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Henry the Navigator

Famous Portuguese People: Henry the Navigator

Henry the Navigator

Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) is considered the father of Portugal's "Age of Discoveries" and Portugal's subsequent expansion as a colonizing and maritime power in Africa, the Americas and Asia.

Born in Porto in 1394, Prince Henry was the third child of King John I of Portugal, the founder of the Aviz dynasty, and his English wife, Philippa of Lancaster, the daughter of John of Gaunt, a powerful magnate at the English court.

Henry's first experience of overseas' adventure was as a 21-year-old on an expedition to defeat the North African Barbary pirates in their stronghold of Ceuta in present-day Morocco.

Henry was appointed by his father as the governor of the Algarve and it was here he was instrumental in the development of the caravel - a light, ocean-going vessel capable of exploring down the African coast.

Henry the Navigator.
Henry the Navigator
Henry the Navigator.

From his base in the Algarve port of Lagos and using funds from his position as head of the affluent Order of Christ, the Portuguese successor institution to the Knights Templars in Tomar, Henry used his substantial wealth to patronize cartographers and shipbuilders and also sponsored a number of small expeditions along the coast of west Africa and to the Azores, which were subsequently colonized by the Portuguese.

Henry was also an early entrepreneur in the burgeoning slave trade with Africa - earning a 20% share (quinto) on the sale of black slaves and gold brought back to Portugal from his expeditions.

Further, larger expeditions gradually pushed further south along the African coast and the Cape Verde Islands were reached in the 1450's.

These early voyages sponsored by Henry laid the knowledge base of the sea routes necessary for Vasco da Gama to successfully sail around the Cape of Good Hope for India in 1498.

Henry is entombed in the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos in Belem.

Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, Belem, Lisbon, Portugal.
Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, Belem, Lisbon, Portugal
Henry the Navigator.
Statue of Henry the Navigator, Porto

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