Prince Henry the Navigator

Eternally looking out to sea from the prow of Belém’s ship-shape Monument to the Discoveries, Prince Henry the Navigator (1394– 1460) was one of the originators of Portugal’s Age of Discovery.

Henry was in fact neither a navigator nor a sailor, but funded and organized great voyages. Born in Porto to John I of Portugal and Phillipa of Lancaster, Prince Henry reached adulthood at the end of a period of battle for Portuguese royalty, when the decimated nobility were beginning to look abroad for new sources of riches. Henry researched and funded journeys to lands previously unexplored by Europeans, establishing a colony in Madeira and encouraging Portuguese sailors to explore uncharted territories beyond the west coast of Africa.

He also established at school for navigation in Sagres, southern Portugal, and it was from this region that many of his sailors’ epic journeys began. History looks back less fondly on his involvement in founding the European slave trade: Henry funded Antao Goncalves’s expedition of the African coast in 1441, in which he captured several African men and brought them back to Portugal, prompting a string of negotiations that led to Portugal’s deep involvement in slavery and the slave trade.

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