch periodic attacks on the Muslim settlements along the coast - perhaps this was the real objective in catching the city. Foe ships in the Mediterranean were ruthlessly sunk. In 1415, Henry to be made the battle each other of Viseu and also in 1420, via a papal bull, he was appointed the administrator of the stimulate of Christ, one offshoot that the now-defunct Knights Templar. Immensely rich many thanks to his imperial connections and also estates, Henry raked in cash from countless projects, including a syndicate on the manufacture of soap. This was all an extremely well and satisfied the prince’s spiritual zeal and also lust because that knightly endeavour, yet he want more. He want the world.

The Caravel & Lateen Sail

Henry the Navigator was particularly keen because that Portugal to be in ~ the forefront of europe territorial exploration, to challenge the Islamic caliphates in phibìc Africa and also the middle East, and also perhaps uncover the legend Christian kingdom that the east with a ruler called Prester John, most most likely somewhere in Ethiopia in east Africa. In ~ Sagres top top the southern reminder of Portugal in 1419, Henry assembled a team of experts in cartography, navigation, astronomy, mathematics, and also ship design. The group contained both Christians and also Jews, and they were no shy to use Arab resources of information. Contradictory to legend, there was no navigational college here. Up to that point, European cruising vessels had relied on either teams of rowers or fixed sails or both for their propulsion; the square-rigged barca being the most common. The problem with these square-rigged pearls was that they can only properly sail v a direct wind native astern.


Prince Henry fee his team with developing a new type of ship, one which can sail both through and versus the wind and also which could explore dangerous unknown rocky shores, inland waterways, and also the open up ocean. The price they come up with, based upon a type of Portuguese fishing vessel, to be the caravel (caravela in Spanish and Portuguese).

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The caravel to be a kind of medium-sized ship which had a shallow draught and also lateen or triangle sails. It to be fast, maneuverable, and also only required a little crew come sail. The early caravels were little and weighed no more than 80 tons, yet later execution did rise to 100-150 tons. They had actually a stern rudder, two or 3 masts, and also a distinctive elevated forecastle and also sterncastle. A caravel had a typical length-to-beam ratio of 3.5:1.


The lateen sail was a an important part of the design and also of Henry’s plans because that exploration. The surname of this triangle sail derives indigenous ‘Latin’ also if it was motivated by the sails the Arab cruising vessels, specifically the dhow through its solitary lateen sail. Versatile lateen sails allowed a vessel come sail within five points turn off the wind and also even to tack (move in a front zigzag) against a headwind.

To gain more cargo space, the caravel architecture was tweaked to create the ring caravel or caravela redonda. This kind was larger and more comprehensive than a common caravel and could weigh up to 300 tons. The ring caravel usually had square-rigged poles for greater speed and also a bowsprit through spritsail. A 3rd variant was a four-masted caravel design for use as a warship. Typically, three masts brought lateen sails and one to be square-rigged.

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The an initial Colony: Madeira

Henry the Navigator then set about capital expeditions using his new ship design, and also it lugged rewards, also if the himself invested very small time top top water and also none at all on one ocean-going voyage. Two captains that vessels funded by Prince Henry, that were meant to be raiding the Moroccan coast, landed at Porto Santo in the uninhabited Madeira archipelago during a storm in 1418. The inadvertently explorers easily realised the potential the the place - one later sailor explained it as "one big garden" (Cliff, 71) - and also reported ago to Henry. In 1419 the Portuguese Crown formally asserted possession of the phibìc Atlantic island group, situated some 800 kilometres (500 mi) indigenous the afri coast. Governorship that Madeira to be awarded to Prince Henry. The Portuguese armed forces order, the order of Christ, who head to be Henry, to be granted exclusive legal rights there. The islands to be colonised indigenous 1420, and Henry was directly responsible for the idea of cultivation sugar cane ~ above the islands, producing a plantation mechanism that would ultimately be replicated in nests elsewhere however especially in Portuguese Brazil.


Europeans had actually long to be intrigued by the idea that the heart of Africa included fabulously well-off gold mines.

The autumn of Ceuta

To balance this success, Prince Henry did need to endure two recurring failures. The first was his effort to regulate the Canary Islands. The armies of Castile and also the native Guanches repelled the Portuguese 3 times, and also Henry had actually to settle for islands elsewhere. Meanwhile, Ceuta verified something the a disappointment, too, as the city shed all that trade complying with occupation. Muslim merchants and trading vessels just diverted more along the shore to Tangiers. Henry managed to persuade the king come fund an additional campaign, yet Tangiers was lot bigger and far better defended 보다 Ceuta, and also without proper siege engines, the exploration proved a dismal failure in 1437. Henry was obliged come hand end his brothers Ferdinand as a hostage in order to allow a Portuguese retreat. Component of the transaction was to offer up Ceuta, yet Henry reneged on the agreement, and also his brother passed away in a Muslim prison. Together raids ongoing on phibìc African ports, the lure of West Africa began to persuade the prince’s ar ambitions. Portugal would now focus on the Atlantic.

