Afonso de Albuquerque

Afonso de Albuquerque
Governor and Captain-General of the Seas of India
Governor of India
First Duke of Goa
Duke of Goa
Tenure 1515
Successor Brás de Albuquerque


Brás de Albuquerque, 2nd Duke of Goa

Full name

Afonso de Albuquerque
Noble family Albuquerque
Father Gonçalo de Albuquerque
Mother Leonor de Menezes
Born 1453
Alhandra, Kingdom of Portugal
Died 16 December 1515
Goa, Portuguese India
Buried Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Graça, Lisbon, Kingdom of Portugal
Occupation Admiral
Governor of India
Duke of Goa

Afonso de Albuquerque, Duke of Goa (Portuguese pronunciation: [ɐˈfõsu dɨ aɫbuˈkɛɾk(ɨ)]; c. 1453–16 December 1515) (also spelled Aphonso or Alfonso), was a Portuguese general, a "great conqueror",[1][2][3] a statesman, and an empire builder.[4]

Afonso advanced the three-fold Portuguese grand scheme of combating Islam, spreading Christianity, and securing the trade of spices by establishing a Portuguese Asian empire.[5] Among his achievements, Afonso was the first European of his Renaissance to raid the Persian Gulf, and he led the first voyage by a European fleet into the Red Sea.[6] His military and administrative works are generally regarded as among the most vital to building and securing the Portuguese Empire in the Orient, the Middle East, and the spice routes of eastern Oceania.[7]

Afonso is generally considered a military genius,[8][9] and "probably the greatest naval commander of the age"[10] given his successful strategy—he attempted to close all the Indian Ocean naval passages to the Atlantic, Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and to the Pacific, transforming it into a Portuguese mare clausum established over the opposition of the Ottoman Empire and its Muslim and Hindu allies.[11] In the expansion of the Portuguese Empire, Afonso initiated a rivalry that would become known as the Ottoman–Portuguese war, which would endure for many years. Many of the Ottoman–Portuguese conflicts in which he was directly involved took place in the Indian Ocean, in the Persian Gulf regions for control of the trade routes, and on the coasts of India. It was his military brilliance in these initial campaigns against the much larger Ottoman Empire and its allies that enabled Portugal to become the first global empire in history.[12] He had a record of engaging and defeating much larger armies and fleets. For example, his capture of Ormuz in 1507 against the Persians was accomplished with a fleet of seven ships.[13] Other famous battles and offensives which he led include the conquest of Goa in 1510 and the capture of Malacca in 1511. He became admiral of the Indian Ocean, and was appointed head of the "fleet of the Arabian and Persian sea" in 1506.[2]

During the last five years of his life, he turned to administration,[14] where his actions as the second governor of Portuguese India were crucial to the longevity of the Portuguese Empire. He pioneered European sea trade with China during the Ming Dynasty with envoy Rafael Perestrello, Thailand with Duarte Fernandes as envoy, and with Timor, passing through Malaysia and Indonesia in a voyage headed by António de Abreu and Francisco Serrão. He also aided diplomatic relations with Ethiopia using priest envoys João Gomes and João Sanches,[15][16][17][18][19] and established diplomatic ties with Persia, during the Safavid dynasty.[20]

He became known as "the Great",[1][14][21] "the Terrible",[22] "the Caesar of the East", "the Lion of the Seas", and "the Portuguese Mars".

Early life

Afonso de Albuquerque was born in 1453 in Alhandra, near Lisbon.[23] He was the second son of Gonçalo de Albuquerque, Lord of Vila Verde dos Francos, and Dona Leonor de Menezes. His father held an important position at court and was connected by remote illegitimate descent with the Portuguese monarchy. He was educated in mathematics and Latin at the court of Afonso V of Portugal, where he befriended Prince John, the future King John II of Portugal.[24]

Afonso’s early training is described by Diogo Barbosa Machado: “D. Alfonso de Albuquerque, surnamed the Great, by reason of the heroic deeds wherewith he filled Europe with admiration, and Asia with fear and trembling, was born in the year 1453, in the Estate called, for the loveliness of its situation, the Paradise of the Town of Alhandra, six leagues distant from Lisbon. He was the second son of Gonçalo de Albuquerque, Lord of Villaverde, and of D. Leonor de Menezes, daughter of D. Álvaro Gonçalves de Athayde, Count of Atouguia, and of his wife D. Guiomar de Castro, and corrected this injustice of nature by climbing to the summit of every virtue, both political and moral. He was educated in the Palace of the King D. Afonso V, in whose palaestra he strove emulously to become the rival of that African Mars”.[25]

Afonso served 10 years in North Africa, where he gained military experience in fierce campaigns against Muslim powers and Ottoman Turks.[21]

In 1471, under the command of Afonso V of Portugal, he was present at the conquest of Tangier and Arzila in Morocco,[21] serving there as an officer for some years. In 1476 he accompanied Prince John in wars against Castile, including the Battle of Toro. He participated in the campaign on the Italian peninsula in 1480 to rescue Ferdinand II of Aragon from the Ottoman invasion of Otranto that ended in victory.[14] On his return in 1481, when Prince John was crowned as King John II, Afonso was made Master of the Horse for his distinguished exploits, chief equerry (estribeiro-mor) to the King, a post which he held throughout John's reign (1481–95).[21][25] In 1489 he returned to military campaigns in North Africa, as commander of defense in the Graciosa fortress, an island in the river Luco near the city of Larache, and in 1490 was part of the guard of King John II, returning to Arzila in 1495, where his younger brother Martim died fighting by his side.

