Pedro Álvares Cabral

gigatos | May 31, 2022


Pedro Álvares Cabral (Belmonte, 1467 or 1468 – Santarém, c. 1520) was a Portuguese nobleman, military commander, navigator and explorer, credited as the discoverer of Brazil. He undertook significant exploration of the northeast coast of South America, claiming it for Portugal. Although details of Cabral”s life are sparse, it is known that he came from a noble family placed in the interior province and received a good formal education.

He was appointed to lead an expedition to India in 1500, following the route newly opened by Vasco da Gama, bypassing Africa. The goal of this venture was to return with valuable spices and establish trade relations in India – circumventing the monopoly on the spice trade, then in the hands of Arab, Turkish, and Italian traders. There, his fleet of 13 ships moved far from the African coast, perhaps intentionally, landing on what he initially thought was a large island he named Vera Cruz (True Cross) and to which Pero Vaz de Caminha refers. He explored the coastline and realized that the large land mass was probably a continent, then dispatched a ship to notify King Manuel I of the discovery of the land. Since the new territory was within the Portuguese hemisphere according to the Treaty of Tordesillas, he claimed it for the Portuguese Crown. He had landed in South America, and the lands he had claimed for the Kingdom of Portugal would later constitute Brazil. The fleet refueled and continued eastward, in order to resume the voyage to India.

On that same expedition a storm in the South Atlantic caused the loss of seven ships; the remaining six vessels eventually found themselves in the Mozambique Channel before proceeding to Calicut, India. Cabral was initially successful in negotiating spice trading rights, but Arab traders saw the Portuguese business as a threat to their monopoly and provoked a Muslim and Hindu attack on the Portuguese entrepôt. The Portuguese suffered several casualties and their facilities were destroyed. Cabral took revenge for the attack by sacking and burning the Arab fleet, and then bombarded the city in retaliation for his ruler”s inability to explain what had happened. From Calicut, the expedition headed for Cochin, another Indian city-state, where Cabral befriended its ruler and loaded his ships with coveted spices before returning to Europe. Despite the loss of life and ships, Cabral”s voyage was considered a success after his return to Portugal. The extraordinary profits from the sale of the spices bolstered the finances of the Portuguese Crown and helped lay the foundation for a Portuguese Empire that would stretch from the Americas to the Far East.

Cabral was later passed over when a new fleet was assembled to establish a more robust presence in India, possibly as a result of a disagreement with Manuel I. Having lost the king”s preference, he retired from public life, and there are few records of the latter part of his life. His accomplishments fell into oblivion for more than 300 years. A few decades after Brazil”s independence from Portugal in the 19th century, Cabral”s reputation began to be rehabilitated by Emperor Pedro II of Brazil. Since then, historians have debated whether Cabral was the discoverer of Brazil and whether the discovery was accidental or intentional. The first doubt was resolved by the observation that the few superficial encounters made by explorers before him were barely noticed and contributed nothing to the future development and history of the land that would become Brazil, the only nation in the Americas where Portuguese is the official language. As to the second question, no definitive consensus has been formed and the hypothesis of intentional discovery lacks solid evidence. Nevertheless, although his prestige was overshadowed by the fame of other explorers of the time, Cabral is today considered one of the most important personalities of the Age of Discovery.

Early Years

Born in Belmonte and raised as a member of the Portuguese nobility, Cabral was sent to the court of King Afonso V in 1479, when he was about 12 years old. He was educated in humanities and trained to fight and take up arms. He was about 17 years old on June 30, 1484, when he was made a moço fidalgo (a minor title usually given to young noblemen) by King João II.

Records of his actions before 1500 are extremely incomplete, but Cabral may have toured North Africa, as his ancestors had done and was commonly done by other young noblemen of his time. King Manuel I, who had ascended to the throne two years earlier, granted him an annual grant of 30,000 reals on April 12, 1497. At the same time, he received the title of nobleman of the King”s Council and was made a Knight of the Order of Christ. There is no image or detailed physical description of Cabral contemporary to his time. It is known that he was strong and equaled his father in height (1.90 meters). Cabral”s character has been described as cultured, courteous, generous, tolerant of enemies, and very concerned with the respect he felt his nobility and position demanded.

Discovery of Brazil

On February 15, 1500, Cabral was appointed Captain Major of an expedition to India. It was the custom of the time for the Portuguese Crown to appoint noblemen to command naval and military expeditions, regardless of their experience or professional competence. This was the case for the captains of the ships commanded by Cabral – most were noblemen like himself. This practice was risky, since authority could fall into the hands of highly incompetent and incapable people as it could also fall into the hands of talented leaders such as Afonso de Albuquerque or João de Castro.

