Prince Henry "the Navigator"


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A Life

Peter Russell; Foreword by Serge Schmemann

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Henry the Navigator, fifteenth-century Portuguese prince and explorer, is a legendary, almost mythical figure in late medieval history. Considered along with Columbus to be one of the progenitors of modernity, Prince Henry challenged the scientific assumptions of his age and was responsible for liberating Europeans from geographical restraints that had bound them since the Roman Empire’s collapse. In this enthralling account of Henry’s life—the first biography of “The Navigator” in more than a century—Peter Russell reaps the harvest of a lifelong study of Prince Henry. Making full use of documentary evidence only recently available, Russell reevaluates Henry and his role in Portuguese and European history.

Examining the full range of Prince Henry’s activities, Russell discusses the explorer’s image as an imperialist and as a maritime, mathematical, and navigational pioneer. He considers Henry’s voyages of discovery in the African Atlantic, their economic and cultural consequences, and the difficult questions they generated regarding international law and papal jurisdiction. Russell demonstrates the degree to which Henry was motivated by the predictions of his astrologer—an aspect of his career little known until now—and explains how this innovator, though firmly rooted in medieval ways of thinking and behaving, set in motion a current of change that altered European history.

Sir Peter Russell was until his retirement King Alfonso XIII Professor of Spanish Studies and for many years also director of Portuguese studies at the University of Oxford. A fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Historical Society, he is also a commander of the Order of Prince Henry, Portugal. Most recent of his many books is From John of Gaunt to Henry the Navigator and Beyond.

“[A] magisterial study. . . . This certainly must be rated the best volume about the man and his times.”—Marvin Lunenfeld, American Historical Review

“[A] magisterial and elegantly written work. . . .Professor Russell deserves nothing but praise for having written so readable, cogently argued and scholarly a life of such a remarkable and controversial man.”—John Villiers, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

“Based firmly on primary sources and the latest research, Russell has written a study of Prince Henry that will stand as the definitive biography for many years to come.”—Choice

“Russell . . . has written the first truly scholarly biography of Prince Henry of Portugal since the 19th century of C.R. Beazley and R. H. Major. . . . Based firmly on primary sources and the latest research, Russell has written a study of Prince Henry that will stand as the definitive biography for many years to come. All collections.”—Choice

“This book is as much a history of Portuguese colonial development in the period as a biography of Henry. . . . Although this book might be rather detailed and technical for some, it is a first-class work of scholarship by a life-long expert in the field. It is hard to imagine it ever being surpassed.”—Simon Heffer, Country Life

“[Russell] presents a . . . fascinating man in a superbly written and thought-provoking book.”—Economist

“This is not merely henceforth the standard study of Henry; it is also a book with wide ramifications for the study of fifteenth-century Europe and for the study of the early phases of European expansion. . . . It is immensely enjoyable and readable, a model of scholarly history, well based in the sources, which is also accessible to a wider audience.”—David Abulafia, History: Reviews in history

“The prose is lucid an lively. . . . The publishers have given us an exceptionally well-produced volume, with a useful Portuguese glossary, a map of northwest Africa, a genealogy and a series of colour plates of cartographic milestones and portraits of persons, poets and landscapes. . . . This is a great value at the published price, and if the generous foundations which supported the publication thought it might raise the profile of Portuguese history in the English-speaking world, they were surely right.”—International Journal of Maritime History

“A major event in the historiography of the European Discoveries as well as of late medieval and Renaissance Portuguese history. . . . A truly scholarly but accessible book, elegantly produced with many ingredients beyond a brilliant text.”—Douglas L. Wheeler, Journal of Military History

“Russell’s book succeeds in describing with accuracy one of the most important moments of the fifteenth century Europe. . . . Revealing a profound knowledge of the Portuguese context, Professor Russell not only fives us an academic approach to a man’s life, but also has produced a readable and very enjoyable book.”—Isabel Morgado S. E Silva, Journal of World History

“An illuminating and well-written life of the founding figure of the Age of Exploration. . . . A complete, scholarly, and thoroughly readable look at one of the key shapers of the modern world—lavishly illustrated with period maps and paintings.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Peter Russell has . . . written an exemplary study: well-informed, well judged, and well paced. Russell is gifted with almost unerring scholarship, unrivaled knowledge of the context, exceptional critical acuity and impressive depth of reflection.”—Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Literary Review

“One often envies the capacity of academics to stay with the same subject for 50 years without getting bored; but, in Russell’s case, such focused concentration has produced an outstanding volume that will take decades to supersede.”—Frank McLynn, New Statesman

“It has been close to a century since a biography of Henry has been written, and Russell, now retired after a long and distinguished career at Oxford, has written a fitting capstone to his work on the history of early modern Iberia. . . . The author does a masterful job of placing the events of Henry’s life in the context not only of his own time but of ours as well. Russell’s treatment of the Prester John myth . . . and his analysis of Henry’s place in the development of the Atlantic slave trade are especially fine, and by themselves they could recommend this excellent work. . . . This book, like Henry, is a font of virtues but, thankfully unlike the prince, it has no glaring faults.”—Publishers Weekly

“A close reading of this brilliant study will reward all who are interested in the opening of the Atlantic through exploration and trade as well as the development of future imperialism and colonization.”—Rand Burnette, Renaissance Quarterly

“Sir Peter Russell has written a remarkable biography. . . . He gets more our of the stony administrative records than most students of the period would have thought possible. He writes in an approachable style a tale worth telling. He has also been well served by his publishers, Yale University Press, who have produced a beautiful book, well-bound on good paper with a generous clutch of illustrations, for a very reasonable price.”—Jonathan Sumption, Spectator

“After years of preferring on-line, archaeological, and other sources, I have finally found a book that I am willing to assign undergraduates to inform them about Portuguese exploits in north and northwest Africa. . . . A remarkable achievement.”—Patricia Seed, Speculum

“[An] elegant biography. . . . Russell has written a fine book, loaded with interesting details about Prince Henry’s world. . . . A handsome volume, with magnificent color photographs of artifacts and places.”—Deborah Lowenstein, The Bloomsbury Review

“This long-awaited biography by one of the most eminent scholars studying late medieval Iberia is easily the best book in any language on Prince Henry. It should be required reading for anyone who studies the fifteenth century. . . . This is a handsomely produced book. . . . The book deserves a wide readership.”—Francis A. Dutra, The International History Review

“To register the immense difference separating Henry’s mind and world from what followed is the central achievement of this accomplished and delightfully written book. It rests not only on Professor Russell’s mastery of the most recent scholarship, but on the closeness and acuteness of his own reading of often fragmentary and incomplete sources. . . . The outcome may well be the finest work of history to be published this year; judges for the next round of Wolfson and Johnson prizes should take note.”—J. M. Roberts, Times Literary Supplement

“The first biography of Prince Henry in a century, Sir Peter Russell . . . brings his own vast research into a handsome volume.”—Bart McDowell, Washington Times

“This book succeeds, and succeeds brilliantly, in explaining how it was that a man who was anything but ‘modern’ could nevertheless have taken the first steps toward changing the political and demographic landscape not only of Europe but of much of the world.”—Anthony Pagden

Selected by as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2001 by Choice Magazine
ISBN: 9780300091304
Publication Date: September 10, 2001
502 pages, 5 x 7 3/4
6 b/w + 27 color illus.
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