Afonso made his mark under the stern John II, and won military campaigns in Africa and the Mediterranean sea, yet Asia is where he would make his greatest impact.[21][25]

First expedition to India, 1503

When King Manuel I of Portugal was enthroned, he showed some reticence towards Afonso, a close friend of his dreaded predecessor and seventeen years his senior. Eight years later, on 6 April 1503, after a long military career and at a mature age, Afonso was sent on his first expedition to India together with his cousin Francisco de Albuquerque. Each commanded three ships, sailing with Duarte Pacheco Pereira and Nicolau Coelho. They engaged in several battles against the forces of the Zamorin of Calicut (Calecute, Kozhikode) and succeeded in establishing the King of Cohin (Cohim, Kochi) securely on his throne. In return, the King gave them permission to build the Portuguese fort Immanuel (Fort Kochi) and establish trade relations with Quilon (Coulão, Kollam). This laid the foundation for the eastern Portuguese Empire.[26]

Second expedition to India, 1506

Map of the Arabian Peninsula showing the Red Sea with Socotra island (red) and the Persian Gulf (blue) with the Strait of Hormuz (Cantino planisphere, 1502)

Afonso returned home in July 1504, and was well received by King Manuel I. After he assisted with the creation of a strategy for the Portuguese efforts in the east, King Manuel entrusted him with the command of a squadron of five vessels in the fleet of sixteen sailing for India in early 1506 headed by Tristão da Cunha.[26] Their aim was to conquer Socotra and build a fortress there, hoping to close the trade in the Red Sea. Afonso went as "chief-captain for the Coast of Arabia", sailing under da Cunha's orders until reaching Mozambique.[27] He carried a sealed letter with a secret mission ordered by the King: after fulfilling the first mission, he was to replace the first viceroy of India, Francisco de Almeida, whose term ended two years later.[28] Before departing, he legitimized a natural son born in 1500, and made his will.

First conquest of Socotra and Ormuz, 1507

The fleet left Lisbon on 6 April 1506. Afonso piloted his ship himself, having lost his appointed pilot on departure. In Mozambique Channel, they rescued Captain João da Nova, who had encountered difficulties on his return from India; da Nova and his ship, the Frol de la mar, joined da Cunha's fleet.[29] From Malindi, da Cunha sent envoys to Ethiopia, which at the time was thought to be closer than it actually is. Those included the priest João Gomes, João Sanches and Tunisian Sid Mohammed who, having failed to cross the region, headed for Socotra; from there, Afonso managed to land them in Filuk.[30] After successful attacks on Arab cities on the east Africa coast, they conquered Socotra and built a fortress at Suq, hoping to establish a base to stop the Red Sea commerce to the Indian Ocean. However, Socotra was abandoned four years later, as it was not advantageous as a base.[28]

At Socotra, they parted ways: Tristão da Cunha sailed for India, where he would relieve the Portuguese besieged at Cannanore, while Afonso took seven ships and 500 men to Ormuz in the Persian Gulf, one of the chief eastern centers of commerce. On his way, he conquered the cities of Curiati (Kuryat), Muscat in July 1507, and Khor Fakkan, accepting the submission of the cities of Kalhat and Sohar. He arrived at Ormuz on 25 September and soon captured the city, which agreed to become a tributary state of the Portuguese king. A few days later, the King of Ormuz was met by an envoy demanding the payment of tribute to Shah Ismail I from Persia. He was sent back with the answer that the only tribute would be in cannonballs and guns, thus beginning the connection between Alfonso and Shah Ismail I (often named Xeque Ismael).[31][32] Afonso began building the Fort of Our Lady of Victory (later renamed Fort of Our Lady of the Conception),[33] engaging his men of all ranks in the work.

However, some of his officers revolted against the heavy work and climate and, claiming that Afonso was exceeding his orders, departed for India. With the fleet reduced to two ships and left without supplies, he was unable to maintain this position for long. Forced to abandon Ormuz in January 1508, he raided coastal villages to resupply the settlement of Socotra, returned to Ormuz, and then headed to India.

