Why Ferdinand Magellan Was Considered A Traitor To His Home Country

Explorer Ferdinand Magellan was born in Portugal in 1480. As reported by History, he was from a family of minor nobility, who sent him to the court of Queen Leonora in Lisbon to serve as a page when he was 12. There Magellan heard stories of the Spanish and Portugal rivalry for control of the seas as well as the spice trade in what is modern Indonesia and became interested in maritime exploration. In 1505, he set sail on a fleet headed for India, kicking off a seven-year-long career during which he sailed to India and Africa, participating in many battles and suffering several wounds. In 1513, he joined 15,000 other people in a 500-ship fleet bound for Morocco to demand that the country’s governor pay its expected annual tribute to Portugal. After the Portuguese battalion overwhelmed the Moroccan forces, Magellan stayed on in Morocco for a while.

Europe was obsessed with obtaining spices during this time period, as they were wildly valuable and a cornerstone of the world’s economies. Cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and black pepper were prized for their flavors and abilities to preserve meat and mask the taste when it went bad. As spices couldn’t be cultivated in Europe’s climates, countries’ rulers strove to find and control routes to the area then known to Europeans as the Spice Islands, with Spain and Portugal dominating the competition in the earliest years. Magellan approached Portugal’s King Manuel repeatedly to ask him to fund a westward voyage to the Spice Islands, to no avail.

Magellan moved to Spain

Per History, when Ferdinand Magellan approached King Manuel, other European explorers had reached the Spice Islands using an eastward route, but none had sailed west from Europe to reach the other side of the world. This was Magellan’s quest. When King Manual refused to fund Magellan’s expedition, he angrily left Portugal for Spain, arriving in the city of Seville in October 1517. He soon met another Portuguese emigrant, Diago Barbosa, who was well-connected to Spanish royalty and nobility. Within a year, Magellan married Barbosa’s daughter Beatriz. His father-in-law introduced Magellan to 18-year-old King Charles I, who enthusiastically agreed to fund the voyage, while Magellan promised to bring Spain the most direct access to the Spice Islands, guaranteeing wealth and power. 

As reported by Mental Floss, Portugal considered Magellan’s defecting to Spain and working for his home country’s rival to be an act of treason. Furthermore, Portugal controlled the eastward trade routes from Europe to the Spice Islands, and Magellan’s plan to enter from the west threatened its monopoly. When Magellan set sail from Spain in 1519 with a fleet of five ships, a Portuguese fleet chased and tried to stop him, without success. Magellan’s route took a long, violent, and yes, treacherous three years to complete, during which he became the first known European to see the Pacific Ocean, which he named “Mar Pacifico” after its peaceful appearance. When he finally returned to Spain, just one ship and 18 crew members out of the original 270 remained.

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