Important Enterprises of the Fifteenth Century Trade

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International law, and the desire to make discoveries and explore new land were very essential elements of the fifteenth century. These enterprises lead to the discovery of the world, expansion of kingdoms, and maintained peace between the leaders of the kingdoms. Ultimately, these empires improved life overall for people of the fifteenth century. Therefore, the way these customs operated is very important to understand. When it comes to these three enterprises, exploration and discovery was the most important one. The reason for this is because discovery lead to the requirement for international law and trade regulations regarding the new land that was discovered.

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Additionally, discovery lead to the expansion of kingdoms. That is why it was important for lords and princes of kingdoms such as Portugal and Spain to encourage their people to go out on these dangerous voyages into the unknown. These leaders encouraged their people to risk their lives by offering them rewards. Generally, these rewards consisted of shares of the treasure discovered, and the ability to name the land they discovered. The lords and princes would also encourage the people, by promising them that they would go down in history for their discoveries. To some people in the fifteenth century this was especially enticing because, in addition to the major accomplishment of making history, they got to leave their boring life of doing the same thing every day and go explore the world. In some cases, the leaders of an empire would entice the people by giving out prestigious titles to those who would go on these dangerous voyages for them. An example of this is when King Ferdinand of Spain, encouraged Christopher Columbus to go on his voyage when he “revived the title of admiral of the ocean sea” and gave Columbus the title “governor over the lands he might find”. (Symcox, 13).

The most important part of exploration and discovery was the role of the king, this was important because the king had the legal power of the enterprise and he made the final decision if he would send out his people on an exportation. The king would make this decision based on the financial viability of exploration, and based on acquiring more land in order to expand his empire. Additionally, for the enterprise of exploration to be successful, it was important that when each successive generation of kings would have the desire to discover more land and create more potential for commerce.

A prime example of this is King John II after he took over for his father King Afonso. His desire to explore and increase commerce lead to a major discovery of an important trading route. King John II had ordered “the discovery of the islands of S. Thomè and S. Antonio and peopled them as a base for navigation to India”. (Pereira,3). Another major part of the importance of exploration and discovery is international law. This enterprise was important because when land was discovered by an empire such as Portugal or Spain, it needed to be protected from outside claims of other kingdoms.

Otherwise, opposing kingdoms would be free to show up and take important trading posts and other means of profit necessary for these kingdoms to expand their power. Additionally, without international law, it is possible that war could have broken out over this newly discovered land. During the fifteenth century, the pope had final authority on international matters such as this. This was because these kingdoms were Catholic and they all submitted to the pope. The pope would use papal bulls to give these empires protection from outside competition to the land. For example, the papal bull Romanus Pontifex gave Portugal the rights to the land and a monopoly on the trade in North Africa. Another example of a papal bull that protected land for an empire was the Inter Catera. This papal bull gave King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella the exclusive right to all land south and west of the Cape Verde islands. Pope Alexander VI did this because he wanted to win the favor of King Ferdinand since the French were threatening him and because he was pleased that King Ferdinand conquered Granada

. Additionally, empires would protect their newly discovered land with treaties between them and other empires. For example, Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty of the Aláçovas. This treaty gave Portugal the exclusive rights to all the land south of the Canary Islands and stated that no Spanish ships were allowed to sail past the Canary Islands. Although Spain eventually realized that this treaty favored Portugal they still honored it. International law was also an important part of discovery because it gave leaders of the empires the mechanism of owning land. This was important because owning land didn’t just expand these empires, but it gave them somewhere to create more wealth. This was significant because wealth was essential in order to constantly support an empire and allow for the enterprise of an kingdom to have to finances necessary in order to support voyages that lead to the discovery of new land and expansion of the empire. This was done through cash crops, some of these empires didn’t have the right climate for the valuable crops to grow successfully. Therefore, acquiring these islands gave the empires a constant source of revenue all year through the crops. An example of this is sugar. Rinaldo Caddeo confirmed this when he said that the island of Madeira “is known to be well watered, the said Infante had sugar cane planted, which grows to perfection”. (Newitt, 57).

Additionally, trade was a very important part of exploration and discovery, this is because trade lead to the discovery of valuables such as gold and cotton. Acquisition of these goods would lead to the ability for an empire to expand its power and make peace with the indigenous people of the land they wanted to conquer. In order to ensure that trade was viable for the process of exploration deceiving the indigenous people was necessary. By deceiving them, the explorers gained the upper hand and got the better end of the trades. The men trading with the indigenous people deceived them by leading them to believe that the items they possessed were of divine creation. For example, the Portuguese showed the people of Africa their bagpipes and the Africans believed it was an animal that could sing. When they were told it was an instrument that was handmade the indigenous people were lead to believe that it “was a heavenly thing, and that God had made it with his own hands since it spoke so sweetly with different voices”. (Newitt, 73).

In addition to deception, it was important to take advantage of the misunderstandings of the indigenous people when trading. This is because it made it easier to get more for less. Also, misunderstandings in trade often created good relations between explorers and the indigenous population. Furthermore, good relations ensured the viability of exploration since the indigenous were more than willing to show the explorers around the land, making discovery more efficient, and they were willing to help the explorers when they ran into trouble. An example of Columbus and his men taking advantage of the misunderstanding in trade is when the indigenous traded “sixteen balls of spun cotton for three Portuguese Ceutís. (Symcox, 71). Taking advantage of the misunderstanding in trade was also implemented when the Indigenous people wanted to trade their large pieces of gold for bells. Columbus and his men gladly agreed to this trade. This gave Columbus and his men a major advantage because they got so much valuable gold for only a few bells.

Additionally, in the process, their relations with the indigenous people improved since they wanted those bells more than anything and believed that they were getting a good trade. This is seen when the indigenous people “begged him to command that a bell be set aside for them until the next day, because they would bring him four pieces of gold”. (Symcox, 77). An example of how relations from trade made the process of exploration viable, in tough times, is when the indigenous people helped Columbus and his men is when their ship sunk on December 25th, the king of Niña wanted to help the Columbus. He did this by allowing for Columbus’ men to take shelter in the nearby village where their ship sunk until they could get one of their other ships to come and rescue them. In addition to this, the king and his people even helped salvage everything as the ship sunk and protected it while they waited for another ship to rescue them. They were so invested in salvaging everything that they acted as if it were their own belongings that were sinking aboard the ship “showing as much diligence, both aboard the ship and in keeping safe what had been brought ashore”. (Symcox, 76).

In conclusion, the fifteenth century would have been a worse time without the presence of trade, international law, and the desire to make discoveries and explore new land. Kingdoms would not have been able to expand, peace would not have existed when kingdoms claimed new territory, and half the world would have gone undiscovered. Life would have been terrible for people of the fifteenth century without the improvements from these enterprises. 

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Important enterprises of the Fifteenth Century Trade. (2021, Oct 20). Retrieved from