Overview Index Home Page Mail me

Discoveries After Prince Henry

Although Afonso V was not particularly interested in overseas exploration, more than 2000 miles of unknown coastline were mapped during the middle years of his reign. On the death of Prince Henry, Afonso confirmed his brother Fernão, who was Prince Henry's chief heir, in jurisdiction over Madeira, Porto Santo and the Azores. In 1462 he granted him the Cape Verde Islands.
Pêro de Sintra made a voyage in 1462 which took him beyond Sierra Leone. Although this was the last voyage of exploration for some years, trade with the Guinea coast continued unabated.
In 1469 Afonso granted a monopoly in the West Guinea trade to Fernão Gomes, a wealthy citizen of Lisbon. Gomes would discover a further 100 leagues per year for five years, and would share in the profits with the crown.
Afonso V

PQI p. 122-
Five years later, in 1474, Afonso granted the monopoly to his son, João (later João II). João protected settlements by building Fort Elmina in the heart of the Gold Coast, and supported land expeditions into the interior. He set up a commission headed by two learned Jews, Abraham Zacuto in 1492, and Joseph Vizinho, his disciple, who had already come to Portugal in 1482. (Vizinho had in 1485 gone on an expedition to try their method of determining latitude). Joao II

Boorstin p.168...
Afonso and João were interested in the possibilities of proceeding westward to India. Afonso kept giving shipmasters charters to discover the mythical islands that appeared in the Atlantic on the maps of the time. Since the marriage of a Lancastrian princess into the Scandinavian royal family there had been intermittent relations between the Portuguese and Danish courts. Rumours filtered back of lands to the west beyond Iceland, and Afonso made enquiries via his ambassador about a north-west passage to India. There was also a story going around that two Portuguese seamen, sailing under Danish auspices, had reached a "land of the codfish" beyond Greenland. TPS p.139
Towards the end of his life, Prince Henry had received a map from his uncle King Eric of Denmark. Drawn in 1427 by Claudius Clavus, this map of Northern Europe set Henry thinking about a north-west expedition. In 1473 a large Luso-Norwegian expedition was launched from Iceland. It was suggested that João Corte Real took part in this (he was rewarded by the King of Portugal with the post of Governer of Terceira in the Azores for having discovered 'stockfish land' (almost certainly Newfoundland). In 1500 Corte Real's sons Gaspar and Miguel (acquaintances of Columbus) made a particular effort to explore these northern regions of America, and disappeared in Newfoundland in 1502. CbM p.290...

Portuguese Discoveries in North America
In 1474, Afonso instructed his close councillor Fernão Martins, a canon of Lisbon cathedral, to consult Toscanelli about the best sailing route to India. In Portugal there were two schools of thought - either to carry on around Africa, or to seek a western route. In Toscanelli's letter in reply (of which the only surviving copy was found in Columbus' library) he reminds Martins that he told him at an earlier conference in Florence that a westward route would be quicker. According to the map that Toscanelli included, India is just beyond the western horizon. TPS p.139
Shortly after this, exploration was interrupted by war with Castile, which lasted until 1479. Afonso died shortly thereafter and was succeeded by João II in 1481. João's first business was to restore Portuguese sovereignty on the Guinea coast, and he dispatched a fleet under Fernão Gomes who attacked a foreign fleet anchored off the trading post of Mina. TPS p.144
João decided that Mina needed to be fortified and sent a fleet commanded by Bartolomeu Dias and João Afonso de Aveiro with the new governor for Mina, D. Diogo de Azambuja, to build a warehouse in the form of a castle and a church. TPS p.145
For his next explorations, João sent a young commoner named Diogo Cão with an assortment of stone pillars surmounted by the cross of the Order of Christ and carved with the royal arms to mark the capes he should discover. Cão travelled to the mouth of the Congo, where he set up a pillar, left four messengers to search for a great king he heard about and took four natives back to Portugal. In Lisbon, King João knighted Cão and sent him back to find the messengers, who had established friendly relations with the Congolese. He then proceeded south to Cape Cross, where he died. TPS p.147
In 1481, King João sent a fleet with Diogo Cão, which founded Fort Elmina, and sailed down to Cape Santa Maria. In 1485-86 Diogo Cão made a second expedition to Cape Cross.
In 1485 two islanders, one from Terceira in the Azores, a Fleming whose name, in Portuguese, was Fernão Dulmo, and the other from Madeira, obtained a license to seek out the island of Antilia. They sailed west from Terceira, but it seems they were driven back by the prevailing westerlies and returned without sighting land. TPS p.149
Under King João II's guidance, Bartolomeu Dias reached the mouth of the Congo in 1480-84. In 1487, King João sent an overland expedition to find Prester John. The two men in the expedition were Pâro da Covilhã and Afonso de Paiva. Covilhã reached Ethiopia after travelling over Arabia and India. Boorstin p.168...
There he met the 'Prester John', named Eskander, who received letters from King João with pleasure. However, Eskander soon died, and his brother Nahum refused to let Covilhã leave, and he was there thirty years later when a second Portuguese expedition to Ethiopia arrived. TPS p.156
Late in the summer of 1487, Bartolomeu Dias set sail from Lisbon. King João still believed that if his ships proceeded far enough around Africa they would find the realm of Prester John, and so six Negroes emissaries, four of them women, were sent with Dias to broadcast the Portuguese interest in meeting the fabled Priest-king. They proceeded directly to one of Cão's last anchorages, and then followed the coast south, until they were swept out to sea in a storm. Eventually they found that they had rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and landed in Mossel Bay, which Dias' men called the Bahia dos Vaqueiros. They returned to Lisbon, arriving in December 1488. TPS p.149


Columbus, whose voyage to America began in 1492, lived in Portugal from 1476 to 1484. He travelled to Iceland, Madeira, and the Guinea coast
Columbus married Philippa Moniz, the daughter of Bartolomeu Perestrello, one of Henry's favourite captains and the first governer of Porto Santo.
SEM p.23...
Columbus spent some time living in Porto Santo, and examining Perestrello's papers and charts. (Baigent and Leigh suggest that Columbus' father in law was a Master of the Knights of Christ, and that Columbus had access to his papers). SEM p.23...
Columbus tried to persuade King João II in 1484 to fund his voyage of discovery and was present when Dias returned from rounding Africa in 1488. According to Morris, João sent out his own expedition, which failed. In any case, João didn't support Columbus, who then left for Spain to try his luck with Ferdinand and Isabella. Boorstin p.168...

After Columbus

The next step in the discoveries was delayed by domestic problems and by Columbus's discovery of America in 1492. In 1495 King Manuel I acceded, and set up a scheme to follow Dias's discoveries. Vasco da Gama, a member of the Order of Christ (c.1460-1524) sailed in 1497 and arrived in Calicut, returning to Lisbon in 1499. He set out again in 1502 to make Calicut a colony. By 1510 the Portuguese presence was secure in the Indian Ocean. Manuel

Boorstin p.168...

Vasco da Gama wearing the cross of the Order of Christ.
Maritime Museum, Lisbon.

LAST About Prince Henry