Fernão de Magalhães
4 February 1480
|Died||27 April 1521 (aged 41)|
Chiefdom of Mactan
|Nationality||Portuguese (renounced in 1517) Spanish from 1518|
|Known for||The Magellan expedition|
Finding the Strait of Magellan
First European Pacific Ocean crossing
Ferdinand Magellan (// or //; Portuguese: Fernão de Magalhães, IPA: [fɨɾˈnɐ̃w dɨ mɐɣɐˈʎɐ̃jʃ]; Spanish: Fernando de Magallanes, IPA: [feɾˈnando ðe maɣaˈʎanes]; 4 February 1480 – 27 April 1521) was a Portuguese explorer and Hispanic Monarchy's subject from 1518. He is best known for having planned and led the 1519 Spanish expedition to the East Indies across the Pacific to open a maritime trade route in which he discovered the interoceanic passage bearing thereafter his name and achieving the first European navigation from the Atlantic to Asia. This expedition, where Magellan was killed in battle against the natives of Mactan Island (present day Philippines) in 1521, resulted in the first circumnavigation of the Earth when one of the expedition's two remaining ships eventually returned to Spain in 1522.
Born 4 February 1480 into a family of minor Portuguese nobility, Magellan became a skilled sailor and naval officer and was in service of the Portuguese Crown in Asia. Confronted to some criminal offences and after King Manuel I of Portugal refused to support his plan to reach the Maluku Islands (the "Spice Islands") by sailing westwards around the American continent, Magellan left Portugal and proposed the expedition to King Charles I of Spain who accepted it. For this move, Magellan was henceforth considered by many in Portugal as a traitor and was never to return.  He adopted the name of Fernando de Magellanes and settled in Seville where he got married and fathered two children; and from where he organised the expedition. In consideration to the allegiance to the Hispanic Monarchy, Magellan was appointed in 1518 admiral of the Spanish Fleet to command the expedition, the five-ships Armada of Molucca, as well as Commander of the Order of Santiago, one of the highest military ranks of the Spanish Empire.
Granted with special powers and privileges by the King, he headed the Armada from Sanlucar de Barrameda south through the Atlantic Ocean to the eastern coast of South America down to the Patagonia. Despite a series of storms and mutinies, they made it through the Strait of Magellan into the Mar del Sur which he renamed the "Peaceful Sea" (the modern Pacific Ocean). The expedition reached Guam and short after the Philippine islands, where Magellan was killed during the Battle of Mactan in April 1521. Under the command of captain Juan Sebastian Elcano, the expedition later reached the Spice Islands and, to navigate back to Spain and avoid seizure by the Portuguese, the two remaining ships split, one attempting unsuccessfully to reach New Spain sailing eastwards across the Pacific while the other, commanded by Elcano, sailed westwards via the Indian Ocean and up the Atlantic coast of Africa to finally arrive at the expedition's port of departure, completing the first circuit of the globe.
While at the Kingdom of Portugal's service, Magellan had already reached the Malay Archipelago in Southeast Asia on previous voyages traveling east (from 1505 to 1511–1512). By visiting this area again but now travelling west, Magellan achieved a nearly complete personal circumnavigation of the globe for the first time in history.
Early life and travels
Magellan was born in the Portuguese town of Sabrosa on 4 February 1480. His father, Pedro de Magalhães, was a minor member of Portuguese nobility and mayor of the town. His mother was Alda de Mezquita. Magellan's siblings included Diego de Sosa and Isabel Magellan. He was brought up as a page of Queen Eleanor, consort of King John II. In 1495 he entered the service of Manuel I, John's successor.
In March 1505 at the age of 25, Magellan enlisted in the fleet of 22 ships sent to host Francisco de Almeida as the first viceroy of Portuguese India. Although his name does not appear in the chronicles, it is known that he remained there eight years, in Goa, Cochin and Quilon. He participated in several battles, including the battle of Cannanore in 1506, where he was wounded. In 1509 he fought in the battle of Diu.
He later sailed under Diogo Lopes de Sequeira in the first Portuguese embassy to Malacca, with Francisco Serrão, his friend and possibly cousin. In September, after arriving at Malacca, the expedition fell victim to a conspiracy ending in retreat. Magellan had a crucial role, warning Sequeira and risking his life to rescue Francisco Serrão and others who had landed.
