Through the Gutenberg project I came across a lecture given by a Brazilian in 1911 at the Portuguese Republican Center in São Paulo, Brazil. Since Portugal only became a republic in 1910, following the assassination of King Charles I of Portugal in 1908, the center was celebrating a long awaited moment.

Charles was a prominent oceanographer, and the royal yacht named after his wife, Amelia of Orleans, became a research vessel where the king documented marine fauna, and migration of tuna from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. He was a wonderful illustrator, and his records from those campaigns bear witness to his talent for methodical observation.

A magnificent oil of a cork oak (Quercus suber) painted by King Charles I in the Alentejo, southern Portugal.

A magnificent pastel painting of a cork oak (Quercus suber) painted by King Charles I in the Alentejo, Southern Portugal. In all likelihood, the king will have been at the Braganza Palace in Vila Viçosa for the summer.

The king reigned during a period of bankruptcy, not dissimilar to the one the country just crossed—not exactly uncharted waters. It was during these years, in the late XIXth century, that Britain delivered an ultimatum to Portugal requiring it to abandon all land between Angola and Mozambique—in a state of bankruptcy, the country was in no position to fight a war against the world’s greatest power, and it capitulated.

With hindsight, the Portuguese should have granted independence to those intermediate lands, leaving the British the onus of conquering them from the native populations. However, that would probably have set a dangerous precedent for Portugal’s own colonies, and anyhow no European power of the early twentieth century would have countenanced African independence.

The Brazilian Resende was not concerned with these matters when he got up on the podium. The audience must have had some time on their hands, because the lecture spans sixty-eight pages—at about ninety seconds per page, the man must have been at it for an hour and a half—not even close to the record set by Fidel Castro, but still, not for the fainthearted.

I’ve been reading this and other sources as part of my research for Clear Eyes. The book is at present going in various directions—Columbus is of (off?) course heading west, but is currently (excuse the pun) becalmed in the Sargasso Sea.

Queen Isabella of Castile is also active, plotting some of the politics around the voyage. With her is her ‘letrado’, or legal counsel. His name is Rodrigo Maldonado, and he was privy to the discussions that Columbus held in Salamanca, when he tried to persuade the Spanish scientists of the merits of his plan.

And there are various other wickednesses afoot.

As the book develops, some of the stronger characters from The India Road make cameo appearances, which is fun for me, since I know them so well—I had no intention of doing that, but somehow they barged in.

There are multiple theories about Brazil’s discovery by the Europeans. The Spanish claim Martin Pinzon’s younger brother, Vicente Yanez Pinzon, who captained the Nina on the first voyage of Columbus, was the first to make landfall in Brazil, in late January of 1500, in the region of Pernambuco.

The Portuguese and Brazilians defend that Pedro Alvares Cabral discovered the great nation on April 22nd 1500. Even if Pinzon got there three months earlier, he couldn’t claim the territory, because it lay in the Portuguese half of the Tordesillas line.

King John II and his cosmographers deliberately moved the initial line, which Alexander Borgia had sanctioned through a papal bull to go through the Azores. The final line was much further west, and given how little was known about longitude, particularly considering the errors Columbus introduced, it’s amazing anyone knew where the line actually was.

The premise is that Portugal already knew Brazil was there. Resende and others go further than that, and suggest the line was moved to a longitude three hundred and seventy leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands by the Perfect Prince to secure two territories, Brazil and Newfoundland.

Detail of the 1569 chart by the Flemish Gerard Merchant, known in Latin as Mercator. The name of Corte Real is clearly indicated in Newfoundland.

Detail of the 1569 chart by the Flemish Gerard Merchant, known in Latin as Mercator. The name of Corte Real Potucalensis is clearly indicated in Newfoundland. However, this is not Joao but Gaspar, one of his sons, who allegedly reached the Land of Cod in 1500.


When I wrote The India Road, I was aware of the voyage made by Joao Vaz Corte Real in 1472 to the Terra dos Bacalhaus, the Land of Cod, and later by his sons, sailing northwest from the Azores, which led to the legend in the 1491 Martellus chart, labeling Newfoundland as the ‘Land of Johannes Vaz.’ I like to verify sources, and I confess I’m currently unable to find that legend—the good news is I’ll able to go to the Beinecke Library in Connecticut in April 2015—and I’ll check the map myself.

It seems bizarre that the Brazilian ‘discovery’ by the two rival powers took place within a three month period. Far more plausible is that upon hearing of the Spanish arrival, Portugal’s king decided the next Portuguese expedition to the Indies would itself officially discover Brazil and claim it through treaty rights.

Resende and other Brazilian authors speak of private expeditions to the Americas over the course of the fifteenth century, well before Columbus. On the basis of circumstantial evidence, it would appear that King John II defined a policy for the Indies, and another for the Americas.

The African and Asian exploration was exclusive to the king’s navy, whereas the Western Atlantic was the object of private concessions. This would make good sense for a couple reasons: on the one hand, the Portuguese were certain the western route would not get them to the Indies; on the other, lands discovered above the twenty-seventh parallel belonged to Spain.

This did not apply to Newfoundland, if it was discovered prior to the Treaty of Alcáçovas. The Brazilian authors speak of expeditions in the 1480’s from the Azores, and in particular the voyage in 1486 of a sea captain from Terceira called Fernão Dulmo to the Americas—in flagrant violation of the Treaty in force prior to Tordesillas.

Another trip sometime in the future will take me to Modena—this is immensely irritating because I was very close to the city in September, but I had no idea that the Cantino planisphere of 1502 is kept there, at the Biblioteca Estense. And who created the library? None other than our friends, the wicked dukes of Este, of Lucrezia Borgia fame.

Cantino allegedly copied the map from a Portuguese cartographer, and pitched it as his own—plagiarism has its own place in history. We certainly know that the coast of Africa is a straight copy of the map by Pedro Reinel, which also sits in Yale’s Beinecke Library. Nevertheless, Cantino produced the first map of the world after the Treaty of Tordesillas, and it includes the famous meridian line.

Cantino lavishly distributed the flags of Portugal and Castile in the lands that now belonged to either nation.

A zoomed view of Newfoundland from the 1502 Cantino map. The Portuguese flag and reference to the king of Portugal are obvious, and the name of Gaspar Corte Real appears in the text. And the trees are beautiful.

Newfoundland as shown in the 1502 Cantino map. The Portuguese flag and reference to the king of Portugal are obvious, the name of Gaspar Corte Real appears in the text. And the trees are beautiful.

As for the discovery of the Americas, and that of Brazil, things get even more interesting. In 1436, fifty-six years before Columbus sailed, the Italian Andrea Bianco produced a world map. Not a particularly accurate one, but where he thinks the Azores are located, there are two islands: to the north, San Giorgio, or St. George.

To the south, Isola de Bracil.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones.


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