Soldier of Monarchy: Afonso de Albuquerque
In the long and glorious history of the Kingdom of Portugal, if one seeks a great military commander it would be difficult to find a name to surpass that of Afonso de Albuquerque, Duke of Goa. As both a general of ground forces and an admiral of naval forces, Albuquerque achieved far-reaching successes and this, combined with his astute judgment, strategic brilliance and the boldness and ambition of all great explorers, went a long way to the establishment of the Kingdom of Portugal as the first, and for some time preeminent, global maritime power.
It is no great exaggeration to say that he won more victories,
contacted more remote peoples and made more long-lasting decisions of
consequence than anyone in Portuguese history, perhaps any other of his
age from any country. The fact that he is not more well known outside of
Portugal is, frankly, baffling, given his extensive list of
achievements. Within the borders of Portugal, naturally and quite
legitimately, he is remembered as a national hero, one of the (numerous)
giant figures of the “Age of Exploration” and a military commander
whose far-reaching victories earned him the title of “the Caesar of the
|King John II|
The era of the greatest Portuguese expansion came during the reign of King Manuel I and did not initially include Albuquerque who was slightly old by the standards of the time and who the new, young monarch was somewhat suspicious of. However, his time came in 1503 when he was charged with leading an expedition to India. Albuquerque reached the subcontinent and made an alliance with some locals to make war on the ruling potentate of Calicut. He won a number of battles and was able to see his own native ally enthroned as the King of Kochi. In appreciation, the King allowed Albuquerque to build Fort Emmanuel on the Arabian Sea coast and establish trade relations between Portugal and the surrounding region of India. This was a crucial foothold for what would grow to be an extensive Portuguese presence in India and the start of a vast empire in Asia for the Kingdom of Portugal.
|Ft Immaculate Concepcion remains in Ormuz|
However, there were problems, and as Albuquerque made all of his men, regardless of rank, share in the work of building fortifications and so on, some of the more high-born officers rebelled and absconded to India to join the main fleet, claiming that Albuquerque was exceeding his authority. Left short-handed, Albuquerque was forced to abandon Ormuz, make a few raids for supplies and finally sail for India himself. Once there he found no help from the Viceroy, who Albuquerque was supposed to replace, and who had been fortified by the testimony of the malcontents who had abandoned Albuquerque and preceded him to India. Nonetheless, Albuquerque refused to have any part in a rebellion and simply bided his time, with his own loyal men, at Kochi where he was still well received. His enemies, however, would not be so considerate and after winning a decisive victory that expelled the Muslims from the Indian Ocean, Albuquerque was arrested in August of 1509.
Despite numerous attacks to re-take the city, Goa remained steadfastly in Portuguese hands and the most important port in the Portuguese territories in India. Albuquerque established a mint, made contact and some alliances with other Indian rulers and was soon well placed to take control of the spice trade routes. In order to seize control of the spice trade, previously held by Muslim powers, Albuquerque was tasked by the King to capture the Strait of Malacca in Southeast Asia. Some Portuguese had already been seized by the local potentate and one of these men had smuggled out a letter, via a Hindu trader, to Albuquerque, begging for rescue and providing a description of the local fortifications. Against the orders of his immediate superior, Albuquerque gathered a force of 18 ships, 900 Portuguese and 200 hired Hindu mercenaries and set out for Malacca in 1511. One of the men under his command, incidentally, was the future navigator of renown, Ferdinand Magellan.
In the aftermath, Albuquerque showed considerable astuteness in establishing a new system of administration, ending the discriminatory practices that favored Muslims and appointing new leaders based on merit and with an eye toward future beneficial alliances. He then sent out envoys, complete with generous gifts, to establish commercial ties with neighboring powers such as the princes in Sumatra, the King of Burma and the King of Siam (Thailand). In 1512, after having learned from local traders the location of the famous “spice islands”, he sent an expedition to claim them, the ships amassed a huge fortune in nutmeg and cloves but were wrecked on the return voyage, though they nonetheless laid the groundwork for future profits, having established good relations with the locals and even being permitted to build a fort on Ternate island in the Moluccas (part of modern Indonesia). In 1513 another expedition dispatched by Albuquerque established trade relations with the Great Ming Empire of China, which was later interrupted by a period of conflict, but business relations were eventually restored, paving the way for the establishment of the Portuguese enclave at Macau with the consent of the Ming Emperor.
The following year, Albuquerque received an envoy from the queen-regent of Ethiopia, a country the Portuguese had tried to contact before. This was huge news as many had believed that Ethiopia, said to be ruled by Christians, might be the rich and powerful land of legend ruled by the mythic “Prester John”. The Ethiopians seemed open to an alliance with Portugal in opposition to the common enemy of the Ottoman Turks. In support of such a campaign, in 1513 Albuquerque sailed into the Red Sea with 1,000 Portuguese soldiers and 400 Asian mercenaries to attack Aden, however, strong defenses, contrary weather and sickness among his men, caused the campaign to fail and Albuquerque was forced to return to India. Once back in the subcontinent, Albuquerque continued building up the Portuguese administration, establishing relations with more Indian princes, making alliances, business agreements and exchanging embassies, growing the Portuguese presence and influence throughout the region. In 1515 he led an expedition to recapture his old prize of Ormuz, reestablishing Portuguese control of the strategic point which would last until an Anglo-Persian alliances ejected them in 1622.
The wealth, the treasures, the exotic animals and so on that Albuquerque sent back to Portugal caused a huge sensation all across Europe and sparked the drive for other nations to set out for the distant lands of Asia over the trail first blazed by the Portuguese. Thanks largely to the victories of Albuquerque, it seemed that no matter where such future Dutch, Spanish, French or British forces went, they found that the Portuguese had invariably preceded them. Albuquerque, however, fell ill on the return voyage from Ormuz and died at sea, within sight of Goa, India. At the end, his final days had been troubled by a plot against him by jealous and ambitious men who tried to turn King Manuel against him. He died on December 16, 1515 and was first buried in Goa but his body was later returned to Portugal in 1566 with all appropriate fanfare for the Governor of Asia, Duke of Goa and Governor and Captain-General of the Seas of India. His name was seldom spoken without the appellation of “the Great” attached to it and for good reason. King Manuel I, regretful at having, for a time near the end, doubted the loyalty of so great a servant of the Crown, lavished rewards on his son and ensured that no future Portuguese would forget the name of Afonso de Albuquerque, the man who gave the Kingdom of Portugal an empire from the Persian Gulf, to India to Southeast Asia.
|Portuguese control of all access points to the Indian Ocean|