Puneet Varma (Editor)

2nd Portuguese India Armada (Cabral, 1500)

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2nd Portuguese India Armada (Cabral, 1500)

The Second Portuguese India Armada was assembled in 1500 on the order of King Manuel I of Portugal and placed under the command of Pedro Álvares Cabral. Cabral's armada famously discovered Brazil for the Portuguese crown along the way. By and large, the 2nd Armada's diplomatic mission to India failed, and provoked the opening of hostilities between the Kingdom of Portugal and the feudal city-state of Calicut, ruled by Zamorins. Nonetheless, it managed to establish a factory in the nearby Kingdom of Cochin, the first Portuguese factory in Asia.



The first India Armada, commanded by Vasco da Gama, arrived in Portugal in the summer of 1499, in a rather sorry shape. Battles, disease and storms had taken their toll—half of his ships and men had been lost. Although he came back with a hefty cargo of spices that would be sold at an enormous profit, Vasco da Gama had failed in the principal objective of his mission—negotiating a treaty with Zamorin's Calicut, the spice entrepot on the Malabar Coast of India. Nonetheless, Gama had opened up the sea route to India via the Cape of Good Hope and secured good relations with the African city-state of Malindi, a critical staging post along the way.

On the orders of King Manuel I of Portugal, arrangements immediately began to assemble a Second Armada in Cascais. Determined not to repeat Gama's mistakes, this one was to be a large and well-armed fleet—13 ships, 1500 men—and laden with valuable gifts and diplomatic letters to win over the potentates of the east.

Many details of the composition of the fleet are missing. Only three ship names are known, and there is some conflict among the sources on the naming of the captains. The following list of ships should not be regarded as authoritative, but a tentative list compiled from various conflicting accounts.

This list is principally in concordance with Fernão Lopes de Castanheda's Historia, João de Barros's Décadas, Damião de Góis's Chronica, the marginal gloss of the Relaçao das Naos, Diogo do Couto's list, Manuel de Faria e Sousa's Asia Portugueza,. The main conflict is with Gaspar Correia's Lendas da Índia, who omits Pêro de Ataíde and Aires Gomes da Silva, listing instead Braz Matoso and Pedro de Figueiró, and introduces André Gonçalves in addition to Lemos, bringing the number of captains up to fourteen, but manages to bring it back down to thirteen by identifying Simão de Miranda as vice-admiral and captain of Cabral's own flagship. Neither of the two eyewitnesses—the Anonymous Portuguese pilot and Pêro Vaz de Caminha—give a list of captains.

The Second Armada would be headed by the Portuguese nobleman Pedro Álvares Cabral, a master of the Order of Christ (in contrast with Gama, who was of the Order of Santiago). Cabral had no notable naval or military experience, his appointment as capitão-mor (captain-major) of the armada being largely a political one. The exiled Castillian nobleman Sancho de Tovar was designated vice-admiral (soto-capitão) and successor should anything befall Cabral.

Veteran pilot Pedro Escobar was given the overall technical command of the expedition. Other veterans of the first (1497) armada include captain Nicolau Coelho, pilot Pêro de Alenquer and clerks Afonso Lopes and João de Sá. Going as captains were the famed navigator Bartolomeu Dias (first to double the Cape back in 1488) and his brother Diogo Dias (who had served as clerk on Gama's ship in the first expedition).

Most of the ships were either carracks (naus) or caravels and at least one was a small supply ship, although details on names and tonnage are missing. At least two ships, Cabral's flagship and Tovar's El Rei, were said to be around 240t, that is, about twice the size of the largest ship in the 1st (1497) Armada of Vasco da Gama.

Ten ships were destined for Calicut (Malabar, India), while two ships (the Dias brothers, Bartolomeu and Diogo) were destined for Sofala (East Africa) and one (the supply ship captained by either Gaspar de Lemos or André Gonçalves, uncertain exactly whom) was destined to be scuttled and burnt along the way.

At least two ships were privately owned and outfitted. The ship of Luís Pires was owned by Diogo da Silva e Meneses, Count of Portalegre, while the Anunciada of Nuno Leitão da Cunha was owned by the king's cousin D. Álvaro of Braganza, and financed by an Italian consortium composed of the Florentine bankers Bartolomeo Marchionni and Girolamo Sernigi and the Genoese Antonio Salvago. The remainder belonged to the Portuguese crown.

Accompanying the expedition as translator was Gaspar da Gama (baptismal name of the Jew captured in Angediva by Vasco da Gama) as well as four Hindu hostages from Zamorin's kingdom taken by da Gama in 1498 during negotiations. Also aboard is the ambassador of the Sultan of Malindi, who had come with Gama, and was now set to return.

Other passengers on the expedition included Aires Correia (archaically, Corrêa), designated factor for Calicut, his secretary Pêro Vaz de Caminha, Sofala factor Afonso Furtado and clerk Martinho Neto. Accompanying the trip was the royal physician and amateur astronomer, Master João Faras, who brought along the latest astrolabe and new Arab astronomical staves for navigational experiment. One chronicler suggests that the knight Duarte Pacheco Pereira was also aboard.

