CABRAL, Pedro Álvares (?-1520)
Pedro Álvares Cabral was the commodore of the Fleet of India in 1500. He became the acknowledged discoverer of Brazil as he cast anchor in South America. His appointment for the post seems to have fit in a policy devised by King Manuel I to increase the influence of the Order of Christ with regard to the command of the fleets of India. Pedro Álvares belonged to a lineage that had already been in the service of the Order and of the House of Viseu-Beja for a century. His great-grandfather, Luís Álvares Cabral, had been the Chief Secretary of Prince Henry, 1st Duke of Viseu and Governor of the Order of Christ. His grandfather, Fernando Álvares Cabral, had died in Tangier, in 1437, fighting by Prince Henry?s side. His father, Fernão Cabral, had also been connected to the House of Viseu and had escorted the Duke to Morocco in 1458; after that, he had been one of the noblemen who were tasked with the defence of Alcácer-Ceguer from the Arabs? attacks. Fernão Cabral had been brought into the Royal household upon the death of Prince Henry. He was Chief Alcaide of Belmonte and a member of the Council, besides other relevant positions he held in Beira on behalf of the Crown.
Another ancestor, Gonçalo Velho Cabral, had been Knight Commander of Almorol (Order of Christ), in addition to 1st captain of the islands of São Miguel and Santa Maria. By his mother?s side, Pedro Álvares was the grandson of João Gouveia, a nobleman with properties in Beira, who had perished in the hands of the Moors during the campaign of Afonso V in Morocco in 1464, and a nephew of Vasco Fernandes de Gouveia, another illustrious nobleman of Beira, to whom Afonso V would grant the town of Tetuão, after the victorious expedition of 1471, and who died during the Portuguese invasion of Castile, in 1475.
Not much is known about Pedro Álvares Cabral until 1500, except that, being the second son of Fernão Cabral and Isabel de Gouveia, he had adopted his mother?s family name, which explains why he was referred to as Pedro Álvares de Gouveia upon his appointment for commodore of the fleet. In 1484, when he was approximately 15 years old, he was a member of the Royal Household, and his name is listed in the records of the king?s young noblemen. He probably served the Crown in Africa and shared with his oldest brother, João Fernandes Cabral, an income of 26.000 reais a year, a sum which was split into two individual amounts of 13.000 reais each, by decision of King Manuel I, in 1497. In spite of being attached to the Royal Household, Pedro Álvares was accepted in the Order of Christ by Dom Manuel, when the latter was still the Duke of Beja. Two of his younger brothers were also connected to the Duke, who would become the King of Portugal on 25 October, 1495. Luís Álvares Cabral had been a member of the House of Beja since 1492, and Diogo Fernandes Cabral was royal chaplain in 1500.
As he left Lisbon, in March 1500, Pedro Álvares was charged with two missions. In the first place, he was asked to discreetly endeavour the search for lands southwest of the Atlantic; in the second place, he was to attempt the establishment of diplomatic and commercial relations with Calicut and to carry out a demonstration of force against the Muslims who dominated the Asian waters. This explains why he was at the command of a fleet of thirteen ships: eight royal ships heading for India, two private ships sailing towards the same destination, two other vessels that were to remain in the Eastern African coast, and another small vessel carrying additional supplies. The chronology of this fleet is analysed in a separate entry.
After having passed Cape Verde islands and having lost a ship, the fleet changed course and started sailing West and Northwest, going further West than Gama had gone. As the crew sailed away from the Cape of Good Hope, the Pascoal Hill and Cabrália Bay were sighted. The voyage due East was resumed after a short stay of a week, except for the small vessel, which was sent back to the Kingdom carrying the news of the discovery. The men commanded by Gaspar de Lemos arrived in Lisbon unnoticed, which proves that the crew had orders to keep silent with respect to the successes of the trip, the exoticism of the place and the characteristics of the people they had come across with. It is probable that the order had been issued by the King himself or by some highly placed official close to the Crown, before the fleet had set sail, since it was common to greet the arrival of a ship with news of newly found lands with great excitement followed by the presentation of local natives and animals.