In 1511, under the new governor Afonso de Albuquerque, Magellan and Serrão participated in the conquest of Malacca. After the conquest their ways parted: Magellan was promoted, with a rich plunder and, in the company of a Malay he had indentured and baptized, Enrique of Malacca, he returned to Portugal in 1512 or 1513. Serrão departed in the first expedition sent to find the "Spice Islands" in the Moluccas, where he remained. He married a woman from Amboina and became a military advisor to the Sultan of Ternate, Bayan Sirrullah. His letters to Magellan would prove decisive, giving information about the spice-producing territories.
After taking a leave without permission, Magellan fell out of favour. Serving in Morocco, he was wounded, resulting in a permanent limp. He was accused of trading illegally with the Moors. The accusations were proven false, but he received no further offers of employment after 15 May 1514. Later on in 1515, he got an employment offer as a crew member on a Portuguese ship, but rejected this. In 1517 after a quarrel with King Manuel I, who denied his persistent demands to lead an expedition to reach the spice islands from the east (i.e., while sailing westwards, seeking to avoid the need to sail around the tip of Africa), he left for Spain. In Seville he befriended his countryman Diogo Barbosa and soon married the daughter of Diogo's second wife, Maria Caldera Beatriz Barbosa. They had two children: Rodrigo de Magallanes and Carlos de Magallanes, both of whom died at a young age. His wife died in Seville around 1521.
Meanwhile, Magellan devoted himself to studying the most recent charts, investigating, in partnership with cosmographer Rui Faleiro, a gateway from the Atlantic to the South Pacific and the possibility of the Moluccas being Spanish according to the demarcation of the Treaty of Tordesillas.
Background and preparations
After having his proposed expeditions to the Spice Islands repeatedly rejected by King Manuel of Portugal, Magellan renounced his Portuguese nationality and turned to Charles I, the young King of Spain (and future Holy Roman Emperor). Under the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, Portugal controlled the eastern routes to Asia that went around Africa. Magellan instead proposed reaching the Spice Islands by a western route, a feat which had never been accomplished. Hoping that this would yield a commercially useful trade route for Spain, Charles approved the expedition, and provided most of the funding.
King Manuel I of Portugal saw this as an act of insult, and he did everything in his power to disrupt Magellan’s arrangements for the voyage. The Portuguese king allegedly ordered that Magellan’s properties be vandalized as it was the Coat of arms of the Magellan displayed at the family house's façade in Sabrosa, his home town; and may have even requested the assassination of the navigator. When Magellan eventually sailed to the open seas in August 1519, a Portuguese fleet was sent after him though failed to capture him.
Magellan's fleet consisted of five ships, carrying supplies for two years of travel. The crew consisted of about 270 men of different origins, though the numbers may vary downwards among scholars based on contradicting data from the many documents available. About 60 per cent of the crew were Spaniards issued from virtually all regions of Castile. Portuguese and Italian followed with 28 and 27 seamen respectively, while mariners from France (15), Greece (8), Flanders (5), Germany (3), Ireland (2), England and Malasya (one each) and other people of unidentified origin completed the crew.
This section needs additional citations for verification. (November 2019)
The fleet left Spain on 20 September 1519, sailing west across the Atlantic toward South America. In December, they made landfall at Rio de Janeiro. From there, they sailed south along the coast, searching for a way through or around the continent. After three months of searching (including a false start in the estuary of Río de la Plata), weather conditions forced the fleet to stop their search to wait out the winter. They found a sheltered natural harbor at the port of Saint Julian, and remained there for five months. Shortly after landing at St. Julian, there was a mutiny attempt led by the Spanish captains Juan de Cartagena, Gaspar de Quesada and Luis de Mendoza. Magellan barely managed to quell the mutiny, despite at one point losing control of three of his five ships to the mutineers. Mendoza was killed during the conflict, and Magellan sentenced Quesada and Cartagena to being beheaded and marooned, respectively. Lower-level conspirators were made to do hard labor in chains over the winter, but later freed.
