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Henry the Navigator inspired generations of fearless mariners

Posted in Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Ships on Saturday, 30 March 2013

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This edited article about Henry the Navigator originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 216 published on 5 March 1966.

Henry the Navigator, picture, image, illustration

Prince Henry the Navigator at the school of navigation at Sagres by C L Doughty

In earlier days, the people of Europe believed that the world was a solid mass of land and that the seas and the Atlantic Ocean were great lakes. The man who was to prove how wrong they were was not a seaman but a Portuguese prince born on March 4, 1394. Known as Prince Henry the Navigator, he was the fifth son of King John I of Portugal. His mother was Philippa, daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.

In 1415 he took part in the conquest of Ceuta, in Morocco on the northern coast of Africa. Afterwards he set out to find a way around that continent to the East Indies.

On his estate at Sagres on Cape St. Vincent, he set about organizing exploration on a scientific basis. He built, at his own expense, an observatory and a school where young men could learn navigation. Also, he obtained the best shipbuilders in Europe to design vessels sturdy enough to face the perils of great voyages.

When the ships were ready and the crews trained, he began sending out expeditions on voyages of discovery. He continued to do so for the next forty-five years.

“Explore and trade” was the order which he gave to his captains. This they did so well that one by one the rich islands of the Canaries, Azores, Madeira and Cape Verdi were visited and properly charted.

Prince Henry’s captains began sailing farther and farther down the African coast all the way to Slerra Leone. To this day you can see many of the stone pillars which they set up to mark the most distant points they had reached.

Prince Henry, who died in 1460, was the inspiration of the bold seamen who discovered America, rounded the Cape of Good Hope to reach India, and finally sailed around the world.

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