If the first mission was successfully accomplished, the same cannot be said of the search for Eastern lands. Even before the Cape of Good Hope had been rounded, the fleet had met with a heavy storm. Four ships foundered and a fifth vessel fell off course. Sailing with a fleet now shortened to six ships, Pedro Álvares reasserted Portuguese good relations with Malindi, and then crossed the Arabic Sea. At first, the Zamorin hosted the Portuguese with great hospitality and offered them a place where they could establish a trading post. However, the Moorish merchants managed to manipulate the Indian ruler while delaying the loading of the Portuguese ships. At the Zamorin?s request, the Portuguese fleet captured a ship with a heavy cargo of elephants. In order to accomplish this mission, the commodore appointed only one vessel, the caravel of Pêro de Ataíde, the smallest vessel of the squadron. The triumph of Ataíde was a display of the Portuguese strength and caused further concern within the Muslim merchants.
The Portuguese became restless as time went by and no spices were shipped. The Moorish schemes led to several incidents which culminated in the attack to the Portuguese trading post and in the death of about 50 men, including the factor, Aires Correia, and one of the clerks, the renowned Pêro Vaz de Caminha.
Pedro Álvares Cabral retaliated bombing the town. After that, he abandoned Calicut and called at the port of Kochi. This kingdom was a rival of the Zamorin?s, and its ruler, being eager to please the Portuguese, promptly made available for shipment the desired spices. As a result, one of the most enduring alliances of the Portuguese in India ensued. Before returning to Portugal, Cabral exchanged letters with the authorities of Kollam and visited Cannanore. A small contingent of troops was left in Cochin with the factor.
One more ship was lost in the Eastern African coast during the return trip, but all the other vessels arrived safely in Portugal between late June and late July, 1501. Cabral came back with a significant supply of spices, as well as with the basis of an alliance with Cochin, and the first news from Sofala. In spite of the heavy human casualties and material losses suffered by the fleet, King Manuel I appreciated the performance of Pedro Álvares Cabral. This is the reason why the king appointed him commodore of the fleet that would leave for India in the Spring of 1502. At the same time, however, the monarch granted an autonomous post of command to Vicente Sodré, also a Knight of the Order of Christ, with the specific purpose of blocking the Red Sea. Displeased with the royal decision, Cabral caused the king?s disapproval as he voiced his opposition to the existence of an autonomous post of command in the Indian Sea. This incident was probably the cause that led the king to entrust the command of the 1502 fleet to Vasco da Gama, who was at the time a Knight in the Order of Santiago. Cabral would never serve the Crown again, though he married Dona Isabel de Castro, a member of the Noronha lineage, and a niece of Afonso de Albuquerque, in 1502. Dom Manuel I was deeply annoyed with the political incident provoked by Cabral, and would never resort to his services again. Pedro Álvares Cabral died in 1520, and was buried at the Church of Graça, Santarém.
COSTA, João Paulo Oliveira e, ?A armada de Pedro Álvares Cabral. Significado e protagonistas? in Os Descobridores do Brasil. Exploradores do Atlântico e construtores do Estado da Índia, Lisboa, 2000, pp. 11-70. Idem, D. Manuel I, um Príncipe do Renascimento, Lisboa, Temas & Debates, 2007. COUTO, Jorge, A construção do Brasil, Lisboa, Edições Cosmos, 1995. FONSECA, Luís Adão da, Pedro Álvares Cabral. Uma viagem, Lisboa, Edições Inapa, 1999. SAMPAYO, Luís de Mello Vaz de, Subsídios para uma biografia de Pedro Álvares Cabral, Coimbra, 1971.
Author: João Paulo Oliveira e Costa
Translated by: Leonor Sampaio da Silva