The fleet carried some twenty Portuguese degredados (criminal convicts), who could fulfill their sentences by being abandoned along the shores of various places and exploring inland on the crown's behalf. Among the degredados we know four names: Afonso Ribeiro, João Machado, Luiz de Moura, António Fernandes (also a ship carpenter)

Finally, the fleet carried the first Portuguese Christian missionaries to India—eight Franciscan friars and eight chaplains, under the supervision of the head chaplain, Fr. Henrique Soares of Coimbra

There are three surviving eyewitness accounts of this expedition: (1) an extended letter written by Pêro Vaz de Caminha (possibly dictated by Aires Correia), written from Brazil on May 1, 1500, to King Manuel I; (2) the brief letter by Mestre João Faras to the king, also from Brazil; (3) the account of an anonymous Portuguese pilot, first published in Italian in 1507 (commonly referred to as the Relação do Piloto Anônimo, sometimes believed to be the clerk João de Sá).


Cabral's instructions were several-fold. The priority was to secure a treaty with Zamorin's Calicut (Calecute, Kozhikode), the principal commercial entrepôt of the Kerala spice trade and dominant feudal city-state on the Malabar coast of India. Calicut had been visited by Vasco da Gama's first armada in 1498, but failed to impress the elderly ruling Manivikraman Raja Zamorin ('Samoothiri Raja') of Calicut, and no agreements had been signed. Cabral's instructions were precisely to succeed where Gama had failed, and to this end was entrusted with magnificent gifts to present to the Zamorin. Cabral was under orders to establish a feitoria (factory) in Calicut, to be placed under Aires Correia, the designated factor for Calicut.

The second priority, assigned to the brothers Bartolomeu Dias and Diogo Dias, was to search out the East African port of Sofala, near the mouth of the Zambezi river. Sofala had been secretly visited and described by the explorer Pêro da Covilhã during his overland expedition a decade earlier (c. 1487), and he identified it as the end-point of the Monomatapa gold trade. The Portuguese crown was eager to tap into that gold source, but Gama's armada had failed to find it. The Dias brothers were instructed to find and establish a factory at Sofala under designated factor Afonso Furtado. To this end, instructions were probably also given to secure the consent of Kilwa (Quíloa), the dominant city-state of the East African coast and putative overlord of Sofala (see Kilwa Sultanate). Like Sofala, Kilwa had been visited by Covilhã, but overlooked by Gama.

A minor objective included the delivery of a group of Franciscan missionaries to India. It is said that Vasco da Gama had misinterpreted the Hinduism he saw practiced in India as a form of 'primitive' Christianity. He believed its peculiar characteristics were a result of centuries of separation from the mainstream church in Europe. Gama recommended that missionaries be sent to India to help bring the practices of the 'Hindu church' up to date with Roman Catholic orthodoxy. To this end, a group of Franciscan friars, led by Fr. Henrique Soares of Coimbra, joined the expedition.

Finally, the Second Armada was also a commercial spice run. The crown and private merchants who had outfitted the ships expected full cargoes of spices to return to Lisbon.

Suspected Brazilian mission

There has been some controversial debate over whether Pedro Álvares Cabral also had secret instructions from King Manuel I to lay claim to the landmass of Brazil—or more precisely, to swing as far west as possible to the Tordesillas line, and claim whatever lands or islands might be discovered there for the Portuguese crown, before the Spanish did. This claim is largely speculative. There is no evidence of any such instructions, and various reasons to presume them unlikely.

Spanish explorers had certainly been tending south lately. Christopher Columbus had touched the coast of the South American mainland (around Guyana) in 1498, on his third trip. In late 1499, Alonso de Ojeda had discovered much of the Venezuelan coast, with one of his squadrons, under Amerigo Vespucci exploring parts of what is now northern Brazil. In early 1500, Vicente Yáñez Pinzón and Diego de Lepe, via generous southerly swings from the Canary islands, had reached at least what is now modern Ceará, perhaps as far east as Cape of Santo Agostinho (in Pernambuco), and explored much of the northern Brazilian coast west of it. It is possible that the southerly Spanish tendencies were deliberate, aimed at securing more land for the Spanish crown.

However, these Spanish expeditions were much too recent for their results to have been known in Lisbon before Cabral's departure in March 1500 (indeed, they were unknown in Spain itself—at that moment, Ojeda was still in Hispaniola, and Pinzón and Lepe were still out at sea). It is very doubtful that the Portuguese were aware of them. And, even if they were, it would not seem sensible to deviate Cabral's large and heavy Second Armada, on an important mission to India, to pursue some open-ended exploratory work in unknown waters, that could have been far more efficiently accomplished by a couple of little caravels.

Outward journey

March 9, 1500 – Cabral's expedition, the 2nd India Armada of 13 ships, sets out from the Tagus.

March 22, 1500 – Cabral's armada reaches Cape Verde island of São Nicolau in the middle of a storm. The privately outfitted ship of Luís Pires is too damaged by the tempest to continue, and returns to Lisbon (Note: Caminha's letter (see below) makes no mention of Pires and instead reports that it was the crown ship of Vasco de Ataide was lost around Cape Verde.)

