Henrique, Prince Dom (1394-1460)
Dom Henrique was born in O?Porto, on 4 March 1394; He was the fourth son of Dom João I and of Dona Filipa de Lencastre. In 1400, upon the death of the heir to the throne, the prince gained political power. In 1408, he started creating his own House and that of Dom Pedro, a process that came to an end in 1411. Its seignory was established in Viseu.
Dom Henrique took an active part in the political preparations and arrangements for the expedition against Ceuta. All sorts of people and interests combined around a diversified number of political, economic, social and religious motives leading to the Ceuta issue. The princes sought a means of affirming themselves in political and social terms. The Court was still under the spell of the Aljubarrota heroes as well as of the king?s natural son?s doings, Dom Afonso, Count of Barcelos and future Duke of Braganza, who had been knighted in 1398, by his father, after the conquest of Tui. Dom Henrique and his brothers aspired to more than a knighthood obtained within a frame of glittering but vain festivities. Therefore, his voice soon joined those who suggested the attack to Ceuta. The assault took place on 21 August 1415 and Dom Henrique was the captain of the army in charge of taking control of the beach. However, when the moment came do disembark, Dom Duarte, who had clandestinely integrated the first round of the assault, showed up on the beach. Dom Henrique immediately handed de command of the army to Dom Duarte, as soon as they met in the middle of all the men running on the beach. The Moors? disorganization allowed the Portuguese to enter de city, which only hastened its fall.
The Portuguese chronicler Zurara turned Dom Henrique into the protagonist of this military expedition, but he makes it clear that the invading forces on the field were under the command of Dom Duarte and that other important court members played an active role in the combats, such as Prince Dom Pedro, the count of Barcelos, the constable and the supreme commander of the army. The chronicler tells us that Dom Henrique, annoyed that his older brother took the main role in this attack away from him, entered the small streets of Ceuta and attacked the city?s castle. He stood there for three hours, without reaching his goal, until an old servant of his convinced him to leave the dangerous position he had trapped himself into. Although the manoeuvre had no consequences, Dom Henrique gained some prestige for his fearful act and became the hero of the day.
Dom Henrique was knighted in Ceuta, together with his brothers. Latter on, in Tavira, Dom JoãoI granted him the title of duke of Viseu, and granted the dukedom of Coimbra to Dom Pedro. He also granted Dom Henrique the seignory of Covilhã, and, early next year, the government of Ceuta. Dom Henrique was thus in charge of organizing, in the kingdom, the logistics of the support to the newly conquered place. In 1419, upon the second big Muslim assault, Dom Henrique had a rescue squadron under his command, which arrived in front of the city in the heat of combat, thus leading to the retreat of the attackers. Dom Henrique remained in the city for three month, along with his brother Dom João, and organized an attack on Gibraltar, on his own initiative. The fleet was scattered by the bad weather and the attack did not take place.
In 1420, his power grew significantly, for the king trusted him the command of the Order of Christ, which was confirmed by the bull in apostolice dignitatis from 25 may 1420. In 1424, Dom João I donated him the exclusive right over the soap houses of the kingdom. This donation does not fit the logic of the benefits which were given to members of the aristocracy ? lands, offices in the royal palace and taxes; Dom Henrique thus received the control over an economic activity, which brought a considerable increase in his incomes. During these years, he was also attempting the take over of the Canary Islands, a goal he kept trying to achieve until the fourteen-fifties.
During this time he developed another strange activity which did not obey to the logic of his times; since the early fourteen-twenties he was trying to get his men to cross the cape Bojador ? the meridional limit of the seas already explored by Christendom. By that same time, he insisted in the court that the attack on Islam should continue, either through an attack on Granada, or by returning to Africa. Dom Henrique was a multifaceted character who, by the end of the fourteen-twenties was named protector of the university, which was then in Lisbon. The following years he closely accompanied the functioning of this institution.
By the end of the reign of Dom João I, the war against the Moors was once again being discussed and the opinions written by several members of the royal family all agree on one thing: Dom Henrique was the main person responsible for this policy. The document the prince wrote in 1436, giving his opinion on this subject, shows his determined personality and his deep belief in the fairness of the holly war.
On 13 august, Dom João I died and on 25 september, Dom Henrique acquired new dominions - the seignory of the archipelago of Madeira ? and new businesses ? the exclusive right over tuna fishing. In 1434, Gil Eanes passed the Bojador. A lot has been written about the reasons that led Dom Henrique to unleash this movement which turned out to be unstoppable and forever transformed the relationships between peoples at a global scale. The question was well explained by Zurara, when this Portuguese chronicler defined five reasons (instead of a single one in particular) for Dom Henrique?s purposes: the geographical curiosity, the desire to bring wealth to his House, the search for allies to fight the holly war and the will to enlarge Christendom. The first journeys were very important, mainly because they dismissed the myth of the tenebrous sea and had immediate economical benefits for the House of Viseu, for the capture of sea-lions produced oil which was used in the prince?s soap houses.
