Opposition from Within

  • Jonathan Hart


In the fifteenth century Portugal was cautious about expansion, looking after national self-interest and control. The Portuguese court had turned down Toscanelli’s proposal for a westward voyage in 1474 and dismissed Columbus ten years later. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the French, Portuguese, and Spaniards attempted to make territorial claims and seek remedies through papal bulls, which were not permanent laws. For instance, in 1344, Don Luis de la Cerda, great grandson of Alfonso the Wise and admiral of France, obtained a bull from Clement VI to make Christian the Canary Islands, and, on January 8, 1455, King Alfonso of Portugal received exclusive rights in the African exploration and trade from the bull Romanus pontifex that Nicholas V issued. The Portuguese had their own plans for southern and eastern expansion but also reacted to Columbus’s voyages, dividing the world unknown to Europeans with the Spanish by way of papal bulls.1 Portuguese influence should not be forgotten, something quite possible when viewing the world too much in terms of Columbus and the New World, no matter how crucial the landfall of 1492 and its aftermath were to world history. The accomplishment of Columbus has two contexts involving the Portuguese that show the importance of a southern and eastern vantage: in 1488 Bartolomeo Dias rounded the southern tip of Africa, which the king is said have called the Cape of Good Hope and, in 1498–99, Vasco da Gama sailed to India and established a maritime link between Europe and Asia in the Carreira da India or the spice trade.2


Fifteenth Century Privy Council Henry VIII Imperial Theme Spanish Colonization 
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© Jonathan Hart 2005

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  • Jonathan Hart

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