From Cape Verde, Cabral strikes southwest. The reasons for this unusual direction have been speculated upon endlessly. The most probable hypothesis is that Cabral was simply following the wide arc in the South Atlantic to catch a favorable wind to carry them to the Cape of Good Hope.

[Navigationally, the arc is perfectly sensible: from Cape Verde, the ship cuts across the doldrums below the equator, catches the southwest-bound equatorial drift, turns into the southbound Brazil Current that will carry them down to the horse latitudes (30°S), where the prevailing westerlies begin. The westerlies will then carry them quickly straight across the South Atlantic around the Cape of Good Hope. In almost all of this trajectory, the sailing ship is going with the current and usually upwind. If instead of his arc, a ship attempts to strike southeast from Cape Verde, it will go into the Gulf of Guinea, and from there to the Cape of Good Hope is a struggle—it means sailing against the southeasterly trade winds, and fighting against the Benguela Current to go south—a much slower and more painful route, especially for square-rigged heavy ships which cannot tack easily.]

How did Cabral know about this arc? The most probable answer is that this was precisely the route followed by Vasco da Gama on his first trip in 1497. The veterans of the first fleet—notably the pilots Pêro de Alenquer and Pedro Escobar—would very likely have charted the same route for Cabral again. Indeed, in the Lisbon archives, there is a draft of a document based on Gama and intended for Cabral that gives the essential instruction: to strike in a southwesterly direction when he reaches the doldrums. The difference is that this time the arc was a little wider, Cabral went further west than Gama had, and as a result hit upon the hitherto unknown landmass of Brazil.

Alternative hypotheses forwarded for Cabral striking southwest have been (1.) that Cabral was trying to reach the Azores to repair his storm-battered fleet; (2.) that he was searching for and rounding up missing tempest-tossed ships; (3.) the hypothesis, already considered above, that it was an intentional attempt to discover if there was any land by the Tordesillas line.

Discovery of Brazil

April 21, 1500 – After nearly 30 days of sailing (44 since departure), on April 21 (a Tuesday in the octave of Easter), Cabral's fleet finds the first indications of nearby land.

April 22, 1500 – Cabral's armada sights the Brazilian coast, seeing the outlines of a hill they name Monte Pascoal (some 60 km south of modern Porto Seguro, Bahia).

April 23, 1500 – The armada anchors at the mouth of the Frade river and a group of local Tupiniquim Indians assembles on the beach. Cabral dispatches a small party, headed by Nicolau Coelho, in a longboat ashore to make first contact. Coelho tosses his hat in exchange for a feathered headdress, but the surf is too strong for a proper landing and opening of communication, and so they return to the ships.

April 23–24, 1500 – Strong overnight winds on prompt the armada to lift anchor and sail some 10 leagues (45 km) north, finding harbor behind the reef at Cabrália Bay, just north of Porto Seguro. The pilot Afonso Lopes goes sounding in a rowboat. He spies a native canoe, captures the two Indians on board, and brings them back to ship. The language barrier prevents questioning, but they are fed and given cloth and beads. The cultural differences were staggering, fed with honey and cake, they spit them out and were deeply surprised with the sight of a chicken.

April 25, 1500 – The next day a party led by Nicolau Coelho and Bartolomeu Dias goes ashore, accompanied by the two natives. Armed Tupiniquim warily approach the beach, but on a signal from the two natives, lay down their bows, and allow the Portuguese to land and collect water.

April 26, 1500 – (Octave of Easter Sunday) Franciscan friar Henrique Soares of Coimbra goes ashore to celebrate mass, curiously watched by some 200 Tupiniquim Indians. It is the first known Christian mass on the American mainland.

For much of the week, interaction between the Portuguese and the Tupiniquim gradually increases. There is a brisk trade in European iron nails, cloth, beads and crucifixes in return for American amulets, spears, parrots and monkeys. There is only the slightest hint that precious metals might be found in the hinterlands. Portuguese degredados are assigned to spend the night in Tupiniquim villages, while the remainder of the crews sleep aboard ships.

May 1, 1500 – Pedro Álvares Cabral makes preparations to resume the journey to India. The Portuguese pilots, assisted by the physician-astronomer Master João Faras and his astronomical instruments, determine that the land lies east of the Tordesillas line, prompting Pedro Álvares Cabral to formally claim Brazil for the Portuguese crown, bestowing upon it the name of Ilha de Vera Cruz ("Island of the True Cross"—later renamed Terra de Santa Cruz, "Land of the Holy Cross", upon the realization that it is not an island).

On May 2, 1500, Cabral dispatches the supply ship (captained either by André Gonçalves or Gaspar de Lemos—chronicles conflict on this) back to Lisbon, with the Brazilian items and a letter to King Manuel I of Portugal composed by the secretary Pêro Vaz de Caminha to announce the discovery. It also carries a separate private letter to the king from Master João Faras, in which he identifies the main guiding constellation in the southern hemisphere, the Southern Cross (Cruzeiro). The supply ship will arrive in Lisbon in June.

