Today, only 490 years ago

I’ve decided that, since my compatriots are so far focusing on the here and now for their posts, I will instead bring a sense of historical perspective to the table.  So, without further ado, here is my version of a “Today In History”-type article.

This fashionably-bearded fellow is Ferdinand Magellan, the famous Portuguese explorer.  Note the nautical charts, galleons, and waves breaking in the background.  These are your clues that the guy in this picture was some sort of seaman or captain.  Looking a little closer, you’ll notice that surcoat on the ground with the funny-looking red cross, which (as everyone knows) is a Calatrava Cross, a symbol of Spanish knighthood.  This is your clue that the gentleman in the painting is no ordinary seaman, but a Great Explorer preparing to accomplish Great Deeds of Historical Significance (GDHS for short).  Right about now (for those of you paying attention), you may be thinking something along the lines of, “Spanish?  I thought you said he was Portuguese…”  Indeed I did, and for any of you that actually thought that, give yourselves two gold stars for being such attentive little readers.  Those of you paying less attention (and perhaps disgruntled by your lack of gold stars) are probably thinking something more along the lines of  “Get to the f-ing point already!”  Bear with me, you patience shall be rewarded.  In all seriousness though, Magellan was Portuguese, but while completing his GDHS’s, he sailed in the service of King Charles I of Spain.

Now Chuck the First (as everyone undoubtedly called him) was no slouch in the political arena.  Being the heir to three of the greatest houses in Europe (House Habsburg of Austria, House Valois-Burgundy of the Duchy of Burgundy in present-day France, and House Trastámara of Castile), he was not only King of Spain (a title he gained by being the first ruler of the kingdoms of Castile, León and Aragon simultaneously), he also became emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire (which was actually primarily German – long story) – a position which also came along with the small, insignificant titles of King of the Romans and King of Italy.  However, at the time (1517) he was still only Chuck the First of measly old Spain, and keen to expand his power both in Europe and overseas.

Enter Magellan (remember him?  This article is actually about him…).  By now he had already cut his teeth traveling under the Portuguese flag to subdue Portuguese India, fighting several battles, and actually saving his commander from some sort of rebel conspiracy, which earned him a substantial promotion and all the buxom native women he could shake his lance at.  However, taking leave of his post without permission upon returning to Portugal, he fell out of favor with King Manuel I and left for Spain.  The Spanish had long been looking for a westward route to the Spice Islands (as a result of the Treaty of Tordesillas reserving all the eastward routes for the Portuguese), and Magellan brought considerable nautical expertise, knowledge of the region in question, and simply excellent facial hair to the table.  He was hired immediately.  After departing on August 10th, 1519 and crossing the Atlantic, he traveled down the eastern coast of South America in search of a passage to the Pacific.  Finally, he found the Strait of Magellan, which strangely the Native Americans had already named for him.  Being quite the modest fellow, he renamed it “All Saints’ Channel”, but the original name has proven the better and stuck.  Call it what you will, his fleet traveled through the Strait and reached the Pacific on November 28th, 1520 – over a year after setting sail.

After another four months at sea, Magellan and his men were quite irritable when they reached the Philippines in March of 1521.  On the island of Cebu, Magellan quickly became embroiled in the local politics, no doubt due to unbridled passion for the first women he and his men had seen in God knows how long.  The local leader, Rajah Humabon, convinced Magellan and his men to overthrow his rival, Datu Lapu-Lapu.  It is well known that this rivalry was due primarily to Humabon’s loathing for Lapu-Lapu’s pretentious, rhyming name.  Magellan and his men traveled to the nearby island of Mactan to confront the nefarious, redundantly-named leader.  Confident in their superior weaponry and battle tactics, they arrived with a force of 60 men, 11 of which remained behind to guard the boats while the other 49 performed a small beachhead operation.  Lapu-Lapu and the natives were waiting with an estimated force of about 1500 men, armed with bamboo spears and steel cutlasses (cutli?).  At this point, our friend Ferdinand was probably having second thoughts, but buoyed by his glorious beard and the thoughts of scantily-clad native women, he led the charge.  Soon however, he and his men were overwhelmed, and recognizing the captain of the invaders, the natives fell on him in a fury.  He was greatly outnumbered, wounded several times, and died fighting the terrible, bloodthirsty heathens  – or noble, stalwart defenders, depending on how you look at things.  And thus we come to the point of this (no doubt unbearably long) article.  The date was April 27th, a day that will live in Infamy – for Portuguese sea captains and bored, frustrated blog-readers everywhere.


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