Arrest at Cannanore, 1509

Afonso arrived at Cannanore on the Malabar coast in December 1508, where he opened before the viceroy, Dom Francisco de Almeida, the sealed letter which he had received from the King, and which named as governor to succeed Almeida.[28][34][35] The viceroy, supported by the officers who had abandoned Afonso at Ormuz, had a matching royal order, but declined to yield, protesting that his term ended only in January and stating his intention to avenge his son's death by fighting the Mamluk fleet of Mirocem, refusing Afonso's offer to fight him himself. Afonso avoided confrontation, which could have led to civil war, and moved to Kochi, India, to await further instruction from the King, maintaining his entourage himself. He was described by Fernão Lopes de Castanheda as patiently enduring open opposition from the group that had gathered around Almeida, with whom he kept formal contact. Increasingly isolated, he wrote to Diogo Lopes de Sequeira, who arrived in India with a new fleet, but was ignored as Sequeira joined the Viceroy. At the same time, Afonso refused approaches from opponents of the Viceroy, who encouraged him to seize power.[36]

On 3 February 1509, Almeida fought the naval Battle of Diu against a joint fleet of Mamluks, Ottomans, the Zamorin of Calicut, and the Sultan of Gujarat, regarding it as personal revenge for the death of his son. His victory was decisive: the Ottomans and Mamluks abandoned the Indian Ocean, easing the way for Portuguese rule there for the next century. In August, after a petition from Afonso's former officers with the support of Diogo Lopes de Sequeira claiming him unfit for governance, Afonso was sent in custody to St. Angelo Fort in Cannanore.[37][38] There he remained under what he considered to be imprisonment.

In September 1509, Sequeira tried to establish contact with the Sultan of Malacca but failed, leaving behind 19 Portuguese prisoners.

Governor of Portuguese India, 1509–1515

Afonso was released after three months' confinement, on the arrival at Cannanore of the Marshal of Portugal with a large fleet.[26][39] The Portuguese Marshal was the most important Portuguese noble ever to visit India and he brought an armada of fifteen ships and 3,000 men sent by the King to defend Afonso's rights, and to take Calicut.[40]

On 4 November 1509, Afonso became the second Governor of the State of India, a position he would hold until his death. Almeida having returned home in 1510,[41] Afonso speedily showed the energy and determination of his character.[42] He intended to dominate the Muslim world and control the Spice trade.[42]

Initially King Manuel I and his council in Lisbon tried to distribute the power, outlining three areas of jurisdiction in the Indian Ocean.[28] In 1509, the nobleman Diogo Lopes de Sequeira was sent with a fleet to Southeast Asia, to seek an agreement with Sultan Mahmud Shah of Malacca, but failed and returned to Portugal. To Jorge de Aguiar was given the region between the Cape of Good Hope and Gujarat. He was succeeded by Duarte de Lemos, but left for Cochin and then for Portugal, leaving his fleet to Afonso.

Conquest of Goa, 1510

Illustration depicts the aftermath of the Portuguese conquest of Goa, from the forces of Yusuf Adil Shah.

In January 1510, obeying the orders from the King and aware of the absence of Zamorin, Afonso advanced on Calicut. The attack was unsuccessful, as Marshal Fernando Coutinho ventured into the inner city against instructions, fascinated by its richness, and was ambushed. During the rescue, Afonso was wounded and had to retreat.[28]

Soon after the failed attack, Afonso assembled a fleet of 23 ships and 1200 men. Contemporary reports state that he wanted to fight the Egyptian Mamluk Sultanate fleet in the Red Sea or return to Hormuz. However, he had been informed by Timoji (a privateer in the service of the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire) that it would be easier to fight them in Goa, where they had sheltered after the Battle of Diu,[43] and also of the illness of the Sultan Yusuf Adil Shah, and war between the Deccan sultanates.[43] So he relied on surprise in the capture of Goa from the Sultanate of Bijapur. He thus completed another mission, for Portugal wanted not to be seen as an eternal "guest" of Kochi and had been coveting Goa as the best trading port in the region.

A first assault took place in Goa from 4 March to 20 May 1510. After initial occupation, feeling unable to hold the city given the poor condition of its fortifications, the cooling of Hindu residents' support and insubordination among his ranks following an attack by Ismail Adil Shah, Afonso refused a truce offered by the Sultan and abandoned the city in August. His fleet was scattered, and a palace revolt in Kochi hindered his recovery, so he headed to Fort Anjediva. New ships arrived from Portugal, which were intended for the nobleman Diogo Mendes de Vasconcelos at Malacca, who had been given a rival command of the region.

Three months later, on 25 November Afonso reappeared at Goa with a renovated fleet. Diogo Mendes de Vasconcelos was compelled to accompany him with the reinforcements for Malacca[28] and about 300 Malabari reinforcements from Cannanore. In less than a day, they took Goa from Ismail Adil Shah and his Ottoman allies, who surrendered on 10 December. It is estimated that 6000 of the 9000 Muslim defenders of the city died, either in the fierce battle in the streets or by drowning while trying to escape.[44] Alfonso regained the support of the Hindu population, although he frustrated the initial expectations of Timoji, who aspired to become governor. Afonso rewarded him by appointing him chief "Aguazil" of the city, an administrator and representative of the Hindu and Muslim people, as a knowledgeable interpreter of the local customs.[43] He then made an agreement to lower the yearly tribute.

