Prelude to Empire: Portugal Overseas before Henry the Navigator

Prelude to Empire: Portugal Overseas before Henry the Navigator

Prelude to Empire: Portugal Overseas before Henry the Navigator

Prelude to Empire: Portugal Overseas before Henry the Navigator


Prelude to Empire spotlights and brings into focus the events and developments in European history which prepared the way for Henry the Navigator and the age of the Great Discoveries. "Henry's just fame," writes Bailey W. Diffie, "has obscured an essential fact: in 1415 he was a man with a past as well as a future. Some forty years lay before--some forty centuries lay behind. Just as the voyages of his captains would form the indispensable base for Columbus and Vasco de Gama, so the achievements which made Henry the dominating maritime figure of his time grew from the previous experience and generations of fishermen and traders."

The first study in English to examine the development of Portugues commercial methods and overseas contacts, and the first in any language to bring together all the pieces of the story, Prelude to Empire has been designed for the general reader and the college student as well as the specialist.


Now you know why the caravel was such a remarkable vessel. She had to be. and the caravel … was the result of the Infante D. Henrique’s happy marriage of mathematical learning to practical seamanship … and constant experimentation in Portuguese and Andalusian shipyards.

Andalusian as well as Portuguese, I say; for the Niebla region where Columbus fitted out borders on Portugal.

Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, I, xl-xli

This small book deals with a period ending when the work of Henry the Navigator began. It is designed for the general reader, the college student, and also the specialist, inasmuch as it utilizes some archival study as well as the principal printed works. Its objective is to show the importance of Portuguese overseas experience before 1415 to the later period of the Great Discoveries. Its thesis, briefly stated, is that without a Henry the Navigator there would have been no Atlantic discoveries, and without the preceding centuries of commerce and fishing, there would have been no Navigator. Henry’s name is but a convenient substitute for the thousands of men whose work he epitomizes, but it is the most important name among them.

This does not purport to be a definitive work — whatever that term may mean. No attempt has been made to be exhaustive. If compilation of data had been the purpose, there is material enough to fill a hundred times the present number of pages, even though the data are so scarce that hardly a single important point can be verified beyond dispute. Furthermore, a definitive work would have required the re-examination of the Latin and . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.