Henry the Navigator

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Henry the Navigator (Portuguese pronunciation: [ẽˈʁik(ɨ)]; Portuguese: Henrique o Navegador Porto, 4 March 1394 – 13 November 1460) was an infante (prince) of the Kingdom of Portugal and an important figure in the early days of the Portuguese Empire. He was responsible for the early development of European exploration and maritime trade with other continents.

Henry was the third child of King John I of Portugal, the founder of the Aviz dynasty, and of Philippa of Lancaster, the daughter of John of Gaunt. Henry encouraged his father to conquer Ceuta (1415), the Muslim port on the North African coast across the Straits of Gibraltar from the Iberian peninsula. He learnt of the opportunities from 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 misconception that Henry gathered at his villa on the Sagres peninsula a school of navigators and map-makers. He did employ some cartographers to chart the coast of Mauritania after the voyages he sent there, but there was no center of navigation science or observatory in the modern sense of the word, nor was there an organized navigational center. In "Crónica da Guiné" Henry is described as having 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.


Early life

Henry was born in 1394 in Porto, probably when the royal couple was living in the city's old mint, now called Casa do Infante (Prince's House). He was the third son born to Philippa of Lancaster, the sister of King Henry IV of England. Henry was 21 when he, his father and brothers captured the Moorish port of Ceuta in northern Morocco, that had long been a base for Barbary pirates who raided the Portuguese coast, depopulating villages by capturing their inhabitants to be sold in the African slave market. Following this success, Henry started to explore the coast of Africa, most of which was unknown to Europeans. His objectives included finding the source of the West African gold trade and the legendary Christian kingdom of Prester John, and stopping the pirate attacks on the Portuguese coast. At that time the ships of the Mediterranean were too slow and too heavy to make these voyages. Under his direction, a new and much lighter ship was developed, the caravel, which could sail further and faster. In 1419, Henry's father appointed him governor of the province of the Algarve.

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