Rounding Cape Bojador

West Africa offered unsubstantiated opportunities, perhaps resources that its very own but really likely access to profession networks within the inner of that continent i m sorry bypassed the Muslims in phibìc African. Ever since Mansa Musa i (r. 1312 come 1337), leader of the Mali Empire, had actually visited Cairo in 1324 and also wowed everyone v the quantity of gold lugged by his entourage, Europeans had actually been intrigued by the idea that the love of Africa had fabulously affluent gold mines. A significant obstacle to the setup of accessing the an ar was a geographical one: exactly how to sail roughly Cape Bojador and also be may be to make it earlier to Europe versus the prevailing phibìc winds and also unfavourable currents? it was additionally believed by numerous Portuguese sailors and also others the the waters beyond the cape to be beset with storms, devastating fogs, and also unimaginable sea monsters.

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Over 12 years, Henry had actually funded 14 explorations with the enlistment that Italian bankers and the objective to round the cape. Henry’s pearls all carried white sails emblazoned through the red overcome of the Templars, however the emblem walk them no good, and all 14 fleets fail in their target. The lateen-rigged caravel was the price to these problems, along with a good bit of daring. By setting a bold course away from the african coastline and also using winds, currents, and also high-pressure areas, the Portuguese found they can safely sail earlier home. The treacherous Cape Bojador was for this reason navigated in 1434 by the Portuguese traveler Gil Eannes.


Prince Henry then instructed every subsequent explorations to carefully record your experiences. Consequently, a priceless scientific document of winds, tides, currents, and also coastlines was built up, and also evermore accurate charts were drawn of Africa and kept in Lisbon. The Portuguese were notoriously reluctant to share your findings through anyone else, and also this nautical information effectively ended up being a state secret. There were, too, additions to zoological knowledge. For the very first time, Europeans taken where migratory birds flew as soon as they left Europe, countless new species were determined and brand-new peoples encountered.

The Azores & Beyond

The following target on Henry’s colonization list to be the Azores archipelago (Açores) more out in the Atlantic Ocean. The process of colonization began there in 1439, through overlordship divided between Prince Henry and the regent Prince Pedro, although ~ the latter’s death in 1449, Henry took over the whole archipelago. Both Madeira and also the Azores to be parcelled up right into captaincies for farming and trade development, a model that would be copied in countless subsequent Portuguese swarms as the empire spread native the ameri to eastern Asia. The Atlantic islands ended up being stepping stones for voyages that went also further afield, eventually approximately the Cape of great Hope in southern Africa and beyond come Asia. Prince Henry profited immensely from the resources and trade avenues this colonization lugged to the Portuguese Crown and himself personally.


Exploiting Africa

Henry the Navigator continued to send expeditions to discover the western coastline of Africa and extract anything of value. Gold, hides, and also some foods items were exchanged for bales of cloth. The quantities were not great but enough for the Portuguese crown to start minting their renowned solid yellow coin, the cruzado, indigenous 1457. The year 1444 witnessed the very first Portuguese expedition which took servants from Africa - men, women, and children - ~ a raid on negotiations on Arguin Island. This was the site of the an initial Portuguese feitoria (fortified trading station) overseas. 240 slaves recorded from this first raid to be paraded naked at the docks the Lisbon. Other states had actually long to be slave-trading in Africa, but this dockside spectacle was an ominous omen of the human being tragedy to follow in succeeding centuries. The very next year, another and larger slave-hunting exploration was launched, and also others followed so that some 20,000 slaves were lugged to Lisbon in the next 15 years. An extremely quickly, afri peoples began to see the bewildering new threat to them from this strange visitors through their odd white skin, gleaming armour, and also gunpowder weapons.

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The slave trade brought Henry enrichment and glory. Strange together it appears to united state today, Henry was not criticised because that this trade but, top top the contrary, extensively congratulated and also applauded because that finding a brand-new source that wealth, damaging Islamic trade networks, and giving pagans the chance to understand the Christian faith. These debates were supplied to justify manifest destiny in the mental of those who performed it because that the following 400 years. Significantly, the Pope defined Henry in a papal bull as "our lovely son" and also a "true soldier of Christ" (Cliff, 99). The "Navigator" was at the height of his fame and also power, however he was, that course, mortal.

Prince Henry passed away in 1460, and he was offered an impressive tomb in the Batalha Monastery in main Portugal. The did not, then, live to see the incredible extent of the realm he had begun to forge. Much more Portuguese exploration followed, and more and an ext colonies join the Atlantic islands as tiny Portugal wove a internet of trading ports across the world from Brazil come Japan. The chapel Henry had founded at Belém exterior Lisbon remained the last suggest of residence that mariners saw before they left Portugal come reach these far-flung colonies. A tradition arose that crews would certainly say their prayers in this chapel ~ above the eve of their departure, asking your god for a effective voyage and a for sure return home. Henry the Navigator, meanwhile, became a legendary figure thanks to his success and together late-medieval chronicles of his life as created by Zurara (c. 1410 - c. 1474). Also in the 15th century, some critics did keep in mind that the prince was rather too interested in wealth and harking back to the long-gone work of the crusades, however he was, nevertheless, widely celebrated for centuries as the founding father of Portugal’s marine empire.

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Mark is a background writer based in Italy. His unique interests encompass pottery, architecture, world mythology and also discovering the concepts that all worlds share in common. He holds one MA in political Philosophy and is the posting Director at WHE.