May 3, 1500 – Leaving behind a couple of Portuguese degredados with the Tupiniquim of Porto Seguro, Cabral orders the eleven remaining ships to set sail and continue on their route to India.

Crossing to India

Late May, 1500 – After crossing the Atlantic Ocean, Cabral's armada reaches the Cape of Good Hope. The fleet faces headlong winds for six straight days. Four ships are lost at sea in the process—most tragically, the Sofala-destined ship of Bartolomeu Dias. The famous navigator, the first to round the Cape back in 1488, fatally fails to round it this time. The three others are the crown-owned ships of Aires Gomes da Silva, Simão de Pina and Vasco de Ataíde (if Ataíde had not been lost earlier at Cape Verde, he is certainly lost now; some scholars contend Pires was lost now, and Ataíde was lost earlier). In any case, the fleet is reduced to seven ships. Facing strong winds, the seven split into smaller groups, to meet again on the other side. Cabral holds two ships together with his own.

June 16, 1500 – Cabral's battered three-ship squadron reaches the Primeiras Islands (several leagues north of Sofala). Two local merchant ships, catching sight of Cabral, take flight. Cabral gives pursuit—one of them runs aground and the other is captured. Questioning quickly determines that these ships are owned by a cousin of the sultan Fateima of Malindi (who had received Vasco da Gama so graciously back in 1498), so they are released without harm.

June 22, 1500 – Cabral's three-ship squadron hobble on to Mozambique Island. Despite the earlier quarrel with Gama, Cabral is given an unexpectedly warm reception by the Sultan of Mozambique, and allowed to collect water and supplies. Shortly after, three more ships of the 2nd Armada sail into Mozambique island and make junction with Cabral. Only the ship of Diogo Dias (Bartolomeu's brother) remains missing. As Dias's mission was for Sofala anyway, Cabral decides not to wait for it but rather to press on with his current fleet of six ships.

July 26, 1500 – Cabral's armada reaches the city-state of Kilwa (Quíloa), the dominant city of the East African coast (which Gama had never visited). Afonso Furtado, who had been appointed factor for Sofala back in Lisbon and mercifully escaped death (Furtado had been aboard Bartolomeu Dias's ship, but moved to the flagship just before the Cape crossing), goes ashore to open negotiations with the strongman ruler, Emir Ibrahim [Note: There is no current ruling Sultan of Kilwa—the last one, al-Fudail, was deposed in a coup (c. 1495) by his minister, Emir Ibrahim, who had since ruled Kilwa with a vacant throne.]

A meeting is arranged between Cabral and Emir Ibrahim, conducted on a couple of rowboats in Kilwa harbor. Cabral presents a letter from King Manuel I proposing a treaty, but Emir Ibrahim is suspicious and, for all the formal pleasantries, resistant to the overtures. Cabral, feeling there's nothing to be achieved here and worried about missing the monsoon winds to India, decides to break off the negotiations and sail on.

August 2, 1500, Pressing north, the Cabral fleet avoid hostile Mombassa (Mombaça) and finally reach friendly Malindi (Melinde). There he drops off the Malindi ambassador that Gama had taken the previous year. The Sultan of Malindi gives Cabral an excellent reception. Leaving behind two degredados (Luís de Moura and João Machado) and picking up two Gujarati pilots, Cabral's six-ship armada finally begins its Indian Ocean crossing on August 7.

Cabral in India

August 22, 1500 – After an uneventful ocean crossing, Cabral's six ships land in Anjediva Island (Angediva, Anjadip), where they rest and recuperate, repair and repaint the ships.

September 13, 1500 – Sailing down the Indian coast, Cabral's expedition finally reaches at Calicut (Calecute, Kozhikode, the capital of the Nair Hindu kingdom of same name ruled by Zamorins, or Nediyuiruppu Swarupam). Gaily decorated native boats come out to greet them, but remembering Gama's experience, Cabral refuses to go ashore until hostages are exchanged. He dispatches Afonso Furtado and the four Calicut hostages taken by da Gama the previous year, to negotiate the details of the landing. This eventually done, Cabral finally goes ashore himself and meets new Zamorin of Calicut (the wary old Zamorin that da Gama had met, had recently died). The Portuguese are better-prepared this time—Cabral presents the young Zamorin with much finer and more luxurious gifts than Gama had brought, and more respectful and personalized letters of address from King Manuel I of Portugal.

A commercial treaty is successfully negotiated, and the Zamorin gives Cabral a security-of-trade certificate etched on a silver plate. The Portuguese are allowed to establish a feitoria in Calicut and Aires Correia, the designated factor for Calicut, goes ashore with some 70 men. Once the factory is set up, Cabral releases the ship hostages as a sign of trust. Correia immediately sets about buying spices in Calicut's markets for the ships to take home.

