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“Exploration and conquest were two significant themes explored in J.H Perry’s, The Age of Reconnaissance, particularly through chapters eight to 19. The exploration of the West African coast was only a sort of rehearsal to the opening of the India trade (where the most sought out good and currency was gold) forty years after the death of Prince Henry. The discovery of a coast where gold could be obtained from the same sources which supplied, was a geographic and profitable achievement of great significance. After the death of Prince Henry in 1460, there was a decline in the interest of exploration. Explorers had reached extremely dangerous waters. A stretch of the coast was particularly worrisome and with little evidence in improvement and often cloudy, unclear skies, it was very difficult to navigate. The Crown, although still encouraging exploration, also became unwilling to cover the expenses of said exploration due to the unlikelihood that such journeys would be a success. The death of Prince Henry was also followed by a dispute between the king’s daughter and his half-sister. This erupted as the Castilian Succession War, which after nearly four years of bitter and destructive fighting, was brought to an end with the Treaty of Alcaçovas in 1479. This treaty contained clauses that dealt with the oversea trade and settlement. The treaty was mainly favorable to Portugal. It was the first among a long series of European treaties that regulated colonial territories. The treaty was followed by a reinterest in discovery and enthusiasm for oversea trade.
One enthusiastic explorer was named Bartolomeu Dias. He was a successor to Diogo Cao, who was a Portuguese man known as one of the most notable navigators of the Age of Discovery. The equally capable, and also more famous Dias, took a ship and two caravels on an expedition leaving Lisbon in 1487 heading for a cape where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean. It was a dangerous journey and the winds and weather set him and his crew off course. He was persuaded by his men to turn back and it wasn’t until the return journey that he spotted the cape he was in search for. He was described by Parry as a brave and skillful navigator as well as quite fortunate. Dias had not made it to India, but he discovered that a sea trade route to Asia by going around Africa was possible. He had named his discovery Cape of Storms, but was renamed Cape of Good Hope by King John II to encourage travel and trade in this region. This voyage, although a success with finding an overseas trade route, was not immediately followed up with a second voyage around Africa. These expeditions needed to be well thought out and approved by the King, but because of other pressing matters such as succession disputes and political troubles, the King’s attention was pulled away from expedition, causing a ten-year delay until Dias’ next departure.
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Another well-known explorer, Christopher Columbus, also had interest in finding the way to the shores of Asia from Europe. Columbus concluded that he could reach Asia by traveling across the Atlantic Ocean rather than going all the way around the massive continent of Africa. Columbus, at this time, was not known as a professional seaman. He was self-taught and a very persuasive geographical theorist with a little bit of knowledge in hydrography and basic training in navigation. The idea to travel west to reach Asia was not an original thought but had been suggested and theorized by several travel authors. The concerns surrounding this voyage were winds, currents, and distance that were all unknown, and there was no knowledge of the interrupting continent that would later be discovered. He eventually sailed west discovering, he thought, that the circumference of earth was much smaller than his contemporaries believed.
Upon his return, the Spanish viewed this voyage as successful and felt it was essential to follow up with another. There were objections to this, as the expense of these voyages was very high. To forestall Portuguese objections, the Spanish monarchs and Columbus turned to the pope for support. The Spaniard pope at the time, Alexander VI, and the support was readily forthcoming. He issues a series of four official papal orders. The first two granted all lands discovered by Columbus to the monarchs of Castile. The third, Inter Caetera, drew a boundary line north to south a hundred leagues west of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands, and all land and sea beyond the line was a “Spanish sphere of exploration.” The fourth, Dudum Squidem, extended that the previous grants include all lands found and to be found, whether they be in regions “occidental or meridional and oriental and of India.” The Dudum Squidem with its specific reference to India caused a lot of concern the Portuguese. They tried to move the pope on this, but they were unsuccessful. John II however, was successful and convincing the monarchs of Castile to move the boundary line in the Inter Caetera over west 270 leagues to protect his African interests.
The Spanish sovereigns supported Columbus in his second voyage. His objective was to colonize the Indies. This trip was extremely unsuccessful for Columbus. When he got to Hispaniola, he found half the colonists in open revolt. In 1499, he was superseded and arrested by his successor and sent back to Spain. Upon his return, the people in Spain began to suspect that new lands he discovered out west were further away from the mainland of Asia than Columbus believed. Exploration of the Caribbean increasingly confirmed these suspicions, and increased interest in exploring the north Atlantic arose. Columbus’ brother tried to pick up where his brother left off however Henry VII turned him down. Aware of Columbus’ discoveries, Henry instead trusted a voyage to John Cabot. He granted Cabot license to explore the western north Atlantic. He discovered and claimed land for England that is modern day Canada, however since he did not return with silk, spices or any other valued commodities, the voyage was considered a failure and his English backers showed no further interest.
