Afonso de Albuquerque - Portuguese Explorer

Afonso de Albuquerque - Portuguese Explorer

One of the great sea captains in Portuguese history, Afonso de Albuquerque captured the cities of Goa, Malacca, and Hormuz and founded the Portuguese empire in Asia. He was born in Alhandra, near Lisbon. Both his paternal grandfather and great-grandfather had been confidential secretaries to King João I and King Edward (Duarte), and his maternal grandfather had been an admiral in the Portuguese navy.

He grew up at the court of his godfather King Afonso V, and when he was 20 he sailed in the Portuguese fleet to Venice and was involved in the defeat of the Turks at the Battle of Taranto. He then spent 10 years in the Portuguese army in Morocco gaining military experience.

Albuquerque was present when the Portuguese under King Afonso V captured Arzila and Tangier in 1471, and Afonso’s son, King João II, made him a bodyguard and then his master of the horse. He returned to Morocco in 1489 and fought at the siege of Graciosa. When John’s brother Manuel I became king in 1495, Albuquerque returned again to Morocco.

It was during this time that Albuquerque became interested in Asia. The possibility of opening up a trade route was tantalizing to Albuquerque and in 1503 he joined his cousin Francisco to Cochin on the southwest coast of India, where they built the first Portuguese fortress in Asia.

King Manuel appointed Dom Francisco de Almeida as the first viceroy of India with the aim of increasing trade and establishing a permanent presence on the Indian subcontinent. In April 1506, Albuquerque set out on his second (and final) voyage—one that would last nine years. He was skilled in military tactics, seafaring, and handling men and was incredibly ambitious.

However he was only in charge of five of the fleet’s 16 ships. Overall command was given to Tristão da Cunha, who led the expedition up the east coast of Africa, and around Madagascar. They built a fort at Socotra to prevent Arab traders from passing through the mouth of the Red Sea and ensure a Portuguese trade monopoly with India.

In August 1507, Albuquerque was given permission by Tristão da Cunha to take six ships and 400 men. They headed straight for the Arabian and Persian coasts and, heavily armed, they sacked five towns in five weeks. Albuquerque then decided to attack the town of Hormuz (Ormuz), which was located on an island between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

Albuquerque Monument on Afonso de Albuquerque Square in Lisbon
Albuquerque Monument on Afonso de Albuquerque Square in Lisbon

Taking it would cripple Turkish trade with the Middle East as it was the terminus for caravan routes from Egypt, Persia, Turkestan, and India. Even though Hormuz had a population of between 60,000 and 100,000, Albuquerque was able to capture the town and force it to pay him an annual tribute.

Albuquerque, appointed to succeed Almeida, found Almeida reluctant to hand over the office. Almeida was keen to avenge the death of his son, who was killed by an Egyptian fleet. He jailed Albuquerque and then led the Portuguese into a naval battle off the island of Din near Goa in February 1509.

In October 1509 the marshal of Portugal, Fernando Continho, on a tour of inspection, ordered the release of Albuquerque and demanded that Almeida hand over his office. Albuquerque then set out to create the Portuguese empire in Asia.

In January 1510 he attacked the port of Cochin but was unable to capture it. Two months later he attacked and took the town of Goa. After being there for two months he was forced out, but retook Goa in November 1510.

Albuquerque then made for Malacca (now Melaka), the richest port on the Malay Peninsula. It was the center where traders from the Indonesian archipelago brought their spices. It had a population of 100,000 and was well armed.

With 15 ships, three galleys, 800 European and 200 Indian soldiers, in July 1511, he attacked Malacca and after a day, took the city, which his men looted. They loaded their treasure into the Flor do Mar, and the ship was so overloaded that it sank off the coast of Sumatra; the wreck has never been found.

Back in Goa, Albuquerque fought off the attackers and then took a group of Portuguese and Indians to try to take the port of Aden. They failed and they returned to India. In February 1515, he again sailed from Goa, taking 26 ships to Hormuz.

However he was taken ill in September and sailed back to Goa. On the way back he heard that his success had made him many enemies in Lisbon and he had been replaced by an enemy, Lopo Soares. Albuquerque died on December 15, 1515, at sea off the coast of Goa.