Tag Archives: Magellan

A TV Series about Magellan’s Circumnavigation?

There is a TV series about Magellan’s circumnavigation!!! What great news! That’s what I thought when I first heard about Boundless, a six-part TV miniseries on Amazon Prime. I couldn’t wait to see it.

The first episode is about Magellan’s rejection by the King of Portugal and transfer of his allegiance to King Charles of Spain. The episode outlined the main conflicts well. These are first the antagonism between the Spanish captains of the armada and Magellan, and second the determination of the Portuguese to protect their spice trade. So far so good. Minor historical inaccuracies riddle the forty-minute video. Some are inevitable in the translation to the screen when presenting a complex story like Magellan’s that has a huge cast of characters. Some inaccuracies simply seemed so wrong to me, like when in the video Magellan bursts uninvited into a room with King Charles and rolls out his chart and explains how he intends to get to the Spice Islands…all while some thirty men stand there watching and listening. No. Just no. Magellan was extremely secretive about the route he intended to sail.

The episode sets up El Cano to be the hero of the series as Magellan desperately needs a tillerman, whatever the heck that is. (A seaman did tend the tiller which controls the rudder, but that is a task, not a position. We actually have the pay rosters at the beginning of the voyage and the paid positions for the sailors are master, mate, pilot, seaman and apprentice seaman. There is no tillerman) El Cano, who is in trouble for selling a royal ship without authorization (an actual fact) agrees to sail with Magellan on his flagship. El Cano was actually the mate on one of the other ships and hence in the scheme of things perhaps the fifteenth or twentieth most senior officer of the fleet.

The fleet sails at the end of the first episode. We see someone dropping into the ocean floating notes about the route of the fleet! Excuse me? Didn’t happen and wholly unrealistic.

Early in the second episode we find Magellan’s fleet being pursued by a Portuguese fleet. Didn’t happen. There is a brief fight. Some of El Cano’s men fire a cannon shot at a distant Portuguese ship…and partially dismasts the ship. Didn’t happen and unrealistic. Then in a brilliant suggestion El Cano suggests they sail south and out distance the Portuguese ships. Haha.

I stopped watching at this point.

My conclusion is that if you want a sea story with lots of action you might find this interesting. If you want something somewhat historically accurate, pass this by. As one reviewer on imdb said, ‘there is no script that can be better than reality’ when dealing with such momentous historical events. I might have enjoyed the series were it not so laughably inaccurate.

This series was produced by the national TV of Spain as well as Amazon Prime in honor of the 500th anniversary of the first circumnavigation. As such, I believe they’ve attempted to put Spain’s past in the best light. For example King Charles is portrayed as an extremely handsome, almost beautiful, young man. He was certainly a remarkable man both devout and intelligent. Handsome? No. He had the massive lower Hapsburg jaw with an extreme underbite due to the inbreeding of the Hapsburgs.

Edited 8/3/22 to clarify what a tillerman is and isn’t.

Leave a comment

Filed under Amazon

Just Published: Drake’s Botanist

Six years ago after publishing Magellan’s Navigator I was undecided as to what next. Drake’s circumnavigation was a obvious option, but I hesitated because of the research needed. Well, two years ago I decided to do it, and Drake’s Botanist is the result. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

Here’s a brief blurb on my new book:

Queen Elizabeth’s England is at an uneasy peace with King Philip’s Spain, but all wonder how much longer that will last. Spain’s Catholic armies are ravaging England’s Protestant allies in the Netherlands. How can England help them short of sending an army? Spain’s rich silver mines in the New World fund its aggression. When Francis Drake approaches the Queen with a plan cut the flow of this treasure and bankrupt Philip’s empire, she agrees to it.

Drake sails with six ships. A man with flair, he dines each night on silver plates while serenaded by violas. He even has a botanist aboard.

Botanist and author Lawrence Elyot enlists with Drake, thinking the fleet is on a trading expedition to Egypt…not realizing that is a ruse to deceive the Spanish. He is shocked when once at sea Drake announces that there has been a change of plans. First stop will be Africa. Beyond that, Drake won’t say.