In Goa, Afonso established the first Portuguese mint in the East, after Timoja's merchants had complained of the scarcity of currency, taking it as an opportunity to solidify the territorial conquest.[45] The new coin, based on the existing local coins, showed a cross on the obverse and an armillary sphere (or "esfera"), King Manuel's badge, on the reverse. Gold cruzados or manueis, silver esferas and alf-esferas, and bronze "leais" were issued.[46][47] Another mint was established at Malacca in 1511.

Despite constant attacks, Goa became the center of Portuguese India, with the conquest triggering the compliance of neighbouring kingdoms: the Sultan of Gujarat and the Zamorin of Calicut sent embassies, offering alliances and local grants to fortify.

Afonso then used Goa to secure the Spice trade in favor of Portugal and sell Persian horses to Vijayanagara and Hindu princes in return for their assistance.[48]

Conquest of Malacca, 1511

Afonso explained to his armies why the Portuguese wanted to capture Malacca:

"The King of Portugal has often commanded me to go to the Straits, because...this was the best place to intercept the trade which the Moslems...carry on in these parts. So it was to do Our Lord’s service that we were brought here; by taking Malacca, we would close the Straits so that never again would the Moslems be able to bring their spices by this route.... I am very sure that, if this Malacca trade is taken out of their hands, Cairo and Mecca will be completely lost." (The Commentaries of the Great Afonso de Albuquerque)
The surviving gate of the A Famosa Portuguese fortress in Malacca

In February 1511, through a friendly Hindu merchant, Nina Chatu, Afonso received a letter from Rui de Araújo, one of the nineteen Portuguese held at Malacca since 1509. It urged moving forward with the largest possible fleet to demand their release, and gave details of the fortifications. Afonso showed it to Diogo Mendes de Vasconcelos, as an argument to advance in a joint fleet. In April 1511, after fortifying Goa, he gathered a force of about 900 Portuguese, 200 Hindu mercenaries and about eighteen ships.[49] He then sailed to Malacca against orders and despite the protest of Diogo Mendes, who claimed command of the expedition. Afonso eventually centralized the Portuguese government in the Indian Ocean. After the Malaccan conquest he wrote a letter to the King to explain his disagreement with Diogo Mendes, suggesting that further divisions could be harmful to the Portuguese in India.[28] Under his command was Ferdinand Magellan, who had participated in the failed embassy of Diogo Lopes de Sequeira in 1509.

After a false start towards the Red Sea, they sailed to the Strait of Malacca. It was the richest city that the Portuguese tried to take, and a focal point in the trade network where Malay traders met Gujarati, Chinese, Japanese, Javanese, Bengali, Persian and Arabic, among others, described by Tomé Pires as of invaluable richness. Despite its wealth, it was mostly a wooden-built city, with few masonry buildings but was defended by a mercenary force estimated at 20,000 men and more than 2000 pieces of artillery. Its greatest weakness was the unpopularity of the government of Sultan Mahmud Shah, who favoured Muslims, arousing dissatisfaction amongst other merchants.

Afonso made a bold approach to the city, his ships decorated with banners, firing cannon volleys. He declared himself lord of all the navigation, demanded the Sultan release the prisoners and pay for damages, and demanded consent to build a fortified trading post. The Sultan eventually freed the prisoners, but was unimpressed by the small Portuguese contingent. Afonso then burned some ships at the port and four coastal buildings as a demonstration. The city being divided by the Malacca River, the connecting bridge was a strategic point, so at dawn on 25 July the Portuguese landed and fought a tough battle, facing poisoned arrows, taking the bridge in the evening. After fruitlessly waiting for the Sultan's reaction, they returned to the ships and prepared a junk (offered by Chinese merchants), filling it with men, artillery and sandbags. Commanded by António de Abreu, it sailed upriver at high tide to the bridge. The day after, all had landed. After a fierce fight during which the Sultan appeared with an army of war elephants, the defenders were dispersed and the Sultan fled.[28] Afonso waited for the reaction of the Sultan. Merchants approached, asking for Portuguese protection. They were given banners to mark their premises, a sign that they would not be looted. On 15 August, the Portuguese attacked again, but the Sultan had fled the city. Under strict orders, they looted the city, but respected the banners.[50]

Afonso prepared Malacca's defenses against a Malay counterattack,[49] building a fortress, assigning his men to shifts and using stones from the mosque and the cemetery. Despite the delays caused by heat and malaria, it was completed in November 1511, its surviving door now known as "A Famosa" ('the famous'). It was possibly then that Afonso had a large stone engraved with the names of the participants in the conquest. To quell disagreements over the order of the names, he had it set facing the wall, with the single inscription Lapidem quem reprobaverunt aedificantes (Latin for "The stone the builders rejected", from David's prophecy, Psalm 118:22–23) on the front.[51]

