Ferdinand Magellan and me (47)

Diogo Barbosa-Magellan.s mentor and father in law.
Amidst the turbulence of preparation for the great voyage Magellan found time to marry Barbosa’s daughter, Beatriz. The Barbosa family was well known to the Magellans from their roots in northern Portugal. Beatriz’s brother Duarte had sailed with Magellan in the Orient and was an important part of the expedition. Magellan was about 37 in Seville and Beatriz about 25, an old maid in an age when girls often married as young as 8 or 9. Those of a romantic streak might speculate she had been pining for him during his years away in the Orient.

Despite his Portuguese origins, Diogo Barbosa had become a prominent citizen of Seville and his friendship with Cristóbal de Haro was instrumental in raising finance for the voyage. The wedding would have been a splash with taste and style, as the Spanish are so good at. De Haro’s connections would have ensured the rich and famous attended. So did Dom Manuel’s spies including the Portuguese ambassador, Alvaro da Costa, who attempted to lure Magellan back to the bosom of Portugal. Before the fleet sailed Magellan was able to hold his son Rodrigo in his arms but he never saw his second son and never saw Beatriz again. She died along with Barbosa’s wife in an outbreak of the plague.

A new crew member joined the fleet; an Italian named Antonio Pigafetta who was the most important one aboard as far as history is concerned. His journal is the primary source of our knowledge of the voyage. He had been a junior diplomat to Spain from the Vatican when apparently he decided a sailing trip around the world would be a nice thing to do. I am very fond of Pigafetta. He must be counted the world’s first anthropologist. At a time when kings like Don Carlos and Dom Manuel were intent on raping the world of its commodities and the Catholic Church on reaping the harvest of heathen souls in foreign lands, Pigafetta was just plain curious. Armed with his journal and a set of watercolour paints he recorded all things of interest. He was amazed when he saw his first flying fish. Who could believe that a fish could fly? He drew pictures of them. He drew illustrated maps of the places they visited. He interviewed native people, described their customs and their houses and recorded their languages. When Magellan captured a native of Patagonia and proposed to take him back to Spain like a zoo exhibit, Pigafetta adopted him, fed him and ultimately presided at his death from scurvy.

One of the eighteen who returned to Spain in the Victoria, Pigafetta mounted a defence of the Captain General and presented a copy of his journal to Don Carlos with the plea that ‘the fame of so noble a captain shall not perish in our time.’ 500 years later I concur.

Ferdinand Magellan marries Beatriz


Ferdinand Magellan and me (46)

Don Carlos-king of Spain

Charles, King of Spain.

Don Carlos V or Charles V inherited the Spanish Empire at the age of 17 and would soon inherit the Holy Roman Empire making him the most powerful king in Europe. He also inherited heavy debts along with the prognathous jaw of his Hapsburg ancestors and so Ferdinand Magellan’s proposition to find a sea route to the fabulous Spice Isles seemed very attractive.

There was the matter of the Line of Demarcation, however, dividing the world between Portugal and Spain and the fact that this Magellan was himself Portuguese. Originally drawn up by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 and revised the following year it established the Spanish sphere of influence to the west of a meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands. New lands discovered east of it might be claimed by Portugal. Spain was expanding to the west and Portugal to the east. Sooner or later they would come up against one another on the other side of the world. Magellan had spent several years on the far side of the world in the service of Portugal. He presented a powerful argument that he was the best person to settle the question of the line of demarcation.

There was also the problem that 15th and 16th century navigators had no way of finding their longitude with any accuracy. This does not seem to have troubled the bishops and other courtiers advising the king, who could not even speak Spanish, having been reared in Flanders. Suffice to say that Magellan promised a tenfold return on any investment in the voyage. He was backed by Cristobal de Haro, one of the richest men in Europe and a financier of Don Carlos.

Others, under the influence of Bishop Fonseca, the influential head of the Casa de Contratation, or Board of Trade, were not so congenial. Fonseca was responsible for all Spanish ships on foreign voyages. He had been personal chaplain to Ferdinand and Isabella, the sovereigns who approved Columbus’s voyage. He had a reputation for supplying short stores to ships, including those of Columbus, which explains why starvation and scurvy were serious threats in Spanish ships of the age. Magellan would have been warned to check his stores coming aboard.
Magellan was granted five ships, Trinidad, Victoria, San Antonio,Concepción and Santiago. They were not the grand, well-found galleons that sailed to the Spanish Main but, according to a Portuguese spy sent by Dom Manuel, they were rotten, full of worm and unlikely to survive the voyage across the Atlantic, then known as the Ocean Sea. Many Spanish ships of this time were works of art, with highly decorated and sculptured upper works, particularly around the raised poop at the stern, which housed the captain and officers.

