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Alfonso de Albuquerque: History Figure of the Month (July 2012)

A portrait of Alfonso de Albuquerque
So after going through the nominations in the previous History Figure post, the choice for this month is the Portuguese military genius, Alfonso de Albuqueque. Be sure to nominate a history figure for August 2012 in the comment section below!

Alfonso de Albuquerque (b.1453-1515) was a Portuguese admiral, and a strategy genius, credited with founding the Portuguese colonial empire in the Indian Ocean, with conquests in the Persian Gulf (in fact, it was a later-commanding colleague of Alfonso who conquered Bahrain from the Arabs) , India, the Red Sea and the Malay peninsula.

He also planned and built a series of strategically-placed forts around the Indian Ocean, to prevent access to the ocean from the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and the Pacific Ocean.

Early conquests: India, the Omani coast and the Persian Gulf

Alfonso's first oversea trip in the service of the Portuguese crown was in 1503, when he and his cousin led an armada to the Indian west coast, defeating the native forces in Calicut (present-day Kozhikode) and establishing a puppet kingdom at Cohin (present-day Kochi). It was during this mission that Alfonso, with the permission of the Portuguese king, built a fort at Cohin (the first of many). This was the basis of the Portuguese colonial empire.
Fort of Our Lady of the Conception (One of the last Portuguese relics in the Gulf)

In 1506, he was ordered to command a fleet of five vessels and to conquer the strategic island of Socotra, located at the mouth of the Red Sea which connects to the Indian Ocean. The idea was that a fortress would be constructed on the island and that trading from the Red Sea would cease. From Socotra, and with an army of 500 men and 7 ships, Alfonso launched an offensive along the Omani coast towards the commercial hub of the Persian Gulf, the island of Hormuz (after which the strait is named).

In July 1507, the cities of Curiati (present-day Muscat), Kalhat and Sohar fell to the Portuguese. By September, Alfonso's army reached Hormuz island and despite being outnumbered (400 men to an estimated 20,000), he managed to capture the city and establish it as a tributary state to the Portuguese King. He immediately proceeded to building a fort, called the ''Fort of Our Lady of the Conception'', hoping to control the sea-trade of Europe and the Ottoman empire via the Gulf. A mutiny of some of his officers and crewmen occurred in the next few months. Faced with low supplies and a two-ship army, he abandoned Hormuz in January 1508 and left for Socotra.

India, Malacca and the Red Sea:

When the Portuguese governor (or viceroy) of India heard of Alfonso's conquests when he arrived, he disavowed his conquests and refused to yield his power to him (the King had earlier appointed Alfonso as the new Portuguese governor since the current one's term was to end), it took an official letter from the King to convince the viceroy that Alfonso was his successor.

Alfonso, now the effective governor of Portuguese India, set about expanding the territory by conquering Goa, the most important trading post on the Malabar coast. He used political treachery and force to accomplish his ends, and wherever possible, employed a divide and conquer strategy against the Deccan sultanates and their Arab allies. Goa was set to be the primary trading port of Portuguese India.
Map of Portuguese possessions.

In 1511, Alfonso, with an army of 1,100 men and 18 ships, embarked on a voyage to Malacca, then the most important and richest trading post in the Spice Islands. He conquered the region and sacked the city, building another fortress to block trade from the Pacific ocean through the Strait of Malacca. Fresh from his victories in Malacca, he put down a rebellion in Goa, and built more forts in the region.

Portugal now controlled the principal strategic points from the east coast of Africa to Malacca, with the exception of the Red Sea. A system of licenses (called cartazas) required all ships to prove that they had paid customs duties at Malacca, Goa, or Hormuz. An unlicensed ship, particularly if it belonged to Moslems, was subjected to seizure and sinking. Albuquerque's policies thus had made the Portuguese the predominant, although not the only, commercial force in the East until the 17th century

In 1513, Alfonso prepared another army of 1,400 men to capture the city of Aden (in Yemen), which offered another strategic location near the Red Sea. After a fierce two-day battle in Aden, Alfonso's army was expelled from the city. Alfonso decided to sail up the Red Sea and capture the coastal town of Jeddah, but the winds were unfavourable and he had to withdraw.

Hormuz again and Death:

Portuguese map of the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf
Alfonso built close relations with the Safavid Shah Ismail I, with the two being united in their rivalry against the Mamluks. In March1515, the Shah had offered Alfonso rich rewards if he had subdued and conquered Hormuz from a king under the influence of a renegade vizier. Alfonso had the vizier assassinated and Hormuz became a client state of the Portuguese Empire. Hormuz would not be Persian territory for another century until a combined Anglo-Persian force expelled the Portuguese in 1622.

It was in 1521, that a fellow colleague of Alfonso, António Correia, invaded Bahrain after the local ruler refused to pay tribute (in pearls) to the Portuguese. A battle was fought in present-day Karbabad between the forces. The Portuguese conquered the island and built another fort, the Portuguese fort. Their control would last for 80 more years.

For someone with an illustrious career, his life ended on a bitter note. By this time his political enemies in Portugal had planned his demise. They convinced the king of Portugal to relieve him of his duties. Alfonso was shocked and dismayed by this treacherous cowardice, and was too old to recover from this blow. He voiced his bitterness: "I am in ill favor with the king for love of men, and with men for love of the king." He died at sea on December 16, 1515, after writing a long letter assuring the king of his loyalty


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