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Ferdinand Magellan

Ferdinand MagellanAKA Fernão de Magalhães

Born: 1480
Birthplace: Sabrosa, Trás-dos-Montes, Portugal
Died: 27-Apr-1521
Location of death: Philippines
Cause of death: War
Remains: Missing

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Explorer, Military

Nationality: Portugal
Executive summary: Circumnavigated the globe

Ferdinand Magellan, in Spanish Fernando Magallanes, or Fernã de Magalhães, the first circumnavigator of the globe, was born at Sabrosa in the Villa Real district of the Traz-os-Montes province of Portugal. He was a son of Pedro de Magalhães, and belonged to the fourth order of Portuguese nobility (fidalgos de cota de armas). He was brought up as one of the pages of Queen Leonor, consort of King João II. In 1495 he entered the service of Manuel, João's successor, and in 1504 enlisted as a volunteer for the Indian voyage of the first Portuguese viceroy in the East, Francisco d'Almeida. He sailed on the 25th of March 1505; was wounded at Cannanore on the 16th of March 1506; was then sent with Nuno Vaz Pereira to Sofala to build a Portuguese fortress at that place; returned to India early in 1508; and was again wounded at the battle of Diu on the 3rd of February 1509. At Cochin (August 19, 1509) he joined Diogo Lopes de Sequeira on his famous voyage intended for the Spice Islands, when the Portuguese almost fell victims to Malay treachery at Malacca. In this crisis he fought bravely and skilfully (though it is not true, as often asserted, that he discovered the Malay plot); and before the 10th of October 1510 he had been rewarded for his many services with the rank of captain. He again distinguished himself at the taking of Malacca by Albuquerque (July-August 1511), and was then sent on by the viceroy with Antonio d'Abreu to explore the Spice Islands (Moluccas). Leaving Malacca at the end of December 1511, this squadron sailed along the north of Java, passed between Java and Madura, left Celebes on their left, coasted by the Gunong Api volcano, touched at Bura, and so reached Amboyna and Banda. At the last-named they found such abundance of spices that they came straight back to Malacca without visiting Ternate, as had been intended.

Magellan returned to Portugal in 1512. On the 14th of July of that year he was raised to the rank of fidalgo escudeiro; and in 1513 he accompanied a Portuguese expedition against Azamor in Morocco. The city was taken on the 28th-29th of August 1513; but Magellan was subsequently wounded, and lamed for life, in a sortie; he was also accused of trading with the Moors. The accusation was subsequently dropped, but Magellan fell into disfavor with King Manuel, who let him understand that he would have no further employment in his country's service (after the 15th of May 1514). Magellan formally renounced his nationality, and went to offer his services to the court of Spain. He reached Seville on the 20th of October 1517, and thence went to Valladolid to see Charles V. With the help of Juan de Aranda, one of the three chief officials of the India House at Seville, and of other friends, especially Diogo Barbosa, a Portuguese like himself, naturalized as a Spaniard, who had acquired great influence in Seville, and whose daughter he now married, he gained the ear of Charles and of the powerful minister, Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca, bishop of Burgos, the persistent enemy of Christopher Columbus, the steady supporter of his great successor. Magellan proposed to reach the Spice Islands of the East Indies by the west; for that purpose he hoped to discover a strait at the extreme south of South America, and is said to have declared himself ready to sail southwards to 75 degrees to realize his project. Ruy Faleiro the astronomer, another Portuguese exile, aided him in the working out of his plan, and he found an invaluable financial ally in Christopher de Haro, a member of a great Antwerp firm, who owed a grudge to the King of Portugal. On the 22nd of March 1518, Magellan and Faleiro, as joint captains-general, signed an agreement with Charles V, by which one-twentieth of the clear profits were to fall to them; further, the government of any lands discovered was vested in them and their heirs, with the title of Adelantados. On the 10th of August 1519, the fleet of five vessels, under Magellan's command, left Seville and dropped down the Guadalquivir to S. Lucar de Barrameda, at the mouth of the river, where they remained more than five weeks. On the 20th of September the armada put to sea. Of the vessels which composed it, the "Trinidad" was the flagship, and the "Vittoria" the only one which accomplished the circumnavigation. The crew, officers, volunteers, etc., numbered about 270-280, of whom the names of 268 are preserved; 237 of these received pay; at least 37 were Portuguese, 30 or more Italians (mostly Genoese), 19 French, 1 English, 1 German. Only 31 returned in the "Vittoria"; 4 survivors of the crew of the "Trinidad" reappeared later. Antonio Pigafetta of Vicenza, an Italian gentleman who has left the best history of the voyage, went as a volunteer in Magellan's suite. Faleiro stayed behind, having cast his horoscope and found that the venture would be fatal to him. The fleet was well armed, and the total cost of equipment was 8,751,000 maravedis, or £5032. Three-quarters were defrayed by the Spanish Crown, one-quarter by Christopher Haro and his friends. Before starting, Magellan made his will and addressed a memorandum to Charles V, assigning geographical positions connected with the controversy he was intending to settle: viz., the proper drawing of a demarcation-line between the spheres of Spain and Portugal in the East Indies, and the inclusion of the Moluccas within the Spanish sphere.

Steering southwest and calling at Teneriffe (September 26 to October 3), Magellan sighted South America at Cape St. Augustine, near Pernambuco on the 29th of November; thence he followed the east coast of the New World down to the La Plata estuary, which he examined in the hope of finding a passage at this point (January 11 to February 6, 1520). On the 31st of March following, he arrived at Port St. Julian where he wintered. Here he crushed a formidable mutiny (April 1-2), and made acquaintance with the natives, whom he called Patagonians ("Big Feet"), whose great size and lofty stature are magnified by Pigafetta to gigantic proportions. Leaving Port St. Julian on the 24th of August 1520, he discovered on the 21st of October the cape of the Eleven Thousand Virgins, the eastern entrance of the long-sought passage. Through this strait, 360 miles long, often narrow and very tortuous, fringed by snow-clad mountains, he guided his armada for thirty-eight days, weakened by the desertion of one vessel, the "S. Antonio.". On the 21st of November a council of pilots and captains was held to consider the continuation of the voyage, and on the 28th of November the fleet rounded Cabo Deseado, the "desired" western terminus of the strait, variously called by the first discoverers, "Victoria Strait", "Strait of the Patagonians", "of all Saints", "of the Eleven Thousand Virgins", or "of Magellan", now only known by the last of these names. To the south of the passage lay the forbidding land "stark with eternal cold", which from the many fires here observed Magellan named "Tierra del Fuego." The expedition now entered the "Great South Sea", first sighted by Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, which, from the steady and gentle winds that drove the fleet across the immeasurable expanse, was by Magellan called "Pacific." For ninety-eight days Magellan crossed this sea, almost beyond the grasp of man's mind for vastness (as Maximilian of Transylvania puts it), from Cabo Deseado to the Ladrones. On the whole transit he discovered only two islands, sterile and uninhabited, which he called "St Paul's" (January 24, 1521) and "Shark Island" (February 3). The first of these has been identified with Puka Puka in the Tuamotu Archipelago, the second with Flint Island in the Manihiki group; neither identification seems convincing. For most of these ninety-eight days the explorers had no fresh provisions, little water (and that bad), and putrid biscuit; the ravages of scurvy became terrible. The worst anticipations of Magellan ("he would push on, if they had to eat the leather of the rigging") were realized; ox-hides, sawdust, and rats became coveted food. At last, on the 6th of March 1521, the Ladrones (so named by Magellan from the thievish habits of the natives) came in sight, Guam being probably the first port of call. Here the fleet rested, watered, revictualled and refitted; on the 9th of March they started again westward; and on the 16th of March sighted the southern point of Samar Island in the archipelago, since 1542 called the Philippines, but named by Magellan, its first discoverer, after St. Lazarus. On the 7th of April the squadron arrived at Cebu, southwest of Samar, in the heart of the Philippines; here Magellan contracted a close friendship and alliance with the treacherous native sovereign, who professed Christianity the better to please and utilize his Catholic friends. Undertaking an expedition to conquer, for the Catholic faith and the king of Cebu, the neighboring island of Mactan, Magellan was killed there in a fight with the islanders (April 27, 1521). The king of Cebu after this got into his power several of the leading personages of the squadron, including Juan Serrano, one of the two admirals elected to replace Magellan, and murdered them. The survivors, burning one of the three remaining vessels, left the Philippines, and made their way to the Moluccas (November 6), visiting Borneo on the way (July 9 to September 27, 1521). At Tidor a heavy cargo of cloves was taken in the "Trinidad", becoming leaky, stayed behind with her crew; and the "Vittoria", under Juan Sebastian del Cano, proceeded to Europe alone (December 21, 1521). To double the Cape of Good Hope the "Vittoria" reached between 40 and 41 degrees S. (April 7-16, 1522) and suffered from contrary winds, heavy seas, scurvy and starvation. In the Cape Verde Islands (July 9-15, 1522) thirteen of the crew were detained prisoners by the Portuguese. Only thirty-one men returned with del Cano to Seville in the first vessel that had ever made the tour of the earth. Though Magellan had not quite reached the Spice Islands when he fell at Mactan, his task had then been accomplished. He had already reached and passed the longitude of the Moluccas, where he had already been; the way home from the Philippines by the Indian Ocean and the Cape of Good Hope was perfectly known to the Portuguese, himself included. Magellan's name has never received its due recognition in general history. It ranks with those of Columbus, Marco Polo, and Henry the Navigator. The circumnavigation of the globe is as great an event as the discovery of America. Magellan achieved what Columbus planned -- the linking of west Europe with east Asia by direct transit over the western ocean. Had America not intervened, the project of 1492 must have failed; by 1519 European pioneers had formed a more adequate notion of the task and its magnitude.

Magellan's Straits, the Magellanic clouds (not first observed by him), and Magellan's Land -- a name long given to Patagonia and that hypothetical southern continent of which Tierra del Fuego was considered only a portion, and now again bestowed by Chile on her territory in the extreme south -- preserve the memory of the first circumnavigator. The largest of the oceans has also kept the flattering name given to it by the man who first crossed it.

No record of his exploits was left by Magellan himself; and contemporary accounts are less detailed and consistent than could be wished. The best is that of Antonio Pigafetta, a volunteer in the fleet. It is printed in Ramusio, and exists in four early manuscript copies, one in Italian and three in French. The latter was perhaps the original language of this work, which was addressed by Pigafetta, as a knight of Rhodes, to the Frenchman Villiers de l'Isle Adam, grand master of the order of the Hospital of St. John. But this view is rejected by J. A. Robertson, who believes the Ambrosian manuscript to be the ultimate text. See the Primo viaggio intorno al mondo, otherwise the Navigation et descouvrement de la India supérieure faicte par moi Anthoyne Pigapheta, Vincentin, chevallier de Rhodes, probably published in 1524 (in August of that year Pigafetta obtained leave to print his book in Venice). Of the three French manuscripts two are in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris (5650 and 24,224 Fr.), the latter is wrongly supposed by Thomassy, followed by Lord Stanley of Alderley, to have been the copy presented by Pigafetta to the regent of France, Marie Louise of Savoy, mother of Francis I. The third French manuscript, often called the Manuscript of Nancy, first noticed by Thomassy in 1841, was bought by Sir Thomas Phillipps at Libri's sale, and became Manuscript Phillipps 16,405. The Italian manuscript is in the Ambrosian library at Milan. From this Carlo Anoretti, prefect of the Ambrosiana, published his Italian edition of Pigafetta in 1800; a French translation of this, by Amoretti himself, was issued by H. J. Jansen, 1801. An English version of Pigafetta was made by Richard Eden in his Decades of the Newe Worlde (London, 1555). The earliest printed edition, apparently a summary of the Italian manuscript, was issued in French by Simon de Colines of Paris about 1525. The earliest Italian edition is of 1534 (or 1536).

Other authorities are: (1) The narrative of an unknown Portuguese in Ramusio's Navigationi et viaggi; (2) the Derrotero or Log-Book in the Seville Archives, supposed to be the work of Francisco Albo, contramaestre of Magellan's flagship, the "Trinidad"; this consists mainly of nautical observations; (3) the narrative of the so-called Genoese pilot, written in excellent Portuguese, and printed in vol. iv. of the Collecão de noticias of the Lisbon Academy; (4) various informaciones and other papers in the Seville Archives, especially bearing on the mutiny; (5) the letter of Maximilian of Transylvania, under-secretary to Charles V, to the cardinal of Salzburg; (6) the references in Correa and Herrera, often based on good information, and adding points of interest to other records. Of these 1-3, 5, and an instance of 6 are translated in the Hakluyt Society's volume. Magellan's two wills (i) executed at Belem on the 17th of December 1504, on the eve of his departure with Almeida, (ii) executed at Seville on the 24th of August, 1519, just before starting on his voyage round the world, are both of some value for his life.

Father: Rui de Magalhães
Mother: Alda de Mesquita
Brother: Diogo de Sousa
Sister: Isabel
Wife: Beatriz Barbosa (m. 1517, one son)
Son: Rodrigo

    Asteroid Namesake 4055 Magellan



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