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Frederick A. Ober

Magellan Expatriated


That a man who had spent one-fourth his life in fighting for his country should, from spite or malice, renounce that country and carry his talents to another seems incredible, and one who would do so may be termed contemptible. Fernan Magellan expatriated himself, and some of his enemies have declared it was because of the king's refusal to increase his pension and bestow upon him the promotion he craved; but this is not the truth. He was deeply wounded; he may have grieved in silence or have denounced Dom Manoel to his friends; but, though it may have appeared to him that the king had treated him unjustly, he had no thought of renouncing his allegiance simply for that reason.

During two or three years succeeding to his rebuff by Dom Manoel, Fernan Magellan remained in Portugal without employ by the king, but by no means idle. One of his Portuguese biographers tells us that he was "always busied with pilots, charts, and the question of longitudes," and from this we may infer his intentions. He had voyaged a great deal, he had fought lustily; and now, at the age of thirty-five to thirty-seven, it was high time that he should think upon what he had seen. What he evolved from the seclusion of those two or three years passed in retirement, shows that they were the most fruitful in his experience. The idea had occurred to him—but when, and how suggested, is not known—that the Spice Islands of the Eastern Seas could perhaps be reached by a direct voyage across the Atlantic (and perchance that other ocean which Balboa had espied from Darien), instead of by the circuitous route around the Cape of Good Hope.

This idea, crystallized into an intelligible and definite scheme, Fernan Magellan took to his sovereign, expecting—at least, hoping—that he would assist him to carry it out. But, the coldness with which Dom Manoel received him, and the brusqueness with which he repelled the suggestion, showed him to be a fit successor to King John II., who had spurned the proposition for a new-world voyage of discovery by Christopher Columbus. Dom Manoel did not, like his predecessor, send out craft to ascertain if the scheme of a voyage to the Spice Islands were feasible, nor even consult with cosmographers as to its practicability. He rejected the proposition, as well from ignorance of its vast significance, as from hatred of Magellan; and the author of this new idea, who had perchance dreamed of winning a name for himself, with his sovereign's assistance, retired from the royal presence, disappointed and indignant, but not humbled or mortified.


Ferdinand Magellan

Never, he declared, would he invite insult and contumely again by presenting himself before the king, who not only ignored his deserts as a soldier, but took delight in holding him up to ridicule. But it is doubtful whether he had then formed the resolve to carry his scheme to the court of Portugal's only rival in the field of discovery at that time—Spain, which occupied the major portion of the Iberian peninsula, and had garnered bountiful harvests from the countries revealed by Columbus.

Portuguese historians aver that the suggestion to denaturalize himself was "of the devil," and point to the fact that Fernan Magellan's most intimate friend was an astrologer, and hence in league with the powers of darkness. This intimate friend, they say, and not Magellan, was the author of the idea:  that by sailing westerly, not easterly, the most direct route to the Moluccas would be found. This friend was Ruy Faleiro, a misanthropic scholar and dreamer, who passed his time in abstruse studies, and whose friendship for Magellan was the only one that he is said to have formed. Inasmuch as they were intimately associated, during the two or three years of Fernan's retirement, and as Faleiro was a learned astronomer and cosmographer, it is possible that the idea was his, as well as the suggestion that the two friends should abandon a country which showed itself so ungrateful and unappreciative, for another, which might receive them more hospitably. One thing was certain, Ruy Faleiro is said to have impressed upon the downcast Magellan: his career in Portugal was at an end, for, whom the king looked upon with disfavor was blasted for life.

Let us assume that the idea was theirs in common: that it had originated in their frequent conversations, when Magellan, the man of energy and action, who had been in the East and remembered what he had seen, may have alluded to facts which fitted in with Faleiro's theories and speculations. For Magellan was a sailor-soldier, who had been too long guided by and at the beck of others, to conceive an original hypothesis; while Faleiro was a thinker, whose synthetic order of intellect was equal to the construction of a perfect globe, from the mismatched fragments of half-informed cosmographers.

Faleiro and Magellan put their heads together, and arrived at the truth, which was, that there was no longer a career for the latter in Portugal; that Dom Manoel was a dunce, and being what he was, incapable of change, nor open to argument, would never assist an expedition by the western route; that inasmuch as Spain's newly acquired possessions lay to the west of the great meridian of demarcation drawn by order of the pope, while Portugal's all lay to the east, there was a better prospect of assistance from Spain than from Portugal.

Hence, argued Faleiro, their only hope lay in Spain, where the enlightened Don Carlos was king, and who, though young—a mere youth, in fact—was possessed of wisdom beyond his age. Ruy Faleiro, indeed, is said to have gone beyond mere prediction, and, availing himself of his knowledge as an astrologer, indulged in prophecy. He foresaw, he said, the success of the scheme—his scheme, he called it—but before success was gained, before the voyage projected by them should become an accomplished fact, both were to be deprived by death of the glory that was rightly theirs.

