Magellan, Navigator and Explorer - Biography

Magellan, Navigator and Explorer - Biography

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Fernand of Magellan (1480-1521) was a Portuguese navigator and explorer, whose expedition was the first to cross the Pacific Ocean and circumnavigate the world, although the initial project was to discover a sea route to Asia by west and come back the same way. Along the way, he gives his name to the passage that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific: the Strait of Magellan. Arrived in the Philippine archipelago, he is killed there and it is his second who will complete the return trip. After a little more than a quarter of a century, the dream of Christopher Columbus had come true and as the historian Pierre Chaunu said, "never has the world been so big as it was after the journey of Magellan" .

A nation of intrepid sailors

During the 15th century, European navigators set out to find new routes to the East. the Portuguese, who knew how to build vassals capable of making long journeys at sea, pioneered. Bartolomé Diaz was the first to reach the southern tip of Africa. In the process, the navigators Vasco de Gama and Cabral doubled the Cape of Good Hope to reach India (1498-1500) and established there trading posts in Goa and Callicut. Magellan would take on an even greater challenge, reaching the East Indies from the southwest and the Pacific Ocean.

The origins of Fernão de Magalhães, in French Fernand de Magellan, are obscure. Coming from a family with multiple ramifications from the north of the Portuguese, it is assumed that he was born around 1480. On the other hand, it is certain that he embarked in 1506 for the East Indies, participating in several expeditions on the coast. East African and India. In 1511, he participated in the capture of Malacca. Magellan did not go further, but his friend Francisco Serrão traveled to the Moluccas in 1512, from where he sent letters to Magellan describing these distant islands where cloves grow.

Magellan, a Portuguese in the service of Charles V

He returned in early 1513, and fought at Azemmour in Morocco, where he received a rear knee injury. Back in Portugal, dissatisfied with his situation, he left for Spain in 1517 to offer the Spaniards a grandiose project: to find a passage to the south of South America to reach the Spice Islands which he supposed to be located in the middle of the sphere reserved for the Spaniards since the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). Recall that the meridian set at Tordesillas passed roughly through the mouths of the Amazon. Everything east of this line was reserved for Portuguese exploration, everything west belonged to the Spaniards. On the other side of the world, an anti-meridian extended the Meridian, dividing the globe into two hemispheres of influence. It should also be noted that all the world production of cloves and nutmeg then came from the two small archipelagos of Moluccas and Banda.

He then offered his services to King Charles I of Spain, the future Charles V. For two years, exposed to Spanish suspicions and Portuguese maneuvers, he methodically prepared his expedition. On September 20, 1519, Fernando de Magellan weighed anchor from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, the port of Seville, with five ships and 437 men on board (440 after a stopover in the Canaries): Trinidad, Victoria, Concepcion, San Antonio and Santiago. Magellan himself took his place aboard the Trinidad.

In mid-December, he landed in the bay of Rio de Janeiro. In February 1520, he explored the estuary of the Rio de la Plata and on March 31, 1520, his fleet docked in the harbor of San Julián, where it remained for nearly six months. During this period a mutiny broke out and the sinking of a ship was deplored. After suppressing the revolt, Magellan discovered on November 21 the entrance to the strait that will bear his name. The crossing went smoothly, except for the desertion of a ship carrying 57 men.

On December 28, three ships therefore undertook the first crossing of the great ocean that Magellan calls "Pacific". He reached the Marianas, or "thieves' islands" on March 6, 1521 and discovered ten days later, the Philippines. He docked at Cebu Island on April 7. There he made an alliance with the ruler of the island and offered to fight the natives of the neighboring island of Mactan. Magellan was killed with a poisoned arrow on April 27, 1521 during the battle. An ambush fomented by the king of Cebu awaited his companions on their return: the sailors counted 26 dead in their ranks. The survivors hurriedly fled.

A world tour completed ... without Magellan

After Magellan’s death, the third vessel was burned for lack of men to maneuver it, but the other two reached the Moluccas on November 6, 1521. The Trindade then attempted to return via the Pacific. It was a failure, the ship ended up boarded and its men taken prisoner by the Portuguese. La Victoria, commanded by a former mutineer, the Basque Juan Sebastián Elcano, completed the journey through the Cape of Good Hope and arrived in Sanlúcar de Barrameda on September 6, 1522, almost three years after his departure. Eighteen Europeans landed there; twelve others, held for a while in Cape Verde, joined them a few weeks later.

If the first trip around the world caught the imagination, it turned out to be a failure. The shipment of spices brought back to Spain on the Victoria only partially reimbursed the costs of the expedition. The passage through the Strait of Magellan will be too long and too difficult to constitute a regular route between Europe and Asia, and Spain had to give up the Moluccas. Nevertheless, the trip laid the groundwork for trade between the New World and the East. But it was not until 1565 that López de Legazpi succeeded in creating a maritime link between the Philippines, which the Spaniards and Mexico would appropriate.


- The voyage of Magellan (1519-1521). Pigafetta's relationship & other testimonials. Edition established by Xavier de Castro, in collaboration with Jocelyne Hamon and Luís Filipe Thomaz. Preface by Carmen Bernand and Xavier de Castro. Chandeigne, 1048 p. 2007; 2 ° ed., 2010. This edition is the first in the world to have gathered and compared all the direct testimonies, with many new features and corrections. Xavier de Castro, pseudonym of Michel Chandeigne, is a specialist in cartography and discoveries, and the author of numerous conferences on these themes.

- Magellan by Stefan Zweig, biography. Grasset, 2003.

- Fernand de Magellan by Antonio Pigafetta, biography. Tallandier, 2005.

- Magellan by Jules Verne, biography. Magellan & cie, 2005.

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