This series has ten easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Royal Send-off.
How could Western Europe get to the riches of India and the Orient? Marco Polo’s old route through Central Asia was too dangerous and too expensive. Was there another?
In the early years of the fifteenth century the Portuguese, overshadowed by the Spanish kingdom, which almost enclosed their country, realized that they could extend their territory only by colonizing beyond seas. They began, therefore, to send out expeditions, and in 1410 discovered the island of Madeira. Soon afterward discoveries were undertaken by Prince Henry, called the “Navigator,” whose whole life was given to these enterprises. Before his death, 1460, his Portuguese mariners, in successive voyages, had worked their way well down the western coast of Africa. In 1462 an expedition reached Sierra Leone, almost half way down the continent. Nine years later the equator was passed, and in 1486 Bartholomew Dias sailed around the southern point of Africa, which he had been sent to discover. On his return voyage, 1487, he found the Cape of Good Hope, having before doubled it without knowing that he had done so.
Now the way to India by this route was clear. In 1497 Vasco da Gama was placed by King Emanuel I of Portugal in command of an expedition of three small ships sent to discover such a route. He sailed from Lisbon in July of that year, in November doubled the Cape of Good Hope, arrived at Calicut, on the Malabar coast of India, in May, 1498, and in September, 1499, returned to Lisbon. He was accompanied by Caspar Correa. This is his story.
This selection is from The Three Voyages of Vasco da Gama: and His Viceroyalty by Gaspar Correa published in 1556.
Time: March 25, 1497
Place: Atlantic Ocean, west of Africa
The ships being equipped and ready, one Sunday the King went with Queen Dona Maria to hear mass, which was said pontifically by the bishop Calcadilha, who also made a discourse in praise of the voyage, and holy design of the King in regard to the new discovery which he was commanding to be made; and he called upon the people to pray to the Lord that the voyage might be for his holy service, and for the exalting of his holy faith, and for the increase of the good and honor of the kingdom of Portugal. At the mass the good brothers Da Gama and their associates were present, richly dressed, and the King showed them great honor and favor, as they stood close to the curtain, where also were the principal lords of the realm and gentlemen of the court. Mass being over, the King came out from the curtain and spoke to the captains, who placed themselves on their knees before him; and they spoke to him, saying:
Sire, the honor we are receiving from your highness is so great that with a hundred bodies and lives which we might expend in your service we never could repay the least part of it, since greater honors were never shown by a sovereign to his vassals than you have shown us, as the great prince, king, and lord that you are, with such magnanimity and honor that, if at this very moment we should die, our lineage should remain in the highest degree of honor which is possible, only because your highness has chosen and sent us for this work, while you have so many and such noble vassals to whom to commit it; for which we are already recompensed before rendering this service, and until we end our lives in performing it. For this we beg of the mercy of the Lord, that he direct us, and we may perform such works that he, the Lord, and your highness also, may be served in some measure in this so great favor that has been shown us, as he knows that such is our desire; and should we not be deserving to serve him in this voyage, and so holy undertaking, may the Lord be pleased though we may pay with our lives for our shortcomings in the work. We promise your highness that our lives will be the matters of least moment that we shall adventure in this so great favor that has been shown us, and that we will not return before your highness with our lives in our bodies without bringing some certain information of that which your highness desires.”
And they all again kissed the hands of the King and of the Queen. Then the King came forth from the cathedral and went to his palace, which then was in the residence of the alcazar in the castle. There went before him the captains, and before them the standard which was carried by their ensign in whom they trusted, and on arriving at the palace the King dismissed them, and they again kissed his and the Queen’s hand. Vasco da Gama on a horse, with all the men of the fleet on foot, richly dressed in liveries, and accompanied by all the gentlemen of the court, went down to the wharf on the bank, and embarked in their boats, and the standard went in that of Paulo da Gama. Then, taking leave of the gentlemen, they went to the ships, and on their arrival, they fired all their artillery, and the ships were dressed out gayly with standards and flags and many ornaments, and the royal standard was at once placed at the top of the mast of Paulo da Gama; for so Vasco da Gama commanded. Discharging all their artillery, they loosened the sails, and went beating to windward on the river of Lisbon, tacking until they came to anchor at Belen, where they remained three days waiting for a wind to go out.
There they made a muster of the crews, and the King was there all the time in the monastery, where all confessed and communicated. The King commanded that they should write down in a book all the men of each ship by name, with the names of their fathers, mothers, and wives of the married men, and the places of which they were native; and the King ordered that this book should be preserved in the House of the Mines, in order that the payments which were due should be made upon their return. The King also ordered that a hundred crusadoes should be paid to each of the married men for them to leave it to their wives, and forty crusadoes to each of the single men, for them to fit themselves out with certain things; for, as to provisions, they had not got to lay them in, for the ships were full of them. To the two brothers was paid a gratification of two thousand crusadoes to each of them, and a thousand to Nicolas Coelho.
When it was the day of our Lady of March (the 25, 1497), all heard mass; they then embarked, and loosened the sails, and went forth from the river, the King coming out to accompany them in his boat, and addressing them all with blessings and good wishes. When he took leave of them, his boat lay on its oars until they disappeared, as is shown in the painting of his city of Lisbon. Vasco da Gama went in the ship São Rafael, and Paulo da Gama in the São Gabriel, and Nicolas Coelho in the other ship, São Miguel. In each ship, there were as many as eighty men, officers and seamen, and the others of the leader’s family, servants and relations, all filled with the desire to undertake the labor that was fitting for each, and with great trust in the favors which they hoped for from the King on their return to Portugal.
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