Ferdinand Magellan - Frederick Ober

A King Convinced


The fantastic Faleiro and the serious Magellan won a great victory when they brought over Bishop Fonseca to their way of thinking, for his way was the king's way—just then; and they convinced Charles of the feasibility of their scheme when they convinced the head of the India house. For one who had grown old and gray in the fitting out of expeditions which rarely realized the expectations of their promoters, and in combating the plans of hard-headed navigators who desired to sail to the uttermost ends of the earth, the great churchman was quite enthusiastic. This may have been because he was still under the spell of that necromancer, Ruy Faleiro; but whatever the cause, he promised to take the matter up with the king, who was then absent on a hunting-trip, and this was equivalent to stamping it with the royal approval. Indeed, Fonseca attended to the business so faithfully that a capitulation was drawn up and signed only two months after their arrival at Valladolid, first by the king, then by Faleiro and Magellan, by which the sovereign agreed to provide an armada of five ships, provision it for two years, and furnish at least two hundred and fifty men for the crews.

The date of this instrument was March 22, 1518, only five months after their arrival in Spain, and it must be admitted that the partners had made very good progress. Very few petitioners at royal courts, especially at the court of Castile, had ever received such prompt and respectful attention, or had so few obstacles thrown in their way. The reader will quite naturally revert to the case of Columbus, by way of contrast, and recall the long years spent by that humble suppliant at the court of Isabella and Ferdinand. But the granting of a petition is not immediately fulfilling the obligations incurred, and eighteen months passed away before that promised fleet set sail.

By the terms of the contract between the king and the Portuguese partners, no exploration was to be projected or carried within the boundaries claimed by the king's "dear and well-beloved uncle," Dom Manoel, whose "rights" were to be rigidly respected. In other words, while Charles was willing to appropriate the services of Dom Manoel's former subjects, whose secrets were invaluable assets, and in effect invade the islands pertaining to Portugal, he was yet scrupulous to show a careful observance of the Tordesillas treaty, by which the world-line of delimitation was fixed between the two countries.

No time less favorable, on the face of it, could have been chosen for the securing of a concession from Spain, where the rights of her nearest neighbor were concerned, than that taken by Faleiro and Magellan, for other important negotiations were going on, which Charles very much desired to see carried through successfully. These negotiations related to nothing less than a matrimonial alliance between Dom Manoel, aged fifty, and King Charles's sister Leonora, aged twenty. Like most aged wooers who have set their hearts upon acquiring youthful consorts, the Portuguese king was ardent in his love-making (by proxy), while the prospective bride was diffident, though subject to the command of her brother—in fact, an unwilling victim.

The ambassador charged with the important mission was one Alvaro da Costa, Dom Manoel's grand chamberlain and keeper of the robes. He was less fit, apparently, to transact such weighty negotiations as those with which he was intrusted than to dust and air his sovereign's wardrobe, for though aware of what was occurring with reference to the Moluccas, he could conceive of no method for arresting progress. A marriage treaty was drafted at Zaragoza, on May 22, 1518, which was ratified July 16, only four days before the India house was finally informed that it was the king's unalterable determination to prosecute the enterprise projected in conjunction with Faleiro and Magellan. Charles must have known that his royal cousin of Portugal would not view this action in a favorable light. In truth, Dom Manoel's ambassador lost no time in giving him that impression, first by suggestive hints, then by open arguments, but without avail. As the summer waned, without any signs of relenting on the part of King Charles as to severing connections with the ambassador's discredited countrymen, Dom Alvaro became quite frantic, and one day, pushing past the officers on guard, told the sovereign to his face that he was committing a great wrong in putting this affront upon his royal master. He was, in fact, jeopardizing the chances for the union between the king's sister and the king's cousin; but it is related that Charles replied rather tartly to this insinuation, that it mattered to him no whit, for his sister was sure of a suitor, and perchance might occupy a greater throne than the Portuguese. In point of fact, a few years later she did, for having been married to Dom Manoel in November, 1518, she was, after his death in 1521, united to Francis I. of France, whom she also outlived.

The last week of September, 1518, Dom Alvaro wrote his sovereign a letter concerning his woes, which, as it gives a faithful picture of the times and throws much light upon the intentions of Dom Manoel respecting Magellan, is herewith reproduced, in translation, from the original in the archives of the Torre do Tombo:

"SIRE,—Concerning the matter of Fernao Magalhaes, how much I have done and how much I have labored, God knows; and now, Chievres [the minister] being ill, I have spoken upon the subject very strongly to the king himself, putting before him all the inconveniences that in this case may arise, and also representing to him what an ugly matter it was, and how unusual, for one king to receive the subjects of another king, his friend, contrary to his wish—a thing unheard of among caballeros, and accounted both ill-judged and ill-seeming. Yet I had just put your highness and your highness's possessions at his service here in Valladolid, at the moment he was harboring these persons against your will.