Elyot is now on the epic adventure of his life and in more danger than he has dreamt of in his worst nightmares. Certainly, he would not have volunteered had he realized he would play the pirate while encountering mutiny, murderous Spaniards, hostile natives, storms, scurvy, the death of friends, and nearly three years away from London.

But if he survives the foray against the hated papist, his share of the plunder will assure he lives the life of a proper gentleman.

Available on Amazon in ebook, paperback, and KindleUnlimited.

Leave a comment

Filed under Drake's Botanist, Magellan's Navigator

July 9, 1522 – The Victoria Arrives in the Portuguese Cape Verdes

The Victoria departed Tidore on December 21, 1521 with sixty-two souls aboard, forty-nine Europeans and thirteen Moluccans. El Cano was Captain, having been elected by the crew. Albo was the Pilot, Miguel de Rodas was the Master, while Juan de Acurio was the Mate. Interestingly, all four men were originally mates on four of the five original ships. El Cano was Basque, Acurio Castilian, and Albo and Miguel Greek. Antonio Pigafetta was perhaps the other most senior person aboard. All the men were united in the desire to return to Spain, which isn’t to say that all trusted one another. El Cano had sided with the mutineers. All the other men had actively or passively supported Magellan. It is notable that Pigafetta never names El Cano in his book, leading me to believe he had a low opinion of him.

Their first challenge was to sail through the maze of the East Indies so they might launch themselves across the Indian Ocean. Despite taking on pilots at Tidore, this took nearly two months, and it wasn’t until February 13th that the Victoria lost sight of the Indies. An apprentice seaman and a cabin boy jumped ship at Timor, probably deciding life in the tropical islands was preferable to facing starvation and scurvy.

A month into the transit of the Indian Ocean, they came upon an isolated island, now known as the Ile of Amsterdam. They attempted landfall. Any fresh provisions would have been welcome, but unable to find an anchorage, they sailed on. (The island remains uninhabited other than a research station.)

Finally, on May 8th, 1521 they sighted Africa. Two Europeans had died in the transit of the Indian Ocean. Their food stores already dangerously low and mostly rice remained. The men were weakening, and soon scurvy and starvation would exact a toll unless they got fresh food. It took eleven days to actually round the Cape, as the tired men had to tack against westerly winds, and they once had to make repairs to a mast after a storm. Two more men succumbed while rounding Africa.

Once having passed the Cape they were able to obtain firewood and water, but no food. The ravages of starvation and scurvy now accelerated with men dying each week. By July 9th, less than two months after rounding the Cape and over four thousand miles later, eight more Europeans had died despite once making landfall on the African coast…and finding no provisions. The Moluccans doubtlessly fared worse. We don’t know the timing of their deaths, but of the thirteen that sailed from Tidore, only three survived to reach Spain, which was a much higher death rate than for the Europeans. During this time, Martin de Magellan died. He was a nephew of Magellan who had sailed on the Concepcion.

By early July they were still two thousand miles from Spain and without enough food to sustain them until there. They voted to risk getting provisions at the Portuguese Cape Verde Islands. They entered the Portuguese port of Sao Tiago on July 9th. They told the Portuguese a woeful tale of sailing from the Caribbean and being blown off course by a hurricane. Initially this was believed despite El Cano purchasing food by payment of cloves! At this point there were probably thirty-four Europeans still aboard the Victoria (another seaman having recently died) and three Moluccans. On July 14th, the longboat with thirteen men went ashore for one last load of rice. It didn’t return.

One of the men ashore had blabbed. The Portuguese demanded El Cano surrender. El Cano attempted to negotiate to no avail. They could surrender, to the uncertain mercy of the Portuguese. Or they could sail, despite all the men still suffering the ravages of the voyage, some worse than others. Also, if they sailed, they would be leaving thirteen of their shipmates behind. The remaining crew decided to sail with a badly depleted and sick crew of twenty-five, twenty-two Europeans and three Moluccas.