However, Dom Henrique?s main interest was still the holly war, and in 1436 he gained permission to prepare a new attack on Africa. After the complex negotiations with the king, on 7 mars 1436, he announced that he wished to get married, and he affiliated prince Dom Fernando, the second son of Dom Duarte, who became his heir.
In 1437, Dom Henrique commanded the expedition against Tangier. After a number of mistakes and wrong decisions, he was trapped between the walls of Tangier and his own fleet. The Moors demanded the restitution of Ceuta and prince Dom Fernando, Dom Henrique?s younger brother, was held hostage. Dom Henrique remained in Ceuta for some months and he then proceeded to the Algarve ? this was the first time he lived in this region.
The kingdom was then in disarray: Dom Duarte was unable to make a decision and died on 13 September 1438. Dom Afonso V being a minor, a rivalry emerged between the widowed Queen and prince Dom Pedro. Dom Henrique started out by trying to reconcile the two parties and he supported the creation of a tripartite regency, which included the count of Arraiolos. This regency granted him, by a letter dated 2 July 1439, the right to disembark cattle on the islands of the Azores, which had been spotted in 1427, but were still not inhabited. When the relationship between the Queen and Dom Pedro deteriorated, Dom Henrique gave his unconditional support to his brother and joined his army to the army of Coimbra to face the count of Barcelos.
Dom Henrique never gave up the idea of pursuing the war in Africa, but in the fourteen-forties the navigations headed south were reinstated, using the caravel, the ideal ship to cross the waters where the trade winds blew. In 1443, Dom Henrique received the bull etsi suscepti, which entrusted the Order of Christ with the spiritual domain of the newly discovered lands, and he also received his first territory in the Algarve ? the not yet inhabited area of the cape St. Vincent, where he would latter on build his town. That same year, Dom Pedro granted him the exclusive right to navigate south of the Bojador, an hereditary title. The Crown satisfied Dom Henrique?s personal interests, but it also took possession of the waters and the coast south of Bojador.
The caravels progressed quickly until 1444, for they were running down the Saharan coast, but after they discovered the Senegal River, the rhythm slowed down. This was a more populated region and it was important to explore its markets and to get to know its local languages. After the searches for Prester John had failed, the business continued, and, in 1448, Dom Henrique declared that the Portuguese should only relate with the populations of Guinea by pacific means. At the beginning, the exploration of the western African coast had functioned as an extension of the war of Morocco. However, as they headed down from the Guinea, they encountered animistic populations accustomed to war and the territory itself, densely forested, was not favourable to military enterprises. Besides, businesses were more and more lucrative, for slaves and gold could be obtained there.
When the political tension grew once more, this time between Dom Pedro and Dom Afonso V, Dom Henrique tried once again to postpone the conflict, but he was incapable of avoiding it, and on 20 may 1449, he was side by side with the king in the battle of Alfarrobeira. Dom Henrique?s loyalty was to be rewarded with the captaincy of Ceuta, but afterwards the monarch reconsidered and ended up taking away from Dom Henrique the government of the city, which was his since 1416. During the fourteen forties Dom Henrique stayed longer and longer in the Algarve, namely in his town ? the domestic space he was slowly building in Sagres. The king donated him some small villages in the Barlavento [the western part of the Algarve] and the prince continued to be responsible for the exploration of the ocean, promoting, at the same time, the population of the Azores and accompanying the economic development of Madeira, where sugar production was starting.
In 1458, Dom Henrique participated in the capture of Ksar-el-Kebir, and he afterwards continued to develop his businesses and oceanic explorations. He passed away in his village, on 13 November 1460, not long after having received the news of the discovery of new islands in front of Cape Verde.
Dom Henrique was a character who deeply marked the History of Portugal. Moved by his own personal will, he decisively contributed to transform medieval Portugal into a country with a discontinuous territory and a maritime calling which is the essence of its History.
COSTA, João Paulo Oliveira e, Henrique, o Infante, Lisboa, Esfera dos Livros, 2009 (no prelo).
DUARTE, Luís Miguel, D. Duarte, Lisboa, Círculo de Leitores, 2005.
RUSSELL, Peter, Henrique, o Navegador, Lisboa, Livros Horizonte, 2004 (original, 2000).
SOUSA, João Silva de, A Casa Senhorial do Infante D. Henrique, Lisboa, Livros Horizonte, 1991.
THOMAZ, Luís Filipe, ?A evolução da política expansionista portuguesa na primeira metade de Quatrocentos? in De Ceuta a Timor, Carnaxide, Difel, 1994, pp. 43-147.
Author: João Paulo Oliveira e Costa
Translated by: Dominique Faria