Portuguese prince, the third son of King John I and Philippa of Lancaster. As duke of Viseu, lord of Covilhā, and administrator of the Order of Christ, Prince Henry (Port. Hen- rique) played a decisive role in many of the political conflicts of his time, although his image and his historiographical fortunes are still largely coupled with the maritime discoveries of the period.
Henry’s participation in the Portuguese conquest of Ceuta in North Africa (1415) and the subsequent responsibility for the defense of the city given him by the Crown (1416) gave him an interest in projects for holy war in Africa. However, these projects did not have the consensus of the Portuguese court and were successively put off during the reign of John I. The king’s wish to renew the expeditions to Morocco led Henry to envisage himself as the inheritor of his father’s African policies, putting pressure on the Crown to embrace his project for an attack on the territories of the Moors (1434). The attack that Henry led against Tangier (1437), which should have launched a prolonged campaign, ended with defeat and the capture of his younger brother, thus obliging him to consider abandoning Ceuta as the price to be paid for his brother’s release. Ceuta was not surrendered to the Moors, but the captivity of Henry’s brother put an end to Portuguese conquests in Africa until the second half of the fifteenth century, even though Henry had obtained papal blessing to renew the offensive in 1442.
In the meantime, the defense of Ceuta led him to establish a fleet, whose ships occupied the island of Madeira (1419), and headed toward the waters of Bojador in the western Sahara, probably in an attempt to encounter a Christian ally whose help would enable him to attack the kingdom of Fez from the south. This change of interests caused Henry to organize many expeditions to the Canary Islands, and also led to the discovery of the Azores (1427) and the exploration of the African coast to the south of Bojador. The importance of the navigational expeditions only became evident during the early 1440s, when the income from plunder and slave trading aroused the interest of some nobles and the Crown, which granted Henry a monopoly on expeditions beyond Cape Bojador. Nevertheless, the struggle against the infidels was not forgotten, making him publicize a new desire to settle in Ceuta (1450), where he wished to end his days fighting for the honor of the kingdom and for the praise of the Christian faith. In spite of this dream of a crusade, he only returned to Africa shortly before his death, when he served in the army that conquered Alcacer-Ceguer in 1458.