Albuquerque, Afonso de

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Albuquerque, Afonso de

Afonso d'Albuquerque, known as "the Great," was born in Alhandra, near Lisbon, Portugal, and died at sea off Goa, India. He was the second governor of India, who laid the foundations of the Portuguese Empire in the Orient.

Albuquerque was the second son of the senhor of Vila Verde. His ancestors and those of his wife, Dona Leonor de Meneses, served the Portuguese kings John I (1357–1433) and Edward (1391–1438) in high and confidential offices, and he himself served ten years in Morocco under Afonso V (1432–1381), John II (1455–1495), and Manuel I (1469–1521), where he gained early military experience crusading against Muslims. Albuquerque was most prominent under John II, but his reputation rests on his service in the East.

When Vasco da Gama (ca. 1469–1524) returned to Portugal in 1499 from his pioneering voyage to India, King Manuel straightaway sent a second fleet under Pedro Álvares Cabral (ca. 1467–1520) to open relations and trade with the Indian rulers. The Muslim traders who had monopolized the distribution of spices asked the zamorin, or Hindu prince of Calicut, for assistance against the Portuguese. His dependency, the raja of Cochin, on the Malabar Coast, however, welcomed the Iberians. In 1503 Albuquerque arrived with his cousin Francisco to protect the ruler of Cochin, where he built the first Portuguese fortress in Asia and placed a garrison. After setting up a trading post at Quilon, he returned to Lisbon in July 1504, where he was well received by Manuel and could participate in the formulation of the Portuguese policy toward Asia.

In 1505 Manuel appointed Dom Francisco de Almeida (ca. 1450–1510) the first governor in India, with the rank of viceroy. Almeida's main aim was to develop trade and aid the allies of the Portuguese. Albuquerque left Lisbon with Tristão da Cunha (1460–1540) in April 1506 to explore the east coast of Africa. In August 1507 he build a fortress on the island of Socotra to block the mouth of the Red Sea and cut off Arabic trade with India. After that, Albuquerque captured Hormuz (Ormuz), an island in the channel between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, to open the European-Persian trade. The fortification at Hormuz had to be abandoned because of differences with his captains, who departed for India. Albuquerque, left with only two ships to Socotra, continued to raid the Arabic coasts.

King Manuel appointed Albuquerque to succeed Almeida at the end of his term, though without the rank of viceroy. When Albuquerque reached India in December 1508, Almeida had crushed the improvised sea force of Calicut, but a navy from Egypt had defeated and killed his son. Almeida insisted on remaining in power until he had avenged his son's death; to prevent any interference, Almeida decided to imprison his successor, Albuquerque. Almeida succeeded in defeating the Muslims off Diu in February 1509, and in November, with the arrival of marshal Fernando Coutinho from Portugal, he finally turned his office over to Albuquerque.

Albuquerque's plan was to assume active control over all the main maritime trade routes of the East and to establish permanent fortresses with settled populations. He realized that it was better to try to supplant the Muslims. With the assistance of a powerful corsair named Timoja, he took twenty-three ships to attack Goa, long ruled by Muslim princes. Albuquerque occupied this city in March 1510, but was forced out of the citadel by a Muslim army in May. In November he took Goa again after a final assault. The Muslim defenders were put to the sword.

After this victory over the Muslims, the Hindu rulers accepted the Portuguese presence in India. Albuquerque used Goa as a naval base against the Muslims. He also diverted the spice trade to Goa, and used the city as a base for supplying Persian horses to Hindu princes. By marrying his men to the widows of his victims he would give Goa its own population. The village's communities, under a special regime, would assure an abundance of supplies and merchandise.

After providing for the government of Goa, Albuquerque embarked on the conquest of Malacca, on the Malay Peninsula, the immediate point of distribution for spices in the East. He took this port town in July 1511, garrisoned it, and sent an ambassador to the king of Siam to open trade. He also sent ships in search of spices to the Banda Islands and the Moluccas.

In the meantime, Goa was again under heavy attack. Albuquerque left Malacca in January 1512 and came to Goa's relief. Having resecured the city, and after establishing a licensing system to control the movement of goods, Albuquerque set off for the Red Sea with a force of Portuguese and Indian soldiers. Because Socotra was inadequate as a base, he attempted to take Aden, but his forces proved insufficient. He thereupon explored the Arabian and Abyssinian (Ethiopian) coasts. Returning to India, he finally subdued Calicut, hitherto the main seat of opposition to the Portuguese.