Leave a comment

Filed under Francisco Albo, Magellan, Magellan's Navigator

The Victoria Sets Sail for Spain from the Spice Islands – December 21, 1521

Their holds filled with tons of cloves worth a fortune in Europe, the Trinidad and Victoria were ready to sail by mid December 1521. The month in the Moluccas had been a happy time. The Rajah Almanzor had proven a trustworthy ally, trading fairly and helping the Spaniards however he could. Nonetheless, Captain General Espinosa dealt with the rajah carefully, as he suspected the rajah of having poisoned Magellan’s friend when he served the opposing rajah of Ternate. The politics of the Moluccas were difficult, with rajahs competing with one another, while all the rajahs disliked the Portuguese. Certainly, the Rajah Almanzor saw the Spanish as a counterbalance to the Portuguese.

Francisco Albo and his shipmates must have looked upon the upcoming voyage with mixed feelings. If all went well, and they survived the storms, starvation, and scurvy of the upcoming voyage, they’d be wealthy men once back in Spain, as each were allowed a personal stash of cloves. On the other hand, they intended to sail across the Indian Ocean from the Indies to the tip of Africa, something that had never been done before.

Finally all was ready. The men were rested and their ships well provisioned with even new sails. The monsoon winds were right and they had pilots to guide them as far as Timor. What could go wrong?

The day of departure was a festive occasion with banners flying and all the local rajahs watching from their own ships. Captain Cano of the Victoria ordered the anchor raised and Albo piloted it out of the harbor and waited for the Trinidad…which never came. The Victoria finally returned to its consort.

They found the Trinidad still anchored, but with a slight list. The Trinidad’s anchor had fouled on the bottom. The response had been to pull harder on it to dislodge it. The anchor didn’t move, but the Trinidad’s hull torqued, pulling apart some of its planking. The pumps barely kept up with the water flooding into the Trinidad’s hold that the pumps barely kept at bay. The Rajah Almanzor sent divers below to find the leaks—to no avail. The conclusion was obvious. The Trinidad had to be unloaded and the leaks fixed. That would take time, but time spent in Tidore was like a time spent in paradise. The problem was that the winds would soon turn, delaying departure for Spain across the Indian Ocean for nearly a year! Also, a hostile Portuguese fleet might arrive at any time. It was decided the Victoria would sail on alone and the Trinidad follow later, possibly by an eastward transit of the Pacific Ocean.

And so, the Victoria finally left Tidore on December 21, 1521 with forty-seven Europeans, thirteen Moluccas aboard to fill out the crew, and the letters of their shipmates on the Trinidad—only four of whom would ever see Spain again.

Leave a comment

Filed under Francisco Albo, Magellan, Magellan's Navigator

November 8, 1521 – Magellan’s Fleet Reaches the Spice Islands…Finally

Cloves Png - Dried Clove Clipart (987x987), Png Download

The Trinidad and Victoria, the sole surviving ships of Magellan’s Armada of the Moluccas, dropped anchor off the Spice Island of Tidore the afternoon of Friday, November 8, 1521. This finally accomplished what Magellan had first dreamed of doing years before. They announced their arrival with their cannon, and the next day they were greeted by Rajah Almanzor. The Spice Islands of Ternate and Tidore, along with a few other nearby islands, were the sole source in the world of cloves. A shipload of this now common spice would be worth a fortune in Europe—enough to pay for the entire expedition.

The voyage from Cebu inexplicably took over six months, whereas Drake took only twelve days. Drake was an excellent navigator. Carvalho, chief pilot and commander until September 21st, was a thoroughly incompetent navigator. Francisco Albo later demonstrated his skill by piloting the Victoria from the Spice Islands back to Spain. Why didn’t he step forward and get the fleet back on track? I don’t know. Once Carvalho was deposed, it still took the ships forty-eight days to reach their objective.

The Spanish ships sailed into a thorny political situation. The rajahs of the neighboring islands of Ternate and Tidore were bitter rivals. The only thing that united them was their common hatred of the Portuguese.