Eventually, the discovery of the “New World” peaked the interest of the Europeans and was believed to be of value. Public interest in the New World were kept alive by a number of books on discovery that were published in the early sixteenth century. Among these publications were letters written by a man names Amerigo Vespucci. These letters described four voyages which he was said to have made it to the New World, although later two of the letters were fond to be forgeries likely written by pirates based off of his real letters. Vespucci was a businessman of substance but in the early middle ages left behind the world of business to become an explorer. His two voyages that were believed to be authentic were first, he covered the coast from west Cape Sao Roque, and northwest and west to the Maracaibo lagoon. He made original and significant steps forward with a method to calculate longitude. Second, he ventured to the coast of Brazil and followed it south-westerly for two thousand miles. These two voyages covered a majority of the Atlantic coast of South America and revealed the great size of the continent. When Vespucci returned to Spain he was named Pilot-major to the Casa de la Contratacion at Seville, and he was the first to be honored with and serve under this title. He was well-known for his sound geographic knowledge and good judgment. After him Europe recognized America as a new continent between them and Asia. Another explorer by the name of Ferdinand Megellan, was employed by the Spanish Crown and was the first European to cross the Pacific Ocean. This expedition was significant because it proved that the world could be circled by sea, and also shed light on how much bigger the world actually was than previously imagined. The route was named Megellan’s Strait; however, it was the cause of political controversy. The Treaty of Zaragoza was a peace treaty between Spain and Portugal which defined the areas of Spanish and Portuguese influence in Asia. It was created to resolve the issues that erupted from both countries trying to claim the Moluccas Islands. This was significant because it marked the end of discovery, and Magellan’s Strait was never used by anyone again as a regular channel of trade.
The Portuguese were able to dominate the eastern trade routes for a hundred years. They secured bases and a place in the eastern commerce in the first two decades of the sixteenth century however the main reason they were able to protect their trade against competitors was because they had no competitors. Sir Francis Drake was a European mariner for the Queen. He explored the south-west passage to Asia. Drake, very similarly to Megellan, sailed with five ships and had to suppress a mutiny.
The Dutch were able to challenge the Portuguese trade because they were well informed on their shipping routes in the East and were able to “go behind the middleman”. The Dutch also built bigger Indiamen while the increase in size was kept at maximum efficiency. The Dutch company had greater resources then they had previously in ships and money than the Portuguese and the English company. It was a man named Jan Pieterszoon Coen who established a fortified base in Batavia. This gave the Dutch a permanent strategic enterprise. This was later used by his successors to their advantage to establish a sort of monopoly. The Dutch set up a colony at the Cape of South Africa with commercial intentions and trading interests.
The European overseas empires created problems of administration as well as problems of political theory. Officially the Spanish Crown led the rest of Europe in law, government, and jurisprudence. The Spanish based their rights to rule the Indies off the bulls written by pope Alexander VI. The doctrine of universal papal dominion was associated with Ostiensis, and was not universally accepted. Many sixteenth century jurists rejected the Ostiensian doctrine because it was both theologically unsound and unrealistic. One of the jurists who rejected this was Franciso de Vitoria of the Dominican. He had never visited America and his interests in the subject were academic. His main interest was the rights and wrongs of war and conquest and he likely was the first serious writer to reject the doctrine. Another Dominican, Bartolome Las Casas, spent most of his life in the Indies as a missionary and priest. Similar to Vitoria, he attributed to the Papacy limited and indirect temporal authority relating to matters of spiritual welfare. He also believed in the theory of kingship and that a king has a responsibility to the people and to uphold law justly and assume a more autocratic authority rather than despotic. Gines De Sepulveda was a humanist, Aristotelian scholar, and a master of Latin. He also shared an interest in the Indies from a purely academic standpoint. According to him, men needed to respect their parents, to seek good and avoid evil, keep their promises, and to believe in God and His teachings.
At the Valladolid debate, Europeans discussed the rights and treatment of the colonized people as well as the colonizers. The Spanish Crown still sought to guard its possessions and assert its authority. I agree with Sepulveda because I think he had a more modern outlook on humanity and politics, and a strong sense of right from wrong.”
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