He settled the Portuguese administration, reappointing Rui de Araújo as factor, a post assigned before his 1509 arrest, and appointing rich merchant Nina Chatu to replace the previous bendahara, representative of the Kafir people and adviser. Besides assisting in the governance of the city and first Portuguese coinage, he provided the junks for several diplomatic missions.[52] Meanwhile, Afonso arrested and had executed the powerful Javanese merchant Utimuti Raja who, after being appointed to a position in the Portuguese administration as representative of the Javanese population, had maintained contacts with the exiled royal family.

Afonso arranged for the shipping of many Órfãs d'El-Rei[53][54] to Portuguese Malacca.

Shipwreck on the Flor de la mar, 1511

On 20 November 1511 Afonso sailed from Malacca to the coast of Malabar on the old Flor de la mar carrack that had served to support the conquest of Malacca. Despite its unsound condition, he used it to transport the treasure amassed in the conquest, given its large capacity.[28] He wanted to give the court of King Manuel a show of Malaccan treasures. There were also the offers from the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand) to the King of Portugal and all his own fortune. On the voyage the Flor De La Mar was wrecked in a storm, and Afonso barely escaped drowning.[49]

Missions from Malacca

Embassies to Pegu, Sumatra and Siam, 1511

Most Muslim and Gujarati merchants having fled the city, Afonso invested in diplomatic efforts demonstrating generosity to Southeast Asian merchants, like the Chinese, to encourage good relations with the Portuguese. Trade and diplomatic missions were sent to continental kingdoms: Rui Nunes da Cunha was sent to Pegu (Burma), from where King Binyaram sent back a friendly emissary to Kochi in 1514[55][56] and Sumatra, Sumatran kings of Kampar and Indragiri sending emissaries to Afonso accepting the new power, as vassal states of Malacca.[57] Knowing of Siamese ambitions over Malacca, Afonso sent Duarte Fernandes in a diplomatic mission to the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand), returning in a Chinese junk. He was one of the Portuguese who had been arrested in Malacca, having gathered knowledge about the culture of the region. There he was the first European to arrive, establishing amicable relations between the kingdom of Portugal and the court of the King of Siam Ramathibodi II, returning with a Siamese envoy bearing gifts and letters to Afonso and the King of Portugal.[57]

Expedition to the "spice islands" (Maluku islands), 1512

Depiction of Ternate with São João Baptista Fort, built in 1522

In November, after having secured Malacca and learning the location of the then secret "spice islands", Afonso sent three ships to find them, led by trusted António de Abreu with deputy commander Francisco Serrão.[58] Malay sailors were recruited to guide them through Java, the Lesser Sunda Islands and the Ambon Island to Banda Islands, where they arrived in early 1512.[59] There they remained for a month, buying and filling their ships with nutmeg and cloves. António de Abreu then sailed to Amboina whilst Serrão sailed towards the Moluccas, but he was shipwrecked near Seram. Sultan Abu Lais of Ternate heard of their stranding, and, seeing a chance to ally himself with a powerful foreign nation, brought them to Ternate in 1512 where they were permitted to build a fort on the island, the Forte de São João Baptista de Ternate (pt, built in 1522.)

China expeditions, 1513

In early 1513, Jorge Álvares, sailing on a mission under Afonso's orders, was allowed to land in Lintin Island, on the Pearl River Delta in southern China. Soon after, Afonso sent Rafael Perestrello to southern China, seeking trade relations with the Ming dynasty. In ships from Portuguese Malacca, Rafael sailed to Canton (Guangzhou) in 1513, and again from 1515 to 1516 to trade with Chinese merchants. These ventures, along with those of Tomé Pires and Fernão Pires de Andrade, were the first direct European diplomatic and commercial ties with China. However, after the death of the Chinese Zhengde Emperor on 19 April 1521, conservative factions at court seeking to limit eunuch influence rejected the new Portuguese embassy, fought sea battles with the Portuguese around Tuen Mun, and Tomé was forced to write letters to Malacca stating that he and other ambassadors would not be released from prison in China until the Portuguese relinquished their control of Malacca and returned it to the deposed Sultan of Malacca (who was previously a Ming tributary vassal).[60] Nonetheless, Portuguese relations with China became normalized again by the 1540s and in 1557 a permanent Portuguese base at Macau in southern China was established with consent from the Ming court.

Return to Cochin and Goa

Afonso returned from Malacca to Cochin, but could not sail to Goa as it faced a serious revolt headed by the forces of Ismael Adil Shah, the Sultan of Bijapur, commanded by Rasul Khan and his countrymen. During Afonso's absence from Malacca, Portuguese who opposed the taking of Goa had waived its possession, even writing to the King that it would be best to let it go. Held up by the monsoon and with few forces available, Afonso had to wait for the arrival of reinforcement fleets headed by his nephew D. Garcia de Noronha, and Jorge de Mello Pereira.

