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Prince Henry The Navigator


Henry The Navigator

b. 1394 Porto, Portugal d. 1460 Sagres



Prince Henry of Portugal, son of the soldier-king John I and Philippa (sister of Henry IV of England),  became popular in 1415 after the Portuguese crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and captured the Moroccan citadel (a fort or stronghold) of Ceuta on Africa's northern coast. He was immediately appointed governor, with many ships at his command. From then on, he devoted himself to the maritime expeditions - particularly those that explored the African coast. The opening of new trade routes was a high-priority goal for Portugal where many people had developed the taste for such Far Eastern luxuries as sugar, silk, spices, and precious stones. Since the turks and the Mediterranean waters belonged to Italy, finding a sea route to India was pivotal (very important)
Henry the Navigator sponsored many exploratory expeditions along the West African coast, and the way was prepared for the discovery of the sea route to India. Henry the Navigator established a navigational school in southern Portugal where he employed Arab, Jewish and Italian geographers and astronomers to produce the best maps in Europe. He sponsored many exploratory expeditions along the West African coast, because he planned the circumnavigation of Africa in order to combat Islam and to establish connections with East Africa. These expedition prepared the way for the discovery of the sea route to India.
Though many people at the time still believed that the world was flat, there was a feeling, localized but spreading, that there were islands far beyond the horizon. When he was made governor of the Algarve in 1419, Henry established his court in Sagres at the southwest tip of Portugal. There he built an observatory, a shipyard and a school to train navigators and pilots. Over the course of the next 12 years, he sent 14 expeditions down the west coast of Africa, but not one of them dared to venture past Cape Bojador near the Canary Islands. The sailors all believed that the sun at the equator was positioned so low to the earth that it burned the skin black and boiled the sea, where pestilent (deadly)  monsters trolled the infernal (hateful, violent) waters waiting to eat them.
Finally, in 1443, one of Henry's expeditions succeeded in landing at Cape Blanc, a promontory (a high point of land or rock sticking out over the water)  farther down the coast. Thirteen years later, another sailed as far south as the Cape Verde Islands; Portuguese settlers would follow, and the slave trade would flourish (grow quickly) on the island of Sao Tiago.
Henry died long before any European ship managed to sail around the southern tip of Africa and on into the Indian Ocean, but he had set in motion the first tentative (beginning) steps down the coast - steps that later navigators followed confidently.
Map of African coast discovered by expeditions sponsored by Prince Henry
Below are links and sites for more information on Henry the Navigator.


Henry the Navigator, Prince of Portugal

Henry the Navigator

Life of Henry the Navigator




This site was last  updated 08/04/2004 08:08 PM -0400