CÂMARA, Simão da (1463-1530)
Born in Funchal in 1463, he was that city?s most famous donatory captain, with the exception of João Gonçalves Zarco. His mandate began as the island was witnessing its most prosperous period. The grandson of João Gonçalves Zarco (the first donatory captain of Madeira Island) and the son of João Gonçalves da Câmara, he became famous as a military leader in Africa.
A second son, he was first known as Simão de Noronha but changed his name to Simão Gonçalves da Câmara when he took office as captain of Funchal, after being coerced by a royal order that aimed to perpetuate the lineage of the Câmaras. Nicknamed the Magnificent by the ancient chroniclers of Madeira, due to his generosity to the most disadvantaged, to the help he provided to the Portuguese fortified strongholds of North Africa and to the opulence of his house, the second richest of the country only surpassed by the House of Braganza, he led a luxurious life, supporting knights and being a Maecenases to several artists.
According to chronicler Gaspar Frutuoso, he was in North Africa nine times, and assisted the fortified stronghold of Arzila upon the request of King Dom João II, taking with him 300 armed men that he supported during the 6 months they stayed in Africa. He returned to Arzila in 1516 with 700 men to fight the forces of the King of Fes, assisting Captain Dom João Coutinho.
He was invited by King Dom João II to the wedding of Prince Dom Afonso, an invitation which demonstrates the consideration that the monarch had for him. His arrival at the ceremony was the most impressive, and he kept a close relationship with the king, who he frequently visited on the mainland.
In Morocco, he helped Diogo de Azambuja (Captain of Safi), providing him with 300 men in only three days, with an additional 900 arriving some time later aboard a fleet of 13 ships that Simão da Câmara personally captained. King Dom Manuel I recognised the value of his military assistance, asking him to rescue Castelo Real and Santa Cruz de Gué. He indirectly took part in the conquest of Azamor, sending his son João Gonçalves da Câmara, who led 800 men divided by 21 ships.
He sent Pope Leo X a gift as a reorganisation for the establishment of the Diocese of Funchal. The captain?s own son (Dom Manuel de Noronha) was a private secretary to this pontiff. The embassy comprised João de Leiria (nobleman from Madeira), Vicente Martins (canon from the See of Funchal) and some local personalities from Madeira Island. The gift consisted of a Persian horse and a representation of the College of Cardinals completely made out of sugar-paste. The pope wrote a letter to Simão Gonçalves da Câmara, in which he demonstrated his appraisal for the work of Gonçalves da Câmara?s son.
Simão Gonçalves da Câmara decided to leave to Castile, because King Dom Manuel I sent Corregidor Diogo Taveira to inquire about irregularities that had occurred in the captaincy. He was on his way to Castile when he rescued Arzila in 1516, with the importance of his assistance being recognised by the king in a letter that he sent him when he was in Seville, in which the king also offered him honours and lauded him. This recognition allowed a quick return of Simão da Câmara to the governance of the Captaincy of Funchal.
He abdicated from the governance of the captaincy in 1528 in favour of his son João Gonçalves da Câmara, due to his old age. He retired to Matosinhos (close to the city of Porto), the hometown of his grandfather, where he passed away in 1530.
SILVA, Pedro Courelas da, «De Zarco a Simão da Câmara, o Magnífico»; in A Nobreza e a Expansão, Estudos Biográficos; coor. João Paulo Oliveira e Costa, Patrimonia Historica, Cascais, 2000; pp. 85-117.
Author: João Neves
Translated by: John Silva