Posted by: travelrat | December 31, 2020

Henry the Navigator

Sitting on a plinth, seemingly staring out to sea, is a statue of probably Lagos’ most famous son, the Infante Dom Henrique, better known as Prince Henry the Navigator. He was born in 1394, the fourth son of Portugal’s King John I.

In 1415, he accompanied his father and brothers in the capture of Ceuta, on the North African coast, which had previously been the base for the Barbary pirates who plagued the Mediterranean coasts. After this he explored the African coast, skirmishing occasionally with the Barbary pirates who remained.

He was appointed Governor of the Algarve province, on Portugal’s southern coast, and had built for him a palace called the Vila do Infante, near Sagres. Close by was the port of Lagos, where an innovative kind of ship, the caravel was being built. This was much more manoeuvrable than the traditional ‘square rigger’, since it had a lateen sail, like an Arabian dhow, which allowed it to sail into wind.

And, the caravels sailed far and wide at the Prince’s command. He wasn’t styled ‘Henry the Navigator’ until three centuries later. It’s a bit of a misnomer, anyway, for, as far as is known, he didn’t actually do much navigating … he just sat in his palace, and briefed his captains something like:

‘Go! Learn things and discover places!’

However, information the captains brought back was carefully recorded and collated … and, although Henry financed these voyages, he was entitled to 20% of the profits arising from them! So, maybe expanding the Portuguese influence wasn’t his sole motive?

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