Odds & Ends
A Newsletter of Eagles Byte Historical Research
September 1996 No. 12
Ceuta, Morocco, a Spanish Foreign Legion garrison town, is little known
to those of us who do not live or travel around the Mediterranean. If we
know it at atis as one of the Pillars of Hercules. A four-hour ferry ride
across the strait from British Gibraltar, and a destination for vacationing
Spaniards and Portuguese, Ceuta is best-known for its beaches and its bordellos.
The slave trade is not dead in this part of the world and Ceuta has the
reputation of being the most dangerous city in Africa. Once it was the battleground
of empires, and it was a focal point of one man's life.
When John of Gaunt's daughter Philippa, Queen of Portugal, gave King John
his third son, Enrique, on March 4th of 1394, it was in the Portuguese city
of Porto, not Ceuta. When Enrique, known to us as Henry the Navigator, died
on November 13, 1460, it was in Sagres, Portugal, not in Ceuta. But the
streets of the Moroccan city may have been more familiar to Henry than those
It was in 1415 that John I sent his forces to take the city from the Moors,
as the religion-fueled battle for control of Europe and Africa swung back
and forth from Pillar to Pillar. John's fleet supposedly lulled the Moors
by sailing past the fortress, but suddenly coming around and attacking.
Henry, now 21, lead a force of 17 to capture the citadel, arriving to find
it undefended. There must not have been too spirited a defense in the entire
city, as only eight Europeans out of a force of 20,000 were killed. The
remainder proceeded to loot the riches of the city.
Henry had shown his mettle and his father rewarded him by knighting him,
making him governor general of Ceuta, and naming him Duke of Viseu, in north-central
Portugal. He may never have seen his dukedom. His interest lay across the
In 1418 the Moors attempted to retake Ceuta, but Henry arrived with a fleet
and the enemy fled. He was not so fortunate in 1433 when his brother Duarte
(Edward), newly in command after the death of John earlier in the year,
attempted to capture Tangier and was himself captured near Ceuta, and forced
to return the city to the Moors and guarantee a ten-year peace. Henry's
younger brother Fernando was given as a hostage for the peace and died in
captivity eleven years later. Ceuta was never returned to the Moors; but
as long as they retained northern Africa and controlled the trade routes
across the Sahara to the continent's interior, Tangier would be a reminder
to Henry of his defeat and the loss of his brother.
We know Henry as the Navigator, and may remember (vaguely, unless we are
Portuguese) that he founded a school of navigation and sent his countrymen
sailing around Africa to the Far East. That's not entirely accurate. He
was, undoubtedly, the catalyst for the establishment of the Portuguese Empire,
but his secular ambitions apparently went no further than Morocco and its
Were it not for the medieval hair style, the man who stares out at us from
Nuño Goncçalves' triptych could be a modern CEO. There's an
unemotional, calculating expression on the long-nosed, neatly-mustached
face that gives away nothing. But Henry did have one controlling passion,
most likely pictured behind him in the portrait, where a rocky headland
represents Portugal at its southernmost tip. His desires for his country
were at the center of everything Henry did. And Portugal, like most of Christian
Europe, wanted the Moorish threat removed; the infidel converted or dead.
An idea for a grand strategy began to take place. If the armies of Europe
could connect up with the legendary Christian king-priest Prester John,
supposedly located with his huge army somewhere east of Persia (or perhaps
south of the Sahara), they could form a gigantic pincer movement and crush
the Moors, once and for all. There was only one problem. Prester John had
to be found, probably by circling around the enemy to their south (travel
through the Arab mid-East being out of the question). Explorers had to make
their way down the east coast of Africa, facing suspected terrors such as
boiling seas as one neared the Equator, and find a route to the interior
of the continent. Any riches found along the way would help pay for the
The headland in the Goncçalves portrait is probably at Sagres, where
Henry established a base shortly after returning from his first trip to
Ceuta. I always had a vague impression of it being a sort of Medieval Annapolis.