Some years earlier Magellan’s friend Francisco Serrão was shipwrecked…but managed to become vizier for the rajah of Ternate. With a few fellow Portuguese and a cannon, Serrão helped Ternate vanquish Tidore, and thereby earn the hatred of Rajah Almanzor of Tidore. This established Ternate as the preeminent of the two Spice Islands. The Portuguese were uneasy with Serrão in Ternate and attempted to recall him. Serrão refused, although he did permit a Portuguese trading post in Ternate. Subsequently, at about the time of Magellan’s death at Mactan, Serrão was poisoned, probably by Almanzor, the person with the most to gain by his death.

Why did the Spanish choose to first land at Tidore, rather than at Ternate where they knew Magellan’s friend was vizier? One can only suppose that the local pilot that they had engaged knew that Serrão was dead, and that Ternate was loosely allied with the Portuguese while Tidore was opposed to the Portuguese and hence a potential ally for the Spanish. It proved to be a good choice. Almanzor signed an alliance with Spain, and helped the Spanish in whatever ways he could. Only later, when the Spanish learned of Almanzor’s poisoning of Serrão, did they become more cautious of the friendly rajah. Nonetheless, the Spanish stood by Almanzor, shunning the efforts of the Rajah of Ternate to get them to come to his island for the cloves.

The arrival in the Spice Islands brought up another issue. Did these islands lie in the Portuguese sphere of influence or the Spanish sphere? (The pope had previously divided the non-Catholic world between the Portuguese and Spanish, disregarding any rights of the existing inhabitants and the interests of any other kingdoms or republics.) The pope’s division basically gave Brazil and India to the Portuguese, with the remainder of the New World to the Spanish. He didn’t really address the far side of the world, but what happened if you extended the demarcation line from the Atlantic to the Pacific and called anything west of that line Portuguese and anything east Spanish? Serrão had written Magellan that based upon this the Spice Islands were in the Spanish sphere. Unfortunately, both he and Magellan underestimated the true circumference of the world, which put the islands in the Portuguese sphere. Albo’s estimation of the islands’ longitude confirmed this, although his logbook was stashed in the Seville archives and he never was invited, or attended, subsequent negotiations between Portugal and Spain about the Spice Islands. Of course, determining longitude at this time was not an easy task, and however Albo did it, he did well, as he was only three degrees off. Interestingly, Pigafetta in his book puts the longitude of the Spice Islands decisively, and inaccurately, in the Spanish sphere of influence. Where he got his longitude can only be conjectured. One can suspect it was politically calculated to meet the Spanish needs.

The Spanish interlude in the Spice Islands went well, although Espinosa, Cano, and Albo were eager to get their ships loaded and be off. They knew they had to sail before the monsoons hit, which would make sailing westward back to Spain impossible for months. Finally, on December 18th, 1520 with holds full of cloves the Trinidad and Victoria went to raise their anchors.

Then disaster struck.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cloves, Francisco Albo, Magellan, Magellan's Navigator

Another Seafaring Adventure Coming Up

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

My next book is well along. It has a lot of similarities to Magellan’s Navigator. The protagonist is a botanist accompanying one of the great voyages of the Age of Exploration. He enlists for the expedition without realizing its true goals. Once these are revealed, he begins his personal growth from a bookish botanist to … Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out his personal journey.

I had considered this topic before, but hesitated because it is a large project. Since it is about an actual voyage, the plot is pretty well set. We know what happened. Like in Magellan’s Navigator, my contribution is more along the lines of why things happened. And how the events of the voyage affected those on it, particularly my chosen protagonist, who is a seafaring novice.

This voyage has more first and second person accounts of it than Magellan’s, yet it many ways we know fewer facts about it. The Spanish were voluminous record keepers, so I knew pretty well who was where when during Magellan’s voyage. It this instance, the records were either purposely or accidently destroyed. Which makes my task both easier and harder.

