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Chapter 2 – The Quest for India by Sea


The European nations had not stood idle spectators of this collapse of their medieval Eastern commerce. At first indeed the dim masses in Central Asia appeared to Christian princes as possible allies in their struggle for the Holy Places against the nearer Saracens. In 1245 Pope Clement rv sent a Franciscan agent to the Tartars in Persia, and two years after-wards another friar to the Tartar camp on the Volga. St. Louis during his ill-fated crusade (1248–1254) found the Tartar hordes advancing on the common enemy from the East. The casual concurrence seemed to prom-ise an identity of interest, and envoys passed between the Tartar chief in Persia and the French king. About the same time St. Louis despatched William de Rubruquis, a Minorite friar, to the Tartar Khan on the Black Sea (1253).

Rubruquis’s narrative formed the delight of medieval students, Roger Bacon among them; and its veracity is attested by modern geographical research. At first passed to the learned world in manuscript, it has been repeatedly printed in whole or in part. But it failed to enlighten Christian diplomacy as to the true character

A Temple at Bangalore in Southern India

Bangalore is an inland city of the Mysore District in Southern India. The picturesque temple shown in the accompanying photogravure is located near a lake at the village of Halsor, within easy driving distance of the town.

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of the forces at work in Western Asia. Rubruquis visited various Tartar chiefs from the Black Sea to the edge of the great Mongolian desert, and returned by the Volga and the Caucasus, much impressed by the Tartar power. The Turkish kingdom in Asia Minor struck him as of no treasure, few warriors, and many enemies. Two ambassadors from Castile had seen the Turks shattered by Timur in the carnage at Angora in 1402, and were honourably entertained by the Mongol conqueror. The Black Sea route obtained a delusive prominence, and the menacing strength of the Turks continued for a time obscure to Catholic Europe;

It was by this Black Sea route that the Venetian family of merchant travellers, the Polos, originally started toward India and China in 1260. The imperishable record of the greatest of that name, Marco, is the masterpiece of travel in the Middle Ages, and has been illustrated by the patience and learning of a foremost geographer of our day. Marco Polo reached China by land and returned by the long sea passage, via the Straits of Malacca, Malabar, and Persia, after an absence of twenty-four years (1271–1295). His work gives the first account of India by a Christian writer since that of Indicopleustes in the sixth century A.D. But the mercantile enterprise of Venetian and Genoese traders, like the missionary zeal of the friars who preceded and followed them, proved power-less to keep open the Black Sea route when the Turks threw themselves across the path. A similar fate befell the attempts of Christian land-explorers by way of

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Syria and Egypt. Yet the list of such European travellers during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, including the remarkable journey of the Russian Nikitin (1468–1474), bears witness to the persistence which they brought to the task. Two of the great land-travellers overlap the discovery of the Cape route. One of the last of them, Ludovico di Varthema, found the Portuguese struggling for a settlement in India, was present at their sea-fight with the Zamorin in 1506, and took service under Portugal as a factor in Cochin on the coast of Malabar.

The achievement that rescued the Indian trade from the thrall of the Infidel, more effectively than combined Christendom had ever delivered the sacred places of Palestine, was the work of a nation which even then ranked among the small ones of Europe. But, with the exception of the imposing figurehead of the Holy Roman Empire, the contrast between the leading and the lesser States at the beginning of the fifteenth century was by no means so marked as it is now. The modern first-class Powers, France, Germany, Austria, Russia, Italy, Great Britain, were not yet built up. Spain was still divided between Castile, Aragon, and the Moors. Europe remained a continent of principalities, duchies, counties, little oligarchies, and little republics. The Mediterranean States that had engrossed the Indian trade during the Middle Ages were cities rather than countries. The new Power destined to supersede them was essentially a nation, a nation still aflame with the patriotism that had won its independence,

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Trading in an Indian market

and cherishing an undying hatred against the Moors whom it had driven forth.

In the thirteenth century Portugal attained its European limits At the end of the fourteenth it entered on a career of splendour under a singularly able and long-lived line of kings. John I, or the Great, of the house of Aviz, and his four successors ruled from 1385 to 1521, and raised their country from an outlying strip on the Atlantic to the ocean outpost of Christendom.

Their combined reigns form the heroic age of Portugal. That period commenced with a firm affiance with England; it ended with the complete establishment of the Portuguese in India. It is marked throughout by a fierce hostility to the Mussulmans, and by a spirit of exploration which in Portugal succeeded to and absorbed the spirit of the Crusades.

The English alliance formed the keystone of the

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policy of John the Great. The friendship of Portugal and England had, indeed, been of slow and solid growth. Toward the close of the twelfth century a body of London crusaders halted on their way to the Holy Land to help the Portuguese against the Moors. The end of the thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth centuries found King Diniz “the Labourer” in close correspondence with our Edwards I and II. In the middle of the fourteenth century a marriage was negotiated, although not carried out, between Edward the Black Prince, of England, and the daughter of Affonso IV of Portugal. In 1352 Edward III issued a royal proclamation commanding his subjects thenceforth and for ever to do no harm to the Portuguese; the next year a commercial compact was entered into and signed in the city of London; and on May 9, 1386, the Treaty of Windsor united the two countries by a close affiance.

