A Life
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An illuminating and well-written life of the founding figure of the Age of Exploration.

Prince Henry of Portugal (1394–1460) changed more than the trade routes through his dispatch of ships from Portugal to the coast of Africa and beyond; in some sense, he changed the shape of the world itself. Eager to take best political and economic advantage of Portugal’s ready access to the sea, he founded a school of navigation and shipbuilding at Sagres. There they soon developed the caravel—an exceptionally sturdy vessel capable of far longer and more far-flung voyages than had yet been common. It was the type of ship Columbus would later sail when he discovered the New World, and it went a long way toward establishing Portugal as one of the preeminent sea powers of the age. Russell (Spanish Studies/Oxford Univ.) creates a well-rounded portrait of the Prince by making use of a staggering variety of sources. He goes beyond the details of Henry’s life to looks at the consequences of his reign—including the opening of the slave trade. The author also looks at the less momentous aspects of Henry’s legacy (such as the introduction of winemaking to the island of Madeira and the village of Oporto). He pays significant attention to the spread of Islam during this period, as this threatened Portugal and served as an impetus for Henry’s explorations (insofar as he needed to ascertain the extent of Islamic influence in the region).

A complete, scholarly, and thoroughly readable look at one of the key shapers of the modern world—lavishly illustrated with period maps and paintings.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-300-08233-9
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2000