I’m bad about predicting when books will be finished. This one is no exception. It’s already as long as Magellan’s Navigator and I’m only about halfway through the voyage. I hope it’s done the first quarter of next year, but… For my Albo fans. My initial inclination after completion of The Sultan’s Galley was to write another Albo book. This would, or will if I ever write it, take him to the battle of Pavia where King Francis of France was defeated and captured by the Imperial forces led by the Viceroy de Lannoy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The First Circumnavigation: Lost in the East Indies

Magellan sailed with Armada of the Moluccas five hundred years ago in 1519, and my blog has been a real time (five hundred years apart) account of this voyage. My last entries were on April 24th when Magellan died in a senseless battle at Mactan in the Philippines in 1521. Then on May 1st most the ship’s officers and many of the more senior sailors died or were enslaved at a banquet hosted by the sultan of Cebu. The surviving crew then fled south towards their objective of the spice islands of the Moluccas.

You say, okay Ken, I remember that. So why haven’t you written about them arriving at the Moluccas? You’re letting us down. Francis Drake took only twelve days to sail from the Philippines to the Moluccas…and it’s been over three months since Magellan’s three ships left Cebu.

Amazingly enough after over three months the Spanish ships were no closer to the Moluccas than when they started. Why? Sheer incompetence.

Upon hurriedly leaving Cebu, the three ships, the Trinidad, Victoria, and Concepcion sailed south in a panic, commanded by Carvalho. Once safely away, they anchored in a bay of the island of Bohol, south of Cebu. There were decisions to be made. First, they only had enough men to man two ships, so the Concepcion was stripped and then burnt.

Next, they needed a new leader, since their most recent co-commanders were lost at Cebu. There weren’t too many of the former officers to choose from, scurvy and the banquet having taken most. Of the original captains, there were none. Of the masters, there was the master of the Trinidad, Polcevera, and Cano, the master of the Victoria. The only original pilot was Carvalho, while Francisco Albo was appointed pilot in the Atlantic as they approached Brazil.

An election was held with all crew members voting. Carvalho became the new captain general and captain of the Trinidad. Polcevera remained that ship’s master. Espinosa, the former master-at-arms, became captain of the Victoria while Cano remained its master. Albo moved to the Victoria and became its new pilot.

A few things can be gleaned from these moves. Carvalho was an obvious choice. He was the most senior officer left. However, prior events off Brazil should have led his shipmates to doubt Carvalho’s abilities. As it turned out, he was wholly incapable of finding the Spice Islands despite having access to all of Magellan’s charts and knowing that these islands were on the equator. I can only surmise that Carvalho was more impressive in person than he demonstrated in practice.

Espinosa was a more junior officer, and hence his leapfrog over Cano to become captain of the Victoria says that he impressed his shipmates. In his case, unlike Carvalho, the men were justified in their trust. Interesting, Pigafetta, the author of the book describing the circumnavigation, moved to the Victoria from the Trinidad at that time. His motives? I can only assume he was trying to get away from Carvalho and to stay near to Espinosa and Albo. He ignores Cano in his book about the circumnavigation, so I don’t believe that was a reason for Pigafetta’s move.

The small fleet went in search of food after leaving Bohol around May 4th. This resulted in a haphazard path through the island. Most islanders were friendly and willing to trade, but non-perishable food, like rice, was difficult to obtain. Given that plants in the tropics are productive the year around, most the natives did not need large amounts of storable food.

Finally on July 9th, the pulled into Brunei’s harbor. Brunei rivaled most cities in Europe. Initially the sultan feared they were Portuguese, who had a justifiably bad reputation. Once convinced they were Spanish, trading began and lasted three weeks. Two Greek seamen deserted, preferring to stay and become Moslems than to risk the voyage back to Europe.

Near the end of July, three large junks entered the harbor and anchored near the European ships. At the same time three of crew visiting the city didn’t return on time. The next day a small fleet issued from Brunei. Fearing the worst, Carvalho ordered his men to attack the junks, which apparently were peaceful. The Spanish easily defeated the junks, and then departed after taking a rajah and several beautiful noblewomen from the junks.

