Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Prince Henry 'The Navigator': A Life

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Prince Henry 'The Navigator': A Life

Article excerpt

Peter Russell, Prints Hent 'the Novigitor': A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000). xvi + 448 PP. ISBN 0-300-0843-9. L20.00..

There is a sense in which Sir Peter Russell has been working up to this book for a very long time. Among his earlier publications on this iconic yet enigmatic figure are his succinct and tantalizing Prince Henry the Navigator (1960), and his 1983 lecture Prince Henry the Navigator. The Rise and Fall of a Culture Hero. As that lecture, and Russell's insistence here on the quotation marks, makes clear, Henry acquired a reputation, and a sobriquet, that needs to be viewed with some caution. He did not himself participate in any of the Atlantic voyages of discovery undertaken under his initiative and patronage; nor can the myth that he set up a school of navigation at Sagres where he `personally taught the science of oceanic navigation to sea-captains and pilots' (p. 8) be sustained. He was undoubtedly a major promoter of Portuguese discovery and expansion; yet this had to be fitted into a life equally busy in other respects.

Much of his participation in public life was shaped by chivalric, even crusading, preoccupations, and the voyages of discovery were also seen (at least ostensibly) as forming part of the same desire to bring Christianity to pagan lands. His Plantagenet heritage (he was the son of John I and Philippa of Lancaster, therefore the great-grandson of Edward III and nephew of Henry IV) was important to him not least in giving him an ideal of late medieval chivalric behaviour to live up to. He seems to have been immensely gratified by the gift of the Order of the Garter, having its coat-of-arms placed prominently on the tomb he had constructed before his death, and, Russell speculates, wearing its complete ceremonial robes to impress foreign visitors (including those from Black Africa, pp. 356-7). His own life took the most obvious outward form of active crusading in Morocco. …

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