CASTANHEDA, Fernão Lopes de
Fernão Lopes de Castanheda wrote about Portuguese presence in Asia in the first half of the 16th century. His História do Descobrimento e Conquista da Índia pelos Portugueses [History of the Discovery and Conquest of India by the Portuguese] was the first Expansion chronicle to be printed, and was later translated to French, Castilian, Italian, German and English, still in the fifteen hundreds.
In his History the chronicler claims to be the son of Lopo Fernandes de Castanheda, a magistrate who worked for several years in different administrative positions in the field of justice, namely as a judge in Estremoz (1502) and Coimbra (1503), where he said the Welcome Prayer to Dom Manuel and Dona Maria. In Santarém, Lopo Fernandes read, in 1525, the prayer in honour of Dom João III and Dona Catarina. Here, he met and socialized with notable humanists, such as Cataldus Siculus, who had come to Portugal in 1485 after being invited by Dom João II to be tutor to the heir apparent, Dom Afonso.
As a young man, Fernão studied in the Dominican Convent of Santarém. In the Prologue to his first book of the History he mentions his departure to India in the company of his father, who would hold office in justice administration, as an auditor for the city of Goa. On the 18th of April 1528 he left from Lisbon, aboard António Saldanha?s ship, in the fleet of Governor Nuno da Cunha, surely to take a position as a clerk in the local administration. His cousin Amador Leitão was travelling in that same fleet.
Despite the storms and the shipwreck of Bernardim da Silveira?s galleon, António Saldanha?s carrack ship arrived in India on the 24th of October 1528, with the Castanhedas. Stranded due to the monsoons, Nuno da Cunha remained in Mombasa until March 1529, reaching Goa only in October to order the arrest of departing Governor Lopo Vaz de Sampaio.
The chronicler?s presence in the East is subtly mentioned in the History. Besides pointing out the troubles during the trip aboard António Saldanha?s ship, he describes the dissatisfaction he witnessed in Cannanore caused by the arrest of Lopo Vaz de Sampaio, as ordered by the monarch. He mentions the documents he saw, proving the narrated facts, as well as those who were involved in the events and whom he was acquainted with. These testimonies reveal his involvement in Goan daily life and in one of the priorities in Nuno da Cunha?s governmental action ? the conquest of Diu, one of the key points for the control of the routes in the Indian Ocean, which resisted Portuguese presence in that area.
In 1531, Castanheda accompanied the Governor in an attempt to conquer Diu. He subtly discloses his presence during the fights, stating the confrontations which took place in the different fronts, namely describing the smoke that rose from fires caused by Portuguese artillery. In this battle there was another historian of the Portuguese deeds in Asia, Gaspar Correia, the author of Lendas da Índia [Legends of India]. Despite Fernão Lopes de Castanheda?s careful attention to describe in detail those who travelled in and wrote about Asian territory, such as Duarte Barbosa, Tomé Pires or Francisco Álvares, there are no references in his work to João de Barros or Gaspar Correia. Indeed, they also did not mention him in their works about the Expansion, namely Asia and Legends of India.
The priority for writing a History about Portuguese domain in extra-European territory would be rewarded by Dom João III. Indeed, the crown had long been planning the writing of a History of Portuguese Expansion. According to João de Barros, in the Prologue to the first ?Decade? of Asia, both Dom Manuel and Dom João III had written to Dom Francisco de Almeida, the first Viceroy of India, to Afonso de Albuquerque, his successor, and to Nuno da Cunha, requesting detailed information about what was happening in the East, in order to accomplish that goal. The fact that the request made by Dom João III to Nuno da Cunha dates to 1531, when he was trying to conquer Diu, should be noted.
However, only on the 6th of March 1551 was the first book of History of the Discovery and Conquest of India by the Portuguese printed, in Coimbra. It narrated the first years of Portuguese presence in India, until 1505, preceding other Histories of the Expansion. This book was offered to Dom João III, who took under his wing both Fernão Lopes de Castanheda and his work, giving him the privilege to enjoy the proceeds resulting from the sales of his books, in 1522.
Castanheda remained in India for about ten years, until the end of the rule of Nuno da Cunha, who would be replaced in September 1538 by the Viceroy Dom Garcia de Noronha. Nuno da Cunha left from Kochi in January 1539, and passed away on the 5th of March, during the return trip to Portugal. According to Diogo do Couto, Castanheda covered several Asian territories, and returned to the kingdom about six years after his father left to Portugal, in 1532. In the East, he got to know the economic, social, political and cultural realities he described in the ten books of his History.
Fernão Lopes de Castanheda enrolled in the University of Coimbra, and was named by Dom João III beadle of the College of Arts, on the 25th of September 1545. His job was to watch over daily academic life, namely to enroll the students, to be present at the different Acts, to announce the election of the Dean and other leading authorities in the institution, or to follow the different classes closely by.
Two months later he was appointed custodian of the university Registry and Library, and the person in charge of filing the documents and delivering the books to the readers who requested them. Besides assuring proper handling of the books, he was to deliver typing material to the printers, while ensuring its maintenance. His contacts made the printing of the first book of the History possible, as well as that of the books that followed, after having received authorization by the monarch.
In 1552, the second book came out, in which he describes the rule of the first viceroy, Dom Francisco de Almeida, as well as the third, about the government of Afonso de Albuquerque. The fourth and fifth books were printed together in 1553: the first about the rule of Lopo Soares de Albergaria, and the second about that of Dom Diogo Lopes Sequeira. In 1554, the first book of the History was reprinted. Still in 1554, the sixth book came out, about the governments of Dom Duarte de Meneses, Dom Vasco da Gama and Dom Henrique de Meneses, and the seventh book was printed, about the government of Lopo Vaz de Sampaio. After the death of the historian, his children accompanied the printing of the eighth book, where the events that took place under the rule of Nuno da Cunha are described. Both the ninth and tenth books have been taken out of circulation. It is known that Friar Gian Pietro Maffei gave instructions for some chapters from the ninth book to be copied in Lisbon, in order to use them in his History about Portuguese presence in the East.
Fernão Lopes de Castanheda lived the university life in Coimbra in an intense way, enjoying the company of the masters he admired and quoted in his History, such as the poet Sá Miranda, or the humanist Nicolau Grouchy, who translated the first book of his History? to the French. On the 23rd of March 1559, Fernão Lopes de Castanheda passed away. According to the biographer Barbosa Machado, he was buried in the Parish Church of S. Pedro de Coimbra, next to the building of the old university.
Author: Ana Paula Avelar
Translated by: Ana Toste