The claims of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and son of Edward III, to the throne of Castile for his Spanish wife, brought about a still nearer connection with Portugal. The Portuguese king discerned in those claims a source of support in his hereditary struggle with the Castilian dynasty. It seemed, indeed, as if the States of western Europe naturally ranged themselves into a league of England, Portugal, and Flanders against France, Scotland, and Castile. In 1385, five hundred English archers under three squires of John of Gaunt fought on the decisive field of Aljubarrota which secured the independence of Portugal against

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Old Portuguese Cathedral at Bassein, near Bombay

Castile and placed the house of Aviz, with John I as its head, on the Portuguese throne.

In July, 1386, a couple of months after the Treaty of Windsor, John of Gaunt himself landed at Corunna with his Castilian princess, two daughters, 180 galleys, two thousand lances, and three thousand of the famous English archers.

One daughter he promptly married to John the Great of Portugal (February 2, 1387); the other daughter, by his Spanish wife, to the Prince of the Asturias, heir to the throne of Castile. He himself renounced his Castilian claims, and imposed on his two sons-in-law a truce which lasted till 1411.

Philippa, daughter of this masterful Englishman, “time-honoured Lancaster,” was worthy to be the consort

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of a great king and the mother of heroes. The friendship of England, which her marriage with John I cemented, proved a tower of strength to her husband during his epoch-making reign of forty-eight years (1385–1433). In 1398 a body of English archers came to his aid, and in 1400 he was created a Knight of the Garter – the first foreign sovereign who received that honour. In 1415 our Henry V sent provisions and troops to join the Portuguese expedition against the Ceuta Moors, and again in 1428 a force of English lances heard King John of Portugal’s battle-cry. That battle-cry was one dear to English men-at-arms, “Saint George!” and as a Knight of the Garter John bore the dragon for his crest. The recumbent statue of his English queen, Philippa, at Batalha shows the face of a beautiful woman, with finely cut features, a lofty forehead, and a look of firm sense. Simple and religious in her habits, carrying abstinence so far as to under-mine her health, her chief pleasure in life was to make peace between enemies, and her great occupation to educate her children. “To do good was with her a necessity of existence.”

Of the eight children whom this noble and devout Englishwoman bore to John I of Portugal, the eldest survivor (called Duarte after his great-grandfather, our Edward III) succeeded to the Portuguese throne. Another son, Pedro, became famous as the royal land-traveller of his century; a third, Fernando, won by his chivalrous self-sacrifice and patient sufferings in Moorish captivity the title of The Constant Prince.

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But the most illustrious of them was her fifth child, born on Ash Wednesday, March 4, 1394, and imperishably known in history as Prince Henry the Navigator. On coming of age in 1415 he won his spurs at the Portuguese siege of Ceuta, the Mussulman stronghold of north-western Africa just within the Straits of Gibraltar. His splendid gallantry at the gate, where he stemmed, for a time alone, the rush of the Moors, and his calm intrepidity as a leader, gained the plaudits of Christendom. His biographer states that the Pope, the Emperor of Germany, and the Kings of Castile and of England each invited the young hero to take command of armies.

The capture of Ceuta and its political consequences awakened a different ambition in Prince Henry’s breast. Its conquest had converted a chief emporium of the Moors into a bulwark of Christendom against them. But Ceuta drew the sources of its wealth – its gold-dust, ivory, and tropical products – from the interior and the coast districts of west Africa. How to reach these provinces of Nigritia by sea and thus cut off the wealth of Morocco at its source, became the daydream of the young prince. His zeal for the aggrandizement of Portugal was combined with a passion for maritime exploration and an ardour to extend the dominions of the Cross. The first question which he set before him was whether the north-western coast of Africa should belong to Mohammed or to Christ. Portuguese chroniclers date his exploring expeditions as far back as his eighteenth year, 1412. But from a Bull

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of Pope Nicholas V it seems likely that he definitely commenced this work after his exploit at Ceuta (1415), when he had just attained manhood. In 1418, while still only twenty-four, he made his Great Renunciation and, turning his back upon the world, retired to the wind-swept promontory of Sagres at the southern extremity of Portugal.

On that barren spur of rocks and shifting sands and stunted juniper, with the roar of the ocean forever in his ears, and the wide Atlantic before him inviting discovery from sunrise to sunset, he spent his remaining forty-two years, a man of one high aim, without wife or child. Amid its solitudes he built the first observatory in Portugal, established a naval arsenal, and founded a school for navigation, marine mathematics, and chart-making. Thither he invited the most skilful pilots and scientific sailors of Christendom, from Bruges near the North Sea to Genoa and Venice on the Mediterranean. Thence, too, he sent forth at brief intervals exploring expeditions into the unknown South: expeditions often unfruitful, sometimes calamitous, even denounced as folly and waste, but which won the African coast as an outlying empire for Portugal.

He died at Cape St. Vincent in 1460, having expended his own fortune together with his splendid revenues as Grand Master of the military Order of Christ on the task, and pledged his credit for loans which he left as a debt of honour to his nation. His tomb, in the same beautiful chapel where his English mother

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Trade Routes to India (Ancient & Medieval)

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rests at Batalha, bears by the side of his own. arms as a royal prince of Portugal, the motto and device of the Garter conferred on him by our Henry VI, and the cross of the Portuguese Order of Christ. On the frieze, entwined with evergreen oak, runs the motto which he solemnly adopted in young manhood – Talent de bien faire – the resolve to do greatly.

