Henry the Navigator

Henry the Navigator was a Portuguese prince (1394-1460). The son of King João I. He did not accede to the throne of Portugal. He is known as one of the representative persons to lead the Portuguese Age of Explorations.

Life of Henry the Navigator

 Henry was born in Oporto, Portugal, the third son of King João I of Portugal. His mother was the daughter of Lord Lancaster of England. As a child, he was raised at court. From early on, he was immersed in chivalric tales and astrology. Astrology was also one of the nautical techniques of the time. Chivalric tales, which had the character of adventure stories, were popular in the Iberian Peninsula at that time.

 Beginning of the Age of Discovery: The invasion of Ceuta

 In 1415, Portugal invaded and captured Ceuta, a major city in Morocco in northern Africa. This is considered to be the beginning of the Age of Explorations. Henry the Navigation took part in it with his brothers. Why did Portugal begin its expansion into Morocco? There were two main reasons.

To stabilize the royal power.

 The first reason was that the Portuguese monarchy of the time chose this as a means to stabilize its rule. Henry’s father, João I, was the initiator of a new dynasty in Portugal, the Avis dynasty. He had just emerged from the political upheaval of 1383-85 as a new king. So, his rule was unstable. João I took various steps to stabilize it. For example, he sought to strengthen relations with his traditional ally, England. So, he married the daughter of the above-mentioned Duke of Lancaster, from whom Henry was born.
 One of the means to stabilize royal rule was foreign expansion. The powerful nobles who supported João I as king demanded something in return. However, João I was a new king and did not have sufficient financial resources. Therefore, he decided to wage wars of conquest externally, acquire new lands, and distribute the lands and related rights to them in return.
 At the same time, many nobles were dissatisfied with João I. João I’s main enemy was the king of Spain. João wanted to keep these malcontents away from the country, but he did not want them to side with Spain. Therefore, he tried to send them to another war zone.
 Thus, João I chose foreign expansion as a way to stabilize his new royal power. After peace with Spain was made in 1411, he decided to invade Ceuta in 1415.

Extension of the Reconquista

 The second reason was that the invasion of Ceuta was an extension of the Reconquista. In the Iberian Peninsula, the Reconquista began in the 8th century. It was a reconquest of the areas of the Iberian Peninsula that had been seized by Muslim powers.
 This movement began in the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula and ended in the south. In Portugal, this had already been completed before the time of his father João I (in Spain, it would be completed in 1492). The Reconquista was influenced by the spirit of the Crusades. It was also revitalized by the chivalric tales mentioned above.
 Portugal not only drove the Muslims powers out of the Iberian Peninsula, but also began to expand further, across the sea, into northern Africa. This activity was also encouraged by the papacy. As such, it was considered a similar activity to the Crusades. Just as the Reconquista became the pride and prestige of the former Portuguese dynasty, the fight against the Islamic powers on the African continent would become the prestige of the Avis dynasty. Thus, the expansion into Morocco became a means of stabilizing royal power in this way as well.
 Let us touch on other reasons. One reason was that merchants in Lisbon wanted to expand their trade. This was also to ensure the safe passage of trading ships through the Strait of Gibraltar. Or, it seems that Henry had a desire to win fame by sword, partly due to the influence of chivalric tales.

 Exploratory Voyages

 To stabilize the new Avis dynasty, King João I bestowed important offices and fiefs on his own children. Thus, in 1415, Henry became Duke of Vizeu; in 1420, he became head of the Order of the Knights of Christ. This order was the Knights Templar during the Reconquista. Henry continued his voyages of exploration using funds from the Order and other sources. He began plans of sailing southward along the west coast of Africa.
 However, Henry himself did not participate in the exploratory voyages and expeditions himself, although he was called Henry the Navigator. But he pushed ahead with these ventures and succeeded: in 1427, the Portuguese reached the Azores; in 1434, they passed Cape Bojador, a point that had not been crossed by Europeans before; In 1443, theyreached Guinea; in 1456 , theydiscovered the Cape Verde.
In 1460, they reached Sierra Leone. Henry died that year. Later, Portugal would discover the Cape of Good Hope.

 Purpose of the Projects of Explorations

 Henry occupied Ceuta for the reasons mentioned above. Later, other objectives were added to his projects. I explain three main ones.

Gold and Slave Trade in Africa

 First, Portugal wanted to participate in the African gold and slave trade in order to earn a large profit. Portugal wanted gold because it was being traded in Ceuta, mentioned above. In particular, after the fall of the Yuan Dynasty in China, Europe in the 15th century had a serious shortage of precious metals like gold and silver. So, the need for gold was very high. Portugal finally reached the Guinean coast where gold was produced.
 As for slaves, as exploratory voyages in Africa progressed, the Portuguese became aware of the commodity value of African slaves. From around the 1440s, their exploration and conquest operations were financially supported by the gold and slave trade.

Indian Trade

 Next is the Indian trade. From the outset, Henry and his colleagues did not have the Indian trade as their main goal. However, as they continued their journey southward across the African continent, they became aware of the possibility of reaching India by sea. For the Muslims merchants were already trading in areas spanning Africa, India, and Southeast Asia, and they knew the trade routes between Africa and India.

Further fueling the desire for Indian trade was the surge in the price of pepper in Europe. In Europe, pepper had been brought to Europe from India through the Byzantine Empire. But in 1453, the Ottoman Empire destroyed the Byzantine Empire. This trade route was rendered unusable, albeit temporarily. During that period, the price of pepper rose by more than 40%. This greatly stimulated Portugal.
 Another source of inspiration was Marco Polo’s “The Marvels of The World,” which his brother Pedro had given to Henry.
 As a result, it was during this period that Portugal began to seriously promote the Indian spice trade. At the same time, Portugal’s exploration business changed in earnest from a near-private enterprise of Henry the Navigator to a Portuguese national enterprise.

In Search of Prester John

 Finally, an alliance with Prester John was also an objective. Prester John was a Christian king who was rumored to have existed in southern Africa, but in fact did not. Henry believed he existed and wanted to ally with him to exterminate the Islamic powers in Africa. The spirit of the Crusades was seen here.

 Figures associated with Prince Henry’s voyage

Manuel I: King of Portugal at the time when Vasco da Gama finally pioneered the East India Sea route and realized trade with India. An indispensable figure for understanding Portugal’s golden age.

João III: King of Portugal. An essential figure for understanding what happened to Portugal’s maritime empire after the death of Manuel I. He is also famous for sending Francisco Xavier to East Asia.

Henry the Navigator

Recommended or Selected References

金七紀男『エンリケ航海王子 : 大航海時代の先駆者とその時代』刀水書房, 2004

A.R. Disney, A history of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire : from beginnings to 1807, Cambridge University Press, 2009
Leonor Freire Costa, An economic history of Portugal, 1143-2010, Cambridge University Press, 2018