The school was apparently more like a ecumenical science symposium, attracting
local scholars, Italian trade experts and Jewish doctors, possibly even
Moslem astronomers and map makers. And soon Henry's navigators were pushing
off, first to practice by confirming the existence of the Azores around
1432. Then it was off again to the southwest, plowing through the known
boundaries with the prows of their caravels (albeit with extreme and somewhat
Henry's shield-bearer Gil Eannes was sent to explore the lands past Cape
Bojador in 1433, but he didn't make it past the Canary Islands. He was ordered
to try again in 1434 and got just barely around the cape before returning.
On a third try the following year he got about fifty miles south of the
cape - without being parboiled - and returned home to an eventual knighthood.
1436 brought an attempt by Alfonso Baldaya, who inched a little further
down the West African coast, skirmished with some natives, and returned
with some sealskins. Brother Edward was king by now but he died of the plague
in 1438, and dynastic squabbling distracted Henry for a short while. But
by 1441 it was business as usual - a modern phrase that seems to suit him
unusually well. Expedition followed expedition, pushing always further to
the south. In 1444 Diniz Fernandez reached Cape Verde. In 1446 Senegal's
Salum River was discovered.
Constantinople fell to the Turkish Empire in 1453 and surprisingly, Portugal
was the only European power that was interested in answering the pope's
call for a crusade. But a new Moorish attack at Ceuta kept even Henry from
responding. He did lead a successful expedition that captured Alcacer in
1458. Two years previously his caravels had reached Guiana's Geba River.
That was about as far as his captains got, during his lifetime. Becoming
distracted by the commercial possibilities of the new lands - particularly
slaves and gold, and thoughts of trade routes into Africa's interior, he
wasn't terribly interested in pushing further down along the coast. His
captains never really sailed very far into the Gulf of Guinea. If they had
thoughts of pioneering new sea routes around Africa and on to India, history
doesn't show that Henry was interested. He died at Sagres in 1460. Portugal
pushed on, continuing with the momentum first provided by Henry the Navigator.
A search of Eagles Byte chronologies on the word "Africa" turns
up the following events for the first quarter of the 19th century:
A British army under General Sir Ralph Abernathy forces a landing at Abukir,
Egypt, against French troops under General Friant.
The Pasha of Tripoli declares war with U. S. over tribute.
The Philadelphia is captured by Tripoli pirates.
Stephen Decatur's ketch Intrepid is captured by the Barbary pirates.
Decatur recaptures and destroys the Philadelphia in Tripoli harbor.
A peace treaty is signed between Tripoli and the U. S.
Egypt - Pasha Mohammed Ali ascends the throne.
The U. S. Senate consents to the Tripoli treaty.
Algeria - Abd-el-Kader, future emir of Mascara, is born.
The Spanish in Madrid rise up against Napoleon's Egyptian mercenaries -
the Dos de Mayo. The uprising is put down.
Egypt - Temples are discovered at Abu Simbel.
Explorer-missionary David Livingstone is born in Blantyre, Lanarckshire,
Egypt - Future viceroy Abbas Pasha is born.
Congress approves a policy of reciprocity of trade with all countries, and
authorizes the use of force against the Dey of Algiers. It reduces the army
to 10,000 men.
The sloop USS Hornet captures the British sloop Penguin off
South Africa's Cape of Good Hope.
A U. S. squadron under Decatur captures the Algerian brig Estido.
Decatur negotiates a treaty with the Barbary States. The U. S. will pay
no further ransom or tribute.
Africa - The Zulu nation is founded by Shaka.
Washington, D. C. - The American Colonization Society is founded to deport
freed blacks to Africa.
Leigh Hunt, John Keats and Percy Bysshe compete to compose the best sonnet
on the subject of the Nile. Hunt wins.
Africa - Free Negroes found the nation of Liberia on the west coast.
Morocco - Abd-er-Rahman succeeds his uncle as Sultan.
Thomas Jefferson writes to North American Review editor Jared Sparks
with his thoughts in favor of resettling U. S. slaves in an African colony.
Francis G. Farewell and merchants from the Africa's Cape of Good Hope claim
Natal for the British.