The king, wrote Diogo Gomez, “together with all his people mourned greatly over the death of so great a prince, when they considered all the expeditions which he had set on foot” – in the words of his monument on the gateway of Fort Sagres – “to lay open the regions of West Africa across the sea, hitherto not traversed by man, that thence a passage might be made round Africa to the most distant parts of the East.”

The maps of the two preceding centuries, and especially the Laurentian portulan, or chart, of 1351, together with notices by the Christian and Arabic geographers of the same period, enable us to understand exactly what Prince Henry achieved. A tradition, for which the Revival of Learning was destined to supply a historical basis, came down through the dark ages that ships had sailed round Africa in very ancient times. The three years’ voyage from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, sent forth by Pharaoh Necho (617–601 B.C.), seemed discredited to Herodotus on the ground that now forms its best evidence of authenticity. For who could then believe the mariners’ tale that the sun which rose on their left hand during one part of their voyage rose on their right during the remainder?

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So little impression did the voyage make on the minds of sober men that Eratosthenes found no record of it in the Alexandrian library in the third century before Christ, nor Marinus of Tyre in the second A.D. Hanno’s shorter expedition down the western coast of Africa (circ. 570 B.C.) had the good fortune to be inscribed on a temple at Carthage, and passed thence into the geography of the Greek and Roman world. A century later (circ. 470 B.C.), according to Herodotus, a nephew of Darius undertook to circumnavigate Africa in commutation of a sentence of death by impalement, returned unsuccessful, and was executed by Xerxes.

The legend of these expeditions, like those of the Insulae Fortunatae and Homer’s blissful realms of utmost earth, waxed faint in the centuries of eclipse which followed the overthrow of Roman civilization. Even to a friend of Ovid the Atlantic was a sea of darkness. Two schools of geographers had arisen, one affirming the Atlantic to be a great lake with no outlet into other seas, the other maintaining the possibility of circumnavigating Africa. An Alexandrian philosopher of the seventh century A.D. thus sums up the opinion of his time: “Certain men have supposed, following a foolish tradition, that the Atlantic is united on the south with the Indian Ocean. They pretend that several navigators have been carried by accident from the Atlantic Sea to that ocean, which is evidently false. For it would require that the ocean should extend quite across Libya, and even under the torrid zone. Now

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it is impossible for men to navigate there on account of the burning heat that prevails.”

The Venetian map of Marino Sanuto (circ. 1306) embodies the same idea and describes a great tract as uninhabitable by reason of the heat. Even the light of the Moslem geographers grew dim. Ibn Khaldun, himself an African and well acquainted with the facts of African navigation just before Prince Henry’s expeditions, describes the Atlantic as “a green or black ocean into which ships do not venture far, for if they get out of sight of land they rarely find their way back.”

Yet the legend of a passage round Africa to India lived. The Laurentian or Medicean map of 1351, although based on conjecture and vague tradition beyond the Gulf of Guinea, shows the trend of that gulf to the eastwards, and a continuous passage round to the Red Sea. But Cape Non, about eight degrees down the African coast from Gibraltar, was reckoned, according to the Portuguese proverb, the safe limit of navigation in medieval times, and continued to be so when Prince Henry commenced his explorations. Further south the promontory of Bojador, emphatically “the headland,” stretched into the ocean and shut out the Sea of Darkness beyond it from the European world. Two Genoese galleys sailed in 1291 A.D. toward those latitudes “that they might go by sea to the ports of India,” but never returned. Indeed, so barren of results, had been the ancient Carthaginian expedition down the African coast, that only one example of passing Cape

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A Modern Port of India

Bojador, and that a chance flotsam of shipwrecked Arabs, can be admitted between the voyage of Hanno in 570 B.C. and the fifteenth century after Christ.

To round Cape Bojador and open a path through the Sea of Darkness to the Indian Ocean – to the thesauris Arabum et divitiis Indiae – was the purpose of Prince Henry’s life. It mattered not that unsuccessful voyages brought on him the reproaches of the Portuguese nobles. The patient prince realized that Cape Bojador was not to be passed by a leap, and set himself to explore gradually down the African coast. It was thus that he won his title as “The Originator of continuous modern discovery,” and proved what one great man backed by a race of sailors can achieve, in spite of the doubts of science and the discouragement of grandees.

Neither in the islands of the Atlantic nor on the coast of Africa was he first in the field. Certain of the Azores had been reached by Portuguese ships steered by Genoese pilots at the beginning of the fourteenth century and appear in the Laurentian map of 1351. Two runaway lovers from England are said to have been blown south by a storm to Madeira in 1344

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and to have perished there. The Portuguese expedition to the Canaries in 1341 has been told by Boccaccio from the letters of Florentine merchants at Seville. But these voyages yielded little or no result. It was re-served for Prince Henry deliberately to rediscover what had formerly been found, and to make discovery go hand in hand with commerce and colonization.

