Prince Henry ‘the Navigator’: Representations of a Pre-Modern Figure in the Estado Novo, Portugal 1933-1974

“Prince Henry ‘the Navigator’: Representations of a Pre-Modern Figure in the Estado Novo, Portugal 1933-1974” by Samuel Fontaine (A Senior Thesis Submitted to The Faculty of the Department of History In Candidacy for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts in History, 2012). Excerpt:

"The importance of the Portuguese discoveries in Africa, Asia, and South America to Portuguese national identity was clearly manifested in Salazarist Portugal during the Estado Novo or New State (1933-1974). Prince Henry ‘the Navigator’ was one of the earliest proponents of these discoveries and sent out voyages to explore the West African coast expanding the known world. However, Henry’s importance to overseas discoveries and the opening of the world for Portuguese expansion fluctuated greatly over the next five centuries. During his lifetime Henry was credited immensely, while by the late sixteenth century he was largely peripheral in the pantheon of Portuguese discoverers. His reemergence to the forefront of Portuguese heroes in twentieth century Salazarist Portugal suggests a politicization of history through the creation of national myths and symbols constructed around the life of a feudal figure to create a particular view of national identity that based Portuguese’ uniqueness on the discovering past and the colonial empire.

This research is interested in both the pre-modern sources that detail Henry’s accomplishments and also the manifestation of Henry in Portugal during the Estado Novo regime in Portugal. Paulo S. Polanah’s essay, “The Zenith of our National History!” National identity, colonial empire, and the promotion of the Portuguese Discoveries: Portugal 1930s, closely examines the Salazarist regime’s efforts to mold and strengthen a national identity with fifteenth and sixteenth century discoveries as the foundation of Portugal’s national greatness. Polanah argues that by the end of the 1930’s, the Estado Novo regime’s focus on the discoveries had become an extensive ideological investment in the nation’s historic memory.4 While the generalized concept of the discoveries provided an interesting analysis into Portuguese nationalism, my research was distinct from Polanah’s due to the emphasis and focus placed on Henry ‘the Navigator’. Where Polanah examines the discoveries in whole, this paper focuses more specifically on one key figure in the discoveries. The other distinct difference between Polanah’s research and this research is the emphasis on analyzing the few extremely pertinent primary sources written about Henry. My research approaches these sources with caution. While keeping in mind the implications these sources had for the creation of a national myth, claiming them as historical legitimation. Examining the process of nationalist creations of myths and symbolism from a shared history experienced by members of a nation is the goal of this research; using Henry ‘the Navigator’ as a case study."