Ferdinand Magellan - Frederick Ober

A King Incensed


All the attempts upon Fernan Magellan's life, and all the endeavors to frustrate the fitting out of his expedition, are said to have had their origin at the court of Dom Manoel, King of Portugal, successor to monarchs whose policy countenanced assassination as a legitimate means to accomplish an end greatly desired. There is a tradition, in fact, that he was urged to assassinate Magellan by no less a personage than Ferdinand Vasconcellos, then Bishop of Lamego, who was afterwards promoted to the bishopric of Lisbon. That he listened to this advice, and set his emissaries upon Fernan's track with orders to dispose of him by a deed of blood, was believed at the time and has never been disproved.

Ruy Faleiro, the astrologer, was not molested, because, as Dom Alvaro wrote his sovereign, he was far gone on the road to the mad-house, and to kill him would be a work of supererogation. He was worth more to Portugal alive than dead, while his partner, Fernan, would be a reproach to Portugal as long as he lived. Faleiro was already babbling of the voyage's successful outcome, and of the idea which he had suggested to Fernan, his friend, who, but for him, would never have thought of attaining the Spiceries by a western passage, but who was already reaping all the honors as prospective commander of the fleet. King Charles might become convinced, before it was too late, that these two were but a brace of madmen, in sooth—the one a veritable lunatic, and the other a schemer—whose one idea had its birth in a mind distraught. So poor Faleiro was allowed to live and babble on, while all the endeavors of royalty, diplomats, commercial agents, and mercenary murderers were concentrated upon his partner.

While the sturdy and fearless Magellan went his way as he had intended, paying no attention to rumors of evil which beset him, but always alert—ever with sword on hip and dagger in his boot—over in Portugal his royal archenemy was loudly proclaiming to the world his disappointment and chagrin. He had not given Magellan and Faleiro so much as a thought when they slipped across the border-line between Portugal and Spain, hardly considering them worth apprehending; but when, through powerful friends, they had gained access to King Charles, and had convinced him that profit and glory waited upon the promotion of their scheme, then Dom Manoel became suddenly alarmed.

In his resentment he did a petty thing, even for a king, which was this: He ordered that the Magellan arms should be erased from above the doorway of his house! That little Quinta de Souta, in the rocky wilds of Traz-os-Montes, was she centre of a tumultuous scene one day, in the year 1518, when the soldiers of the king arrived to do his bidding. All the country people, simple but honest, uncouth but loyal, assembled as the tidings were spread.

"Fernao Magalhaes' arms are to be destroyed; he is to be disgraced, and the name he bears insulted." This was all the king could do, for the humble castle in Saborosa was even then deserted by its owners. Fernan's father was dead, having been predeceased by his mother; his sisters were married and away. The only other Magellans in the male line, his three uncles, had, like him, fought the battles of their king in India, and there had perished. Fernan was the sole survivor of the name (it is believed), and he was disgraced.

Many years afterwards, the old castle having fallen to ruin, another structure was erected on its site, in a corner of which was inserted the stone with the sculptured arms, mutilated "by order of the king"; and there it may be seen to-day—this mute witness to the petty spite of a monarch whom circumstances might have made truly great had not nature cast him in so mean a mould!

This action of the king cast such a stigma upon the character of Magellan, and brought the name into such disrepute, that for generations after the natives of Traz-os-Montes held him in detestation. He never returned to the land of his birth, but in course of time his estates and titles fell to a grandnephew, one Francisco da Silva Telles, who was made to feel the malice of a people who regarded Magellan as a traitor and renegade. They assailed his house with stones. and execrated his name, whenever he walked through the streets, so that he was at last compelled to leave the district and the country. He sailed for Brazil, where he acquired a plantation in the wild province of Maranham.

There he lived, and there, before he died, he executed a remarkable will, in which he denounced the author of his misfortunes, the great but misunderstood Fernan Magellan. Instead of holding against the ignorant natives of Saborosa the humiliating treatment he had received, as the heir of Magellan, he laid it to the latter's account, and ordered that, forevermore, the family coat of arms should remain obliterated. For it was done, he wrote, "by the order of my lord the king, as a punishment for the crime of Fernao Magalhaes, in that he entered the service of Castile to the injury of this kingdom, and went to discover new lands, where he died in the disgrace of our king."

Thus, as we have seen, hatred of Magellan was inculcated by Portugal's king, who, moreover, passed him on to the obloquy of future generations. And yet, says his most painstaking English biographer (Professor Guillemard), Magellan, "unable to obtain a recognition of his services at the hands of his sovereign, Dom Manoel, did only what a triad of great navigators—Columbus, Cabot, and Vespucci—had already done before him, and what was at that period by no means unusual: he left his country and offered his sword to Charles V."

Now, having done with the malicious Dom Manoel for the present, let us return to Seville, where Fernan Magellan, secure in the confidence of his adoptive sovereign, happy in the love of his beautiful wife, and surrounded by devoted friends, was planning what proved to be the greatest voyage in the history of the world. If he had forebodings, he kept them to himself; if he had previsions of his future greatness, he did not allow them to turn his head or make him arrogant and proud.

