Prince Henry "the Navigator": A Life by Peter E. RussellHenry the Navigator, fifteenth-century Portuguese prince and explorer, is a legendary, almost mythical figure in late medieval history. Considered along with Columbus to be one of the progenitors of modernity, Prince Henry challenged the scientific assumptions of his age and was responsible for liberating Europeans from geographical restraints that had bound them since the Roman Empire’s collapse. In this enthralling account of Henry’s life—the first biography of “The Navigator” in more than a century—Peter Russell reaps the harvest of a lifelong study of Prince Henry. Making full use of documentary evidence only recently available, Russell reevaluates Henry and his role in Portuguese and European history.
Examining the full range of Prince Henry’s activities, Russell discusses the explorer’s image as an imperialist and as a maritime, mathematical, and navigational pioneer. He considers Henry’s voyages of discovery in the African Atlantic, their economic and cultural consequences, and the difficult questions they generated regarding international law and papal jurisdiction. Russell demonstrates the degree to which Henry was motivated by the predictions of his astrologer—an aspect of his career little known until now—and explains how this innovator, though firmly rooted in medieval ways of thinking and behaving, set in motion a current of change that altered European history.
Henry the Navigator
The prince of Portugal preferably known as Prince Henry the Navigator was not only a prince but also the patron of Portuguese explorers. Prince Henry sent numerous voyages down to the West coast of Africa which were to create maps of the area that were needed to defeat the Muslims, to facilitate the spread of Christianity, and to establish the maritime trade routes. Portuguese ships were able to sail to Madeira and were the first to sail as far as the Gambia River because of his patronage. He was born in in Porto, Portugal and he was the third son among his elder siblings; princes Duarte and Pedro. They were homeschooled, and Henry turned out to have an excellent taste for astrological literature, chivalric romance and he had ambitions to be part of military campaigns.
Henry himself was neither a sailor nor a navigator, his name notwithstanding. He did, however, sponsor many exploratory sea voyages. In
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The epithet Navigator, applied to him by the English though seldom by Portuguese writers , is a misnomer, as he himself never embarked on any exploratory voyages. Henry and his older brothers, the princes Duarte Edward and Pedro, were educated under the supervision of their parents. Henry emerged with pronounced tastes for chivalric romance and astrological literature, as well as with ambitions to take part in military campaigns and, if possible, win a kingdom for himself.
Portugal is a country that has no coast along the Mediterranean Sea, only the Atlantic Ocean, so the country's advances in worldwide exploration centuries ago may come as no surprise. That said, it was the passion and goals of one man who truly moved Portuguese exploration forward, the man known as Prince Henry the Navigator — Although Prince Henry never sailed on any of his expeditions and rarely left Portugal, he became known as Prince Henry the Navigator because of his patronage of explorers, who increased the world's known geographic information through the sharing of knowledge and by sending expeditions to places previously uncharted. At the age of 21, in , Prince Henry commanded a military force that captured the Muslim outpost of Ceuta, located on the south side of the Strait of Gibraltar, on the northern tip of the African continent and bordering Morocco. It became Portugal's first overseas territory.
Prince Henry the Navigator seldom left his home in Portugal, but he helped make it possible for the first Europeans to explore Africa. Today we know this sand as the Sahara Desert. Henry wanted to find a water route to India. The passage to India over land was long, slow, and dangerous. A ship could carry more goods to and from India than the largest caravans, but Europeans could only guess that sailors could circumnavigate, or go around, Africa.