"I begged him to consider that this was not the time to offend your highness, the more so in an affair which was of so little importance and so uncertain; and that he would have subjects enough of his own to make discoveries, when the time came, without resorting to these malcontents of your highness, whom your highness could not fail to believe likely to labor more for your disservice than for anything else. . . . I also represented to him the bad appearance that this would have, in the year and very moment of the marriage—the ratification of friendship and affection. And also, that it seemed to me that your highness would much regret to learn that these men asked leave of him to return, and that he did not grant it, the which are two faults: the receiving of them contrary to your desire, and the retaining them contrary to their own. And I begged of him, both for his own and your highness's sake, that he would do one of two things—either permit them to go, or put off the affair for this year, by which he would not lose much, and means might be taken whereby he might be obliged, and your highness might not be offended, as you would be were this scheme carried out.

"He was so surprised, sire, at what I told him, that I also was surprised; but he replied to me with the best words in the world, saying that on no account did he wish to offend your highness, and many other good words; and he suggested that I should speak to the cardinal, and confide the whole matter to him. I, sire, had already talked the matter over with the cardinal, who is the best thing here, and who does not approve of the business, and he promised me to do what he could to get off the affair. He spoke to the king, and thereupon they summoned the Bishop of Burgos, who is the chief supporter of the scheme. And with that, certain two men of the council succeeded in making the king believe that he did your highness no wrong, since he only ordered exploration to be made within his own limits, and far from your highness's possessions; and that your highness should not take it ill that he should make use of two of your subjects—men of no great importance—while your highness himself employed many Spaniards. They also adduced many other arguments, and at last the cardinal told me that the bishop and others insisted so much upon the subject that the king could not now alter his determination.

"While Chievres was well, I kept representing this business to him, as I have just said, and much more. He lays the blame [of course] upon those Spaniards who have pushed the king on, but says he will speak to the king. On former occasions, however, I besought him much on this subject, and he never came to any determination, and thus I think he will act now.

"It seems to me, sire, that your highness might get back Fernao de Magalhaes—which would be a great blow to these people—but as for the bachelor [Ruy Faleiro], I do not count him much, for he is half crazy . . .

"Do not let your highness infer that I went too far in what I said to the king, for, besides the fact that all I said was true, these people do not perceive anything, nor has the king liberty, up to now, to do anything for himself, and on that account his actions may be the less regarded.

"May the Lord increase the life and dominions of your highness, to His holy service.

"From Zaragoza, Tuesday night, September 28, 1518.

"I kiss the hands of your highness.


It was true, as Dom Alvaro wrote Dom Manoel, the king could not, or would not, alter his determination, and, spurred on by the Bishop of Burgos, the India house excelled all previous records in furnishing ships, supplies, and men. A friend of an official high in position, one Aranda, was deputed to purchase the ships, which were obtained at Cadiz, and were in such poor condition that the Portuguese factor, who was spying upon these proceedings for his king, reported them unsafe even for a voyage to the Canaries.

"They are old and battered," he wrote, "and their ribs as soft as butter! Sorry would I be to sail in them, your highness." But one of these "sorry ships" afterwards sailed around the world, for the first time in the history of the globe it circumnavigated, and two of them safely reached the Philippines. Still, they were old, practically unseaworthy, and it required all Fernan Magellan's skill and care to make them fit, and carry him across two great oceans.

These are their names and their tonnage: the San Antonio, 120 tons; Trinidad, 110 tons; Concepcion, 90 tons; Victoria, 85 tons, and the Santiago, 75 tons. They closely approximated to the total tonnage promised by the king in his capitulacion, falling but twenty tons short, in the aggregate; and Magellan, seeing that his royal master was trying to keep faith with him, set himself cheerily to the work of fitting them out.

King Charles, indeed, went further than he had promised, for, in advance of confirming the agreement he had made with Magel lan and Faleiro, he bestowed upon them a precious token of his high esteem. In the presence of the king and his council, at Valladolid, they were admitted to the venerated Order of Santiago, and decorated with the cross of comendador, or knight-commander. Then, about the end of July, the two captains left Valladolid for Seville, where their labor was unremitting, until the fleet dropped down the Guadalquivir to San Lucar.

