Afonso de Albuquerque


Afonso de Albuquerque : biography

1453 – 1515

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

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

Administration and diplomacy in Goa, 1514

In 1514 Afonso de Albuquerque devoted himself to governing Goa, concluding peace with Calicut and receiving embassies from Indian governors, strengthening the city and stimulating the marriage of Portuguese with local women. At that time, Portuguese women were barred from travelling overseas due to superstition about women on ships, as well as the unsafe nature of the sea route. In 1511, the Portuguese government encouraged their explorers to marry local women, under a policy set by Albuquerque. 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 Albuquerque’s encouragement, mixed marriages flourished. He appointed local people for positions in the Portuguese administration and didn’t interfere with local traditions, except "sati", the practice of immolating widows, which he forbade.

In March 1514 King Manuel I of Portugal had 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 that struck Europe. His reputation reached its peak, laying foundations of the Portuguese Empire in the East.

In early 1514, Afonso de Albuquerque had sent ambassadors to Sultan Muzafar II, ruler of Cambay, to seek permission to build a fort on Diu. The mission returned without an agreement, but diplomatic gifts were exchanged, including an Indian rhinoceros.Bedini, p.112. Albuquerque sent the gift, named ganda, and its Indian keeper, Ocem, to King Manuel I., Projecto Lambe-Lambe . In late 1515, the king 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

In 1513 at Cannanore Albuquerque 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 visited Albuquerque inviting him 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 Albuquerque at Ormuz, where he went to establish his rule. Fueled by the offers of the shah, Albuquerque 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 Hormuz, Albuquerque had a parley with 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. Hormuz itself, would not be Persian territory for another century, until a combined British-Persian alliance finally expelled the Portuguese, in 1622." target="_blank" There in Hormuz, Albuquerque stood, engaging in diplomatic efforts and receiving envoys while becoming increasingly ill. In November 1515 he decided to return, but during the journey his illness would become increasingly fatal, and would lead to his eventual death in the very harbour of Goa.