He is, we think, the best example—or, at least, one of the best examples—the world can show of a man born to greatness unspoiled by the certain assurance of success. He had advanced with rapid strides from obscurity to renown. In a few short months he had risen from the ranks of the relatively unknown to a position of trust and influence second to no other in the kingdom. For, had not the king intrusted him with riches which he could hardly spare: with a fleet containing, besides a vast amount of treasure expended in guns, ammunition, provisions, supplies for trade and barter, two hundred and fifty of his loyal subjects?

Had King Charles no other object in view than the opening of a new route to the East, this evidence of his faith in an alien whose only credentials were honesty and fixity of purpose would seem remarkable; but he needed the money which he had expended on this expedition for other—perchance, in his estimation, greater—enterprises, to be conducted by his captains on land. His captain on the sea was to be Fernan Magellan, and this supreme confidence, by the king, in one who had been maligned and mistreated by his own sovereign, and cast forth as an ingrate, was requited by an unswerving devotion and loyalty lasting until death.

King Charles was always in need of money, and the greater the sums transmitted from mines and plantations over the sea, the greater became his imperious demands. The India house informed him that they were in straits for funds, and were told that funds would be forthcoming, but from what source to be derived the king knew not. At this juncture in stepped a wealthy merchant formerly from Antwerp, one Christopher de Haro, who had once resided in Lisbon, where he had been treated unjustly by Dom Manoel, and, like Magellan, had sought in Spain a chance to retrieve his fortunes. He offered to advance the munificent sum of one million six hundred thousand maravedis, or about one-fifth the conjectural cost of the expedition, and other merchants joining with him in the venture, more than one-fourth the funds necessary were eventually raised. These amounted, in total, to more than eight million maravedis, or about twenty-five thousand dollars.

So the king obtained much of the money necessary to defray the expenses of the armada without putting his hand in his pocket—after the manner of kings—and yet he got the credit of having furnished the entire armada. He was extremely liberal in concessions that cost him nothing but the paper they were written on, as in this case, and readily granted Magellan a monopoly of trade (by the new route) in the Spice Islands for the space of ten years; a twentieth part of the profits resulting; permission to send goods for barter to the amount of a thousand ducats; and, provided more than six islands were discovered, their trade and ownership entirely; besides all of which he was to have the title of adelantado. Ruy Faleiro was originally included as a beneficiary, in these stipulations; but by the time the fleet was ready he was more fit for the mad-house than for the command of a vessel, and hence was left behind. It was said by some that his madness was feigned, on account of having discovered, by casting his own horoscope, that disaster and death would attend the expedition from its inception to its ending, and that he himself would not escape the almost universal fatalities.

During their stay on shore, while the fleet was being equipped, Faleiro and Magellan were entitled to a salary of one hundred and seventy-six thousand maravedis each. A treasurer to the fleet was appointed at a salary of sixty thousand maravedis, and the several captains were each to receive one hundred and ten thousand maravedis. As proof conclusive that the learned Ruy Faleiro had not quite lost his mind—at least up to within a few months of the sailing of the fleet—it may be stated that his brother received an appointment as factor, resident in Seville, at a salary of twenty-five thousand maravedis.

Slowly, but certainly, the preparations for the voyage went on. "No man in the world, perhaps, knew better than Magellan what he needed. The expedition, therefore, sailed with as perfect an equipment as the time knew how to furnish." Before it sailed, however, Magellan received further proof that Portugal was still determined to prevent, if possible, this expedition from accomplishing the purpose for which it was intended. There came to him the Portuguese factor in Seville, Sebastian Alvarez, whose evil intentions were shown by the emeute  over the flags, not long before, which he himself had instigated. His part in the affair is set forth in the following letter written to Dom Manoel, by which, it seems, he was acting for the king and by his orders.

"I went to Magellan's house, where I found him filling baskets and chests with preserved victuals and other things, and seeing him thus engaged, I pretended it seemed to me that his evil design was settled, and since this would be the last word I should have with him, I desired to bring to his memory how many times, as a good Portuguese and his friend, I had spoken to him, dissuading him from the great mistake he was committing. And after asking pardon of him, lest he should be offended at what I had to say, I told him that the path he had chosen was beset with as many dangers as the wheel of St. Catherine, and that he ought to leave it and take that which led to Coimbra, and return to his native land and to the favor of your highness, at whose hands he should always receive benefits.

"In our conversation I brought before him all the dangers I could think of, and the mistakes he was making. Then he said to me that now, as an honorable man, he could only follow the path he had chosen. I replied that to unduly gain honor, and to gain it with infamy, was neither wisdom nor honor, but rather the lack of both, for he might be sure that the chief Spaniards of this city, in speaking of him, held him for a low person, and of no breeding, since, to the disservice of his true king and lord, he had embarked in such an undertaking, and so much the more since it was set going, arranged, and petitioned for by him. And he might be certain that he was considered as a traitor, engaging himself thus, in opposition to your highness's country.