The same remark applies to the African coast. Beginning with the discovery, or rediscovery, of Porto Santo and Madeira in 1418–1420, the prince steadily pushed his expeditions southward until in 1434–1435 his captains rounded Cape Bojador in latitude 26°, and opened up the Sea of Darkness beyond it to Christian ken. After that achievement further progress was only a question of time. Certain dates may however be noted. Between 1441 and 1444 his squadrons explored the African coast to Cape Blanco and Arguin Bay; in 1447 they reached the Rio Grande within twelve degrees of the equator – where “the north star appeared to them very low.” By 1455–1456 they had fairly established intercourse with the natives along the shores of Senegambia. Before 1460 his captains had laid open the Cape Verde Islands to the Portuguese, and in that year Prince Henry died.

To understand the part played by India in the later history of Portugal, and the patriotic sentiment with which the Portuguese still cling to their Indian possessions, we must realize the efforts which the discovery cost the nation and the slow steps by which it was achieved. The forty-two years of Prince Henry’s explorations

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(1418–1460) added only eighteen degrees of latitude to the verified geography of the north-western African coast, from Cape Bojador to Sierra Leone, or not four days’ course of a steamship in our times. He barely penetrated the edge of the vast Sea of Darkness.

This small result from so much toil and devotion was due in part to the poor sailing qualities of his vessels, in part to the imperfections of his nautical instruments and to the rudimentary state of navigating science. The fleets of the Mediterranean had largely consisted of galleys propelled by slaves. But oars could ill contend with the mighty waves of the Atlantic, nor was it possible to provide food for hundreds of rowers on the long voyages which Prince Henry planned. His first problem was to develop the oared galley or weak sailing craft of an inland sea into the ocean-going ship, and to supersede the thews of men with hungry mouths by the winds which ate nothing. The question of sails versus oars dates from the earliest period of navigation, and has been discussed by the latest naval historians. Prince Henry required not only a new type of vessel but also a new adaptation of an old force to propel it. It was the Atlantic as against the Mediterranean, and the sailing ship as against the slave-rowed galley.

In this task, as in his actual discoveries, Prince Henry had predecessors. Contemporary drawings disclose the transition from the medieval galley, a sort of beaked barge with upper structures for fighting men and the lower deck crammed with rowers, to the heavy galleon and galleasse, and the handier caravel with its

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lateen rig. The caravel marks an early stage of the development of square into side sails which added much to the tacking power of ships, and enabled them to put the wind to its full use on ocean voyages. Prince Henry adopted the caravel as his model for distant explorations and developed its navigating qualities. Cadamosto, although a Venetian, declared that the Portuguese caravels – craft of fifty tons increasing in the sixteenth century to two hundred – were the best sailing ships afloat.

The rudeness of the nautical instruments and of the nautical science of the time was a hindrance to Prince Henry scarcely less serious than the imperfections in the rig and build of his ships. The magnetic needle had been to some extent utilized by Italian sailors in the twelfth century. But the early forms of the mariner’s compass were too rough to be trusted on long voyages. Brunetto Latini (the tutor of Dante), who visited Roger Bacon at Oxford, probably in 1258, declared that its discovery “must remain concealed until other times, because no master-mariner dares to use it, lest he should fall under a supposition of his being a magician. Nor would even the sailors venture themselves out to sea under his command, if he took with him an instrument which carries so great an appearance of being constructed under the influence of some infernal spirit.”

An advance was made during the following century, but the Portuguese historian Barros records with reference to one of Prince Henry’s early expeditions, that

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The Astrolabe of Sir Francis Drake

“the Portuguese mariners of that time were not accustomed thus to venture on the open sea, all their nautical knowledge being limited to coasting in sight of land.” Prince Henry’s instruments were a primitive astrolabe with a quadrant hung vertically from a ring held in the hand, and worked by the help of an alidade, “or ruled index having two holes pierced in its extremities through which the ray passed.” Charts of any exact sort were almost confined to the Mediterranean: beyond Cape Non the conjectural outlines of the Christian mappe-monde failed to yield practical guidance.

If, in order to appreciate the position which India has held in the national life of Portugal, we must bear in mind the slow labour of the discovery, it is not less needful to understand the motives which sustained Prince Henry in his life’s task. His chronicler, Azurara, explains that, apart from mere exploration, the prince greatly desired to abase the Moors, to establish trade with the west African coast, and to plant the Catholic faith among the heathen peoples there lying in a state of perdition. Grand Master of the Order of Christ, Prince Henry represented the Church Militant in Portugal as his order represented the crusading spirit of the Knights Templars to whose position and property in Portugal it had succeeded in the fourteenth century.

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It was with his revenues as Grand Master that he defrayed the cost of his expeditions.

In 1454 King Affonso V of Portugal granted to the Order of Christ, in return for the discoveries thus made, the spiritual jurisdiction over Guinea, Nubia, and Ethiopia. A tribute of one-twentieth on all merchandise from Guinea, whether slaves or gold or whatever it might be, was secured to the Order of Christ by Prince Henry in 1458. The Portuguese nation was still deeply imbued with the crusading spirit. In 1458, two years before Prince Henry’s death, when the Pope summoned the sovereigns of Europe against the Infidels, into whose hands Constantinople had fallen, Portugal made the most effective response. Prince Henry with twenty-five thousand men captured Alcaçar Seguer from the Moors, replying to their offer of surrender that “the king’s object was the service of God, not to take their goods or force a ransom from them.”

