Capturing some Azeneghi Moors, in order, as he told his companions, to take home “some of the language of that country.”
Continuing Portugese Discovery and Atlantic Slavery Begins,
our selection from The Spanish in America by Sir Arthur Helps published in 1855. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Portugese Discovery Begins; Atlantic Slavery Begins.
Place: West Coast of Africa
There is much here of the usual captiousness to be found in the criticism of bystanders upon action, mixed with a great deal of false assertion and premature knowledge of the ways of Providence. Still, it were to be wished that most criticism upon action was as wise; for that part of the common talk which spoke of keeping their own population to bring out their own resources had a wisdom in it which the men of future centuries were yet to discover throughout the peninsula. Prince Henry, as may be seen by his perseverance up to this time, was not a man to have his purposes diverted by such criticism, much of which must have been, in his eyes, worthless and inconsequent in the extreme. Nevertheless, he had his own misgivings. His captains came back one after another with no good tidings of discovery, but with petty plunder gained, as they returned from incursions on the Moorish coast.
The Prince concealed from them his chagrin at the fruitless nature of their attempts, but probably did not feel it less on that account. He began to think: Was it for him to hope to discover that land which had been hidden from so many princes? Still, he felt within himself the incitement of “a virtuous obstinacy,” which would not let him rest. Would it not, he thought, be ingratitude to God, who thus moved his mind to these attempts, if he were to desist from his work, or be negligent in it? He resolved, therefore, to send out again Gil Eannes, one of his household, who had been sent the year before, but had returned, like the rest, having discovered nothing. He had been driven to the Canary Islands, and had seized upon some of the natives there, whom he brought back. With this transaction the Prince had shown himself dissatisfied; and Gil Eannes, now intrusted again with command, resolved to meet all dangers rather than to disappoint the wishes of his master. Before his departure, the Prince called him aside and said: “You cannot meet with such peril that the hope of your reward shall not be much greater; and in truth, I wonder what imagination this is that you have all taken up — in a matter, too, of so little certainty; for if these things which are reported had any authority, however little, I would not blame you so much. But you quote to me the opinions of four mariners, who, as they were driven out of their way to Frandes or to some other ports to which they commonly navigated, had not, and could not have used, the needle and the chart; but do you go, however, and make your voyage without regard to their opinion, — and, by the grace of God, you will not bring out of it anything but honor and profit.”
We may well imagine that these stirring words of the Prince must have confirmed Gil Eannes in his resolve to efface the stain of his former misadventure. And he succeeded in doing so; for he passed the dreaded Cape Bojador — a great event in the history of African discovery, and one that in that day was considered equal to a labor of Hercules. Gil Eannes returned to a grateful and most delighted master. He informed the Prince that he had landed, and that the soil appeared to him unworked and fruitful; and, like a prudent man, he could not tell of foreign plants, but had brought some of them home with him in a barrel of the new-found earth — plants much like those which bear in Portugal the roses of Santa Maria. The Prince rejoiced to see them, and gave thanks to God, “as if they had been the fruit and sign of the promised land; and besought Our Lady, whose name the plants bore, that she would guide and set forth the doings in this discovery to the praise and glory of God and to the increase of his holy faith.”
After passing the Cape of Bojador there was a lull in Portuguese discovery, the period from 1434 to 1441 being spent in enterprises of very little distinctness or importance. Indeed, during the latter part of this period, the Prince was fully occupied with the affairs of Portugal. In 1437 he accompanied the unfortunate expedition to Tangier, in which his brother Ferdinand was taken prisoner, who afterward ended his days in slavery to the Moor. In 1438, King Duarte dying, the troubles of the regency occupied Prince Henry’s attention. In 1441, however, there was a voyage which led to very important consequences. In that year Antonio Gonzalvez, master of the robes to Prince Henry, was sent out with a vessel to load it with skins of “sea-wolves,” a number of them having been seen, during a former voyage, in the mouth of a river about fifty-four leagues beyond Cape Bojador. Gonzalvez resolved to signalize his voyage by a feat that should gratify his master more than the capture of sea-wolves; and he accordingly planned and executed successfully an expedition for capturing some Azeneghi Moors, in order, as he told his companions, to take home “some of the language of that country.” N. Tristam, another of Prince Henry’s captains, afterward falling in with Goncalvez, a further capture of Moors was made, and Gonzalvez returned to Portugal with his spoil.
In the same year Prince Henry applied to Pope Martin V, praying that his holiness would grant to the Portuguese crown all that it could conquer, from Cape Bojador to the Indies, together with plenary indulgence for those who should die while engaged in such conquests. The Pope granted these requests. “And now,” says a Portuguese historian, “with this apostolic grace, with the breath of royal favor, and already with the applause of the people, the Prince pursued his purpose with more courage and with greater outlay.”