Prince Henry, commonly known as "Prince Henry the Navigator," was born on March 4, 1394, in Porto, Portugal. He was the third son of King John I of Portugal and Philippa of Lancaster, an English princess. In his early years, Henry led a military expedition that captured Ceuta, marking Portugal's first overseas conquest.
Henry became deeply committed to expanding Portugal's knowledge of Africa. During this period, no European had dared to sail south of Cape Bojador due to prevailing superstitions and fears. Sailors believed that the southerly winds south of Cape Bojador would prevent their return to the north. Additionally, there were myths suggesting that the waters further south were so warm that the seas would boil.
Determined to dispel these myths and further exploration, Henry gathered as much information as possible. He employed cartographers to enhance the accuracy of existing maps and commissioned ship designers to create a vessel ideal for exploration. This endeavor led to the development of the Caravel—a groundbreaking ship known for its ability to sail against the wind.
Under Henry's patronage, a systematic exploration of the African coast began. He sponsored expedition after expedition, each venturing further south. Initially, Henry faced criticism for the significant funds he poured into explorations that seemingly yielded no tangible benefits for Portugal. However, as explorers delved deeper into Africa, lucrative trade routes with West Africa emerged, silencing the critics.
While Prince Henry passed away on November 13, 1460, his legacy endured. He never lived to witness the realization of his dream—navigating the southernmost tip of Africa. However, his relentless pursuit of exploration laid the groundwork for future voyagers like Bartholomew Dias and Vasco da Gama. These explorers not only navigated the Cape of Good Hope but also established vital trade routes to the East, thereby elevating Portugal's stature in global commerce.