Odds & Ends

A Newsletter of Eagles Byte Historical Research

September 1996 No. 12

The Navigator

Ceuta, Morocco, a Spanish Foreign Legion garrison town, is little known to those of us who do not live or travel around the Mediterranean. If we know it at atis as one of the Pillars of Hercules. A four-hour ferry ride across the strait from British Gibraltar, and a destination for vacationing Spaniards and Portuguese, Ceuta is best-known for its beaches and its bordellos. The slave trade is not dead in this part of the world and Ceuta has the reputation of being the most dangerous city in Africa. Once it was the battleground of empires, and it was a focal point of one man's life.

When John of Gaunt's daughter Philippa, Queen of Portugal, gave King John his third son, Enrique, on March 4th of 1394, it was in the Portuguese city of Porto, not Ceuta. When Enrique, known to us as Henry the Navigator, died on November 13, 1460, it was in Sagres, Portugal, not in Ceuta. But the streets of the Moroccan city may have been more familiar to Henry than those of Lisbon.

It was in 1415 that John I sent his forces to take the city from the Moors, as the religion-fueled battle for control of Europe and Africa swung back and forth from Pillar to Pillar. John's fleet supposedly lulled the Moors by sailing past the fortress, but suddenly coming around and attacking. Henry, now 21, lead a force of 17 to capture the citadel, arriving to find it undefended. There must not have been too spirited a defense in the entire city, as only eight Europeans out of a force of 20,000 were killed. The remainder proceeded to loot the riches of the city.

Henry had shown his mettle and his father rewarded him by knighting him, making him governor general of Ceuta, and naming him Duke of Viseu, in north-central Portugal. He may never have seen his dukedom. His interest lay across the Mediterranean.

In 1418 the Moors attempted to retake Ceuta, but Henry arrived with a fleet and the enemy fled. He was not so fortunate in 1433 when his brother Duarte (Edward), newly in command after the death of John earlier in the year, attempted to capture Tangier and was himself captured near Ceuta, and forced to return the city to the Moors and guarantee a ten-year peace. Henry's younger brother Fernando was given as a hostage for the peace and died in captivity eleven years later. Ceuta was never returned to the Moors; but as long as they retained northern Africa and controlled the trade routes across the Sahara to the continent's interior, Tangier would be a reminder to Henry of his defeat and the loss of his brother.

We know Henry as the Navigator, and may remember (vaguely, unless we are Portuguese) that he founded a school of navigation and sent his countrymen sailing around Africa to the Far East. That's not entirely accurate. He was, undoubtedly, the catalyst for the establishment of the Portuguese Empire, but his secular ambitions apparently went no further than Morocco and its riches.

Were it not for the medieval hair style, the man who stares out at us from Nuño Goncçalves' triptych could be a modern CEO. There's an unemotional, calculating expression on the long-nosed, neatly-mustached face that gives away nothing. But Henry did have one controlling passion, most likely pictured behind him in the portrait, where a rocky headland represents Portugal at its southernmost tip. His desires for his country were at the center of everything Henry did. And Portugal, like most of Christian Europe, wanted the Moorish threat removed; the infidel converted or dead. An idea for a grand strategy began to take place. If the armies of Europe could connect up with the legendary Christian king-priest Prester John, supposedly located with his huge army somewhere east of Persia (or perhaps south of the Sahara), they could form a gigantic pincer movement and crush the Moors, once and for all. There was only one problem. Prester John had to be found, probably by circling around the enemy to their south (travel through the Arab mid-East being out of the question). Explorers had to make their way down the east coast of Africa, facing suspected terrors such as boiling seas as one neared the Equator, and find a route to the interior of the continent. Any riches found along the way would help pay for the expeditions.

The headland in the Goncçalves portrait is probably at Sagres, where Henry established a base shortly after returning from his first trip to Ceuta. I always had a vague impression of it being a sort of Medieval Annapolis. The school was apparently more like a ecumenical science symposium, attracting local scholars, Italian trade experts and Jewish doctors, possibly even Moslem astronomers and map makers. And soon Henry's navigators were pushing off, first to practice by confirming the existence of the Azores around 1432. Then it was off again to the southwest, plowing through the known boundaries with the prows of their caravels (albeit with extreme and somewhat understandable timidity).

Henry's shield-bearer Gil Eannes was sent to explore the lands past Cape Bojador in 1433, but he didn't make it past the Canary Islands. He was ordered to try again in 1434 and got just barely around the cape before returning. On a third try the following year he got about fifty miles south of the cape - without being parboiled - and returned home to an eventual knighthood. 1436 brought an attempt by Alfonso Baldaya, who inched a little further down the West African coast, skirmished with some natives, and returned with some sealskins. Brother Edward was king by now but he died of the plague in 1438, and dynastic squabbling distracted Henry for a short while. But by 1441 it was business as usual - a modern phrase that seems to suit him unusually well. Expedition followed expedition, pushing always further to the south. In 1444 Diniz Fernandez reached Cape Verde. In 1446 Senegal's Salum River was discovered.

