chapter  X
30 Pages

THE SEARCH FOR THE SEA ROUTE TO INDIA, A.D. 1415–1460

ByBy Professor Edgar Prestage, D.Litt.,

In 1326 Afonso IV sent him on a diplomatic mission to our Edward II of England, to negotiate a marriage between his daughter and the future Edward, III, and in 1337 he commanded a large fleet which was defeated by the Castilians off Cape St. Vincent. The admiral had brought over to Portugal members of leading Genoese families to serve in the navy, and the first two Portuguese ocean voyages of which we have a record were probably carried out under their auspices. Their destination was the· Canaries, which the Genoese Malocello had visited in 1270. The date of the first voyage is uncertain, but as we know that it preceded the wars with Castile and the Moors, it must have been in or before 1336. The second, related by the poet Boccaccio from letters written by Florentine merchants at Seville, took place in 1341. The expedition consisted of two vessels furnished by Afonso IV and a smaller ship manned by Portuguese, Italians and Castilians; they left· Lisbon on July 1st, and returned in November, bringing with them four natives, skins, dyewood and a stone idol. Various islands were touched at; the first, probably Fuerteventura, estimated to be 150 miles in circumference, they found to be barren and inhabited by naked savages and goats; the next, perhaps Grand Canary, seemed even larger and was more populous; the natives lived in houses, possessed palm and fig-trees and cultivated vegetable gardens. Other islands were visited and more were seen; on one they saw a mountain, supposed to be 80,000 feet high. Strange to say, the islanders

Traders of various nations had then establishments in Lisbon, which was a free port, and according to the historian Fernam Lopes, as many as 400 or 500 merchant ships often lay before the city at one time, while 100 or 150 loaded salt and wine at Sacavem and Montijo in the outskirts. As many of these vessels, if not most, belonged to foreigners, the King decreed a series of protective measures to develop the mercantile marine. He encouraged shipbuilding by supplying wood gratis from the royal forests, and allowing other materials to be imported duty free; he reduced the imposts on merchandise carried in the first voyage of a new vessel, he gave owners a partial exemption from military service; lastly he instituted a register and statistics of shipping and a system of marine insurance on co-operative lines. These measures must have contributed in no small degree to render possible the voyages of exploration in the following century.