1902 Encyclopedia > Prince Henry the Navigator

Prince Henry the Navigator
Portuguese prince, soldier, and patron of explorers
(1394-1460)




PRINCE HENRY (1394-1460), of Portugal, surnamed " the Navigator," to whose enlightened foresight and perseverance the human race is indebted for the maritime discovery, within one century, of more than half the globe, was born at Oporto, on the 4th of March 1394. His father was Joao I., under whose reign Portugal first began to recover from her subjugation by the Moors, and to assume a prominent position among the nations of Europe; his mother was Philippa, daughter of John of Gaunt. Prince Henry and his elder brothers, Duarte and Pedro, were sent out in 1415 on an expedition against the important Moorish city of Ceuta, which, after much hard fighting, they succeeded in taking in one day. All the princes distinguished themselves at the siege, but Prince Henry so pre-eminently that, but for his own entreaties, his father would have knighted him in precedence of his brothers. His renown after this became so high that he was invited severally by the pope, the emperor, and the kings of Castile (Juan II.) and England (Henry V.) to take the command of their respective armies. The prince, however, had set his mind on other and larger plans, involving no less than the hope of reaching India by the south point of Africa. To this end he had several encouragements : the geographical position of Portugal was in his favour ; the large revenues of the order of Christ, of which he was grandmaster, provided him with means; and he had contrived to gather important information from the Moors with regard to the coast of Guinea and the populous nations of the interior of Africa. Accordingly in 1418-19 he took up his abode on the extreme south-western point of Europe, the promontory of Sagres, in Algarve, of which kingdom he was made governor in perpetuity, with the purpose of devoting himself to the study of astronomy and mathematics, and to the direction and encouragement of the expeditions which he proposed to send forth. There he erected an observatory, the first set up in Portugal, and at great expense procured the services of one Mestre Jacotne from Majorca, a man very skilful in the art of navigation and in the making of maps and instruments, to instruct the Portuguese officers in those sciences. An account has already been given of his principal explorations in the article GEOGRAPHY, vol. x. p. 180 (q.v.). At first his efforts seemed to be crowned with little success, and his various expeditions called down upon him much obloquy from the nobles, who complained of such an amount of useless expenditure; but on the prince vituperation fell harmless. The king died in 1433, and the troubles which followed occupied Prince Henry until 1440, In the following year Cape Branco was reached, and in 1443 intercourse was established with negro states in Senegal and Gambia. In 1442-3 Henry VI. of England conferred on the prince the riband of the order of the garter. In 1444-5 were discovered the river Senegal, Cape Verd, Cape St Anne, Cabo dos Mastos, and the Rio Grande. During the later years of his life Gomez and others made important voyages of discovery in Prince Henry's service (see vol. x. p. 180). He died November 13, 1460, in his town on Cape St Vincent, and was buried in the church of St Mary in Lagos, but a year later his body was removed to the superb convent of Batalha. His great-nephew, King Dom Manuel, had a statue of him placed over the centre column of the side gate of the church of Belem. On July 24, 1840, a monument was erected to him at Sagres at the instance of the Marquis de Sa da Bandeira.





The glory attaching to the name of Prince Henry does not rest merely on the achievements effected during his own lifetime, but on the stupendous subsequent results in maritime discovery to which his genius and perseverance had lent the primary inspiration. The sovereigns loyally continued what the prince had begun. The marvellous results effected within a century from the rounding of Cape Bojador in 1433 formed one unbroken chain of discovery, which originated in the genius and the efforts of one man. They were the stupendous issue of a great thought and of indomitable perseverance, in spite of twelve years of costly failure and disheartening ridicule. As Mr Major, in his Life of Prince Henry, has justly said, '' Had that failure and that ridicule produced on Prince Henry the effect which they ordinarily produce on other men, it is impossible to say what delays would have occurred before these mighty events would have been realized ; for it must be borne in mind that the ardour, not only of his own sailors, but of surrounding nations, owed its impulse to this pertinacity of purpose in him."






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