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Pedro Álvares Cabral

Pedro Álvares Cabral

Pedro Álvares Cabral (c. 1467-1520) was a Portuguese navigator who discovered Brazil on a voyage to India.

Born on the family estate in Belmonte, Pedro Álvares Cabral grew up close to the Portuguese court. As a nobleman, he served in the council of King Manuel I and received the habit of the Order of Christ. Little is known of his activities before 1499, when Manuel appointed him the chief captain of a fleet being prepared to sail to India to follow the maritime route to the East charted by Vasco da Gama on his historical voyage of 1497-1499.

Amid colorful pageantry 13 ships with 1,200 men sailed from the Tagus River on March 8, 1500, en route to India. On April 22 the fleet unexpectedly sighted land in the west at 17° South latitude. Cabral explored the coast and claimed the new land for his sovereign. He christened it Ilha de Vera Cruz. Merchants, quickly attracted to its plentiful stands of brazilwood, the source of an excellent red dye, called it Terra do Brasil, and the name Brazil gained popular acceptance.

Cabral's discovery has raised a series of historical questions which have never been properly answered. Was he the first to reach Brazil or had the Spanish or French made prior visits? Had Portugal previously discovered Brazil and protected that discovery with secrecy? Did Cabral—who was far off the prescribed course to India—discover Brazil accidentally or intentionally? There is room for much speculation on each of these questions, but lack of documentary evidence to the contrary leads to the conclusion that Cabral was the first to discover Brazil and that he did so accidentally. The first cartographic notification of Cabral's discovery was the Cantino chart, finished no later than 1502.

After dispatching news of his discovery to King Manuel, Cabral proceeded to India, where he established a trading post at Cochin. He then returned to Lisbon laden with the coveted spices of the East. He helped to prepare the next fleet for India, which sailed under the command of Vasco da Gama. Cabral then apparently retired to his estate at Jardim, near Santarém, where he died about 1520.

Further Reading

The most complete information on Cabral and his voyage to the East is the translation, with an introduction and notes, by William Brooks Greenlee of The Voyage of Pedro Álvares Cabral to Brazil and India: From Contemporary Documents and Narratives (1938). See also Edgar Prestage, The Portuguese Pioneers (1933); Charles David Ley, ed., Portuguese Voyages, 1498-1663 (1947); and Gilbert Renault, Caravels of Christ (1959). □

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Cabral, Pedro Alvares

Pedro Alvares Cabral (pĕ´drŏŏ əlvä´rəsh kəbräl´), c.1467–c.1520, Portuguese navigator. A friend of Vasco da Gama, in 1500 he was sent out by Manuel I as head of a fleet destined for India. Bartolomeu Dias was one of his officers. Cabral went far west of his course and reached the coast of Brazil, which he claimed for Portugal. Proceeding onward, he reached Madagascar, Mozambique, and the Indian coast. At Calicut (Kozhikode), trouble arose over establishing a post for trade and for converting the Muslims. He bombarded the city but had to retreat in order to save his East Indian cargo. The ships returned to Portugal with rich cargoes, but his methods of diplomacy were severely criticized.

The old story that Cabral discovered Brazil because he had been driven off his course by storms has been questioned, and it has been urged that even before the Spaniard Vicente Yáñez Pinzón saw the Brazilian coast (Jan., 1500), Portuguese navigators had been there and that Portugal, wishing to obtain the land, had managed to secure a revision of the pope's original demarcation of the world into Spanish and Portuguese zones of exploration. Certainly the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) adjusted the former line and put Brazil in the Portuguese zone, but the issue is still a subject of debate.

See W. B. Greenlee, comp., The Voyage of Pedro Alvares Cabral to Brazil and India: From Contemporary Documents and Narratives (tr. 1938, repr. 1972).

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Cabral, Pedro Álvares

Cabral, Pedro Álvares (1467–1520) Portuguese navigator who discovered Brazil. In 1500, he led an expedition to the East Indies on the route pioneered by Vasco da Gama. To avoid contrary winds and currents, he took a westward course in the Atlantic and touched on the coast of Brazil, which he claimed for Portugal.

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