Meanwhile, Portuguese factors, hired agents, and even assassins, in the pay of Portugal (it has been averred), sought to prevent Magellan from carrying out his scheme. He was first approached by Dom Alvaro da Costa, the king's ambassador, who, having Dom Manoel's promise of promotion should he succeed in defeating the enterprise, labored lustily to dissuade him from the project. He offered him the royal pardon, not only, but the rewards of a high position, if he would leave Spain and return to Portugal; but Magellan would not listen. "Consider," then urged Dom Alvaro, "that you not only sin against the king, but against God, inasmuch as he is the servant of God, and you will forever stain his good name. Moreover, reflect that you will be the cause of dissension between two sovereigns, who, but for you, will still further strengthen the ties of blood and friendship that unite them, by the union of the Spanish princess with his Highness Dom Manoel. But for you, Fernan Magellan—consider well!"

"They will marry," answered Magellan, "whate'er betide, for your king's heart is set upon it; though as to the princess—well, that is a matter for her conscience; little she inclines that way, I fancy. As for me, my word is pledged to King Charles, and on my sacred honor, I shall not break with him!"

"You will repent these words," declared Dom Alvaro, giving him an evil look; and that he did not repent them was through no fault of the Portuguese. Departing from the region of the court, however, Magellan was rid of the ambassador's presence, though not beyond his influence—as he soon had reason to believe.

It was on a dark night, in Seville. After a day of toil at the India house, Fernan had slipped over to a dinner with Bishop Fonseca, at whose house he was always welcome. The two were much together now, for the bishop, erratic and sordid as he had the reputation of being in his dealings with others, had taken a great fancy to Magellan. Usually, after an evening with his friend, Fonseca had insisted upon some of his armed retainers accompanying Fernan to his home, in the house of Dom Diego Barbosa. But on this night, somehow, the precaution was omitted, though the bishop well knew the dangers that lurked in the path of his young friend. He saw to it, however, that Fernan had his sword by his side, and laughingly remarked that he presumed he knew how to use it.

"If I do not, it is not from lack of practise," lightly replied Magellan, kissing the fingers extended to him by the bishop, and swinging out into the darkness. He had not proceeded far, for he was at a corner of the great cathedral, when out from the shadow of its main portal leaped a man with a drawn dagger in his hand. He aimed a blow at Magellan's back, between the shoulders; but his prey in prospective was alert, for he had seen the sinister shadow, projected by the faint light of a waning moon. He whirled around with great rapidity, and with his sword slashed the would-be assassin across the face. Blinded by blood, the man whined piteously, and Fernan had not the heart to kill him, though he was completely at his mercy.

"Take that to Dom Alvaro," he simply said, wiping his sword and thrusting it into its sheath. "And tell him this: It is a proverb of my country, and he must know it: 'The lame goat  never takes a siesta (cabra manca nao tern sesta)," he added, grimly, limping away with this jest on his lips at his own deformity.

Fernan Magellan was not disturbed by these attacks, nor by the knowledge that his life was constantly in danger, for he considered it "part of the game" to be assaulted. Give him his good Toledo blade only, and fair warning—he asked nothing else of the enemy. The Portuguese respected him for his courage, and took pride in him as their countryman; but the dastardly hirelings of Dom Manoel continued to worry him, nevertheless.

One day in October, as he was engaged in overhauling the Trinidad, which he had occasion to careen at low tide, early in the morning, a crowd of idlers gathered about him as, busy at work, he went hither and thither about the ship-yard. At last, an alguacil, or petty official, a constable, went to one of the four capstans used in careening the vessel, and tore from it a flag bearing the arms of Magellan, which, as was customary for the captain of a ship, he had placed there.

"It is a Portuguese flag," he shouted, "and no right has he to fly it on a Spanish vessel!" The crowd took up the cry: "A Portuguese flag on a Spanish ship. Down with the stranger—the Portuguese!"

An aristocrat by birth, and a comendador of Santiago by grace of the king, Magellan refused to exchange words with the alguacil, and when the mob drove away his men and advanced upon him with clubs and stones, he calmly folded his arms and told the captain of the port, who had taken sides against him, that owing to the rising of the tide the vessel was in peril, and if anything happened to her his would be the responsibility. As for the mob, he turned his back upon it scornfully, refusing to explain or defend actions for which he was responsible only to the king. The outburst of fury against him was somewhat allayed by the arrest of a few of his men, who were marched off to prison by the alguacil and the captain of the port; but Magellan himself was unharmed.

The next day he wrote a spirited letter to the king, complaining of the insult offered to "one of your highness's captains," and commending the action of his friend Sancho Matienzo, an official of the India house, who had gallantly come to his rescue and calmed the tumult, at the risk of his life. The king responded graciously, sending his approval of what Magellan had done in the premises, praising Matienzo's action, censuring the port captain, and ordering the arrest and punishment of the derelict officials. After which rebuke by the king, no Spaniard dared insult Magellan publicly; but there was an undercurrent of hatred running against him, as was shown by the straws on the surface.