During the winter, one of the fleet's ships, the Santiago, was lost in a storm while surveying nearby waters, though no men were killed. Following the winter, the fleet resumed their search for a passage to the Pacific in October 1520. Three days later, they found a bay which eventually led them to a strait, now known as the Strait of Magellan, which allowed them passage through to the Pacific. While exploring the strait, one of the remaining four ships, the San Antonio, deserted the fleet, returning east to Spain. The fleet reached the Pacific by the end of November 1520. Based on the incomplete understanding of world geography at the time, Magellan expected a short journey to Asia, perhaps taking as little as three or four days. In fact, the Pacific crossing took three months and twenty days. The long journey exhausted their supply of food and water, and around 30 men died, mostly of scurvy. Magellan himself remained healthy, perhaps because of his personal supply of preserved quince.
On 6 March 1521, the exhausted fleet made landfall at the island of Guam and were met by native Chamorro people who came aboard the ships and took items such as rigging, knives, and a ship's boat. The Chamorro people may have thought they were participating in a trade exchange (as they had already given the fleet some supplies), but the crew interpreted their actions as theft. Magellan sent a raiding party ashore to retaliate, killing several Chamorro men, burning their houses, and recovering the stolen goods. On 16 March, the fleet reached the Philippines, where they would remain for a month and a half. Magellan befriended local leaders on the island of Limasawa, and on 31 March, held the first Mass in the Philippines, planting a cross on the island's highest hill. Magellan set about converting the locals to Christianity. Most accepted the new religion readily, but the island of Mactan resisted. On 27 April, Magellan and members of his crew attempted to subdue the Mactan natives by force, but in the ensuing battle, the Europeans were overpowered and Magellan was killed.
Following his death, Magellan was initially succeeded by co-commanders Juan Serrano and Duarte Barbosa (with a series of other officers later leading). The fleet left the Philippines (following a bloody betrayal by former ally Rajah Humabon) and eventually made their way to the Moluccas in November 1521. Laden with spices, they attempted to set sail for Spain in December, but found that only one of their remaining two ships, the Victoria, was seaworthy. The Victoria, captained by Juan Sebastián Elcano, finally returned to Spain by 6 September 1522, completing the circumnavigation. Of the 270 men who left with the expedition, only 18 or 19 survivors returned.
After several weeks in the Philippines, Magellan had converted as many as 2,200 locals to Christianity, including Rajah Humabon of Cebu and most leaders of the islands around Cebu. However, Lapulapu, the leader of Mactan, resisted conversion. In order to gain the trust of Rajah Humabon, Magellan sailed to Mactan with a small force on the morning of 27 April 1521. During the resulting battle against Lapulapu's troops, Magellan was struck by a bamboo spear, and later surrounded and finished off with other weapons.
When morning came forty-nine of us leaped into the water up to our thighs, and walked through water for more than two crossbow flights before we could reach the shore. The boats could not approach nearer because of certain rocks in the water. The other eleven men remained behind to guard the boats. When we reached land, those men had formed in three divisions to the number of more than one thousand five hundred persons. When they saw us, they charged down upon us with exceeding loud cries ... The musketeers and crossbowmen shot from a distance for about a half-hour, but uselessly; for the shots only passed through the shields ... Recognizing the captain, so many turned upon him that they knocked his helmet off his head twice ... An Indian hurled a bamboo spear into the captain's face, but the latter immediately killed him with his lance, which he left in the Indian's body. Then, trying to lay hand on sword, he could draw it out but halfway, because he had been wounded in the arm with a bamboo spear. When the natives saw that, they all hurled themselves upon him. One of them wounded him on the left leg with a large cutlass, which resembles a scimitar, only being larger. That caused the captain to fall face downward, when immediately they rushed upon him with iron and bamboo spears and with their cutlasses, until they killed our mirror, our light, our comfort, and our true guide.— Antonio Pigafetta:173–177
Nothing of Magellan's body survived, that afternoon the grieving rajah-king, hoping to recover his remains, offered Mactan's victorious chief a handsome ransom of copper and iron for them but Datu Lapulapu refused. He intended to keep the body as a war trophy. Since his wife and child died in Seville before any member of the expedition could return to Spain, it seemed that every evidence of Ferdinand Magellan's existence had vanished from the earth.— Ginés de Mafra
In the immediate aftermath of the circumnavigation, few celebrated Magellan for his accomplishments, and he was widely discredited and reviled in Spain and his native Portugal. The Portuguese regarded Magellan as a traitor for having sailed for Spain. In Spain, Magellan's reputation suffered due to the largely unflattering accounts of his actions given by the survivors of the expedition.
