Stalemate at Badajoz

Deducting all costs and losses, the spices brought back in the Victoria, the first shipment direct from the Spice Islands to Europe, showed a moderate profit on the outlay for the whole expedition. Del Cano came home to fame and honours, including a coat of arms charged properly with cinnamon, nutmegs and cloves, and for crest a globe with the motto Primus circumdedisti me; Magellan's memory had to bear the angry reproach of his countrymen, and in Spain was not enhanced by the partial evidence of Del Cano and others at the enquiry into the voyage. Nevertheless, the great achievement was not to be denied: the circling of the globe was made possible only by the forcing of the Southwest Passage.

The most immediate result of the voyage was a new Luso-Castilian diplomatic crisis. João III demanded that the Victoria’s spices should be handed over to him, and the circumnavigators punished, since they had clearly trespassed within his- 54 -



Adapted from maps by E. A. Heawood, Geographical Journal 57, 1921, 431–46, and in A. Cortesão and A. Teixeira da Mota, Portugaliæ Monumenta Cartographica (Lisbon 1960), I. Plates 39–40 (for Ribeiro, see ibid., 82–106).

- 55 -dominion; each monarch should send out a ship with competent experts to agree on the true position of the Spice Islands. D. Carlos took up this singularly impracticable suggestion, which stemmed from a neglected clause of the Treaty of Tordesillas, adding that the Pope might send a third ship as referee. All this was probably time-spinning, as was the Portuguese proposal that, pending such a procedure, neither side should send a fleet to the disputed area, which would in effect freeze a status quo to Portugal's advantage. In fact, both parties were secretly preparing Moluccan voyages. In the circumstances, the Junta of experts from

Figure Plate VIII. THE AMERICAS, 1540.


Note Magellan's ‘Unfortunate Islands’ and the archaic position and rendering of ‘Zipangri’ (Cipangu, i.e. Japan); but the Americas are firmly seen as what they are, a ‘Novvs Orbis' between the two Oceans. From the Basel edition of Ptolemy, reproduced in Nordenskiold, Facsimile Atlas (Stockholm 1889). NLA.

both sides which met in April-May 1524 on the bridge over the Caya, the boundary between the two kingdoms, with sessions in the town halls of Badajoz and Elvas, can hardly have been regarded by either side as anything but a face-saving and time-winning device.[60]

- 56 -In one sense, as Nowell stresses, the Portuguese were on the defensive: there was sufficient leakage of obsolete but damaging maps, originally prepared to exaggerate the distance and hence the difficulty of the way to the Indies, and sufficient general doubt amongst the well-informed, to make Spanish claims seem plausible, though in fact the Portuguese positions were much nearer the truth than the Spanish, and the antimeridian of the Tordesillas line (134°40′E) is in fact some 7° east of the Moluccas, though this could not then be known.[61] The Spaniards made much play with minor discrepancies in the Portuguese calculations



Note that on various reckonings the antimeridian can be placed at 129, 131.18, or 133.21 degrees east of Greenwich. In part adapted from maps by R. A. Laguarda Trías in A. Teixeira da Mota (ed.), A Viagem de Fernão de Magalhães e a Questão das Molucas (Lisbon 1975), 146–9.

and with the methods they proposed to fix the longitudes, which they alleged would take much too long (this would have been true had they been feasible) and to be against the spirit of the agreement for the conference. Scorn was heaped on the official Portuguese map which, very naturally, showed only a few key points between Lisbon and the Moluccas, leaving out the useful detail.

To all this, the Portuguese delegates could only stonewall and refuse to sign anything. They were strengthened in this attitude by the wild inaccuracy of the Spanish arguments, still sticking to Ptolemy and his inadequate length of an equatorial degree. Pliny, Marinus, Ptolemy, Polo, even Mandeville and King- 57 -Solomon were cited; and Fernando Colon, Columbus's illegitimate son, claimed for Castile ‘all of Persia, Arabia, and India.’ As Denucé says, these ‘oratorical demonstrations … contrast singularly with the calm and knowledge of the Portuguese delegates to whom history has done justice …’.[62]

Argument on such divergent bases was clearly pointless; only occupation would suffice: the race was on again, and the logistic odds were strongly in favour of Portugal. She had firm bases much nearer Ternate and Tidore than were Seville or even Panama and the petty ports just being born in New Spain;[63] and the way from Malacca to the Moluccas was through well-travelled seas with many points of supply. The Spanish riposte to Antonio de Brito, when it did come (below, Ch. 4), was heroic but pathetic.

Magellan's voyage, whatever his own initial beliefs, ensured the final destruction of the lingering remnants of the Ptolemaic world: the achievement is writ large on contemporary maps. Even the hapless last voyage of the Trinidad at least showed that the great new ocean extended indefinitely, with a vast breadth, into northern latitudes; no rehashing of Cipangu or Ptolemy's Sinus Magnus could possibly fit the new facts. There were limitations: the Passage was too difficult to be of reliable use so long as it was confined to the actual Straits of Magellan. Although while in the Straits Magellan's people had thought that they could hear the surge on a distant coast to the south, and had correctly deduced that the land to their left was insular, yet, as J. H. Parry points out, Tierra del Fuego gained ‘a new lease of cartographical life’ for Terra Australis,[64] the temptation to carry it on across the Mar del Sur proving irresistible to generations of cosmographers. Yet even this was a spur to new exploration. No other single voyage has ever added so much to the dimension of the world.