October (?), 1500 – Not long after, the Zamorin of Calicut dispatches a service request to Cabral's idling fleet. Arab merchants allied with rival city-state of Cochin kingdom are returning from Ceylon with a cargo of war elephants destined for the Sultan of Cambay (Khambhat, Gujarat). Claiming it to be illegal contraband (and the Zamorin could probably use the elephants himself), Cabral is asked if he can intercept them. Cabral sends one of his caravels, brimming with cannon, under Pêro de Ataíde (nicknamed 'Inferno'), to capture it. Hoping for a spectacle, the Zamorin himself comes down to the beachfront to witness the engagement, but leaves in disgust when the Arab ship deftly slips past Ataide. But Ataíde gives chase and eventually catches up with it near Cannanore and successfully seizes the vessel. Cabral presents the captured ship, with its nearly intact elephant cargo (one pachyderm was killed in the engagement), to the Zamorin as a gift.

Calicut Massacre

December, 1500 – After two months of operation, factor Aires Correia has only been able to buy enough spices to load two of the ships. He complains to Cabral his suspicions that the guild of Arab merchants in Calicut have been colluding to shut out Portuguese purchasing agents from the city's spice markets which is not unlikely. Arab traders had reportedly used similar collusive tactics to drive out Chinese merchants earlier in the 15th century from various ports on the Malabar Coast. It would make sense if they tried doing so again—particularly as the Portuguese had arrived trumpeting their hatred of 'the Moors' and demanding trading privileges and preferences, a clear danger to their own trade.

Historians cite murkier elements to this, in particular, that the Portuguese traders might have been unwitting counters in on-going quarrels between competing older and newer Arab merchant guilds in Calicut and or used as pawns in the personal power struggles among the Zamorin's leading advisors, etc. There were certainly more dimensions to this affair, the full details of which will likely never be clearly known.

Cabral presents the complaint to the Zamorin, and requests that he crack down on the Arab merchant guild or enforce Portuguese priority in the spice markets. But the Zamorin refuses to intervene in the matter—or rather makes only some vague promises, but disdains to get actively involved in the matter, as Cabral demands.

December 17, 1500 – Frustrated by the Zamorin's inaction, Cabral decides to take matters into his own hands. On the advice of Aires Correia, Cabral orders the seizure of an Arab merchant ship from Jeddah, then loading up with spices in Calicut harbor, claiming that as the Zamorin had promised the Portuguese priority in the spice markets, the cargo is rightfully theirs. Incensed, the Arab merchants around the quay immediately raise a riot in Calicut and direct mobs to attack the Portuguese factory. The Portuguese ships, anchored out in the harbor and unable to approach the docks, helplessly watch the unfolding massacre. After three hours of fighting, some 53 (some say 70) Portuguese are slaughtered by the mobs—including the factor Aires Correia, the secretary Pêro Vaz de Caminha, and three (some say five) of the Franciscan friars. Around twenty Portuguese then in the city manage to escape the riot by jumping into the harbor waters and swimming to the ships. The survivors report to Cabral that the Zamorin's own Hindu guards were seen either standing aside or actively helping the rioters.

At least one Portuguese, a man called Gonçalo Peixoto, survived the massacre, sheltered from the mob by a local merchant (whom the chronicles call "Coja Bequij"). In the aftermath, the wares in the Portuguese factory are impounded by the Calicut authorities.

War with Calicut

December 18–22, 1500 – Incensed at the attack on the factory, Cabral waits one day for redress by the Zamorin. When this is not forthcoming, Cabral takes his revenge. The Portuguese seize around ten Arab merchant ships then in harbor, confiscating their cargoes, killing their crews, and burning their ships. Then, accusing the Zamorin of sanctioning the riot, Cabral orders a full day shore bombardment of Calicut, doing immense damage to the unfortified city (estimates of Calicut casualties reach up to 600). Cabral proceeds to also bomb the nearby Zamorin-owned port of Pandarane (Pantalayani Kollam, near present-day Koyilandy) as well.

Thus opened the war between the Kingdom of Portugal and the Zamorin of Calicut. The war will drag on for the next decade. Future Portuguese India Armadas have to contend with this conflict, it will dictate Portuguese strategy in the Indian Ocean and draw in other participants. The conflict will also overturn the political order on the Malabar Coast of India, and shape a different future for Kerala.

Alliance with Cochin kingdom

December 24, 1500 – Cabral leaves smoldering Calicut, unsure of what to do next. At the suggestion of Gaspar da Gama (the Goese Jew who had been accompanying the expedition), Cabral sets sail south along the coast towards Cochin kingdom (Cochim, Kochi or Perumpadappu Swarupam), a small Hindu Nair city-state at the outlet of the brackish Vembanad lagoon in the Kerala backwaters. Half-in-vassalage and half-at-war with Zamorin's Calicut, Cochin kingdom had long chafed at the dominance of its larger neighbor and was looking for an opportunity to break away.

Arriving in Cochin, a Portuguese emissary, accompanied by a Christian picked up in Calicut, are set ashore to make contact with the Trimumpara Raja (Unni Goda Varma), the Nair Hindu prince of Cochin kingdom. The Portuguese are greeted warmly—the bombardment of hated Zamorin's Calicut outweighing the earlier matter of the war elephants. All the cordialities and hostage-swapping quickly fulfilled, Cabral himself goes ashore and negotiates a treaty of alliance between Portugal and Cochin kingdom, directed against Zamorin's Calicut. Cabral promises to make the Trimumpara Raja of Cochin the ruler of kingdom of Calicut, upon the city's capture.

