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Admiral Dom Vasco da Gama,
Knight Commander of the Military Order of Christ

Admiral Dom Vasco da Gama , Vice-Roy of India

Admiral Dom Vasco da Gama (c. 1469 - 1524)- I Count of Vidigueira, 6 th Governor and 2nd Vice-Roy of India
The fleet under his command left Lisbon harbour on July, 8th 1497 and after having passed the Cape of Good Hope, Mozambique island, Mombasa and having obtained an experienced Gujarati pilot at Malindi, first sighted the Malabar coast of India on May, the 18th, 1498. The arrival at Calicut was three days later.

Arrival at Calicut

Vasco da Gama arrival at Calicut
(Tapestry, Museu do Caramulo)

Dom Vasco da Gama was born circa 1469 at Sines and died on Christmas eve in Cochin, India, in 1524, being Viceroy of India. After his successful first voyage by sea to India (1497-1499), King Emmanuel I gave him the title of Dom (Lord) with an annual grant of 300.000 reais, for him and his descendants, and appointed him Admiral of the Indies (January, 1500). In 1519, the Admiral was granted the coveted title of Count of Vidigueira [1].

Very little is known about Vasco da Gama before his appointment as Capitão-Mor (Captain-General) of the fleet sent to find the sea route to India. He was the son of Estêvão da Gama - a knight commander of Cercal of the Order of St. James of the Sword and alcaide-mor of the village of Sines, which also belonged to the latter Order - and of his wife Isabel Sodré.

His father was a member of the Household of prince Dom Fernando - master of the Order of St. James, and later on, to that of the prince's son - Dom Diogo, duke of Viseu, having also fought in Castille and in the North Africa's military campaigns. His father's family, from the southern province of Alentejo, appears to have had close links with the military Order of Avis and later on with the Order of St. James [2].

His mother's family, of English ascendancy , [3] had also links with the household of Dom Diogo, duke of Viseu and governor of the military Order of Christ.

By 1480's he was admitted to the Order of St. James together with some of his brothers. In 1495, being governor of the Order of St. James, prince Dom Jorge (1481- 1550), duke of Coimbra and a bastard son of King John II who had just died, Vasco da Gama was granted two commanderies of the Order of St. James (those of Mouguelas and Chouparia)[4]. However, King Dom Manuel I's promise to award Vasco da Gama the senhorio of the Order of St. James's village of Sines led to conflicts with the Order's master and the local authorities [5]

After his return from India in 1503, and around 1507, Vasco da Gama was transferred to the Order of Christ, under the governorship of King Emmanuel I himself, in what can be seen as a means of solving his disputes with the Order of St. James over the lordship of Sines or as a sign of promotion [6].

Vasco da Gama's Arms

Admiral Dom Vasco da Gama's Arms, conferred c. 1500, by King D. Manuel I after the return from the first Voyage to India.
The arms bear the augmentation of honour: the ancient royal arms of Portugal [7]

Notes: [1] Anselmo Braamcamp Freire, Brasões da Sala de Sintra, vol. III, 4th ed., Imprensa Nacional Casa da Moeda, Lisbon, 1996, pp. 380-385.

[2] Luís Adão da Fonseca, Vasco da Gama. O Homem, a Viagem, a Época, EXPO 98, Lisboa, 1997, pp. 12 - 16;

[3]The Sodré's seem to have established themselves in Portugal accompanying the Earl of Cambridge in his campaigns in the Peninsula, in the reign of King D. Fernando I, in the second half of the XIV th century; cf. ibidem, pp. 17-18;

[4] Francis A. Dutra, A New Look at the Life and Carreer of Vasco da Gama, «Portuguese Studies Review», 6:2, (1997-1998), New Hampshire, pp. 23-28; Adão da Fonseca, ibidem, pp. 18-19, 23-26;

[5] cf. Francis A. Dutra, ibidem, pp. 25-26;

[6]Francis A. Dutra dates Vasco da Gama transfer to the Order of Christ, circa 1507, and emphasizes the importance of the early dispute over the lordship of Sines, as its probable cause, ibidem, pp. 26-27; see, however, L. Adão da Fonseca, ibidem, p.39-41;

[7] Anselmo Braamcamp Freire, Armaria Portuguesa, 2nd ed., Cota D'Armas, Lisboa, 1989, pp. 215-216.

Further Reading:

  1. Francis A. DUTRA, A New Look at the Life and Carreer of Vasco da Gama,«Portuguese Studies Review», 6:2, (1997-1998), New Hampshire, pp. 23-28
  2. Luís ADÃO DA FONSECA, Vasco da Gama. O Homem, a Viagem, a Época, Lisboa Expo - 98, Lisboa 1997;
  3. Sanay SUBRAHMANYAM, The career and legend of Vasco da Gama, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997;
  4. Luís de ALBUQUERQUE, Diário da primeira viagem de Vasco da Gama, CNCDP-Ministério da Educação, 1990;
  5. Jean AUBIN, Paul TEYSSIER, Paul VALENTIN, Voyages de Vasco da Gama. Relations des expéditions de 1497-1499 et de 1502-1503, Paris, Editions Chandeigne, 1995;
  6. Carmen RADULET, La prima circumnavigazione dell'Africa. 1497-1499, Reggio Emilia, Ed. Diabasis, 1994;
  7. Gabriella AIRALDI, Il «Roteiro» di Vasco da Gama. Diario di bordo del primo viaggio alle Indie (1497-1499), Verona, Cassa di Risparmio di Verona, Vicenza e Belluno, 1987;
  8. Gernot GIERTZ, Vasco da Gama. Die Entdeckung des Seewegs nach Indien. Ein Augenzeugenbericht 1497-1499, Berlin, Verlag Neues Leben, 1986;
  9. E. G. RAVENSTEIN, The journal of the first voyage of Vasco da Gama, 1497-1499, London, Hakluyt Society, 1898;
  10. K. G. JAYNE, Vasco da Gama and his successors: 1460-1580, London, Methuen & Co., 1910;
  11. Bailey W. DIFFIE; George D. WINIUS, Foundations of the Portuguese Empire, 1415-1580, vol. 1, University of Minnesota Press;
  12. Charles Ralph BOXER, The Portuguese seaborne empire. 1415-1825, Manchester, Carcanet, 1991;
  13. M. N. PEARSON, The New Cambridge History of India. The Portuguese in India, «The New Cambridge History of India», Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1987;
  14. John H. PARRY, The Discovery of the Sea, 1981.
  15. Geneviève BOUCHON, L'Ocean Indien à l'époque de Vasco da Gama, in «Mare Liberum», Vol. 1, 1990;

© (1997, 1998) José Vicente de Bragança

Posted: 23 May 1998

Last updated: 1 June 1998

Related Link:

Projet X - 1497 - 1999. A Journal of the First Voyage of Vasco da Gama. The best site on Vasco da Gama's Voyage in the Net, with the text of the Journal the historic first voyage by Sea to India, edited by Damian Lopes, to whom we wish to pay tribute.

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