"Here he replied to me that he saw the mistake he had made, but that he hoped to observe your highness's service, and by his voyage to be of assistance to you. I told him that whoever should praise him for such an expression of opinion did not understand it; for unless he touched your highness's possessions, how was he to discover what he said? Besides, it was a great injury to the revenue of your highness, which would affect the whole kingdom and every class of people, and it was a far more virtuous thought that inspired him when he told me that if your highness ordered him to return to Portugal, he would do it without further guarantee of reward, and that when you granted none to him, there was Serradossa, and seven yards of gray cloth and some gall-nut beads open to him! So then it seemed that his heart was true, as far as his honor and conscience were concerned.

"Our conversation was of so long duration that I cannot write out all of it; but at this juncture, sire, he gave me a sign indicate that I should tell him more: that if your highness commanded me I should tell him so, and also the reward that you would grant him. I told him that I was not a person of such weight that your highness would employ me for such a purpose, but that I said it to him, as I had on many occasions. Here he wished to pay me a compliment, saying that if what I had begun with him was carried on without interference by others, your highness would be served; but that Nuno Ribeiro had told him one thing, which meant nothing, and Joao Mendez another, which bound him to nothing; and he related to me the favors they had offered him on the part of your highness. He then bewailed himself greatly, and said he was much concerned about it all, but that he knew nothing which could justify his leaving a king who had shown him such favor.

"I told him that it would be a more certain matter, and attended with truer honor, to do what he ought to do, and not lose his reputation and the favors your highness would grant him. And if he weighed his coming from Portugal (which was for a hundred reals more or less of moradia that your highness did not grant him, in order not to break your laws), and that there had arrived two sets of orders at variance with his own which he had at the hands of Don Carlos, he would see whether this insult did not outbalance it—to go and do what it was his duty to do, rather than to remain here for what he came for.

"He seemed greatly astonished at my knowing so much, and then he told me the truth, and how the messenger had left—all of which I already knew. And he told me that certainly there was no reason why he should abandon the undertaking, unless they [the king and the India house] failed to fulfil anything in the terms of the agreement; but that first he must see what your highness would do.

"I said to him, what more did he desire than to see the orders? And there was Ruy Faleiro, who said openly that he was not going to follow his lantern [that is, follow the flag-ship, which always displayed a lantern on its poop], and that he would navigate to the south, or he would not sail with the fleet; and that he [Magellan] thought he was going as admiral, whereas I knew that others were being sent in opposition to him, of whom he would know nothing, except at a time when it would be too late to save his honor.

"And I told him that he should pay no heed to the honey that the Bishop of Burgos put to his lips, and that now was the time for him to choose his path, and that he should give me a letter to your highness, and that I, out of affection for him, would go to your highness and plead his cause; because I had no instructions from your highness concerning such business, and only said what I thought I had often said before. He told me that he would say nothing to me until he had seen the answer that the messenger brought, and with this our conversation finished . . .

"I spoke to Ruy Faleiro twice, but he said nothing to me, save 'How could he do such a thing against the king, his lord, who had conferred such benefits upon him?' And to all that I said to him he gave no other answer. It seems to me that he is like a man affected in his reason, and that this his familiar [the devil] has taken away whatever wisdom he possessed. I think that if Fernao de Magalhaes were removed, that Ruy Faleiro would follow what Magalhaes has done. . . .

"The route which it is reported they are to take is direct by Cape Frio, leaving Brazil on the right, until they pass the boundary-line, and thence sail W. and W.N.W., direct to Maluco [the Moluccas, which land of Maluco I have seen laid down on the globe and chart made here by Fernando de Reynell, . . and on this pattern are constructed all the charts made by Diego Ribeiro. And he makes all the compasses, quadrants, and globes, but does not sail with the fleet, nor does he desire anything more than to gain a living by his skill.

"From this Cape Frio to the islands of Maluco, by this route, there are no lands laid down on the charts they take. May God the Almighty grant that they make a voyage like that of the Cortereals; and that your highness may remain at rest, and ever be envied—as your highness is—by all princes!"

The key-note of the whole letter lies in that expression: "A voyage like that of the Cortereals," those engaged in which sailed for Labrador, about fifteen years before this was written, and were never heard of more. Their fate both Dom Manoel and his minion Alvarez devoutly wished might be that of Magellan—unless he should be "removed," or in other words assassinated, in advance of sailing. The various evasions and perversions in this letter are only exceeded by its malicious statements and innuendoes, as respecting King Charles's double orders, his desire that Magellan should be superseded after the fleet was well at sea, and the slander about unfortunate Ruy Faleiro.

But Fernan Magellan seems to have possessed the wisdom of the serpent with the innocence of the dove; for, while he heard the villain Alvarez through to the end, patiently and without interruption, he still refused to be hoodwinked. Having full faith in the promises of the king, he awaited the return of the messenger he had sent him, a short time before the interview between himself and the Portuguese factor, and was rewarded by the royal confirmation of all his acts.