Constantinople fell to the Turkish Empire in 1453 and surprisingly, Portugal was the only European power that was interested in answering the pope's call for a crusade. But a new Moorish attack at Ceuta kept even Henry from responding. He did lead a successful expedition that captured Alcacer in 1458. Two years previously his caravels had reached Guiana's Geba River. That was about as far as his captains got, during his lifetime. Becoming distracted by the commercial possibilities of the new lands - particularly slaves and gold, and thoughts of trade routes into Africa's interior, he wasn't terribly interested in pushing further down along the coast. His captains never really sailed very far into the Gulf of Guinea. If they had thoughts of pioneering new sea routes around Africa and on to India, history doesn't show that Henry was interested. He died at Sagres in 1460. Portugal pushed on, continuing with the momentum first provided by Henry the Navigator.


A search of Eagles Byte chronologies on the word "Africa" turns up the following events for the first quarter of the 19th century:

Mar 8
A British army under General Sir Ralph Abernathy forces a landing at Abukir, Egypt, against French troops under General Friant.

May 14
The Pasha of Tripoli declares war with U. S. over tribute.

Oct 31
The Philadelphia is captured by Tripoli pirates.

Stephen Decatur's ketch Intrepid is captured by the Barbary pirates.

Feb 16
Decatur recaptures and destroys the Philadelphia in Tripoli harbor.

Jun 4
A peace treaty is signed between Tripoli and the U. S.

Egypt - Pasha Mohammed Ali ascends the throne.

Apr 12
The U. S. Senate consents to the Tripoli treaty.

Algeria - Abd-el-Kader, future emir of Mascara, is born.

May 2
The Spanish in Madrid rise up against Napoleon's Egyptian mercenaries - the Dos de Mayo. The uprising is put down.

Egypt - Temples are discovered at Abu Simbel.

Mar 19
Explorer-missionary David Livingstone is born in Blantyre, Lanarckshire, Scotland.

Egypt - Future viceroy Abbas Pasha is born.

Mar 3
Congress approves a policy of reciprocity of trade with all countries, and authorizes the use of force against the Dey of Algiers. It reduces the army to 10,000 men.

Mar 23
The sloop USS Hornet captures the British sloop Penguin off South Africa's Cape of Good Hope.

Jun 19
A U. S. squadron under Decatur captures the Algerian brig Estido.

Jun 30
Decatur negotiates a treaty with the Barbary States. The U. S. will pay no further ransom or tribute.

Africa - The Zulu nation is founded by Shaka.
Washington, D. C. - The American Colonization Society is founded to deport freed blacks to Africa.

Feb 4
Leigh Hunt, John Keats and Percy Bysshe compete to compose the best sonnet on the subject of the Nile. Hunt wins.

Africa - Free Negroes found the nation of Liberia on the west coast.
Morocco - Abd-er-Rahman succeeds his uncle as Sultan.

Feb 4
Thomas Jefferson writes to North American Review editor Jared Sparks with his thoughts in favor of resettling U. S. slaves in an African colony.

Aug 27
Francis G. Farewell and merchants from the Africa's Cape of Good Hope claim Natal for the British.

Gold Coast (Ghana) - 1,000 British troops under British West Africa governor General Sir Charles McCarthy are routed by an Ashanti force ten times their size, at Accra. McCarthy is killed.
South Africa - Port Natal (Durban) is founded.


Our featured URL belongs to The Royalty In History Page.

Link to this site created by Joan Bos of the Netherlands to answer most questions you may have about European royalty. Portugal is still among the missing, but we hope it will appear in further editions. But the page has a wealth of information, serious and lighthearted, on most of your favorite monarchs.

The page takes quite a long time to load, so after you've enjoyed the wonderful illustrations the first item around you may want to browse with your graphics off on return visits. The text begins with the quote "A king is supposed to be the father of his people, and Charles certainly was father to a good many of them." It moves on to links devoted to the author's historical favourites: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Carlos II of Spain, an interactive quiz to test your knowledge of historic trivia, and mad monarchs with "another raving royal." each month.

Among the other links are those to: Gail Dedrick's very good guide to the Monarchs of England; Famous women in history and royal career women; The Emperors of China; A history of the Aga Khans; Lydia Liliuokalani, queen of Hawaii, and other
Hawaiian royals; Vlad III the impaler, voivode of Walachia; A short history of the Habsburgs; Morganatic and secret marriages in the French Royal family and the
American Bonapartes; On styles of Royal Families and the uses of Highness; Frolicking amongst royalty and royal limericks; Marivi's Royalty Buffs with news, links; and a database, facts and an inbreeding factor, to quote from the page.

Have a look; you'll be glad you did.


You were asked to name the driving force behind the founding of the Four-in-Hand Club in New York City in the 1860s. No one even gave this a shot. It was financier, bon-vivant and sportsman Leonard Jerome, grandfather of statesman Winston Churchill.

Guess I'd better make this one a tad easier: Which Portuguese explorer discovered the Senegal River, in 1445? (Last name only).

EB SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY (more detailed versions available)


Reginald Cabral, Massachusetts amateur local historian and patron of writers, painters and photographers, dies at his home in Provincetown, at the age of 72.

Dr. Richard S. Westfall, biographer of Sir Isaac Newton (Never at Rest), dies in
Bloomington, Indiana, at the age of 72.

London's reconstructed Globe Theatre (originally built in 1599) reopens 356 years after its dismantling, with a production of William Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Edinburgh archaeologists working in the grounds of Melrose Abbey in the Borders, uncover a lead cylinder they speculate could hold the embalmed heart of Scotland's legendary king, Robert the Bruce.

© 1996 David Minor / Eagles Byte

* * *

I hope you've enjoyed this issue of Odds & Ends.
If you'd like further information and/or fees, feel free to e-mail me.

David Minor