A Portuguese factory is set up in Cochin, with Gonçalo Gil Barbosa as chief factor (the pre-designated Aires Correia having perished in the Calicut Massacre). A smaller, poorer city, the spice markets of Cochin are not nearly as well supplied as Calicut, but the trade is good enough to begin loading ships. The stay in Cochin is not without incident—the factory is set ablaze one evening (probably at the instigation of Arab traders in the city), but the Trimumpara Raja will not countenance a repeat of the events of Calicut. He cracks down on the arsonists, takes the Portuguese under his protection (the factors stay in his palace), and assigns his personal Nair guards to escort the Portuguese factors in the city's markets and protect the factory against any further incidents.

Early January 1501 – While in Cochin, Cabral receives missives from the rulers of Cannanore (Canonor, Kannur or Kolathunad, further north, another of Calicut's reluctant rivals) and Quilon (Coulão, Kollam or Venad Swarupam, further south, once a great Syrian Christian merchant city-state, entrepot for cinnamon, ginger and dyewood). They commend Cabral's actions against Zamorin's Calicut, and invite the Portuguese to trade in their cities instead. Not wishing to offend his gracious Cochinese host, Cabral politely declines the invitations, promising only to visit those cities at some future date.

While still at Cochin, Cabral receives yet another invitation, this one from nearby Cranganore kingdom (Cranganor, Kodungallur). Once a great city on the northern end of the Vembanad lagoon, capital of the Chera dynasty of Sangam period, Cranganore had since fallen on hard times. Mother nature delivered Cranganore two severe blows—silting up the channels that connected Cranganore to the waterways, and breaking open a competing sea outlet by Cochin in the 14th century. Cochin's rise had been principally due to the re-routing of commercial traffic away from Cranganore. Nonetheless, the remaining merchants of the dwindling city still maintained their old connections to the Kerala pepper plantations in the interior. Finding the supply in Cochin running low, Cabral takes up the offer to top up their cargo at Cranganore.

The visit to Cranganore turns out to be an eye-opener for the Portuguese, for among the city's remaining inhabitants are substantial established communities of Malabari Jews and Syrian Christians. The encounter with a clearly recognizable Christian community in Kerala confirms to Cabral what the Franciscan friars had already suspected back in Calicut—namely, that Vasco da Gama's earlier hypothesis about a 'Hindu Church' was mistaken. If real Christians have existed alongside Hindus in India for centuries, then clearly Hinduism must be a distinct and separate religion, 'heathen idolaters', as the Portuguese friars characterized them, rather than a 'primitive' form of Christianity. Two Syrian Christian priests from Cranganore apply to Cabral for passage to Europe (one of them, known as José de Cranganore or Joseph the Indian (Josephus Indus), will provide instrumental intelligence about India to the Portuguese.

January 16, 1501 – News arrives that the Zamorin of Calicut had assembled and dispatched a fleet of around 80 boats against the Portuguese in Cochin. Despite the Trimumpara Raja of Cochin's offer of military assistance against the Calicut fleet, Cabral decides to precipitously lift anchor and slip away rather than risk a confrontation. Cabral's armada leave behind the factor Gonçalo Gil Barbosa and six assistants in Cochin. In their hasty departure, the Portuguese inadvertently take along two of the Trimumpara's officers (Idikkela Menon and Parangoda Mennon), who had been serving as noble hostages aboard the vessels.

Heading north, Cabral's armada takes a wide sweep to avoid Calicut, and pays a quick visit to Cannanore. Cabral is warmly received by the Kolathiri Raja of Cannanore who, eager for a Portuguese alliance, offers to sell the Portuguese spices on credit. Cabral accepts the cargo but pays him nonetheless (not a splendid cargo—only low-quality ginger, as it turns out, but Cabral is appreciative of the gesture.)

His ships now filled with spices, Cabral decides not to visit Quilon, as he had earlier promised, but to make way back home to Portugal.

Diogo Dias' misadventures

While Cabral's main fleet was in India, Diogo Dias, captain of the missing seventh ship of the armada, was going through his own set of adventures.

Shortly after being separated from the main fleet at the Cape in June 1500, Dias had struck out too far east into the Indian Ocean and sighted the western coast of the island of Madagascar. Although the island was not unknown (its Arab name, "island of the Moon", was already reported by Covilhã), Diogo Dias was the first Portuguese captain to have sighted it and is often credited with renaming it the island of São Lourenço, on account of it being found on St. Lawrence's day (August 10, 1500). However, a proper landing on Madagascar will not be undertaken until 1506 and it will only be extensively explored in 1508.

Probably thinking he was on a South African island, Diogo Dias tried to find the African coast by sailing straight north from Madagascar, hoping to reconnect with Cabral's armada there, or at least to make it to Sofala (Dias's formal destination). But to no avail. He had struck too far east, and was heading along north in open ocean. Dias sighted the African coast only around Mogadishu (Magadoxo). By this time, Cabral had already crossed the Indian Ocean, and the change in the monsoon winds prevented Dias from undertaking his own crossing. Dias pushed up the coast, unexpectedly going past Cape Guardafui into the Gulf of Aden, waters as yet unsailed by Portuguese ships. Dias spent the next few months in the area—trapped by contrary winds, battered by tempests, attacked by Arab pirates, and forced aground on the Eritrean coast, in a desperate search for water and food.