The three motives of Prince Henry – enmity to the Moslems, mercantile enterprise, and missionary zeal – profoundly influenced the whole history of the Portuguese in the East. As he aimed at outflanking the Moors in Africa by exploring down its western coast, so his greatest successors aimed at outflanking the Ottoman Empire by dominating the Red Sea. His commercial dealings on the African coast led to the slave-trade which poured an inexhaustible supply of cheap labour into Portugal, relieved the Portuguese from the tillage of the soil, and set free large numbers to carry Dut the royal policy of adventure beyond the sea. A

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heavy price of national exhaustion had to be afterwards paid for this spasm of external enterprise, but while it lasted the energy was intense. Prince Henry’s third motive, proselytism, after a brilliant period of promise, crippled the Portuguese power in India and ended in the horrors of the Goa Inquisition.

Although the discoveries of Prince Henry were bounded by narrow limits, the impulse which he gave to discovery was decisive. He left behind him not only an astronomical observatory, a naval arsenal, and a great school of cartography and scientific navigation, but also a system of continuous exploration. His squadrons consisted of Portuguese ships sailed by Italian or Genoese pilots, and thus combined the nautical science of the Mediterranean with the hardy seamanship of the Atlantic. On his death his work was continued by three successive sovereigns of his house. They found that the Sea of Darkness was no black ocean after all. Prince Henry’s improvements had freed long voyages from their worst dangers, and the Portuguese captains, having once rounded the exposed shoulder of north-western Africa, pushed south through less turbulent waters. In 1471 they passed the equator, and in 1484 they reached the Congo, erecting crosses wherever they landed down the African coast, and carving on trees Prince Henry’s motto, Talent de bien faire, together with the name of the saint which they gave to the newly found land.

The great discoveries were taken possession of by an imposing ceremony. For example, having reached

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La Mina on January 19, 1482, “on the following morning they suspended the banner of Portugal from the bough of a lofty tree, at the foot of which they erected an altar, and the whole company assisted at the first mass that was celebrated in Guinea, and prayed for the conversion of the natives from idolatry, and the perpetual prosperity of the church which they intended to erect upon the spot.” The baptism of a native prince, or of a few negroes seized or lured on board, seemed to the chroniclers of that age the crowning achievement of exploration.

At length in 1486 Bartholemeu Dias, of a family of daring navigators, rounded the southern point of Africa, but far out at sea in a tempest. He reached Algoa Bay on the eastern coast. There his crews lost heart and demanded an immediate return. After a few days’ sail further north to the Great Fish River, Dias had to give up his chance of being the discoverer of India. Bidding a sad farewell to the cross which he had erected on the island of Santa Cruz, he turned back. On his way home he sighted the southern headland to which he gave the name of Cabo Tormentoso, the Cape of Storms, but which his master King John II rechristened the Cape of Good Hope, as a happy augury that the passage to India was now assured to his nation.

Meanwhile two episodes had occurred which determined the future course of maritime discovery. Columbus, during his stay in Portugal, 1470–1484, married the daughter of one of Prince Henry’s commanders, and obtained access to his nautical journals, maps, and

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An old picture of the Cape of Good Hope

instruments. “It was in Portugal,” writes Ferdinand Columbus of his illustrious father, “that the admiral began to surmise that if the Portuguese sailed so far south, one might also sail westwards and find land in that direction.” This surmise was strengthened by the “Imago Mundi” of Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly, who had copied the passages which supplied the inspiration to Columbus almost word for word from Roger Bacon’s “Opus Majus” written 143 years before. It received confirmation from the travels of Marco Polo, and from the chart and letter of Toscanelli which reached Columbus while at Lisbon.

Columbus had made up his mind, but the spirit of Prince Henry the Navigator no longer inspired the Portuguese counsels. The mathematical board, to whom the new king, John II, referred the project in 1482, discredited it on scientific grounds. The king himself had political reasons for doubting whether a western route to India, even if found, would be advantageous

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to Portugal. The map drawn (1457–1459), in the last years of Prince Henry’s life, showed the way round the southern point of Africa up to Sofala and “Xengibar” on the east African coast. The subsequent discovery that the Gulf of Guinea trended almost due east seemed to disclose an even more direct course to India than was actually the case.

Not only did the southern route appear a certainty, but care had been taken to secure a monopoly of it for Portugal. The Bull of Pope Nicholas V in 1454 conferred on the Portuguese king all Guinea as far as a certain large river reputed to be the Nile, but which was really the Senegal. A western passage across the Atlantic to India might prove a dangerous rival to the almost discovered passage round the southern extremity of Africa. What between royal hesitations and scientific scepticism, Columbus found that little was to be hoped from Portugal (1481–1483). King John II listened to base counsels, and after trying to get a detailed plan from Columbus, sent out a secret expedition to secure the discovery on his own account. The surreptitious caravel was driven back by a storm, and in 1484 Columbus quitted Portugal in disgust, to hawk about a new world at incredulous courts during eight more weary years.

