National Geographic : 1960 Nov
How is it that so small a nation still could have so large an im pact upon so great a world? Just what is the secret of the strange endurance of Portuguese enterprise, begun by Prince Henry? Not much is known about him, for that matter. These are the bare history book facts: He was born at Porto in 1394 (page 624), fourth son of King John I of Portugal. His mother Philippa was daughter of the English Duke of Lancaster known as John of Gaunt. Prince Henry won his knighthood in the capture of the stronghold of Ceuta from the Moors in 1415, distinguishing himself by his courage and outstanding qualities of leadership in the field. Urged by his advisers, King John I decided to lead an expedi tion, together with three of his sons who were eager for battle, to take the great Moslem fortress on the African coast oppo site Gibraltar. Morocco's chief port and a pirate haunt, Ceuta had also been a muster point for past invasions of Europe by the Moors. Queen Philippa was dying of the pestilence when the time came to sail. She called the three warrior sons to her and made them promise to carry out their Christian duties. "We promise!" all three declared. The wind stirred the draperies in the bedchamber. "What direction is the wind, my sons?" the Queen asked. "North, mother. It's the nortada!" cried the youthful Henry. "It is the wind for your voyage. Sail, my sons, sail!" declared the Queen. "Do not wait on me!" Wind Gives Victory to Henry's Armada Philippa was right -a favoring wind held until they reached Africa. Then the wind became so strong that the heavy-laden ships drove by, unable to bring up there as they intended. The Moors, seeing the fleet dispersed, concluded that the armada would be unable to reassemble. So they sent home many of their soldiers. In the night the wind dropped, then went to east. A squadron of the ships, Prince Henry in one of them, led the armada in the dead of night back to Ceuta, entered the harbor, and at daybreak fell upon the city. Beaten back by the fiery Portuguese, the Moors fled after a day of bloody street fighting, and all their efforts afterward could not regain the city. In this fighting Prince Henry was the outstanding leader, the most resourceful and courageous of them all, flailing with the great sword his mother had given him, taking strong point after strong point, and relentlessly pursuing the wind-given advantage of surprise. Centuries afterward, standing in a hilltop field above Ceuta, I thought of that wild, triumphant night. Below me the strong stone walls of the Moslem fortress stood, solid and seeming as impregnable as they had been 500 years earlier, and I wondered at the courage and sheer military ability of the stripling Prince who had stormed and taken this place so long ago. No wonder he had impressed his countrymen (page 639). For his victory Henry was created Duke of Viseu and Lord of Covilham, and later granted the beautiful southern province of Portugal still known as the kingdom of the Algarve. He might have had a distinguished military career, or lived the life of an idle prince. Instead, when in his early twenties, he retired to a rocky cape known as Sagres Point, at Portugal's - and 626 Henry's Heritage PRINCE HENRY left Portugal only on four short crusades to North Africa-barely out of sight of Europe. The Church of the Valley in Ceuta still shelters a Madonna (opposite) car ried to the city by the Portuguese. Henry's sword (upper right), shown in the Naval Museum at Lisbon, flashed against the Moors in 1415. With this blade the king knighted his son after the battle. Banner behind the sword bears the Cross of Christ, emblem of a military order that suc ceeded the Knights Tem plar. For years the Prince served as grand master of the order, whose enormous wealth helped to finance his long and costly search for new sea routes along the African coast. Navigators of Prince Henry's era determined latitude with astrolabes similar to the one exhibited in the Naval Museum (lower left). An instrument for measuring the alti tudes of celestial bodies, the astrolabe gave way to the quadrant and the mod ern sextant. Prince Henry's statue was erected this year at Lagos, the port where the Navigator fitted out his vessels. Sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida exhibits a mod el of the work in Lisbon.