While at Cochin, Albuquerque started a school. In a private letter to King Manuel I, he states that he had found a chest full of books with which to teach the children of married Portuguese settlers (casados) and Christian converts to read and write which, according to Albuquerque, there were about a hundred in his time, "all very sharp and easily learn what they are taught".[61]

On 10 September 1512, Afonso sailed from Cochin to Goa with fourteen ships carrying 1,700 soldiers. Determined to recapture the fortress, he ordered trenches dug and a wall breached. But on the day of the planned final assault, Rasul Khan surrendered. Afonso demanded the fort be handed over with its artillery, ammunition and horses, and the deserters to be given up. Some had joined Rasul Khan when the Portuguese were forced to flee Goa in May 1510, others during the recent siege. Rasul Khan consented, on condition that their lives be spared. Afonso agreed and he left Goa. He did spare the lives of the deserters, but had them horribly mutilated. One such renegade was Fernão Lopes, bound for Portugal in custody, who escaped at the island of Saint Helena and led a 'Robinson Crusoe' life for many years. After such measures the town became the most prosperous Portuguese settlement in India.

Campaign in the Red Sea, 1513

In December 1512 an envoy from Ethiopia arrived at Goa. Mateus was sent by the regent queen Eleni, following the arrival of the Portuguese from Socotra in 1507, as an ambassador for the king of Portugal in search of a coalition to help face growing Ottoman influence. He was received in Goa with great honour by Afonso, as a long-sought "Prester John" envoy. His arrival was announced by King Manuel to Pope Leo X in 1513. Although Mateus faced the distrust of Afonso's rivals, who tried to prove he was some impostor or Muslim spy, Afonso sent him to Portugal.[62] The King is described as having wept with joy at their report.

In February 1513, while Mateus was in Portugal, Afonso sailed to the Red Sea with a force of about 1000 Portuguese and 400 Malabaris. He was under orders to secure that channel for Portugal. Socotra had proved ineffective to control the Red Sea entrance and was abandoned, and Afonso's hint that Massawa could be a good Portuguese base might have been influenced by Mateus' reports.[28]

Knowing that the Mamluks were preparing a second fleet at Suez, he wanted to advance before reinforcements arrived in Aden, and accordingly laid siege to the city.[63] Aden was a fortified city, but although he had scaling ladders they broke and after half a day of fierce battle Afonso was forced to retreat. He cruised the Red Sea inside the Bab al-Mandab, with the first European fleet to have sailed this route. He attempted to reach Jeddah, but the winds were unfavourable and so he sheltered at Kamaran island in May, until sickness among the men and lack of fresh water forced him to retreat. In August 1513, after a second attempt to reach Aden, he returned to India with no substantial results. In order to destroy the power of Egypt, he is said to have entertained the idea of diverting the course of the Nile river to render the whole country barren. Perhaps most tellingly, he intended to steal the body of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, and hold it for ransom until all Muslims had left the Holy Land.[64][65]

Administration and diplomacy in Goa, 1514

Alfonso de Albuquerque II as governor of India
Coining of money for d'Albuquerque at Goa (1510)

In 1514 Afonso devoted himself to governing Goa, concluding peace with Calicut and receiving embassies from Indian governors, strengthening the city and encouraging marriages of Portuguese men and local women. At that time, Portuguese women were barred from traveling overseas. In 1511 under a policy which Afonso promulgated, the Portuguese government encouraged their explorers to marry local women. To promote settlement, the King of Portugal granted freeman status and exemption from Crown taxes to Portuguese men (known as casados, or "married men") who ventured overseas and married local women. With Afonso's encouragement, mixed marriages flourished. He appointed local people for positions in the Portuguese administration and did not interfere with local traditions (except "sati", the practice of immolating widows, which he banned).

In March 1514 King Manuel sent to Pope Leo X a huge and exotic embassy led by Tristão da Cunha, who toured the streets of Rome in an extravagant procession of animals from the colonies and wealth from the Indies. His reputation reached its peak, laying foundations of the Portuguese Empire in the East.

In early 1514, Afonso sent ambassadors to Sultan Muzafar II, ruler of Cambay, to seek permission to build a fort on Diu, India. The mission returned without an agreement, but diplomatic gifts were exchanged, including an Indian rhinoceros.[66] Alfonso sent the gift, named ganda, and its Indian keeper, Ocem, to King Manuel.[67] In late 1515, Manuel sent it as a gift, the famous Dürer's Rhinoceros to Pope Leo X. Dürer never saw the actual rhinoceros, which was the first living example seen in Europe since Roman times.

Conquest of Ormuz and Illness

Afonso de Albuquerque as Viceroy of India

In 1513, at Cannanore, Afonso was visited by a Persian ambassador from Shah Ismail I, who had sent ambassadors to Gujarat, Ormuz and Bijapur. The shah's ambassador to Bijapur invited Afonso to send back an envoy to Persia. Miguel Ferreira was sent via Ormuz to Tabriz, where he had several interviews with the shah about common goals on defeating the Mamluk sultan.

Having returned with rich presents and an ambassador, on the journey back in March 1515 they were met by Afonso at Ormuz.[68] Fueled by the shah's offers, Afonso had decided to recapture Ormuz. He had learned that after the Portuguese retreat in 1507, a young king was reigning under the influence of a powerful Persian vizier, Reis Hamed, whom the king greatly feared. At Ormuz, Afonso met the king and asked the vizier to be present. He then had him immediately stabbed and killed by his entourage, thus "freeing" the dominated king, so the island in the Persian Gulf yielded to him without resistance and remained a vassal state of the Portuguese Empire. Ormuz itself would not be Persian territory for another century, until a British-Persian alliance finally expelled the Portuguese in 1622.[69] There in Ormuz, Afonso remained, engaging in diplomatic efforts and receiving envoys while becoming increasingly ill. In November 1515, he decided to return to Goa, but he fell increasingly ill during the journey and died in the harbour of Goa.


Afonso's life ended on a bitter note, with a painful and ignominious close. At this time, his political enemies at the Portuguese court were planning his downfall. They had lost no opportunity in stirring up the jealousy of King Manuel against him, insinuating that Afonso intended to usurp power in Portuguese India.[70]

Since at least the beginning of November 1515, Afonso knew that he had been replaced in the government of India by a political adversary, Lopo Soares de Albergaria. Reportedly, he even received a letter from the ambassador of the Persian potentate Shah Ismael, inviting Afonso to become a leading lord in Persia. His illness was reported as early as September 1515.[71]

While on his return voyage from Ormuz in the Persian Gulf, near the harbor of Goa, he received news of a Portuguese fleet arriving from Europe, bearing dispatches announcing that he was to be replaced by his personal foe, the Portuguese Lopo Soares de Albergaria. Feeling himself near death, he drew up his will, appointed the captain and senior officials of Ormuz, and organized a final council with his captains to decide the main matters affecting the Estado da Índia.[71]

He wrote a long letter to King Manuel, voicing his bitterness: "I am in ill favor with the King for love of men, and with men for love of the King." He asked the King to confer onto his natural son "all of the high honors and rewards" that were justly due to Afonso. He wrote in dignified and affectionate terms, assuring Manuel of his loyalty.[69][72] On 16 December 1515, Afonso de Albuquerque died within sight of Goa. The gentiles were reported as saying, "It could not be that he was dead, but that God had need of him for some war and had therefore sent for him".[71]

In Portugal, King Manuel's zigzagging policies continued, still trapped by the constraints of real-time medieval communication between Lisbon and India and unaware that Afonso was dead. Hearing rumours that the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt was preparing a magnificent army at Suez to prevent the conquest of Ormuz, he repented of having replaced Afonso, and in March 1516 urgently wrote to Albergaria to return the command of all operations to Afonso and provide him with resources to face the Egyptian threat. He organized a new Portuguese navy in Asia, with orders that Afonso (if he was still in India), be made commander-in-chief against the Sultan of Cairo's armies. Manuel would afterwards learn that Afonso had died many months earlier, and that his reversed decision had been delivered many months too late.[70][71]

Afonso's body was buried in Goa, according to his will, in the Church of Nossa Senhora da Serra (Our Lady of the Hill), which he had caused to be built in 1513 to thank the Madonna for his escape from Kamaran island.[73] After 51 years, in 1566, his body was moved to Nossa Senhora da Graça church in Lisbon,[74] which was ruined and rebuilt after the 1755 Great Lisbon earthquake.


Albuquerque Monument on Afonso de Albuquerque Square in Lisbon (1902)

King Manuel I of Portugal was belatedly convinced of Afonso's loyalty, and endeavoured to atone for his lack of confidence in Afonso by heaping honours upon his son, Brás de Albuquerque (1500–1580),[75] whom he renamed "Afonso" in memory of the father.

Afonso de Albuquerque was a prolific writer, having sent numerous letters to the king during his governorship, covering topics from minor issues to major strategies. In 1557 his son published a collection of his letters under the title Commentarios do Grande Affonso d'Alboquerque[76]- a clear reference to Caesar's Commentaries- which he reviewed and re-published in 1576. There Afonso was described as "a man of middle stature, with a long face, fresh complexion, the nose somewhat large. He was a prudent man, and a Latin scholar, and spoke in elegant phrases; his conversation and writings showed his excellent education. He was of ready words, very authoritative in his commands, very circumspect in his dealings with the Moors, and greatly feared yet greatly loved by all, a quality rarely found united in one captain. He was very valiant and favoured by fortune."[77]

In 1572, Afonso's feats were described in The Lusiads, the Portuguese main epic poem by Luís Vaz de Camões (Canto X, strophes 40–49). The poet praises his achievements, but has the muses frown upon the harsh rule of his men, of whom Camões was almost a contemporary fellow. In 1934, Afonso was celebrated by Fernando Pessoa in Mensagem, a symbolist epic. In the first part of this work, called "Brasão" (Coat-of-Arms), he relates Portuguese historical protagonists to each of the fields in the Portuguese coat-of-arms, Afonso being one of the wings of the griffin headed by Henry the Navigator, the other wing being King John II.

A variety of mango that he used to bring on his journeys to India has been named in his honour.[78]

Numerous homages have been paid to Afonso; he is featured in the Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument; there is a square carrying his name in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, which also features a bronze statue; two Portuguese Navy ships have been named in his honour: the sloop NRP Afonso de Albuquerque (1884) and the warship NRP Afonso de Albuquerque, the latter belonging to a sloop class named Albuquerque.

Global legacy

The fabled Spice Islands were on the imagination of Europe since ancient times. In the 2nd century AD, Malaya was known by the Greek philosopher Ptolemy, who labeled it 'Aurea Chersonesus"; and who said that it was believed the fabled area held gold in abundance. Even Indian traders referred to the East Pacific region as "Land of Gold" and made regular visits to Malaya in search of the precious metal, tin and sweet scented jungle woods.[79] But neither Ptolemy, nor Rome, nor Alexander was able to see the fabled regions of the East Pacific. Afonso de Albuquerque became the first European to reach the Spice Islands. Upon discovering Malaysia, he proceeded in 1511 to conquer Malacca, then commissioned an expedition under the command of António de Abreu and Vice-Commander Francisco Serrão (the latter being a cousin of Magellan) to further explore the extremities of the region in east Indonesia.[80] As a result of these voyages of exploration, the Portuguese became the first Europeans to discover and to reach the fabled Spice Islands of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Indies in addition to discovering their sea routes. Afonso found what had evaded Columbus' grasp — the wealth of the Orient. His discoveries did not go unnoticed, and it took little time for Magellan to arrive in the same region a few years later and discover the Philippines for Spain, giving birth to the Papal Treaty of Zaragoza.

Afonso's operations sent a voyage pushing further south which made the European discovery of Timor in the far south of Oceania, and the discovery of Papua New Guinea in 1512. This was followed up by another Portuguese, Jorge de Menezes in 1526, who named Papua New Guinea, the "Island of the Papua".[81][82][83][84]

Portuguese discoveries and explorations: first arrival places and dates; main Portuguese spice trade routes in the Indian Ocean (blue)

Through Alfonso's diplomatic activities, Portugal opened the sea between Europe and China. As early as 1513, Jorge de Albuquerque, a Portuguese commanding officer in Malacca, sent his subordinate Jorge Álvares to sail to China on a ship loaded with pepper from Sumatra. After sailing across the sea, Jorge Álvares and his crew dropped anchor in Tamao, an island located at the mouth of the Pearl River. This was the first Portuguese to set foot in the territory known as China, the mythical "Middle Kingdom" where they erected a stone Padrão.[85] Álvares is the first European to reach Chinese land by sea,[86][87][88][89] and, the first European to enter Hong Kong.[90][91] In 1514 Afonso de Albuquerque, the Viceroy of the Estado da India dispatched Rafael Perestrello to sail to China in order to pioneer European trade relations with the Chinese nation.[92] Rafael Perestrelo was quoted as saying, "being a very good and honest people, the Chinese hope to make friends with the Portuguese."[93] In spite of initial harmony and excitement between the two empires, difficulties soon arose.[94] Portugal's efforts in establishing lasting ties with China did pay off in the long run; the Portuguese colonized Macau, and established the first European permanent settlement on Chinese soil, which served as a permanent colonial base in southern China, and the two empires maintained an exchange in culture and trade for nearly 500 years.[95][96] The longest empire in history (1515–1999), begun by Alfonso de Albuquerque five centuries earlier, ended when Portugal ceded the government of Macau to China.[97][98][99][100]

Afonso de Albuquerque pioneered trade relations with Thailand, and was as such the first recorded European to contact Thailand.[101]

Titles and honours


Afonso de Albuquerque had a bastard son with an unrecorded woman. He legitimized the boy in February 1506. Before his death, he asked King Manuel I to leave to the son all his wealth and that the King oversee the son's education. When Alfonso died, Manuel I renamed the child "Afonso" in his father's memory. Brás Afonso de Albuquerque, or Braz in the old spelling, was born in 1500 and died in 1580.



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Preceded by
Francisco de Almeida
Viceroy of Portuguese India
Succeeded by
Lopo Soares de Albergaria
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