The traits of personality that made this lone adventure possible were not all attractive. Henry the Navigator compared himself with Saint Louis, but he was a much less engaging person. He lived like a monk, his biographers observe, and it is said that he died a virgin. At his death he was found to be wearing a hair shirt. All his life he was torn between crusading and exploring. His father, King John I, whose alternative sobriquets were the Bastard or the Great, founder of the Aviz dynasty, had seized the Portuguese throne in 1385. At the decisive battle of Aljubarrota, with the aid of English archers, John defeated the King of Castile and so secured the independence and the unity of Portugal. King John cemented his English alliance by marrying the devout and strong-willed Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt, but he still kept his mistress in the palace to which she came as queen. “She found the Court a sink of immorality” a pious and optimistic latter-day Portuguese historian observes, “she left it as chaste as a nunnery.” And she bore the King six sons, the third of whom, Henry, was born in 1394.

“The Portuguese Discoverers”, from “The Discoverers”, Daniel J. Boorstin, The National Board for the Celebration of Portuguese Discoveries, Lisbon, 1987