Pedro Álvares Cabral

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Pedro Álvares Cabral (ca.1467 – ca. 1520) was a Portuguese navigator who was the first European to land in Brazil, claiming it in 1500 for Portugal.

Pedro was the son of the noble Fernão Cabral and his wife Isabel de Gouveia. He was born in Belmonte in the Beira Baixa region of Portugal (east-central part of the country). In 1483 he became a page at the court of King John II. His career at the court continued under King Manuel, who in 1497 granted him the title of counselor, a pension and the habit of the Order of Christ.

Discovery of Brazil

At the end of the summer of 1499, after Vasco da Gama returned from his maritime voyage to India, King Manuel chose Pedro Álvares Cabral as leader of the follow-up expedition. Although Vasco da Gama was successful at creating a direct sea route from Europe to India that avoided Muslim lands, he was unable to establish commercial ties with India.

As it had happened in the case of da Gama, Cabral was chosen more for his military ability than for his nautical experience. His expedition was given more resources that those given to da Gama, as it had become clear that it might be necessary to use military power in order to secure Portuguese interests in India. Therefore, Cabral's fleet consisted of 13 ships with a total crew of 1500 men, among them a great number of soldiers, as well as Franciscan missionaries and eminent figures likes Bartolomeu Dias (discoverer of the Cape of Good Hope) and Nicolau Coelho (a captain in Vasco da Gama’s fleet to India) .

Cabral and his ships departed from Lisbon on 9 March 1500. Their first stop happened five days later at the Canary Islands, from where they sailed to the island of São Nicolau (one of the Cape Verde Islands), where they arrived on 22 March. On the waters of Cape Verde Islands one of ships was lost.

Following Vasco da Gama’s advice Cabral sailed southwest, far away from the coast of Africa, in order to avoid unfavorable winds at the Gulf of Guinea; as a result of this route, the ships were taken very near to the coast of Brazil. On the afternoon of 22 April 1500 the fleet sighted land and with it a mountain that Cabral named Mount Pascoal (from the Portuguese word for Easter, Páscoa, as only two days had passed since that religious celebration), anchoring at present-day Caravelas. On 24 April the ships sailed north, reaching an harbour and a small coral reef that looked like an island and that today are known as Cabrália Bay and Coroa Vermelha respectively. It was here that on Sunday 26 April one of the missionaries of the expedition, Frei Henrique, celebrated mass. On a beach of the mainland, near the mouth of the Muturi River, Cabral order the erection of a wooden cross to mark his discovery of the land he named Terra de Vera Cruz ("Land of the True Cross"). Although Cabral left no account, his aide Pero Vaz de Caminha left a detailed and insightful account of the encounters with the natives that has been called the "birth certificate" of Brazil.[1]

Later voyages

On 2 May 1500 Cabral left Brazil with his ships, except one commanded by Gaspar de Lemos, which was sent back to Portugal to give the news of the discovery. When the fleet was approaching the Cape of Good Hope a violent storm provoked the loss of four ships with all their men, among them Bartolomeu Dias. Another of the vessels, commanded by Diogo Dias, was lost and only rejoined the expedition the following year at the Cape Verde Islands.

After stopovers at Sofala (16 July) and Mozambique (20 July), Cabral arrived at Kilwa where his men were mistreated by the sultan. At Malindi, Cabral obtained a pilot and set sail for India, arriving at Calicut, on India’s Malabar Coast, on 13 September.

In Calicut Cabral was authorized by the Zamorin (the local Hindu ruler) to establish a Portuguese trading post. However, this was considered a threat by the Muslim merchants, who didn’t want to loose their monopoly on the spice trade; as a result on 17 December Muslim forces attacked the post, killing 50 Portuguese. In retaliation, Cabral seized 10 Arab merchant ships and bombarded Calicut. He then sailed south to the port of Cochin, where he was able to buy enough spices to fill his six ships. He also traded at Carangolos and Cananor, before beginning his return voyage on 16 January 1501. During the voyage, two more ships were lost. Cabral arrived on Lisbon on 23 June 1501.

For unknown reasons, Cabral didn´t take part in another overseas expedition. Around 1503 Cabral married Isabel de Castro, daughter of Fernão Noronha, and settled at Santarém where he died, probably in 1520.


  • Abreu, Capistrano De. Chapters of Brazil's Colonial History, 1500-1800. - 1998. (1998) ch 3 online edition
  • Boxer, C. R. The Portuguese Seaborn Empire, 1415-1825 (1963)
  • Hartig, Otto. "Pedralvarez Cabral" The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 3 (1908) online
  • Greenlee, William Brooks, ed. Voyage of Pedro Alvares Cabral to Brazil and India (1995), primary sources excerpts and text search
  • Newitt, Malyn. A History of Portuguese Overseas Expansion 1400-1668 (2004) excerpt and text search
  • Schwartz, Stuart B. "Brazil: Ironies of the Colonial Past," Hispanic American Historical Review 80:4, November 2000, pp. 681-694 in Project Muse
  • Voigt, Lisa. "'Por Andarmos Todos Casy Mesturados': the Politics of Intermingling in Caminha's Carta and Colonial American Anthologies." Early American Literature 2005 40(3): 407-439. Issn: 0012-8163 Fulltext: Project Muse
  • Williams, Jerry M. "Pero Vaz de Caminha: The Voice of the Luso-Brazilian Chronicle." Luso-Brazilian Review, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Winter, 1991), pp. 59-72 in JSTOR


  1. Williams, (1991), p. 59