Henry the Navigator Biography

(Portuguese Prince and Main Initiator of Age of Discovery)

Birthday: March 4, 1394 (Pisces)

Born In: Porto, Portugal

Considered one of the principal initiators of ‘The Age of Discovery’, a period in history that would lead to the founding of multiple new continents, Henry the Navigator of Portugal was responsible for commissioning dozens of exploration voyages in his quest to find a land of his own to rule. Born into a royal family, but not in line for the throne, his ambitions to become a king in his own right led him to send voyagers in search of the source of North African gold and new lands to conquer. While his given name was Infante Dom Henrique de Avis, he is more commonly known under the nickname given to him by biographers hundreds of years after his death. The Portuguese rarely refer to him by the moniker, because although he did fund many voyages, "Henry the Navigator" did not personally do much exploration. His exploration laid the foundation of black slavery, when his voyages returned with slaves from Africa, a practice which would spread world-wide. He is also credited by historians for founding the first navigation school. His efforts received much criticism as they were deemed a fruitless expense but when his boats returned with gold dust all his critics were mummed. The Duke in his aspiration helped make a significant contribution to the discovery of new lands

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Prince Henry the Navigator, Dom Henrique of Portugal, Duke of Viseu

Died At Age: 66


father: John I of Portugal

mother: Philippa of Lancaster

siblings: Afonso, Beatrice, Blanche, Constable of Portugal, Countess of Arundel, Duchess of Burgundy, Duke of Braganza, Duke of Coimbra, Edward, Ferdinand the Holy Prince, Infante Afonso, Isabella of Portugal, John, King of Portugal, Peter

Born Country: Portugal

Explorers Royal Family Members

Died on: November 13, 1460

place of death: Sagres, Portugal

Ancestry: British Portuguese

City: Porto, Portugal

Childhood & Early Life
Henry the Navigator held the title of Duke because he was the third son of King John I of Portugal and Philippa, King Henry IV of England's sister. His father's rule caused civil unrest in Portugal, which left some members of the royal family in poverty, forcing them to look for ways to recover the country's economy.
He had two brothers, both of whom were involved in navigation and exploration, which likely fueled Henry's interest in these pursuits. His older brother was named Duarte, and his younger brother's name was Pedro.
His ambition from early on was to win a kingdom for himself, which inspired him to focus on acquiring new lands.
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As a young man, Henry the Navigator helped Portugal defeat Muslim forces in the ‘Battle of Ceuta’. This victory led to the first permanent European military presence in North Africa and served as the starting point of his career.
On December 14, 1418, he founded his own navigation school. Modern scholars dispute whether he is rightly credited for founding this navigation school.
His brother, Pedro, had a copy of Marco Polo's travels translated from Italian to Portuguese in 1428 as a gift for Henry. This would serve to fuel his interest in focusing on exploration.
Prince Henry sailed the West Coast of Africa in search of different sea routes to the Indies in 1435. This would be one of his only voyages. Upon his return, he began sponsoring numerous commissioned voyages.
Because of Portugal's financial troubles, Henry's continued funding of investment ventures in exploration was met with extreme criticism. When one of his voyages to North Africa finally returned with gold dust in 1441, it silenced the critics who believed he was wasting money on an enterprise that would never lead to any profits for Portugal.
In 1443, one his expeditions returned with more gold dust. This expedition also came back with a new commodity: African slaves. Bringing back African slaves served as the beginnings of a practice that would lead to the enslavement of millions in the world's largest trade network involving intercontinental human trafficking.
Henry spent the majority of his last decade, from 1450 to 1460, focusing solely on voyages, while rarely leaving his castle. His main palace was located in Sarges, in the south of Portugal.
Because he had a particular obsession with The Canary Islands, Henry focused much of his attention on commissioning voyages to that region.
While he had a strong interest in exploration, he himself did little to no exploring. Henry's motivation for commissioning so many voyages was a means to an end. He wanted to secure gold and territory that he could rule from the comfort of his castle.
Major Works
Henry the Navigator is credited with founding a school for cartographers and navigators by many historians, though there is debate about whether he actually did so but his expeditions reached as far as Sierra Leone in West Africa.
Awards & Achievements
Henry is credited with founding Portugal's most important school of navigation. These travels would begin paving the way for explorers who would go on to discover the New World.
Personal Life & Legacy
Henry the Navigator is credited with being a major catalyst for the Age of Exploration, a time period marked by seafaring voyages and discoveries. In addition to his desire to attain more wealth and power, his voyages were also intended to broaden the network of Christian allies. Battles with Muslim Moors were common during the 1400's, and Christian allies could help create safe trading routes.
Like so many at the time, he also hoped to secure a new route to the Orient. After the fall of Constantinople and the subsequent rise of Istanbul, the trek to India was unsafe for European traders. The old sea routes could not be used.
The famous Duke rarely left the borders of his home country of Portugal, despite being famous for exploration. He actually never went on a single exploratory voyage that went further than the coast of Africa.
While his fame rests on having founded a school for navigators and cartographers, the famous navigator may not have actually done that.
The famous personality believed that God wanted him to find the Ethiopians and to take their gold and riches for his own country.

See the events in life of Henry The Navigator in Chronological Order

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