Faleiro was gloomy by nature, a mystic, whose head was nearer the stars than the earth. As time went on he became morose and surly, and was as a thorn in the side of Fernan Magellan, whose disposition was more inclined to be joyous than gloomy. Before many months, in fact, Ruy Faleiro developed indications of insanity, which deprived him of the privilege of accompanying his friend on the great voyage which they had planned together.

Dom Manoel had, in effect, informed Magellan, when he intimated there were others who might look upon his plans more approvingly, that he was free to go whither he desired, and there was no opposition to the departure of himself and Faleiro, when they at last left Portugal for Spain. They were hardly worth considering, of course, the sovereign thought, provided he was informed at all of their going; but within a year or two he went wild with rage, at the mere mention of their names.

Having resigned his commission as a captain in the royal service, Fernan Magellan departed from Portugal, without first taking leave of the king, on account of the humiliation to which he had been subjected. His pride, perhaps, was greater than his discretion; but it cannot be denied that he had good cause for a feeling of resentment towards one who had treated him so badly. One Portuguese historian, writing not long after this event, states that when Fernan demanded permission from Dom Manoel to go and live with some one who would reward his services, he received the reply that he might do as he pleased. "Upon this, Magellan desired to kiss his hand at parting, but the king would not offer it to him."

All the Portuguese historians, ancient as well as modern, denounce Magellan and Faleiro for their act of denationalization, as if theirs was the first instance of the kind. While, however, they may, more formally than others, have renounced allegiance to their sovereign, they had several notable examples to cite: as Columbus, who, after he left his native Genoa, became naturalized in Portugal, where he married, and then in Spain; Sebastian Cabot, who left England for Spain, where he lived many years, before returning to pass his old age in the land that honored him most; Vespucci the Venetian, who also occupied the important post of pilot-major at the time Magellan arrived at Seville.

No great opposition had been made to their renunciation of citizenship, in the lands of their birth, and it was not until they had become great and famous, that their compatriots concerned themselves about their doings at all. But one writer calls Faleiro and Magellan "unnatural monsters, traitors to the king whom it was their duty to serve; barbarians towards the country for which it was their duty to die." They conspired, he said, "to bring about a fatal war between two neighboring and friendly powers"; but of this there is no proof, and in fact they did nothing of the kind. What they did was to leave a kingdom where there was no hope of advancement, and seek another, in which they trusted to receive encouragement.

They arrived in Seville, then the Mecca of all voyagers and discoverers, in October, 1517. They reached it unheralded, except that the fame of Magellan's exploits had preceded him, in a general way; but they directly found themselves among friends and fellow-countrymen, refugees from the persecutions of Portuguese monarchs. The most eminent of these, Dom Alvaro of Portugal, a brother of the Duke of Braganca (who was executed by Joao the Perfect for treason), occupied the elevated post of Alcaide, or chief of the arsenal. Many others who, like him, had fled from Portugal for political reasons, had found in Spain not only an asylum of refuge, but obtained congenial employment in the royal service.

In fact, what would Spain have done, in the matter of discovery and world-achievement, had she not harbored the refugees of other lands, during the very period in which she was so mercilessly expelling the Moors and the Jews? So that these refugees were professed followers of the cross, and so-called Christians, they required no other credentials, but were at once taken to the hearts of all Spaniards.

Suffice it to state, that the two expatriated ones were at once introduced to quite a large Portuguese colony, the various homes of which were at once thrown open to them. But more than this: Magellan, it is said, found relations there, with whom he had once been on terms of intimacy. Dom Diego Barbosa, the assistant alcaide of the arsenal, a knight-commander of the renowned Order of Santiago, and a man of great influence in Seville, is alluded to by writers of the time as a primo, or cousin of Magellan. He had been fourteen years in Spain, having come from Portugal, where Fernan Magellan was an occasional inmate of his family, visiting it from Saborosa, and when he could escape from Dom Manoel's court.

Not alone the tie of kinship (it was whispered), bound Fernan Magellan to the family of Dom Diego Barbosa; but there was an added attraction in the person of Dom Diego's daughter, lovely Beatrix, a maiden of many charms, though then quite young. The two cousins were mutually attracted, and their parents thought them so well suited to each other that they may have dreamed of their future happiness together. But the young man went off to the wars, the maiden accompanied her father to Spain, and so they were separated. Whether they corresponded, during those long years of separation, we do not know but the remembrance of his youthful sweetheart may have kept the young soldier from many evils, into which so many of his companions wildly plunged, in their dissolute days of soldiering.

