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. Portugal’s influence in the Great Age of Discovery was also attributed to him.
Henry was born to King John I of Portugal and his wife, Philippa who was from Lancaster. He was born in 1394 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. At the age of 21 years Henry, his brothers, and father attacked and captured Ceuta, a city in Morocco, and this was the starting point of his career. Ceuta was the base of the Barbary pirates, who were notorious for attacking ships and looting, and they also captured villages and sold them in the African Slave Trade
After capturing Ceuta in 1415, Henry started to explore the African Coast. He was fascinated with Africa and had the desire to know more about the Muslims and how much they have spread south to enable the Portuguese to defeat them, and one of his objectives was to find the source of gold in West Africa. He also intended to discover Prester John’s Legendary Christian Empire and to protect the coast of Portugal from pirate attacks. His administrative direction enabled them to develop the Caravel, a new and much lighter ship which could sail further, faster, and were easily maneuverable. The same ships also could sail nearer to the winds and even into the winds. With the help of the Caravel, the Portuguese explored shallow waters, rivers, and open Oceans with extensive autonomy. Prince Henry was made the governor of the Algarve Province in 1419 by his father. He spent the last decades of his life from 1450 to 1460 sending expeditions.
Henry rarely went on an expedition, but he was the patron of explorers, cartographers, and navigators. Some of his significant contributions include the voyages he sponsored. These expeditions enabled the Portuguese merchants to establish trading posts at Sao Jorge de Mina. He made a naval observatory in 1450 to teach cartography, navigation, and astronomy.
Progress was hard and slow for Henry. He experienced setbacks such as slow progress due to ignorance of his men and technological setbacks. His men believed monsters existed at a particular location in the ocean. Violent storms and strong currents in Cape Bojador which made sailors refuse to sail there.
Death and Legacy
Henry died in Sagres, Portugal in 1460. He is one of the legends who influenced the age of discoveries and exploration by Europeans. Henry’s Navigation School also influenced Portuguese navigation into ‘The Sea of Darkness’ which sent 14 expeditions.