Henry the Navigator

(Enrique of Portugal)


Prince Henry the Navigator was the third son of King John I of Portugal. He is widely credited with being the mastermind to the exploration of the African coast undertaken by Portugal during the 15th century, which lead first to the discovery of a sea-route from Europe to Asia and shortly thereafter to the discovery of the New World.

The technology most responsible for the exploration of the Altantic was the development of the caravel, a ship large and maneuverable enough for long-range ocean voyages. But the inspiration to push for ocean exploration, in dangerous uncharted waters, along a desert coastline, to trade with a land inhabited by savages, wild beasts, and deadly fevers, is strongly attributed to Prince Henry. He trained and financed numerous expeditions, and recorded with great care the logs of the returning travelers. He hired a cartologist, made maps of his new discoveries, and encouraged innovations in ship design and navigation.

For over thirty years, under Henry's direction, the Portuguese made continual geographical discoveries, and improvements in ship-design and sea-faring methods. It took nearly twenty years for Henry's sailors to navigate down the coast of Africa, as far as Cape Blanco beyond the Sahara desert,but this opened up the way to trade with sub-Saharan Africa, and attracted commercial, as well as scientific exploration. The west coast was particularly difficult due to rough tides, frequent storms, and a lack of protected bays, but Prince Henry faced every challenge and pushed on.

Two of Henry's most famous pilots were Nuno Tristan, who sailed as far as Guines-Bissau and brought the first African slaves to Europe; and Cadamosto, a venetian who explored the Gambia river and discovered the Cape Verde islands, but there were many more who made important discoveres.

Prince Henry died almost 30 years before the southern tip of Africa was discovered, but the legacy he left, of fearless and persistant exploration, enabled the Portuguese to achieve his dream of finding a sea-route to Asia, and ending dependence on the Moslems for trade.

Key events during the life of Prince Henry the Navigator.:

Birth of Prince Henry, as the third son of John I of Portugal.
Participated in the conquest of Ceuta, a Moslem trading port south of Spain.
Appointed governor of the 'Order of Christ' a wealthy military order.
Madeira Islands are discovered and colonized by Portuguese.
Azore Islands are discovered and colonized by Portuguese.
Portuguese explorer sailed south of Cape Bojador.
Led a failed expedition against the Moors at Tangier.
Nuno Tristan reached Cape Blanco—beyond the Saharan desert.
First private merchant ships sent to trade direction with Sub-saharan Africa.
Cadamosto discovers Cape Verde Islands.
Death of Prince Henry the Navigator.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Land of Prester John  in  South Africa  by  Ian D. Colvin
Prince Henry the Navigator  in  Story of the Thirteen Colonies  by  H. A. Guerber
The Constant Prince  in  Red Book of Heroes  by  Mrs. Andrew Lang
Rediscovery of West Africa  in  The Land of the Golden Trade  by  John Lang
How Brave Men Went Sailing upon Unknown Seas  in  Our Empire Story  by  H. E. Marshall
Changes Caused by the Discovery of the New World  in  The Story of Europe  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Sea of Darkness  in  The Discovery of New Worlds  by  M. B. Synge
Prince Henry of Portugal  in  A Book of Discovery  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

Prince Henry
Prince Henry
 in A First Book in American History

Short Biography
John I of Portugal Founder of the Aziz dynasty in Portugal and father of Henry the Navigator.
Saint Fernando Brother of Prince Henry the Navigator. Chose to remain in prison rather than allow Portugal to cede a Moslem city captured previously.
Alvise Cadamosto Early Portuguese explorer under Prince Henry the Navigator, who discovered Cape Verde and Gambia river.
Nuno Tristan Portuguese explorer, sent by Henry the Navigator, who sailed as far south as Guinea in 1445.