Was her image in his heart, all the while, and was the thought of her an incentive for his going to Spain? It may be, for, soon after he was installed in her father's house, an honored guest, he commenced an ardent courtship, which resulted in their marriage before the year had ended. This was Fernan Magellan's first and only romance, so far as we know, for he had never played the lover to fair ladies, many of whom he must have met in his wanderings, and who must have been attracted to him by his robust personality and admirable qualities. So he married the beautiful Beatrix Barbosa, and in Seville, where, too, Amerigo Vespucci had met his bride and passed the brief period of his wedded life, they spent their honeymoon.

We may allude to this episode—for it was scarcely more than that—as a romance; but Magellan was too practical, too deeply absorbed in his pursuit, to allow it to divert him from the real object of his visit. Were he likely to do so, the persistent Faleiro—whose one love was knowledge, and whose only mistress was science—would have reminded him of his duty, for, seemingly aware that his time was short, he could brook no delay. He worried his friend so constantly, he created such scenes at the casa de contratacion, or house of the Indies, which had supervision over all expeditions, that Fernan was only too glad to set off to visit the court. It chanced that Dom Diego Barbosa, Fernan's father-in-law, was the very person to place them in communication with the court and the king, for he had faithfully served Ferdinand the Catholic, grandfather of the then reigning sovereign, as well as Dom Manoel in the Indies. His prestige was such that he soon arranged for their reception, and within three months of their arrival in Spain, the two companions set out for Valladolid, where the youthful king was then holding court.

He had but recently arrived from Flanders, and was still surrounded by and under the influence of those parasitic Flemings, who, knowing their tenure of office was likely to be short, were exploiting Spain and its resources with energy and avidity. They could not but be jealous of the Spanish courtiers, who, in the nature of things, must shortly supersede them, and who, on their part, were furious that their boy king was so completely under Flemish influence. He could scarcely speak the language of the country he had come to govern—the speech of Joanna his mother, of Isabella and Ferdinand, his grandmother and grandfather—and it is doubtful if he could understand, still less appreciate, a scheme that might extend to the other side of the globe Spain's influence and prestige.

Fortunately for sovereigns of the sort to which belonged the youthful Charles at that period of his life, kings can have their thinking done for them by others. King Charles had but recently lost the sagest of counsellors, Cardinal Xirnenes, regent of Spain, who had died in the month of November previous; but there remained, together with several Flemings of no great parts, the energetic, and in many ways admirable Fonseca, Bishop of Burgos. He was the real and actual head of the great India house, and his advice had greater weight than that of all other Spaniards combined. He was avaricious, hatefully malignant, despicably mean, and had been the declared enemy of all discoverers, from Columbus to Balboa, whose plans he had thwarted or opposed to the extent of his great ability.

But there was something in the appearance of the two latest suppliants for royal favor, Magellan and Faleiro, that interested the bishop and enchained his attention. Ruy Faleiro, mystic and astrologer, was a man of commanding presence, with deep-browed, glittering eyes, raven-black beard and flowing hair, his costume as fantastic as that of any Moorish astrologer whose science he professed. He could read the minds of men as well as he could the stars, and he quickly perceived the great bishop's vulnerable points, which were vanity, avariciousness, and admiration for worth and learning. It took him but a short time to convince the worldly prelate that he was the greatest man on earth, that the scheme proposed would result in his vast enrichment, and that Ruy Faleiro, who addressed him, was profoundly erudite.

Fernan Magellan could scarcely lay claim to an impressive presence, for he was not above middle height, his countenance, though attractive, was not striking, and in his walk he limped perceptibly, from the wound received in Africa. But he knew the East Indies, to which he convincingly pointed out the new route westerly, upon a planisphere he had brought from Portugal, and his exploits gave him high standing in the bishop's estimation. Thus the two combined wrought upon the churchman favorably, for while Ruy Faleiro fascinated, Fernan Magellan convinced him by absolute proofs that the route was feasible, and, being so, it could not but be profitable to Spain to exploit it.

One of the proofs was a letter from Francisco Serrao, the friend of Magellan, who had been wrecked among the Spice Islands, and who had remained there ever since. He told of the vast wealth to be accumulated there in spices, and expressed his belief (which Ruy Faleiro confirmed) that the Moluccas belonged to Spain, not to Portugal, as they lay west of the pope's line of demarcation, which was projected in 1494 by the treaty of Tordesillas. And, says the historian Gomara, "other bids for credence did he make, conjecturing that the land [now known as South America] turned westward, in the same manner as did that of Good Hope towards the east. . . . And since on the track thus taken no passage existed, he would coast the whole continent till he came to the cape which corresponds to the Cape of Good Hope, and would discover many new lands, and the way to the Spice Islands, as he promised. . . . Such an expedition would be long, difficult, and costly, and many did not understand it, while others did not believe in it. However, the generality of people had faith in him [Magellan], as a man who had been seven years in India, and because, though a Portuguese, he declared that Sumatra, Malacca, and other Eastern lands where spices could be found, belonged to the kingdom of Castile."