The other incident which affected the course of East Indian discovery is more honourable to Portugal. Azurara records that one of Prince Henry’s main objects was to find out whether any Christian peoples dwelt in the unknown African world. The old confused

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tradition of a Christian potentate Prester John, and of a Christian nation in Ethiopia, had received confirmation from friars since Prince Henry’s death. King John II of Portugal (1481–1495) resolved to seek out this lost Christian kingdom by sea and land. In August, 1486, he sent forth with that object the ships under Bartholemeu Dias, which, as we have seen, discovered the Cape of Good Hope, but which only proceeded up the east coast of Africa to a little beyond Algoa Bay. After an unsuccessful land mission by way of Jerusalem, John II despatched Pedro de Covilham and Alfonso de Paiva to gather information ,via Egypt about Prester John’s country and the Indian Ocean. Covilham and Paiva started in May, 1487 (while Bartholemeu Dias was still absent on his sea expedition with the same purpose), and travelled by Naples, Rhodes, and Cairo to the Red Sea. At Aden they parted, Covilham sailing east in an Arab ship to the Indian coast and Paiva west to Abyssinia.

Covilham, the first Portuguese explorer in India, stayed some time on the Malabar coast and visited the very cities which were destined to become the centres of Portuguese activity. On his return voyage he touched at Sofala, the spot on the south-eastern coast of Africa marked on the Portuguese map of 1457–1459, and thus supplied the missing link between the sea discoveries round Africa and their ultimate goal in India. He also obtained some knowledge of the neighbouring island of Madagascar, known to the Moors as the Island of the Moon.

A Palm Grove in Bombay.

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Charged with this all-important information Covilham hastened homewards, by way of the Red Sea. But at Cairo, on learning that his fellow traveller Paiva was dead, he himself proceeded to Ormuz and eventually to Abyssinia, the country of Prester John – where he married, rose to high office, and died after a residence of thirty-three years. Before leaving Cairo, however, in 1490, he sent home a report of his discoveries to the Portuguese king, with the pregnant message: “That the ships which sailed down the coast of Guinea might be sure of reaching the termination of the continent, by persisting in a course to the south; and that when they should arrive in the Eastern Ocean their best direction must be to inquire for Sofala and the Island of the Moon.”

These striking words make Covilham the theoretical discoverer of the Cape route to India. They supplemented the news which Dias brought to Lisbon in December, 1487, of his having rounded the southern point of Africa. The pious zeal of the Portuguese sovereign in seeking for the unknown Christian country of Prester John was thus amply rewarded by land and by sea. Dias’s discovery of the Cape passage toward India rendered John II uneasy lest Columbus’s alternative route westward should be taken up by a rival power. On March 20, 1488, he accordingly wrote to Columbus at Seville, accepting the offer of the great navigator for the discovery of new continents. But Portugal had missed its chance. John IC, during the remaining seven years of his life, laboured amid sickness and domestic

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Columbus Propounding His Theory of a Route To India

sorrow to strengthen his position on the African coast: Columbus in 1492 discovered for the Spanish crown the American islands which proved to be the outworks of a new world.

The discovery caused consternation at the Portuguese court. To the king it seemed that a short cut had been laid open to India: Columbus himself believed to his dying day that Cuba formed part of Asia. The Portuguese sovereign did not at first despair of snatching the fruits of the achievement. His treaty of Alcacora with Spain in 1479 had conceded to Portugal the exclusive right of navigation and discovery along the African coast, together with the possession of all known

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islands of the Atlantic save the Canaries. Columbus records that King John II affirmed in conversation with him the right of Portugal under this compact to the new Atlantic regions.

Meanwhile Columbus and his storm-tossed crew, having landed on their return voyage at St. Mary’s Isle, February 18, 1493, were seized as prisoners by the Portuguese governor. Even after their release, and their reception in Portugal with outward marks of honour, it was proposed to make away with Columbus – another base counsel of courtiers which King John had this time the magnanimity to reject. Spain proved equally prompt. By the middle of April, 1493, Columbus was in the presence of Ferdinand and Isabella at Barcelona; and on May 3d, Pope Alexander VI, himself a Spaniard, granted three Privileges securing to their Catholic Majesties the exclusive right to the newly discovered lands.

This feat of diplomatic activity, hardly to be surpassed in our own time of telegraphs, was at once detected to have trenched on previous Papal grants to Portugal; and next day, May 4th, a Bull was issued to reconcile the conflicting titles. Spain was to have all lands discovered or to be discovered, and not occupied by any Christian prince at Christmas, 1492, to the west and south of an imaginary line one hundred leagues west and south of the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands, which the Bull vaguely takes as one group. No other nation was to sail thither for trade or any other purpose without permission of the Spanish crown.

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Portugal objected to this line as too near to the African coast. After much negotiation, a dividing line between the two nations was fixed at 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands by the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, and sanctioned by a Bull of Julius II in 1506. The final Bull of Leo X in 1514, while confirming the previous one, gave to Portugal an exclusive right of discovery throughout the rest of the globe.

To Protestant writers these Papal proceedings have appeared in a somewhat distorted light – as the partition of an unknown world by a pontiff who had himself no title to it. In point of fact, they exhibit the normal action of international law and diplomacy as then established in Europe, and they formed the only course that could have been adopted, short of war. The Pope, if he no longer stood forth as the conscience of Christendom, represented after the fashion of that age what we now call the concert of Europe.