In February 1515 Albuquerque again left Goa with twenty-six ships bound for Hormuz, gaining control of part of the island. He fell ill in September and returned to Goa. On the way he learned that he had been superseded by his personal enemy, Lope Soares de Albergaria. Albuquerque died embittered onboard the ship before reaching his destination.

Albuquerque's plans derived from the crusading spirit of John II and others. He did not allow himself to be diverted from his schemes by considerations of mercantile gain. His boldest concepts, such as turning the Persians against the Turks or ruining Egypt by diverting the course of the Nile, may have been superhuman, but perhaps his achievements were as well.

see also Empire, Portuguese; Goa, Colonial City of.


Albuquerque, Braz de. Commentarios do grande Afonso Dalboquerque. Lisbon: Na Regia Officina Typografica, 1774. Available in English as The Commentaries of the Great Afonso Dalboquerque, Second Viceroy of India. Translated from the 1774 edition by Walter de Gray Birch. New York: Burt Franklin, 1964.

Cortesão, Jaime. História dos Descobrimentos Portugueses. Lisbon: Círculo de Leitores, 1979.

Danvers, Frederick Charles: The Portuguese in India. London: W. H. Allen, 1894.

Diffie, Bailey W, and George D. Winius. Foundations of the Portuguese Empire, 1415–1580. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977.

Marques, António Henrique R. de Oliveira. History of Portugal, 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1976.

Panikkar, K. M. Malabar and the Portuguese: Being a History of the Relations of the Portuguese with Malabar from 1500 to 1663. Bombay: D. B. Taraporevala Sons, 1929.

Albuquerque, Afonso de

views updated May 11 2018


ALBUQUERQUE, AFONSO DE (1459–1515), viceroy of the Portuguese empire in India and Asia (1509–1515) Born to a family that traced its origins to an illegitimate son of King Dinis of Portugal (r. 1279–1325), Afonso de Albuquerque was indisputably the founder of the Portuguese empire in India and Asia. Before sailing to India in 1503, he had served KingManuel I (r. 1495–1521) in Morocco, where he developed a fanatical hatred for all Muslims after a Moroccan Muslim killed his younger brother there. Returning in 1504 to Lisbon, Albuquerque convinced the king of the desirability of establishing a monopoly of trade with the East by building forts at strategic ports around the Indian Ocean. Two years later the king approved his plan and dispatched him to the East. In a secret letter, he promised Albuquerque an appointment as viceroy of the Portuguese possessions at the expiration of the term of the incumbent, Francisco de Almeida. During the next nine years, Albuquerque established Portuguese maritime supremacy over the Indian Ocean, seizing crucial bases on the Asia-Europe route to Goa in 1510. A year later, he took Malacca, the principal distribution port for spices in Southeast Asia, and in 1515 he captured Ormuz in the Persian Gulf. Portugal's share in the Asia-Europe trade rose to three-quarters of the total, causing major losses for the Venetians, who had previously maintained a quasi-monopoly over the Asiatic trade through ties with Arabs and Persians. Albuquerque made Goa the headquarters of the extensive Portuguese empire in the East. In 1509, he was made viceroy, a position he held until his death in 1515.

Albuquerque's imperial zeal was matched both by religious fanaticism and a ruthlessness that had few equals even among his contemporary conquistadores, both Portuguese and Spaniards. In a letter to the king of Portugal, Albuquerque boasted "I leave no town or building of the Mussulmans. Those who are taken alive, I order them to be roasted." One of Albuquerque's major initiatives was to encourage mixed marriages between Portuguese soldiers and sailors and the widows and abducted wives and daughters of the fallen combatants. He forcibly converted the women to Catholicism, gave them dowries of land and cash, and encouraged them to settle down and produce offspring, who he hoped would be loyal pillars of Portuguese power in the East. The policy failed in several ways. The "half-castes" it produced never lent effective strength to Portuguese imperial power. In Western India, his policy of religious intolerance produced hostility between Muslims and Hindus, who had, during the preceding centuries, lived in peaceful coexistence along the coast, promoting gainful trade.

Albuquerque's many detractors, both among his contemporaries and later historians, have condemned his excessive ambition in building an overextended empire of ports and forts while simultaneously pursuing a policy of forcible conversion. There is no doubt, however, that he was the founder of the Portuguese empire and initiator of the "Portuguese century" in Asia, making his country (along with Spain) an object of envy among contemporary European states.

