Portugal's Prince Henry the Navigator - Commemorative coins of 1960 and others

When I was starting into coins in 1964 I managed to acquire this set of three Portuguese coins dated 1960 and commemorating someone named Prince Henry, who I knew nothing about. All three coins were made of silver and all had the same design, adjusted for size and denomination.

Recently I found an old book by historian Elaine Sanceau entitled Henry the Navigator, published in 1947, which proved to be a very interesting account of Portuguese sea voyages into the Atlantic and down the west coast of Africa.

Portugal 5 Escudos 1960 Prince Henry the Navigator
Silver, 24 mm, 7.16 gm
Issued to commemorate the 500th anniversary of his death in 1460.

Prince Henry was born in 1394, the third of five sons of King John of Portugal. His father appointed him as Grand Master of the Knights of Christ, the Portuguese successor to the Knights Templar, which put Prince Henry in control of a huge amount of money. He opened a sort of university of seamanship and navigation for sea captains, sailors, ship engineers, which was attended and instructed by mariners from all over Europe. Prince Henry's financed voyages of exploration and financially encouraged ships to go further into the Atlantic and down the west coast of Africa. He is considered to be the father of Portuguese exploration.

Portugal 10 Escudos 1960 Prince Henry the Navigator
Silver, 30 mm, 12.57 gm

Of course, the purpose of these explorations was to locate gold, slaves, and goods to be brought back to Portugal, and these were making the country rich.

Portugal 20 Escudos 1960 Prince Henry the Navigator
Silver, 34 mm, 20.98 gm

Prince Henry was especially interested in the legends of "Prester John", a fabulously wealthy and powerful Christian king of an African country and sent ships and exploring parties into Africa to find his kingdom with the idea of forming a Christian alliance to fight the Moslems.

Prince Henry died in 1460 but his university was kept going due to the profits it was bringing to the country.

In 1438 Prince Henry's nephew Alfonso became King of Portugal as Alfonso V and issued this little undated coin:

Portugal ceitil of Alfonso V (1438-1481)
Copper, 20 mm, 1.70 gm

Some of Prince Henry's sailors became famous later, including Vasco da Gama, who successfully sailed to India in 1498.

Portugal 1000 Reis 1898 - Discovery of India 400th anniversary
Silver, 38 mm, 24.95 gm

The cross on the coin is the Cross of the Order of Christ, the Portuguese military order formed from the Knights Templar. It is a national emblem and appeared on the sails of their ships and on many of their coins.

Naturally, Vasco da Gama "discovered" India and when he returned to Portugal in 1499, he reported his feat to the king.

Portugal had long been in a rivalry with Spain and the Portuguese king took the opportunity to write to the king of Spain bragging that his man made it to India while Spain's man did not.

Spain's man, Christopher Columbus, another former Prince Henry "university" student:

United States Half Dollar 1893 Christopher Columbus
Silver, 30 mm, 12.39 gm

In 1500, another Portuguese captain, Pedro Alvares Cabral, on his way to India, landed on what he thought was a large island, and claimed it for Portugal. With so much money coming in from Africa and India, Portugal left this discovery alone until 1532 when some settlers were sent to found a colony in what became known as Brazil.

Brazil 200 reis 1932 - 400th Anniversary of Colonization
Copper-nickel, 25 mm, 7.8 gm
Note the Order of Christ cross on the ship's sails

Portugal, with so much gold coming in, had to make some pretty coins, such as this one:

Portugal Moidore 4000 Reis 1704
Gold, 29 mm, 10.71 gm, minted in Lisbon


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