It is not needful to explore the pretensions of medieval Rome to the sovereignty of the world. By the time of Columbus such secular claims of Papal supremacy had narrowed themselves to two main functions: the settlement of disputes or the sanction of treaties between Christian princes, and the ratification of conquests or discoveries made in non-Christian lands. The annals of Spain and Portugal afford many examples of the exercise of this authority. Indeed, the recognition of the Portuguese as a political entity dates from the Bull of Alexander III in 1179 affirming their independence. Their exclusive right to the discoveries

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made by Prince Henry the Navigator and his successors in the fifteenth century rested on a similar international basis. In 1454 Pope Nicholas V authorized Portugal to invade and conquer all infidel or pagan countries, and to enslave their inhabitants. Any one infringing on this grant was to fall under the wrath of God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul. After reciting the zeal and labours of Prince Henry, his Holiness granted as a perpetual possession to Portugal all lands discovered or to be discovered south of Capes Non and Bojador. The Bull of Sixtus IV in 1481 assigned the spiritual jurisdiction of these countries from Cape Bojador usque ad Indos to the Portuguese Order of Christ. Such instruments were then the title-deeds of nations.

In these grants the Popes merely exercised an authority regarded in that age as essential to the peace of Christendom. When therefore the discoveries of Columbus raised rival claims between Spain and Portugal, both parties sought the decision of Rome as to how much of the unknown world had already been assigned to Portugal, and as to what remained available to Spain. Pope Alexander VI, the whole Sacred College consenting, at first acted hastily on the representations of Spain; he amended his decision the next day, perhaps on the representation of Portugal; and the theoretical line of demarcation could be shown authoritatively on the chart only after years of nautical research and diplomatic wrangling.

By the Treaty of Tordesillas, between Spain and

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A Caravel

After a manuscript at Havre

Portugal, June 7, 1494, each nation was to despatch one or two caravels to the Canaries with pilots and “astrologers” to mark off 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands. Apart from international intrigues, the first essential toward the ascertainment of the line, namely the verified measurement of a degree on a great circle, was not arrived at till a century and a half later, in 1669. The line appears on the Cantino map of 1502, but a precise determination of longitude, on which the demarcation depended, was beyond the resources of that age.

Such questions of detail did not materially affect the authority of the Papal award; all the sovereigns at that time within the concert of Christendom accepted the Pope’s partition of the unknown world between Portugal and Spain. Even princes, like our later Tudors, who renounced their spiritual allegiance to Rome, shrank for a time from openly assailing a political settlement which had become part of the public law of Europe.

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I have dwelt on that settlement, because it explains much that has hitherto been obscure, and not a little that has hitherto seemed unreasonable, in the action of European nations in Asia. It enables us to understand how the Portuguese came habitually to speak of all India as their own, although they never possessed more than a few petty settlements on its coast. It throws light on the long hesitation of Protestant England before she struck boldly into the Indian seas on her own account. It legally justified the stigma of piracy affixed by Spain and Portugal to our intrusion within their demarcated line. While the Dutch East India Company were “rebeldes,” as representing the Protestant revolt against Spain, the English East India Company were “piratas,” as representing the Protestant intrusion on the Papal settlement of the unknown world. This term still clings to the English in the Portuguese memory, and was revived against us during the strained relations of 1891. Even the British sovereigns, which long formed the chief gold currency of Portugal, were popularly known as “piratas.”

It may seem as if the rounding of the Cape by Dias in 1487, and Covilham’s instructions in 1490 for completing the route to India, should at once have opened up Asia to Portugal. But in 1490 King John II was seized by the lingering malady, supposed to have been caused by drinking poisoned water, which overshadowed the rest of his life. On his partial recovery in 1491 he had to lament the death of his only son; his queen was attacked by a sickness, almost mortal, in

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1493; and the afflicted monarch struggled through a renewal of his illness only to find his kingdom devastated by famine in 1494, and to die in October, 1495. His successor, Emmanuel the Fortunate, at once revived the long-suspended plan of Indian discovery. In 1496 preparations were made on a scale never before attempted, and in July, 1497, Vasco da Gama sailed from the little chapel on the Tagus, which Prince Henry had built for administering the sacrament to outward-bound and home-returning mariners.

In the preceding month of May, 1497, John Cabot embarked from the Severn with a crew of eighteen men to seek for India westwards across the Atlantic. On June 24th, or exactly a fortnight before Da Gama left Lisbon, Cabot discovered North America for England instead.

Da Gama’s squadron, insignificant as it may appear to modern seamen, marked a century of progress since Prince Henry’s day of small things. Even as late as 1486 Bartholemeu Dias went forth to round the Cape of Good Hope with only two ships of fifty tons each and a provision tender. Da Gama’s fleet in 1497 consisted of the San Gabriel of 120 tons carrying his own flag, the San Raphael of one hundred tons commanded by his brother, a caravel of fifty tons, and a smaller craft laden with munitions. Nor was the improvement in their equipment less striking. Considerable difficulties exist in tracing the early development of the rig of ships. But Columbus enumerates all his sails on October 24, 1492 – a fair supply; and drawings exist,

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The Fleet of Vasco da Gama

After a painting made by order of Jorge Cabral (1549–1550)

if we could but be sure they were authentic, of Da Lama’s two ships and caravel. They were built of carefully chosen wood, strongly fastened with iron, carried 160 men, and each had a triple store of sails, spars, and rope. The improvement of the astrolabe by Martin Behaim in 1480 gave Da Gama facilities for navigation unknown to Prince Henry, nor were his nautical instruments as a whole inadequate.