Portugal tended to favour the caravel, of which there were two types – the caravela redondo and caravela latina – having respectively square sails and fore-and-aft sails. Caravels were intended for exploration, being relatively smart and handy ships. Columbus’s ships were caravelas redondo but one of them was converted to a caravela latina in the Azores. Square rigged ships are more efficient running downwind but fore-and-aft rigged ships are more efficient going into the wind. Bigger ships, called carracks or galleons were usually square rigged.

Magellan had a battle on his hands to get his ships refitted, stored and manned. Being Portuguese, one of his main difficulties was overcoming the hostility of the Spaniards, especially Fonseca. His captains were chosen for him by Fonseca, who thrust forward his favourites, including his own bastard, described as a nephew Juan de Cartagena. He was appointed captain of San Antonio, the biggest ship in the fleet: a pretty boy, a strutting, head-tossing, posturing boy all but useless aboard ship. Main distinction of Luis de Mendoza, Victoria, was his kinship with the Ponce de Leons, a prominent family of Seville. Gaspar Quesada, Concepción, was the son of a Granada grandee, more at home on a horse than a ship. None of these so-called captains had ever made a voyage even as far as the Canaries and all came aboard with retinues of useless eaters. Cartagena had ten servants. Ten! Magellan knew he had his work cut out for him.

Magellan presents voyage plan to King of Spain


Ferdinand Magellan and me (44)

Our yacht Wathara hauled out for antifoul.
After a few days delay in Barbate for engine repairs we arrived in Seville in time for the processions of Holy Week and the April Fair, formerly the Horse Fair in Magellan’s time. It featured hidalgos in black trousers and waist coats and broad-brimmed hats riding magnificent stallions. Their ladies in bright flounced dresses rode side-saddle on the rump. We were taken there by Eduardo whom we had met in the boatyard when we hauled Wathara out of the water for a paint job. In tents all over the grounds little girls of 7 or 8 were beginning their apprenticeship as flamenco dancers; the castanets, the guitars, the wailing songs commemorating the tragedies of gypsies all mixed with the heady brew of the local wine. It lifted you out of this world into outer space where there was only music and song and dance and none of this other crap that affects our world. I never heard a proper guitar until I went to Spain.
Later, in a bar somewhere in the city with a more mature version of flamenco in progress, which is to say not quite as loud, slower and more emotional with the dancers sliding around through peanut shells on the floor, Eduardo said, “So why do you have this interest in Magellan?”
“I don’t know. He was a sailor and I’m a sailor but he was the best.”
“Why was he the best?”
“Because he was the first. Because he had a vision and nothing or no one was going to stand in his way. It’s like he said ‘I’m going to fly this rocket and no one is going to stop me. The next biggest event in the world’s history is the landing on the Moon. One day we will go to Mars.”
“Do you have the history?”
“My Spanish is a bit dodgy. I need a translating dictionary handy.”
“Do you need someone to help with translation?”
“That would be nice.”
What an amazing fellow this Eduardo was. He lived not far from the Barrio Santa Cruz , where Barbosa lived and Magellan wooed Beatriz. He was my advisor and translator and became engrossed in the Magellan story himself. He was an academic at the local university and a weekend sailor. The least we could do was take him for a sail in Wathara.

Magellan in Seville


Ferdinand Magellan and me (43)

Magellan in Seville

Tower of gold in Seville

Magellan’s starting point: the Tower of Gold
Seville is one huge museum with a history of various cultures over many centuries. Coming from a country with a single human culture dating back 60,000 years or so, what astounded me was the variety and vibrancy of the city; the evidence of tumultuous change. Ferdinand Magellan set out from here on a voyage that would alter the entire world and impose European culture on different races. It was a disaster for numerous indigenous peoples, including Australian aborigines. For Spain it provided a few centuries of power and prosperity.
It was said in medieval times, ‘Who has not seen Seville has not seen beauty,’ and it’s true. Marvellous architecture, beautiful gardens, exquisite art and music represent the highest development of European culture. The city’s nautical history is preserved in the Tower of Gold. Originally erected as part of Seville’s defence from invaders, which included chains across the river, it also served as a prison for King Pedro’s mistress when he grew tired of her. Columbus, Magellan and many adventurers set sail from here. Now the main traffic on the river is the tourist boats with running commentary. Nearby is the famous cathedral, once the biggest in Christendom, and the Archivo de Indias containing records of Spain’s colonial period.

The city has its dark history too. The Spanish Inquisition was active in Seville. The ancient Castillo de san Jorge in Triana, on the other side of the river, had dungeons and torture chambers for Jews, Muslims, gypsies and heretics of Lutheran and even Catholic faith. Under the grand Inquisitor Tomas Torquemada thousands were burnt at the stake. This was the culture that Spain exported to the rest of the world and here we are 500 years later when religious barbarity has again taken on the scope of genocide. Thank God I’m an atheist.