Gold Coast (Ghana) - 1,000 British troops under British West Africa governor
General Sir Charles McCarthy are routed by an Ashanti force ten times their
size, at Accra. McCarthy is killed.
South Africa - Port Natal (Durban) is founded.
PEARL OF AN URL
Our featured URL belongs to The
Royalty In History Page.
Link to this site created by Joan Bos of the Netherlands to answer most
questions you may have about European royalty. Portugal is still among the
missing, but we hope it will appear in further editions. But the page has
a wealth of information, serious and lighthearted, on most of your favorite
The page takes quite a long time to load, so after you've enjoyed the wonderful
illustrations the first item around you may want to browse with your graphics
off on return visits. The text begins with the quote "A king is supposed
to be the father of his people, and Charles certainly was father to a good
many of them." It moves on to links devoted to the author's historical
favourites: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Carlos II of Spain, an interactive quiz
to test your knowledge of historic trivia, and mad monarchs with "another
raving royal." each month.
Among the other links are those to: Gail Dedrick's very good guide to the
Monarchs of England; Famous women in history and royal career women; The
Emperors of China; A history of the Aga Khans; Lydia Liliuokalani, queen
of Hawaii, and other
Hawaiian royals; Vlad III the impaler, voivode of Walachia; A short history
of the Habsburgs; Morganatic and secret marriages in the French Royal family
American Bonapartes; On styles of Royal Families and the uses of Highness;
Frolicking amongst royalty and royal limericks; Marivi's Royalty Buffs with
news, links; and a database, facts and an inbreeding factor, to quote from
Have a look; you'll be glad you did.
You were asked to name the driving force behind the founding of the Four-in-Hand
Club in New York City in the 1860s. No one even gave this a shot. It was
financier, bon-vivant and sportsman Leonard Jerome, grandfather of statesman
Guess I'd better make this one a tad easier: Which Portuguese explorer discovered
the Senegal River, in 1445? (Last name only).
EB SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY (more detailed versions available)
- Beazley, C. R. - Prince Henry the Navigator (London, 1901)
- Burton, Sir Richard - Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah
and Meccah (Dover, New York)
- - Wanderings in West Africa (Dover)
- Calvert, A. F. - Moorish Remains in Spain (New York, 1906)
- Culver, Henry B. - The Book of Old Ships: From Egyptian Galleys to Clipper
- Doughty, Charles M. - Travales in Arabia Deserta (Dover)
- Fritz, Jean - Around the world in a hundred years : from Henry the Navigator
to Magellan ([YA] - Putnam, New York, 1994)
- Gibbon, Lewis Grassic - Niger; the life of Mungo Park (1934)
- Landström, Björn - Bold Voyages and Great Explorers (The Quest
for India) (Doubleday/Windfall, New York, 1964)
- Major, Richard Henry - The discoveries of Prince Henry the Navigator,
and their results; being the narrative of the discovery by sea, within one
century, of more than half the world. (1877)
- Marques, A. H. Oliveira - History of Portugal (32nd ed.) (Columbia University
Press, New York, 1972)
- Morris, Roger - Atlantic Seafaring: Ten Centuries of Exploration and
Trade in the North Atlantic
- Mountfield, David - A history of African exploration (1976)
- Penrose, Boies - Travel and Discovery in the Renaissance (Harvard University,
- Smith, Roger C. - Vanguard of Empire: Ships of Exploration in the Age
of Columbus (Oxford University, 1993)
Reginald Cabral, Massachusetts amateur local historian and patron of writers,
painters and photographers, dies at his home in Provincetown, at the age
Dr. Richard S. Westfall, biographer of Sir Isaac Newton (Never at Rest),
Bloomington, Indiana, at the age of 72.
London's reconstructed Globe Theatre (originally built in 1599) reopens
356 years after its dismantling, with a production of William Shakespeare's
Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Edinburgh archaeologists working in the grounds of Melrose Abbey in the
Borders, uncover a lead cylinder they speculate could hold the embalmed
heart of Scotland's legendary king, Robert the Bruce.
© 1996 David Minor / Eagles Byte
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I hope you've enjoyed this issue of Odds & Ends.
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ODDS & ENDS INDEX