Pedro Alvares Cabral

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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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Pedro Álvares Cabral

c. 1467-1520

Portuguese navigator who is credited with the discovery of Brazil. Cabral was born into a family of great privilege, held in high esteem among the Portuguese royal family. He spent many years in the service of King Manuel I, who in 1500 entrusted him to lead an expedition of 13 ships to India. Cabral was to follow the route taken by Vasco da Gama, and was charged with cementing trade alliances between India and Portugal. After sailing far westward of his course, Cabral landed in the country he called Island of the True Cross, which would later be renamed Brazil. He took possession of the country for Portugal, and dispatched one of his ships to send word of his conquest to the king. Cabral spent only 10 days in Brazil, before setting sail once again for India. After a voyage fraught with disaster, his fleet cast anchor at Calicut, India, where he entered into a fierce battle against Muslim soldiers. Many of Cabral's crew were killed in the struggle, but the Portuguese eventually prevailed, seizing 10 Muslim ships. He then sailed for the port of Cochin, and there established successful trade relations with local merchants. Cabral returned to Portugal in 1501.

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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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