Chapter 3 – A Family War
Portugal in the 15th century was ruled by John I , (grandson of the somewhat lunatic Peter I) and his wife Phillipa with three sons in the wings for the future.
Pedro allegedly had Inês de Castro’s body exhumed and crowned Queen of Portugal, forcing the clergy and nobility to kiss the bones of her hands.
King John along with his sons Peter, Edward and Henry, created a large naval fleet and set out to conquer the city of Cueta which, on the northern tip of Africa closest to Gibraltar. was in Muslim hands. This turned into a major event for the family and its prestige but also …
“Thus, one of the major northern trade centers of the Islamic world was now in the possession of Portugal. This African conquest was the first significant ripple of a wave of European expansion that would reach every continent on the globe.”
It was this Henry who later became “Henry the Navigator.
Chapter 4 “The Ocean Sea”
Henry never sailed on an ocean-going vessel (we learned that at school). Instead he was interested in theology and partying. He finally got the position of the head of the Templars which gave him wealth to do what he wanted. He’d been fighting to keep Ceuta and add the Canary Islands –
In the early fourteenth century the French king Philip the Fair, who not coincidentally was massively in debt to the Templars, had had the knights arrested on the usual trumped-up charges of heresy, blasphemy, and sodomy, and had coerced the pope into dissolving the entire Templar edifice. Dozens were burned at the stake in Paris, including the grand master, an elderly man who confessed on the rack, recanted his statement afterward, and insisted on his innocence as he was consumed by the flames, his hands tied together in prayer. (pp 71-72)
Henry tried for Tangiers but that was too much.
“Yet in an age of religious fanaticism, his [Henry’s] relentless appetite for glory against the Infidel, however dark and devious the places it led him into, was seen by many as the mark of a true chivalric hero and worthy of nothing but praise.” (p. 74)
The Catalan Atlas –
The next thing they needed was gold which they were convinced was on an island in a river in Africa. But Africa’s borders had not been entirely mapped. So Henry started working on them, collecting a crew and so on – he got one ship to go further than prior and then later, in 1845 he had 26 ships fully supplied and under the direction of Alvise Cadamosto, a Venetian slave trader, set sail for Africa – because the gold was there. (This is not about Muslims!)
The ships’ crews saw many strange and exotic things, flora and fauna and people – they were accepted graciously or attacked. Finally they did find some gold to send back.
And now we get to the story of the fabled and fabulous Prester John, King of a far-away Christian kingdom, likely in Africa but perhaps in Asia. He sent a letter (forged) to Emanuel in Constantinople which described his kingdom with horned men and so on. Even the popes in Rome believed in Prestor John and the letter circulated for centuries. The trouble was, no one could find him! (But he was really thought to be in Ethiopia – an East Central African country which had been Christian since ancient times. Much time, money and effort was spent in chasing Prester John – even after Gama’s voyages.
Henry’s crews searched the area where the inlet to the great river leading to the kingdom of Prestor John should be. Envoys from Ethiopia came to Lisbon causing no end of excitement but it was not enlightening.
“When his crews had run into concerted resistance and had been forced to adopt a more complaisant stance, he had explained that trade was just another way of advancing the struggle against Islam. Now even that claim was beginning to wear dangerously thin.” (p. 86)
** Is Cliff working against his own hypothesis?
Henry wasn’t making much headway or much impact and he was running out of cash so he started in on a slave trade.
“Prince Henry’s new identity as slave trader general never gave his admirers cause to question his Crusading convictions. Quite the reverse: they saw it as the clearest affirmation that the Atlantic explorations were an expansion of his lifelong Crusade.” (p. 90)
Constantinople falls to the Muslims – 1453 – and the exotic, mysterious, murderous, sensual, stuff of Orientalism. Importance and value of spices. The 4 rivers of Eden – Tigris, Euphrates, Ganges, Nile – Nile most important. Mongols aided Christians in travel. Marco Polo and Kublai Khan.
Above – Khan aiding the Polos
Right – Marco Polo map
The idea of getting to the East by sea seemed like a better and better idea:
BBC: Search for Trade Routes:
Chapter 6 – The Rivals
Portugal King John I got Pêro da Covilhã and Alfonso de Paiva to try to find a way to India and learn about the spice trade, find Prester John and make an alliance, finally, they were to see if it were possible to reach India by going around Africa. – Ha!
And it was mandatory that they find Prestor John. This is a very interesting part of the book!
And on to Bartolomeu Dias – who got to the Cape of Good Hope. But meanwhile there was also Christopher Columbus who wanted to get there by traveling West – he thought the world was a lot smaller.
Columbus promised Queen Isabella (Castille and Aragon/Spain) that he would return with such wealth “that within three years the Sovereigns will prepare for and undertake the conquest of the Holy Land. I have already petitioned Your Highnesses to see that all the profits of this, my enterprise, should be spent on the conquest of Jerusalem.” (p.147)
However – “Columbus’s terms were outrageous: he would receive 10 percent in perpetuity of all revenues from any lands he discovered, he would be their governor and viceroy, and he would control every colonial appointment. Not least, as soon as he reached land he would be appointed Admiral of the Ocean Sea. Most of his conditions were accepted, but then, no one really expected him to succeed.” (p. 146)
And then Pope Alexander I (a Borgia) divided the world.
Pope Alexander I’s “Line of Demarcation” 1493
“Spain and Portugal were locked in a furious race to spread their faith and dominion far across the earth. Soon nations whose names were barely known to Europe would discover that they had been parceled out between two European powers they had never even heard of.” (p. 152)