Afonso de Albuquerque

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Afonso de Albuquerque : biography

1453 – 1515

In Goa, Albuquerque started the first Portuguese mint in the East, after complaints from merchants and Timoja about the scarcity of currency, taking it as an opportunity to announce the territorial conquest. The new coin, based on the existing local coins, showed a cross on one side and the design of an armillary sphere (or "esfera"), King Manuel’s badge, on the other. Gold, silver and bronze coins were issued, respectively gold cruzados or manueis, esferas and alf-esferas, and "leais"."Commentarios do grande Afonso Dalboquerque", p.157 Another mint was established at Malacca in 1511.

Despite constant attacks, Goa became the centre 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.

Conquest of Malacca, 1511

Afonso de Albuquerque 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

In February 1511, through a friendly Hindu merchant called Nina Chatu, Albuquerque 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 about the fortifications. Albuquerque 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. He then set sail from Goa to Malacca against orders and despite the protest of Diogo Mendes, who claimed the command of the expedition. Albuquerque eventually centralized the Portuguese government in the Indian Ocean. After the conquest of Malacca, he wrote a letter to the King where he explained his disagreement with Diogo Mendes, suggesting that further divisions could be harmful to the Portuguese in India.Foundations of the Portuguese Empire, 1415-1580, p. 255, Diffie, Winius 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.

Albuquerque made a bold approach to the city, his ships decorated with banners, firing cannon volleys. He declared himself lord of all the navigation, demanding the Sultan release the prisoners, pay for the damage, and asking to build a fortified trading post. The Sultan eventually freed the prisoners, but was unimpressed by the small Portuguese contingent. Albuquerque 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 waiting for the reaction of the Sultan, they returned to the ships. As the Sultan did not respond, they prepared a junk offered by Chinese merchants, filling it with men, artillery, 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.Diffie, Bailey W. and George D. Winius, Foundations of the Portuguese Empire, 1415–1580. p. 254-260 Albuquerque rested his men for a week and 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.