Later Carvalho returned. The Brunei sultan was not pleased. He claimed that his fleet had sailed to attack a rebellious rajah. Exactly what happened next isn’t clear, but was is clear is that when the ships sailed several days later, the captured rajah was gone. Later substantial gold was found in Carvalho’s cabin, with the obvious conclusion he’d gotten the gold from the Brunei sultan in exchange for the rajah. The three seamen, one of them Carvalho’s son, still in Brunei were abandoned. The three noblewomen were still aboard the Trinidad, serving as Carvalho’s personal harem.

Not long after their departure from Brunei, Carvalho ran the Trinidad aground. She was refloated only with difficulty. The ships were now in desperate need of careening to clean their hulls of growth, repair rotten planks, recaulk the planks, and finally tar their hulls. They finally found a suitable beach to do this, which took until late September.

While there, the crew deposed Carvalho seeing as how he “hadn’t carried out the King’s instructions.” It was at this time the gold hidden in Carvalho’s cabin was discovered. Espinosa became the new captain general, although some claim Polcevera had that distinction.

The two ships sailed in late September 1521, their hulls now sound and, even more important, with a competent commander. Unfortunately, they still didn’t have a pilot to get to the Spice Islands, and food was, once again, running low. This led to them becoming pirates. The local junks were helpless against the stout hulls and cannon of the Spanish. Their piracy finally yielded ample food and, more important, a pilot to guide them, finally, to the Spice Islands on November 8, 1521. Their arrival ended a sorry period for the circumnavigation. About the only good thing that can be said good of this period is that few of the locals died in their depredations, and the Spanish ships finally had competent leaders.

Leave a comment

Filed under Francisco Albo, Magellan, Magellan's Navigator

A Fatal Banquet – May 1, 1521

Magellan’s death at Mactan on April 27, 1521 along with five of their shipmates left the fleet’s survivors in shock and disarray. Little did they know even worse awaited them in four days.

Magellan had no second-in-command so there was no clear leader after his death. All the fleet’s original captains, with the exception of Serrano who had commanded the smallest ship of the armada, were now dead. Of the original pilots, Gomez had defected in the Straits of Magellan, while two others had died in the Pacific crossing, leaving only San Martin, Carvalho, and Albo. Of these three San Martin seems to have been of a more cerebral sort. He was also the armada’s astrologer. The men had some reason to doubt Carvalho’s competence, while Albo had only been appointed pilot when the fleet approached Brazil.

Some hundred and forty men were left on the three ships. Decisions had to be made. Their authoritarian leader gone, leadership of the fleet was put to a vote. Serrano and Duarte Barbosa were elected co-leaders. These two men were obvious choices. Serrano was a dependable, experienced mariner. Duarte Barbosa, Magellan’s brother-in-law, was a man of action with years of experience in India with the Portuguese.

The decision was swiftly made to resume the armada’s original mandate, and to sail to the Spice Islands. They dismantled the trading post ashore, and made the ships ready to sail.

The Cebu rajah must have been dismayed at these events. He’d used Magellan’s military might to settle differences with his rival local rajahs. The departure of the Spanish fleet would leave him vulnerable to reprisals.

Another player now comes to center stage: Enrique, Magellan’s faithful servant and slave. Enrique fought beside Magellan at Mactan, and was lightly wounded there, while Barbosa wenched back at Cebu. Enrique knew that Magellan’s will gave him his freedom. Barbosa refused to honor this, and demanded Enrique to go ashore to negotiate with the rajah the details of their departure, and threatened to take him back to be a slave to Magellan’s wife. One can imagine Enrique’s thoughts were of revenge when going to meet the rajah.

Enrique returned to announce that the rajah was hosting a banquet for the Spanish before their departure, where he would deliver precious gifts for their king. The news delighted Barbosa, who was always up for a party. Men eagerly sought to be one of the lucky ones to attend this last bacchanal.

Most of the fleet’s remaining officers left to attend the festivities, including Barbosa, Serrano, the pilot San Martin, Carvalho, and Espinosa, the fleet’s master-at-arms. In all twenty-six men went ashore. Albo stayed behind to ready the ships while Pigafetta, tending a wound from Mactan, also didn’t go.