Dias eventually (in late 1500 and early 1501) managed to procure supplies, repair his ship and catch a favorable wind to take him out of that harrowing trap. With his remaining six crewmen, Dias set sail back to Portugal, hoping to catch Cabral's armada on the return journey.

Return journey

Late January, 1501 – Cabral takes aboard an ambassador from Cannanore, and starts his ocean crossing back to East Africa. On the way, the Portuguese capture a Gujarati ship, replete with a magnificent cargo. They steal the cargo, but spare the crew, once they realize they are not Arabs.

February, 1501 – As Cabral's expedition approaches Malindi, vice-admiral Sancho de Tovar, sailing at the front, runs his spice-laden ship, the El Rei, aground on the Malindi coast. Irreparable, the great ship is burnt (to recover the iron fittings) and the crews and the cargo reallocated. Cabral's armada is now reduced to five ships. Cabral authorizes the king of Malindi to recover the cannons from the El Rei wreck and keep them for himself.

Spring, 1501 – Cabral's fleet reaches Mozambique Island. As there is no sign or news from Diogo Dias awaiting him, Cabral realizes he must take responsibility for the Sofala mission himself. Cabral orders the private ship Anunciada of Nuno Leitão da Cunha, the fastest in the fleet, to be placed under the command of veteran hand Nicolau Coelho, and dispatched ahead of the rest of the fleet and deliver the results of the voyage to Portugal. Vice-admiral Sancho de Tovar (who had lost the El-Rei) is given the chance to make amends by taking command of the caravel São Pedro (hitherto commanded by Pêro de Ataíde) and seek out Sofala and to proceed home alone from there. Ataíde is transferred to the command of Coelho's old nau.

In the meantime, Cabral lands a degredado António Fernandes on the African coast, with letters of instruction for Diogo Dias and any passing Portuguese expeditions, informing them of the dramatic turn of events in India, and warning them to avoid Calicut.

[It is uncertain exactly where Cabral left António Fernandes or where he was ordered to go. According to Ataíde, Fernandes was ordered to go to Mombassa (odd, as Mombassa was then on hostile terms with the Portuguese); others suggest he was supposed to go to Kilwa (which is where the 3rd Armada of João da Nova will find him). Others have speculated that Fernandes was left in Kilwa on the outward leg, and that Cabral's letters were dispatched to him by a local messenger from Mozambique on the return. Another possibility is that Fernandes was instructed to make his way to Sofala overland, meet Tovar's ship there, and then proceed to explore inland from there to locate Monomatapa (but then why give him the letters?). Finally, some conjecture Fernandes is being confused with another degredado, João Machado, who had been left in Malindi on the first leg, that he was picked up on the return, and now sent back once again with the letters.]

March–April, 1501 – Matters settled, Cabral takes the remaining three ships—his own flagship, the large nau of Simão de Miranda and Coelho's ship (now under Pêro de Ataíde)—and sets sail out of Mozambique island.

Ataíde gets separated from the other two in the Mozambique Channel soon after departure. He hurries to São Brás (Mossel Bay, South Africa), hoping to find Cabral there waiting for him. But he is out of luck—Cabral and Miranda had decided to proceed on together towards Lisbon without him. Not finding any trace of the others, Ataíde decides to make his way home on his own, leaving behind a letter in a boot by a local watering hole giving an account of the expedition (Ataide's note will be found later that year by João da Nova's 3rd Armada).

In the meantime, Sancho de Tovar, aboard the São Pedro, finally sights Sofala, the entrepot of Monomatapa gold. He doesn't go ashore, and instead contents himself with scouting the city from his ship, and then sets sail back home alone.

Conference at Bezeguiche

June 2, 1501 – Following up on the discovery of Brazil the previous year, King Manuel I of Portugal had assembled a small exploratory expedition of three caravels under an unnamed Portuguese captain, and carrying the Florentine cosmographer Amerigo Vespucci aboard, to explore and map the coast of Brazil. The exact identity of the captain is uncertain - some speculate it to be Gaspar de Lemos or André Gonçalves, whichever of the two had commanded the supply vessel that had delivered the news in June 1500; others conjecture Lemos/Gonçalves went merely as passengers, and that the expedition itself was commanded by Gonçalo Coelho. Setting out from Lisbon in May 1501, the little Brazilian mapping expedition made a watering stop in early June at Bezeguiche (as the bay of Dakar (Senegal) was known to the Portuguese sailors of the time) and stumbles upon Diogo Dias cooling his heels there. Dias relates to the Portuguese captain and Vespucci the tales of his misadventures—how he had been separated from Cabral at the Cape, how he had ventured up to the Gulf of Aden, and, finding no trace of Cabral on his return, decided to wait for him in Bezeguiche. Just two days later, the lead ship of the returning India fleet—the Anunciada under Nicolau Coelho—sails into Bezeguiche, surprised to find both Dias and the Brazilian mapping expedition there (apparently Bezeguiche must have been a pre-arranged point of encounter for the Second Armada).