Vasco da Gama finally sailed from the Tagus on Saturday, July 8, 1497, reached Calicut on the Indian coast on May 20, 1498, and returned to Lisbon in August or September, 1499: successful indeed, but having lost his brother, half his ships, and more than half his crew. That memorable voyage has a whole literature of its own. It supplied the national epic of Portugal and many a glowing page to the Portuguese historians. It has been examined and re-examined by modern nautical critics. It is made to move afresh before our eyes by one of the most picturesque, yet most practical, travellers of our time – Sir Richard Francis Burton, in his work on Camoens and the Lusiad. Da Gama not only found the way from the Cape of Good Hope over the

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Indian Sea, but he shaped his course direct through mid-ocean from the Cape Verde Islands to the Cape of Good Hope, and thus made the first passage across the South Atlantic.

The expedition, like those of Prince Henry and his royal successors in exploration, was the work of the Portuguese dynasty rather than of the Portuguese people. King Emmanuel gave from his own hand to Vasco da Gama the banner of the squadron, embroidered with the cross of the military Order of Christ. The Council of State was almost unanimous against the enterprise, and the popular clamour burst forth as the ships sailed from the shore. This clamour, which had from time to time been raised against the royal policy of Indian exploration during the previous eighty years, finds a mouthpiece in the imprecations which close the fourth book of the Lusiad.

Camoens vrrote in the generation immediately succeeding the events which he described, and was intimately acquainted with the contemporary feeling in regard to them. He makes a venerable figure arise, with arm. waved to heaven as the ships set sail, and denounce the madness of a monarch who, with an enemy at his gates, seeks the meteor fame of conquest in an unknown world. This dynastic as opposed to a popular impulse forms the key to the Portuguese history in India. One attempt after another by the crown to hand over the Indian trade to public enterprise failed. It may be doubted, indeed, whether any European people in the fifteenth century had the cohesion or steadfast-

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ness necessary to carry out the explorations which ended in the discovery of the Cape route to India, except under pressure from a line of resolute kings. It is certain that the Italian republics had not. But it is equally certain that, in spite of the devotion of Portuguese sovereigns and the heroism of the Portuguese chivalry, the curse of the weird prophet of the Lusiad, amid whose maledictions Da Gama departed, in the end came true – the prize a shadow or a rainbow blaze.

The expedition struck, however, a chord of Portuguese national feeling. Both king and people regarded it as a continuation of the Crusades: a crusade on a larger scale and with better prospects of plunder. Camoens opens the seventh book of his Lusiad by reproaching Germany, England, France, and Italy for their coldness to the sacred cause, calls them once more to Holy War, and shames their silence by declaring that Portugal will single-handed fight the battle of God. His contempt for these Gallios of Christendom is only equalled by his hatred of the Moslems and his travesty of their faith. In the mythological machinery of the Lusiad, Bacchus stands forth as the genius of Islam while Venus pleads the cause of the Christians. Bacchus appears to a priest of the Koran in the form of Mohammed – the founder of a religion of abstinence from wine! No doubt Camoens had in his mind the celestial Venus and the Indian Bacchus. His ignorance of the Moslem creed is as complete as his confidence in his own. The noble Portuguese cavalier would no more inquire into the truth of his religion than into

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Vasco da Gama

the honour of his mistress. He might know nothing about either, but he was equally convinced of both. This confidence, light-hearted yet profound, led alike to the success and to the failure of the Portuguese in India. It plunged them into military enterprises, rendered glorious by acts of individual valour, but far beyond their collective strength. It impelled them on a career of religious proselytism, illustrated by beautiful examples of personal piety, yet ending in political atrocities which left an indelible stain on the Christian cause.

The missionary spirit of the military Order of Christ, with the sword in its hand and the Cross on its banner, had animated its Grand Master Prince Henry and the sovereigns of his house who, during eighty years (1418–1498), carried out the work of continuous discovery. It burned in Da Gama’s breast as he fell on his knees in sight of the Indian shore. It breathes in the prophetic strains of the tenth book of the Lusiad, and in that magnificent vision of a Christian Indian empire which the Portuguese, as the heaven-sent successors of St. Thomas, were to build up. It excuses the exaggerated view of Portuguese historians After a contemporary oil painting.

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in regard to their real position in India, and their perpetual confusion of personal heroism with political achievement.

The epic of Vasco da Gama is an allegory of his nation’s story in the East. His last night on shore he watched in prayer at the chapel of Belem like a true Crusader, commending himself and his cause to God. He commenced his voyage amid royal honours and popular misgivings; he conducted it with undaunted courage to success; he returned in a blaze of triumph – amid which he himself crept away to a lonely retreat on the beach, to mourn for the brother and brave comrades buried on far-off shores or gone down in the mighty waters.

This collection transcribed by Chris Gage
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