D. R. SarDesai

See alsoGama, Vasco da ; Goa ; Portuguese in India


Albuquerque, Afonso de. The Commentaries of the Great Afonso de Albuquerque, Second Viceroy of India, translated from the Portuguese edition of 1774 by Walter de Gray Birch. 4 vols. London: Hakluyt Society, 1875–1884.

——. Cartas de Afonso de Albuquerque para el rei D. Manuel I Lisbon: Royal Academy, 1884.

Earle, T. F., and John Villiers, eds. and trans. Albuquerque, Caesar of the East: Selected Texts. Warminster, U.K.: Aris and Phillips, 1990.

Stephens, Henry Morse. Albuquerque. Rulers of India Series. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1892.

Afonso de Albuquerque

views updated May 29 2018

Afonso de Albuquerque

The Portuguese nobleman Afonso de Albuquerque (ca. 1460-1515) is best known as governor of India. He is also considered to be the founder of the Portuguese imperial system.

Afonso de Albuquerque was born to a family of minor Portuguese nobility. He fought in Portugal's wars in Spain and Africa. He was sent on a voyage to India in 1503-1504 and went to the East again in 1506 with Tristão da Cunha. In 1507 they captured the island of Socotra in the Arabian Sea, from where Tristão da Cunha sailed for India and Albuquerque for Hormuz. Albuquerque took Hormuz, the principal spice-distributing center for the Persian Gulf, and proceeded to India. He reached Cannanore in December 1508 and revealed his secret instructions to supersede Viceroy Francisco de Almeida, with the title of governor. Almeida, refusing to give up command, imprisoned him until a powerful Portuguese fleet under Fernando Coutinho arrived in October 1509 with a confirmation of Albuquerque's appointment. He then assumed power.

Albuquerque was the major figure in the establishment of the Portuguese sea empire in the East. In 1510 he captured Goa, which he fortified and made the chief trading post and permanent naval base in India. To give it a stable character, he offered lands and subsidies to Portuguese men who would marry native women. In 1511 Albuquerque captured Malacca; from this base he could control the trade from the East Indies and the coast of China. During his governorship Portuguese vessels touched on the coast of China and sailed to some of the islands of the East Indies, gaining naval ascendancy in the Far East.

In Goa again in 1512, Albuquerque strengthened Portuguese administration there and in other coastal cities and prepared a fleet for a campaign along the coasts of Persia and Arabia. His unsuccessful attack on Aden in 1513 failed to close the Red Sea to Moslem shipping. On his return to India, he secured from the King of Cambay the right to construct a fortress in Diu. His success brought friendly overtures from the Shah of Persia, the Samorin of Calicut, and the kings of Siam and Malacca, as well as several other rulers.

Portugal now controlled the principal strategic points from the east coast of Africa to Malacca, with the exception of the Red Sea. A system of licenses (called cartazas) required all ships to prove that they had paid customs duties at Malacca, Goa, or Hormuz. An unlicensed ship, particularly if it belonged to Moslems, was subjected to seizure and sinking. Albuquerque's policies thus had made the Portuguese the predominant, although not the only, commercial force in the East until the 17th century.

In 1515 Albuquerque was superseded by enemies he had previously sent back to Portugal as prisoners. He voiced his bitterness: "I am in ill favor with the king for love of men, and with men for love of the king." He died at sea on Dec. 16, 1515.

Further Reading

The best source for material on Albuquerque is by his son, Afonso de Albuquerque, The Commentaries of the Great Afonso Dalboquerque (1774; trans. with an introduction by W. de Gray Birch, 4 vols., 1875-1884). Edgar Prestage, Afonso de Albuquerque, Governor of India (1929), is a brief account. Elaine Sanceau, Indies Adventure: The Amazing Career of Afonso de Albuquerque (1936), is a pro-Portuguese treatment that makes extensive use of the sources. Richard Stephen Whiteway, The Rise of Portuguese Power in India, 1497-1550 (1899; 2d ed. 1967), and Charles R. Boxer's scholarly The Portuguese Seaborne Empire, 1415-1825 (1969) are excellent background works that rely on the writings of 16th century Portuguese historians for source material. See also K. G. Jayne, Vasco da Gama and His Successors (1910). □