I write this looking out over the ocean at Sagres, Portugal's Southwestern tip. There is something about looking out over a windswept coast and knowing that there is nothing for thousands of miles of ocean beyond. Early mariners called it 'The End of the World'.
It was from here that Prince Henry the Navigator (Henrique o Navegador) directed some of Portugal's first exploratory sea journeys beyond Europe during the fifteenth century.
As the son of Portugal's King John I and Philippa of Lancaster, he was half-English, and the nephew of England's Henry IV.
His ideas to explore and claim new lands for Portugal helped put his country in the forefront of European maritime technology. He sponsored new developments in ship design and his pursuit of cartographic knowledge and territorial expansion helped to broaden the maps of the known world for Early Modern Europe.
Researching Portugal's role in the history of Malacca, it is fascinating to know that I am where it all began. From an Atlantic coast warmed by the Gulf Stream, small ships headed off into the unknown and quickly formed a global network of trade.
The first forays against Muslim North Africa were to rescue Christian captives. Capturing Muslims in response was seen as revenge, and justified as a way of converting them to Christianity. The voyages Henry directed also led to the colonisation of Madeira and Cape Verde, and the Portuguese forts on the West African coast.
Today Sagres is a sleepy town, with empty houses and stray dogs. Gulls circle overhead as fishing boats return with the day's catch. The spit of land extands to Cape St Vincent, famous as the location of the naval battle of 1797, in which the British fleet under Admiral John Jervis defeated the Spanish forces of José de Cordobá. Jervis was granted the title of Earl of St Vincent, and another piece of my research deals with Sammy Cox, a wild man in Tasmania who claimed he was the Earl's nephew. I'll write about him another time. As always in European history, coincidences and reminders from different eras tumble over each other in the timeline of our collective past.
Henry the Navigator died in 1460. In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias sailed further down the African coast, and rounded the Cape of Good Hope. The age of European Empires had begun.