Carvalho and Espinosa quickly returned. They’d become suspicious after seeing the fleet’s priest pulled aside by a native man that he’d befriended.

Not long later, music at the rajah’s palace stopped, and the distinct clank of steel-on-steel reverberated over the harbor. Carvalho, Espinosa, and Albo rushed to ready the flagship Trinidad to sail and prepare its cannon. However, after the losses from the transit of the Pacific, Mactan, and those attending the banquet, all three ships were undermanned and unprepared for battle. Finally, the Trinidad was brought close enough to fire a few cannon shot at the palace.

In response, a small party departed the palace and came to the water’s edge. It included the rajah, his son, Enrique, and, hands bound, Serrano. Of what happened then, there are several versions, but all have the same ending. The rajah bargained for cannon in return for his captives, but, after the first cannon were delivered, demanded even more. Serrano then spoke, telling them to flee, as the rajah’s allies would soon arrive by sea.

My belief is that if Barbosa or Magellan were in command, they would have launched a heavily armed rescue party. It might have succeeded. But Carvalho was in command. In a panic, he ordered the fleet south.

Twenty-three men were left behind to their fate. Doubtlessly some, or even most, were already dead. The priest probably survived…possibly as a free man. The other survivors likely lived out their lives as slaves.

Twice in five days the fleet had lost its leaders on the far side of the world from Spain. Fortunately, these were tough, resourceful men, although at times distracted by liquor, women, and gold. The three ships with now less than a hundred and twenty men sailed south. Now, for the second time in four days they needed to elect a new leader and then find the Spice Islands. They knew these were on the equator. One would think they’d be easy to find. Sail to the latitude of the equator and ask around. Or, upon reaching the equator, simply sail either west or east until they were found. It didn’t happen that easily.

Leave a comment

Filed under Francisco Albo, Magellan, Magellan's Navigator

Magellan in the Philippines. A Tale of Religion, Sex, and Gold

Magellan’s approach to all natives that he met was to awe them with European martial invincibility, convert them to the one true God, while accumulating as much gold as possible.

He’d previously seen this done during his years with the Portuguese in India and Malaysia. There a relatively small number of Portuguese with armor and cannon had diverted much of the lucrative spice trade from Venice to Portugal. Magellan intended to do the same in the Philippines.

So, upon meeting the first raja in the Philippines, Magellan put on a demonstration of how one man with armor could defeat many without. He also immediately started his proselytizing.

I think Magellan probably underestimated the sophistication of the local rajas. I am no expert on this time in Philippine history, but it is clear that there were many local fiefdoms dotted through the islands. Through these the Okinawan traders plied their business along with Moslem traders from the south. While the Portuguese hadn’t yet penetrated to the Philippines, tales of their ruthlessness and power had. Magellan’s ships looked like those of the Portuguese despite his calling them Spanish, and the local rajas knew that they best beware of these intruders.

Magellan soon made his way to Cebu, a local trading center. There he triumphantly, he thought, converted the local raja, Humabon, to Christianity. Hundreds, if not thousands, of baptisms followed. Magellan was elated. One wonders what the ‘converted’ thought was happening. Next, at the bequest of Humabon, he conducted a successful punitive raid on a local rival of the Cebu raja. At this time, I believe Magellan thought he was well on his way to establishing a local kingdom for himself.

Meanwhile, many of Magellan’s crewmen, including his trusted brother-in-law Duarte Barbosa, were lost in an orgy of sex and drink. This certainly did nothing to endear the Europeans to the locals, and resentment against them steadily grew.

This all came to a rapid climatic end. Humabon convinced Magellan to bring the raja of Mactan, Lapulapu, into line. Magellan refused an offer of assistance from Humabon. However, by this time most of Magellan’s officers were eager to get along with their chartered mission to the Spice Islands, and refused to help Magellan in his empire-building. So, Magellan went to Mactan with sixty volunteers, and few of his better fighters. There, on April 27th, 1521, he died fighting bravely, albeit futilely, against a throng of Lapulapu’s warriors in a battle completely peripheral to his chartered objective.