For the next two weeks, the captains and crews of the different ships exchange tales of their travels and adventures. It has been since speculated that it was during this time that Amerigo Vespucci came up with his "New World" hypothesis. After all, Vespucci was quite familiar with the Americas, having participated in Ojeda's 1499 expedition to the coasts of South America, and it is said he had intense discussions at Bezeguiche with Gaspar da Gama, the Goese Jew aboard Coelho's ship, undoubtedly the person most familiar with the East Indies. Comparing notes, it probably dawned on Vespucci that it was simply impossible to square what he knew of the Americas with what the men of the 2nd Armada knew of Asia. While still at Bezeguiche, Vespucci wrote a letter to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, relating his encounter, which he sends back with some Florentine passengers on the Anunciada. This was a prelude to an even more famous letter of Vespucci to Lorenzo in 1503, shortly after his return, where he finally asserts that the Brazilian landmass was in fact a continent, that the lands discovered to the west were definitely not part of Asia, but must be an entirely different continent, a "New World".

Mid-June, 1501 – Lemos & Vespucci leave Bezeguiche for Brazil. Shortly after, the pair Pedro Álvares Cabral and Simão de Miranda themselves reach Bezeguiche, where they find Diogo Dias and Nicolau Coelho awaiting them. Cabral sends Coelho's swift Anunciada ahead to Lisbon to announce their return, while the remainder rest and wait in Bezeguiche for the remaining two ships. Pêro de Ataíde's ship (making his way alone from Mossel Bay) and Sancho de Tovar's São Pedro (returning from Sofala) arrive in Bezeguiche by the end of June.

June 23, 1501 – The Anunciada, commanded by Nicolau Coelho, arrives in Lisbon and anchors in Belém. (Just as in case of Vasco da Gama's expedition, it turns out Nicolau Coelho is once again the first to deliver the news!) The merchants of the consortium led by Bartolomeo Marchionni (who own the Anunciada) are delighted. Letters are immediately fired off throughout Europe announcing the results.

The news arrives too late for João da Nova's 3rd India Armada, which departed for India in April. But Nova will collect the necessary information along the way—from the note in Ataíde's shoe in Mossel Bay, and from Cabral's letters in the possession of António Fernandes in Kilwa.

July 21, 1501 – One month after Coelho's arrival, Pedro Álvares Cabral and Simão de Miranda, the two larger ships, finally arrive in Lisbon. The other three ships arrive a few days later: Sancho de Tovar and Pêro de Ataíde on July 25 and the hapless Diogo Dias, with his empty caravel, on July 27.


On the surface, Pedro Álvares Cabral's 2nd Armada had been a failure and the reaction was conspicuously muted.

Ship losses were very heavy. Of the thirteen ships sent out, only five returned with cargo (four crown, one private), five were lost at sea, three returned without cargo (Gaspar de Lemos, Luís Pires and Diogo Dias).

Human losses were even more disheartening. This included all the crews and captains of the four ships lost at the Cape (notably, the celebrated discoverer Bartolomeu Dias). Another fifty-something Portuguese (including the factor Aires Correia) had been killed in the Calicut massacre.

Then there were the mission failures. Relative to the instructions given to him in Lisbon, Cabral had failed on nearly every count:

  • 1. failed to establish a treaty with the Zamorin of Calicut—indeed, Calicut was now more hostile than ever.
  • 2. failed to establish a factory at Calicut (massacred);
  • 3. failed to bring the 'Hindu Church' in line (the friars that survived reported the Hindus weren't Christians after all, just 'idolaters');
  • 4. failed to make a treaty with Kilwa;
  • 5. failed to establish a factory at Sofala (seen from afar by Tovar, but that is all).
  • On the other hand, in his defense, Cabral could point to some positive achievements.

  • 1. opening of friendly relations with Cochin, Canannore and Quilon;
  • 2. a factory in Cochin, poorer than Calicut perhaps, but workable;
  • 3. discovery of true Christian communities in Cranganore, etc.;
  • 4. Sofala was at least discovered and scouted;
  • 5. discovery of Brazil, which might serve as a useful staging post for future India runs;
  • 6. Diogo Dias's discovery of Madagascar and exploration of the African coast up to Cape Guardafui and the Gulf of Aden was useful information.
  • 7. Finally, Cabral did bring back tons of spices, which were off-loaded into the Lisbon warehouses and sold at no small profit for the crown treasury.
  • However, it was the ship and human losses that weighed heavily against Cabral being honored or rewarded. Allegations of 'incompetence' flew easily in the circles that mattered. Although Cabral was initially offered the command of the 4th Armada, scheduled for 1502, it seemed more like a pro forma gesture than a sincere offer. The crown made it clear that Cabral's command would be limited and supervised – conditions humiliating enough to force Cabral to withdraw his name. The 4th Armada would be placed under the command of Vasco da Gama.


    2nd Portuguese India Armada (Cabral, 1500) Wikipedia

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