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Almeida Francisco de
(c. 1450—1510)

Almeida Francisco de (c. 1450—1510)

Dom Francisco de Almeida, also known as "the Great Dom Francisco" was a Portuguese nobleman, soldier and explorer. He distinguished himself as a counsellor to King John II of Portugal and later in the wars against the Moors and in the conquest of Granada in 1492. In 1503 he was appointed as the first governor and viceroy of the Portuguese State of India (Estado da Índia). Almeida is credited with establishing Portuguese hegemony in the Indian Ocean. Before Almeida or his son could return to Portugal, they lost their lives in surprise attacks in 1510 and 1508 respectively.

As was customary for men in his social circle, he joined the military at a young age. In 1476 he took part in the Battle of Toro. He then fought in conflicts in different parts of Morocco and in 1492 participated in the Christian conquest of Granada on the side of the Castilians.

In 1503 King Manuel I of Portugal appointed Almeida, then in his mid 50's, as the first viceroy of Portuguese India (Estado da Índia). With an armada of 22 ships, including 14 carracks and 6 caravels, Almeida departed from Lisbon on March 25, 1505. The armada carried a crew of 1,000 and 1,500 soldiers. The flagship was the carrack São Rafael captained by Fernão Soares. The mission's primary aims were to bring the spice trade under Portuguese control, to construct forts along the east African and Indian coasts, to further Portuguese spice trade through alliances with local chieftains, besides constructing trading posts.

Almeida rounded the Cape of Good Hope and entered African coastal waters again at Sofala and the Island of Mozambique, whence they proceeded northwards to the coastal settlement of Kilwa. In July 1505 they employed 8 ships to conquer the ca 4,000 strong population of this harbour town. Because of the good harbour that the town provided, sufficient for anchoring ships up to 500 tons, the Portuguese decided to build a fort here. For this purpose Pêro Ferreira and a crew of 80 soldiers remained in the town.

In August 1505 the Portuguese arrived at Mombasa, a coastal port further north. The city with a population of ca 10,000 was conquered in heavy combat against the troops of the local Arab sheik. The city was plundered and torched. The Portuguese were assisted in this attack by a Mombasa enemy, the Sultan of Melinde. The same month a caravel of Almeida's fleet captained by John (João) Homere captured Zanzibar island and claimed it for Portugal.

After reaching India, Almeida took up residence in Cochin. He strengthened the Portuguese fortifications on Cochin and those on the island of Angediva. In March 1506 his son Lourenço de Almeida was victorious in a sea battle at the entrance to the harbour of Cannanore, an important setback for the fleet of the Prince of Kalikut. Hereupon Lourenço de Almeida explored the coastal waters southwards to Colombo in the current Sri Lanka.

In 1507 Almeida's mission was strengthened by the arrival of Tristão da Cunha's squadron. Afonso de Albuquerque's squadron had however split from that of Cunha off east Africa and was independently conquering territories to the west. In March 1508 a Portuguese squadron under command of Lourenço de Almeida was attacked by a combined Egyptian, Arab and Indian fleet at Chaul and Dabul respectively. The fleet was assembled with the support of Venice that feared for its eastern trade links. Lourenço de Almeida lost his life in this battle.

Afonso de Albuquerque arrived at Cochin at the close of 1508 and immediately made known the hitherto secret commission he had received from the King empowering him to supersede governor Almeida. Almeida refused to recognize Albuquerque's credentials and arrested him.

In 1509, Almeida became the first Portuguese to set sail in Bombay. Almeida, commanding a fleet of 23 ships, inflicted a decisive defeat on the joint fleet of Arabs, Egyptians and Indians in the naval Battle of Diu on February 3, 1509. The victory marks the beginning of Portuguese hegemony in the Indian Ocean, that was to last into the 17th century when it was ended by the Dutch and English. Albuquerque was released after three months' confinement, on the arrival of the grand-marshal of Portugal with a large fleet, in November 1509.

Almeida sailed for Portugal in December 1509 and reached Table Bay near the Cape of Good Hope, where the Garcia, Belém and Santa Cruz dropped anchor late February, 1510, to replenish water. After friendly trade with the Khoikhoi some of the crew visited their nearby village where a dispute ensued. Almeida allowed his captains Pedro and Jorge Barreto to return to the village on the morning of March 1, 1510. The village's cattle herd was raided with the loss of one man, while Almeida awaited his men some distance from the beach. As the flagship's master Diogo d'Unhos moved the landing boats to the watering point, the Portuguese were left without a retreat. The Khoikhoi sensed the opportunity for an attack, during which Almeida and 64 of his men perished, including 11 of his captains. Almeida's body was recovered the same afternoon and buried on the shorefront of the current Cape Town.

Portuguese India, 1946/1948, Francisco de Almeida

Portuguese India, 1956, Francisco de Almeida


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