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


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Sailor from wayback with a Master's degree in Technology Management. Prefer classical music to rap and chicken curry to steak.

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