The defeat at Mactan was a disaster for the armada. The idea of European martial invincibility was shattered and their leader dead. Pressure grew on Humabon to rid himself of these randy interlopers. And soon, from Magellan’s own camp, would come the plan to decapitate the Europeans.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

March 16, 1521 – Magellan Is Across the Pacific Ocean. Now What!

Magellan was finally across the Pacific, only he landed at the Philippines, instead of the Spice Islands. And he doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get to the destination. Why? Also, five hundred years ago the first person ever circumnavigated the globe. Who was this?

Before I answer these questions, what did happen five hundred years ago on this day?

Magellan’s small fleet completed its transit of the Pacific Ocean with the sighting of the island of Samar on March 16, 1521. The most direct course from the Strait of Magellan to Samar is 9400 miles meaning the fleet averaged 87 miles per day for 108 days, making over 3.6 miles per hour. However, the fleet didn’t sail the most direct route and spent several days at Guam, and hence its speed was even better. Magellan could be proud of his fleet’s comparative swiftness, and the crew thankful. Had they been slower, most would have died of scurvy and starvation.

The men rejoiced at seeing the huge island before them. Magellan named it San Lazaro. (The name Philippines came from a later Spanish expedition.) Unfortunately, landfall was too late for young Gutierrez de Bustillo of Castile, a cabin boy on the Trinidad. He succumbed to scurvy on this day.

Magellan turned south along the island in his search for food. A dozen men were still deathly ill despite the provisions obtained at Guam. Canoes were sighted, but these fled upon seeing Magellan’s fleet. Later that day, they anchored off a small island. Tents were set up ashore for those most ill, and two creeks of sweet water used to refill the ships’ water casks. Crewmen at these streams sighted flecks of gold, igniting the imagination that riches were somewhere near.

Friendly islanders appeared willing to trade food. After several days Magellan moved on to the larger island of Limasawa, where Magellan befriended the Raja Colambu. Four more men died from the rigors of the voyage. Another five would die over the next few weeks.

Another momentous event occurred at Limasawa. Magellan’s slave Enrique de Malacca recognized the language of the locals! This meant he had circumnavigated the globe, and was surely the first man to do so.

Enrique was a most interesting man. Magellan purchased him in Malacca in present day Malaysia while sailing for the Portuguese. By all accounts he was a trusted servant and ally of Magellan. His birth name is unknown, Magellan having given him the Christian name of Enrique. On the Armada’s roster he was listed as an interpreter, and received a salary of 1500 maravedis a month. This was a significant sum, equal to that of the experienced gunners and carpenters as well as the more senior supernumeraries. It was more than Antonio Pigafetta got, and only 500 maravedis less than Francisco Albo initially got as mate.

One can surmise that since Enrique recognized the language in the Philippines, he had originally been captured and enslaved there before being taken to Malacca. Enrique was home! I wonder how he felt. Enrique would play a critical role in Magellan’s dealings with the local Raja’s, and, after Magellan’s death, the fate of the expedition.

Magellan knew that the Spice Islands lay on the equator, yet Samar lies some twelve degrees north latitude. It is logical that his landfall this far north was intentional to give his men some time to recover from their Pacific voyage before potentially encountering the Portuguese, who’d certainly violently defend their current dominance in this part of the world. However, Magellan would linger far longer in these islands than necessary. Several of his captains and officers even urged him to proceed south to the Spice Islands, but Magellan stayed, and ultimately died, in the Philippines.

The reason for this likely lies in his contract with King Charles. Article Four of this contract says that if Magellan should find more than six islands (unoccupied by Christians) he would grant Magellan two of these. Magellan got to choose the two, which his heirs and successors would then be entitled to. Magellan had visions of a small empire in the Philippines. I think this incentive clearly drove Magellan’s actions over the next several weeks, leading to his death.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized