Prince Henry was the fifth son of King John I of Portugal and of Queen Philippa, grand-daughter of Edward III of England. In his youth he had proved himself to be a brave warrior, but his one desire in life was to extend the sea-routes of the world and to make his country rich by trade. He set up an academy at Sagres on Cape St Vincent and began to study astronomy, chart-making and mathematics. At his command, mariners set off on voyages of exploration that steadily pushed back the borders of the unknown. When his captains returned, they gave him charts of their voyages from which he was able to prepare surprisingly accurate maps. His men, both Portuguese and Italian, ventured further and further into uncharted waters. One, Diego Cam, not only reached the month of the Congo (now Zaire) River, but sailed south for another 800 km before turning back. Other explorers discovered Madeira and the Canary Islands. Because of Prince Henry’s great interest and encouragement, geography became a science and navigation was much improved. Prince Henry died in 1460 but not before his mariners had reached Sierra Leone on the west coast of Africa. He had certainly justified the proud title of ‘The Navigator’.
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