Henry the Navigator

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Henry the Navigator,

1394–1460, prince of Portugal, patron of exploration. Because he fought with extraordinary valor in the Portuguese conquest of Ceuta (1415), he was created duke of Viseu by his father, John I, king of Portugal. The Moroccan campaign inspired Henry with a desire to extend his knowledge of Africa. In 1416 he established at Sagres in SW Portugal a base for explorations, later adding a naval arsenal and an observatory and a school for the study of geography and navigation. The nearby port of Lagos provided a convenient harbor. One of his navigators rediscovered the Madeira Islands (1418–20), and by degrees the west coast of Africa was explored. Cape Bojador was reached in 1434, Cape Blanco was passed in 1441, and the Bay of Arguim was discovered in 1443. When Henry's captains returned with slaves and gold, African exploration, long derided, became very popular; from 1444 to 1446 between 30 and 40 vessels sailed for the W African coast under the prince's authority. His navigators discovered the Senegal River and rounded Cape Verde (1444) and finally (1460) reached a point near the present Sierra Leone. The abuses of the slave trade caused Henry to forbid the kidnapping of blacks in 1455. Henry played an important political role in the minority of Alfonso V, establishing his brother Pedro as regent. His position as grand master of the wealthy and powerful Order of Christ (Portuguese successor to the Knights Templars) increased his influence, and much of the revenue for his ventures was derived from his ecclesiastical tithes. His military reputation, dimmed by a disastrous expedition (1437) against Tangier, was recovered by a subsequent Moroccan campaign (1458), and he was offered the command of several foreign armies. Henry's chief importance, however, lay in his notable contributions to the art of navigation and to the progress of exploration, which provided the groundwork for the development of Portugal's colonial empire and for the country's rise to international prominence in the 16th cent.


See biographies by E. D. S. Bradford (1960), R. H. Major (1967), C. R. Beazley (1895, repr. 1968), and E. Sanceau (1969).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Henry the Navigator


(Dom Enrique o Navegador). Born Mar. 4, 1394, in Oporto; died Nov. 13, 1460, in Sagres. Portuguese prince; organizer of naval expeditions to the islands of the central Atlantic Ocean and the shores of Africa, for which he received the sobriquet “navigator” in the 19th century, although he never actually sailed.

Henry used money from the Order of Christ, which he headed, to establish in Sagres (Portugal) an observatory and seafaring school. He supported the development of Portuguese shipbuilding, which began to produce predominantly caravels. The naval expeditions of G. V. Cabral, A. Cadamosto, and others led to the discovery of the Azores (1432-35), Cape Verde, the Senegal and Gambia rivers, and the Bijagos archipelago (1434-57), and the Cape Verde Islands (1456). On the initiative of Henry the Navigator, the importation of African slaves into Portugal was begun. Such captains as N. Tristāo, D. Dias, and A. Fernandes investigated and charted about 3,500 km of the west coast of Africa from the Western Sahara to the Gulf of Guinea while searching for gold and slaves between 1434 and 1460. The expeditions by Henry the Navigator laid the basis for Portuguese expansion in Africa.


Magidovich, I. P. Ocherki po istorii geograficheskikh otkrytii. Moscow, 1967.
Sanceau, E. Henry, The Navigator. New York, 1947.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Henry the Navigator

1394--1460, prince of Portugal, noted for his patronage of Portuguese voyages of exploration of the W coast of Africa
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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