A Royal Wedding
In 1424, the same year Zuane Pizigano drew his map and Gonçalo Velho Cabral found the Azores, Henry’s kid brother João got married. It was the first marriage of the five brothers of the House of Avis – the first marriage of the Magnificent Princes. Prince João married their half-niece, Isabel, the daughter of their half-brother Afonso of Barcelos, later Count Bragança. [Afonso was the son of King João I and his mistress Inês Peres.] Isabel was twenty-two and João was twenty-four. This is the couple that later became the grandparents of Queen Isabelle of Castile.
The Travels of Prince Pedro
The year after his brother’s wedding and after Henry the Navigator returned to Sagres, the second oldest brother, Pedro, who was in charge of international relations for the House of Avis, received an urgent appeal from Philip III, Duke of Burgundy. Philip had two concerns. He wanted to marry Isabel of Portugal, the sister of the Magnificent Princes, and he wanted Portugal’s Order of Christ to help him fight the Sunni Ottoman Turks who were threatening the eastern boarders of Europe.
The Ottoman Empire had been founded in 1288 in Anatolia by Osman I. Between 1362 and 1389, the Sultan’s armies advanced over the Balkan Mountains. In 1421, Murad II Kodja (1404-1451) became Sultan. Murad would spend the next twenty-five years pushing east against the Christian armies. Eventually, his successor, Mehmet the Great would take possession of the capital of the Byzantine empire, Constantinople. But we are not there quite yet.
In 1425, Pedro departed Lisbon with more than 800 mounted Knights of the Order of Christ – all dressed in white, each with a red cross on his arms and shield. Pedro’s tour of Europe would last two years. By 1426, his army reached the Duchy of Burgundy.
Philip III, later known as Philip the Good, had succeeded his father, John the Fearless, as head of France’s Royal Valois family five years earlier, in 1419. He would retain the position until his death in 1467. The Low Countries [Flanders, Brabant, Limburg, Artois, Hainaut, Holland, Zeeland, Friesland, and Namur] were among Philip’s dominions. During his reign, Burgundy experienced the height of its prosperity and prestige. The painter Jan van Eyck flourished, and the Burgundians captured Joan of Arc. Philip was considered the most flamboyant ruler in Europe.
Philip’s previous two wives had died, both without issue. Thirty-two-year-old Isabel was King João’s only surviving daughter. Negotiations went on for a year. The marriage would not occur until July 24, 1429, after Pedro had returned to Portugal. Even then, it was only by proxy. That meant that Isabel was still in Portugal when the ceremony took place in the church, and someone else stood in her place – perhaps a priest – and took the vows for her.
Eight weeks later, Isabel left for Burgundy with a flotilla of twenty ships and a court of nearly 2000 Portuguese attendants. They would stay and live with her in Burgundy. On the way, the fleet hit a storm. Several ships were lost carrying much of Isabel’s trousseau, but her court attendants, apparently, were spared. Isabel finally disembarked in Sluys, Flanders, on January 7, 1430.
Isabel would become a very powerful woman and assist her brother Henry in populating the Azores Islands as you shall see. She often acted as regent for her husband when he was away. In spite of her husband’s philanderous behavior – he had more then fifty illegitimate children by mistresses – she had three children of her own by him. Two would die. Her third, Charles the Bold, would succeed his father.
Returning again to the year 1427, Pedro’s own luck in Burgundy was not so fair. After arranging the marriage of his sister, he marched his tiny army through Nuremberg [in today’s Germany] to the eastern front to battle the Ottoman Turks. Only 300 of his 800 knights survived. It was time to go home.
By 1428, Pedro and his diminished army reached Venice, where Pedro obtained a hand-written copy of The Travels of Marco Polo for his brother Henry, as well as a copy of “the latest world map by a Venetian cartographer” [either the Pizigani Portolan or the Medici Atlas]. From Venice, Pedro traveled to Rome to pay tribute to Pope Martin V. From Rome he marched to Pisa, from where he sailed to the cartography studios on the island of Majorca to purchase more maps and portolans for Henry.
On the last stretch, Pedro crossed the Balearic Sea to Aragon, where he paid an important call on the king, Alfonso V. The two royals arranged the marriage of crown prince Duarte to Alfonso’s daughter Leonor. Leonor of Aragon must have left immediately for Portugal because her wedding to Duarte took place in Coimbra as soon as Pedro reached home.
When Pedro delivered the copy of The Travels of Marco Polo to his brothers, Duarte translated it from Latin to Portuguese for Henry. The book ultimately ended up in King Duarte’s library.
One of Pedro’s courtiers wrote a travelogue about their two-year journey, El Libro del Infante Don Pedro de Portugal [The Book of Prince Peter of Portugal]. It soon rivaled the travelogue of Sir John Mandeville.
Pedro was the last of the brothers to marry. In 1428, he chose Isabel of Urgell, the oldest daughter of James II, Count of Urgell. This choice would not bring peace to the House of Avis. Isabel’s father James II was a contender to the throne of Aragon. In other words, he was the head of a royal branch of Aragon that rivaled King Alfonso V’s branch of Aragon [Duarte’s new in-laws]. The animosity between the two princesses of Aragon, Isabel and Leonor, would cause havoc later.
Nonetheless, the children of the House of Avis were now allied with the most powerful kingdoms in the western world. Duarte was married to a princess of Aragon, Pedro to Aragon’s House of Urgell, and Isabel to the Duke of Burgundy. Henry and Fernando would never marry, but like their siblings, they were already the nephews and niece of the King of England and the King and Queen of Castile.
In 1432, Henry’s father, King João I, died, and Duarte claimed the throne. Duarte was forty-two-years-old, three years older than Henry. He pledged to support Henry’s exploratory efforts by appointing Henry the sole authority for sending out expeditions to Africa and the Indies beyond. Duarte also granted Henry all the profits from trade resulting in the new lands he discovered.
Next article: The Portuguese Reach Cape Bojador