The first news of the expedition came from the crew of the San Antonio, led by Estêvão Gomes, which deserted the fleet in the Strait of Magellan and returned to Seville 6 May 1521. The deserters were put on trial, but eventually exonerated after producing a distorted version of the mutiny at Saint Julian, and depicting Magellan as disloyal to the king. The expedition was assumed to have perished. The Casa de Contratación withheld Magellan's salary from his wife, Beatriz "considering the outcome of the voyage", and she was placed under house arrest with their young son on the orders of Archbishop Fonseca.
The 18 survivors who eventually returned aboard the Victoria in September 1522 were also largely unfavourable to Magellan. Many, including the captain, Juan Sebastián Elcano, had participated in the mutiny at Saint Julian. On the ship's return, Charles summoned Elcano to Valladolid, inviting him to bring two guests. He brought sailors Francisco Albo and Hernándo de Bustamante, pointedly not including Antonio Pigafetta, the expedition's chronicler. Under questioning by Valladolid's mayor, the men claimed that Magellan refused to follow the king's orders (and gave this as the cause for the mutiny at Saint Julian), and that he unfairly favoured his relatives among the crew, and disfavoured the Spanish captains.
One of the few survivors loyal to Magellan was Antonio Pigafetta. Though not invited to testify with Elcano, Pigafetta made his own way to Valladolid and presented Charles with a hand-written copy of his notes from the journey. He would later travel through Europe giving copies to other royals including John III of Portugal, Francis I of France, and Philippe Villiers de L'Isle-Adam. After returning to his home of Venice, Pigafetta published his diary (as Relazione del primo viaggio intorno al mondo) around 1524. Scholars have come to view Pigafetta's diary as the most thorough and reliable account of the circumnavigation, and its publication helped to eventually counter the misinformation spread by Elcano and the other surviving mutineers. In an often-cited passage following his description of Magellan's death in the Battle of Mactan, Pigafetta eulogizes the captain-general:
Magellan's main virtues were courage and perseverance, in even the most difficult situations; for example he bore hunger and fatigue better than all the rest of us. He was a magnificent practical seaman, who understood navigation better than all his pilots. The best proof of his genius is that he circumnavigated the world, none having preceded him.
Magellan has come to be renowned for his navigational skill and tenacity. The first circumnavigation has been called "the greatest sea voyage in the Age of Discovery", and even "the most important maritime voyage ever undertaken". Appreciation of Magellan's accomplishments may have been enhanced over time by the failure of subsequent expeditions which attempted to retrace his route, beginning with the Loaísa expedition in 1525 (which featured Juan Sebastián Elcano as second-in-command). The next expedition to successfully complete a circumnavigation, led by Francis Drake, would not occur until 1580, 58 years after the return of the Victoria.
Magellan named the Pacific Ocean (which was also often called the Sea of Magellan in his honor until the eighteenth century), and lends his name to the Strait of Magellan. His name has also since been applied to a variety of other entities, including the Magellanic Clouds (two dwarf galaxies visible in the night sky of the southern hemisphere), Project Magellan (a Cold-War era US Navy project to circumnavigate the world by submarine), and NASA's Magellan spacecraft.
Even though Magellan did not survive the trip, he has received more recognition for the expedition than Elcano has, since Magellan was the one who started it, Portugal wanted to recognize a Portuguese explorer, and Spain feared Basque nationalism. In 2019, the 500th anniversary of the voyage, Spain and Magellan’s native Portugal submitted a new joint application to UNESCO to honour the circumnavigation route. Commemorations of the circumnavigation include:
- An exhibition entitled "The Longest Journey: the first circumnavigation" was opened at the General Archive of the Indies in Seville by the King and Queen of Spain. It was scheduled to be transferred to the San Telmo Museum in San Sebastian in 2020.
- An exhibition entitled Pigafetta: cronista de la primera vuelta al mundo Magallanes Elcano opened at the library of the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation in Madrid. It gave prominence to Pigafetta, the chronicler of the expedition.
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