Childhood & Early Life
Ferdinand Magellan was born in 1480, either in Vila Nova de Gaia, near Porto, or Sabrosa, near Vila Real, to Rodrigo de Magalhaes and Alda de Mesquita.
His parents died when he was ten years old, and hence, went to the Portuguese court to serve as a page to Queen Leonora, along with his brother Diogo, mainly because of his parents’ wealthy Portuguese connections.
He was educated at the Queen’s School of Pages, Lisbon, and was fortunate to get accustomed to subjects, such as astronomy, cartography, and celestial navigation, which proved useful in his later pursuits.
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In 1505, he joined a Portuguese fleet under Francisco de Almeida, first viceroy of Portuguese in India, to an expedition to India and Africa where he spent seven years.
He fought in several battles, such as Battle of Cannanore (1506) wounding himself and Battle of Diu (1509), where the Portuguese destroyed Egyptian ships in the Arabian Sea.
In 1511, he was enlisted in Afonso de Albuquerque’s fleet in the conquest of Malacca, on the Malay Peninsula, thereby getting hold of important trade routes in the region.
He traveled further and explored the Moluccas, known as the Spice Islands (now part of Indonesia), home to some of the world’s most expensive spices, including cloves and nutmeg.
He returned to Lisbon in mid-1513 where he joined the massive 500-ship, 15,000-soldier force sent to Morocco, by King Manuel, to fight the governor as he had refused to pay an annual tribute to the Portuguese.
Magellan stayed back in Morocco, after the Moroccan forces were defeated, where he sustained a leg wound in a skirmish, leaving him with a permanent limp.
In 1514, his without-permission leave cost him his career, as he was accused of illegal trading with the Moors, which despite denying resulted in cancelation of future employment offers from the Portuguese.
After a disagreement with King Manuel to approve his petition for sailing west from Europe to reach the Spice Islands in 1517, he renounced his Portuguese nationality and traveled to Seville to seek support from the Spanish king.
Along with cosmographer Riu Faleiro, he offered his services to King Charles I (future Holy Emperor Charles V), grandson of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who had funded Columbus’ expedition to the New World in 1492.
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After two years of rigorous study of the recent navigation charts and analyzing the mistakes committed by other explorers, Christopher Columbus and Vasco Nunez de Balboa, he received royal assent.
King Charles agreed to finance his trip in the hope of becoming the king of the richest nation in the world by reaching Moluccas and getting a share in the spices, without affecting relations with the Portuguese.
In 1518, he and Faleiro were made captains to execute their search for the spice-rich lands through an all-water passage and were later promoted as the Commander of the Order of Santiago.
Faleiro withdrew from the voyage just before boarding and henceforth, Juan Sebastian Elcano, a Spanish merchant ship captain, embarked.
He started his westward voyage in 1519 from Seville with the lead ship Trinidad, along with four other vessels – San Antonio, Santiago, Concepcion, and Victoria, carrying 270 men of different nationalities.
The fleet reached Rio de Janeiro and continued sailing southward along the east coast of South America, where upon reaching Puerto San Julian, a serious mutiny broke out between the Spanish captains and Magellan.
He quelled the uprising, executing one captain and leaving the other marooned on the deserted land. After waiting for few weeks for the weather to calm down, due to Santiago’s wrecking in the storm, the voyage was resumed.
The fleet rounded the Cape Virgenes, Argentina, and entered into the passage on November 1, 1520, naming it the Estrecho de Todos los Santos or All Saints’ Channel.
San Antonio sailed back to Spain, as its captain deserted, leaving just three ships to sail further into the South Pacific.
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After three months of slow sailing across the vast Pacific Ocean, the ships reached the island of Guam in March 1521. They continued towards the Philippines, reaching the island of Cebu in April 1521.
Upon the King’s request, who he had befriended and persuaded to accept Christianity, he agreed to fight the king’s enemy on the island of Mactan. Magellan attacked the island of Mactan with a small force but the ilanders outnumbered them with big numbers and eventually he was killed.
After his death at the hands of the Mactanese, only two ships, Trinidad and Victoria (Concepcion was abandoned and burnt), managed to sail westward and reach the Spice Islands or Moluccas in November 1521.
The ships were loaded with spices and started off westwards, but Trinidad broke off and was no longer seaworthy, leaving only Victoria to continue and return to Seville, with 18 survivors under Juan Sebastian Elcano in September 1522.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1518, he married his countryman friend Diogo Barbosa’s daughter, Maria Caldera Beatriz Barbosa, in Seville. The couple had two sons – Rodrigo de Magalhaes and Carlos de Magalhaes, both dying in childhood.
While fighting the chieftain on the Mactan Island, he assumed to finish off the war with his powerful European weapons, but was attacked with a bamboo spear and killed on April 27, 1521.
Three craters– Magelhaens and Magelhaens A on the moon and Magelhaens on Mars, have been named after him by the International Astronomical Union.
The Magellanic penguin is named after him since he was the first European to discover this South American breed in 1520, which is found in Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland Islands.