Few details regarding the criteria used by the Portuguese government to choose Cabral as head of the expedition to India have survived the passage of time. In the royal decree that appointed him captain-major, the reasons given are “merits and services”. Nothing else is known about these qualifications. According to historian William Greenlee, King Manuel I “undoubtedly knew him well at court.” This, along with “the role of the Cabral family, their unquestioning loyalty to the Crown, Cabral”s personal appearance, and the ability he had demonstrated at court and in council were important factors.” Also in his favor may have been the influence of two of his brothers, who were on the king”s council. Given the level of political intrigue present at court, Cabral may have been part of a faction that favored his appointment. Historian Malyn Newitt subscribes to the idea of some kind of hidden maneuvering, saying that Cabral”s choice “was a deliberate attempt to balance the interests of rival factions of the noble families, for it appears that he had no other qualities for the recommendation and no experience in commanding great expeditions.”

Cabral became the military head of the expedition, while more experienced navigators were assigned to the expedition to assist him in naval matters. The most important of these were Bartolomeu Dias, Diogo Dias and Nicolau Coelho. These navigators would command, together with the other captains, 13 ships. Of this contingent, 700 were soldiers, though most were common commoners who had no previous combat training or experience.

The fleet had two divisions. The first was composed of nine ships and two caravels and headed toward Calicut, India, with the objective of establishing trade relations and a trading post. The second division, consisting of one ship and one caravel, sailed from the port of Sofala, in present-day Mozambique. As a reward for leading the fleet, Cabral was entitled to 10 thousand cruzados (old Portuguese currency equivalent to approximately 35 kg of gold) and to buy 30 tons of pepper, at his own expense, to transport back to Europe. The pepper could then be resold to the Portuguese Crown, tax free. He was also allowed to import 10 boxes of any other type of spice, duty free. Although the voyage was extremely dangerous, Cabral had the prospect of becoming a very rich man if he returned safely to Portugal with the shipment. Spices were rare in Europe at the time and in high demand.

An earlier fleet had been the first to reach India by circumventing Africa. This expedition was led by Vasco da Gama and returned to Portugal in 1499. For decades Portugal had sought an alternative route to the East that excluded the Mediterranean Sea, then under control of the Italian maritime republics and the Ottoman Empire. Portugal”s expansionism would lead first to a route to India, and later to colonization all over the world. The desire to spread Catholic Christianity in pagan lands was another factor that motivated exploration. There was also a long tradition of warfare against the Muslims, derived from the fight against the Moors during Portuguese nation-building. The struggle expanded first to North Africa and eventually to the Indian subcontinent. An additional ambition motivating the explorers was the search for the mythical Preste João – a powerful Christian king with whom an alliance could be forged against Islam. Finally, the Portuguese Crown sought a share in the lucrative slave and gold trade in West Africa and in the spice trade from India.

The fleet, under the command of Cabral, then 32-33 years old, departed Lisbon on March 9, 1500 at noon. The previous day, the crew had received a public farewell that included a mass and celebrations attended by the king, the court, and a huge crowd. On the morning of March 14, the fleet passed Gran Canaria, the largest of the Canary Islands. It then set sail for Cape Verde, a Portuguese colony on the west coast of Africa, which was reached on March 22. The next day, a 150-man ship, commanded by Vasco de Ataíde, disappeared without trace. The fleet crossed the Equator on April 9 and sailed westward as far away from the African continent as possible, using a navigation technique known as the sea turn. The sailors spotted seaweed on April 21, which led them to believe they were close to the coast. They were proven right the afternoon of the next day, Wednesday, April 22, 1500, when the fleet anchored near what Cabral christened Mount Pascoal (since that was Easter week). The mount is located on what is now the northeastern coast of Brazil.

The Portuguese detected the presence of inhabitants on the coast, and the captains of all ships gathered on board Cabral”s ship on April 23. Cabral sent Nicolau Coelho, a captain who had traveled with Vasco da Gama to India, to disembark and establish contact. He set foot on land and exchanged gifts with the natives. After Coelho returned, Cabral ordered the fleet to head north, where, after a 65 km voyage, it anchored on April 24 at the place the Captain-Major called Porto Seguro. The place was a natural harbor, and Afonso Lopes (pilot of the main ship) brought two Indians on board to talk to Cabral.

Just as in the first contact, the encounter was friendly and Cabral offered the natives gifts. The inhabitants were hunter-gatherers from the stone age, whom Europeans would label generically as “Indians”. The men gathered food by hunting and fishing, while the women engaged in small-scale agriculture. They were divided into numerous rival tribes. The tribe that Cabral encountered was the Tupiniquim. Some of them were nomadic and others were sedentary – having knowledge of fire, but not of metals. A few tribes practiced cannibalism. On April 26 (Easter Sunday), as more and more curious natives appeared, Cabral ordered his men to build an altar on land, where a Catholic mass was celebrated by Henrique de Coimbra – the first to be celebrated on the soil of what would later become Brazil.

The Indians were offered wine, but did not like it. Little did the Portuguese know that they were dealing with a people who had a vast knowledge of fermented alcoholic beverages, obtaining them from roots, tubers, barks, seeds and fruits, totaling more than eighty types.

The next few days were spent storing water, food, wood and other supplies. The Portuguese also built a huge wooden cross – perhaps seven meters high. Cabral found that the new land was east of the demarcation line between Portugal and Spain that had been established in the Treaty of Tordesillas. The territory was therefore within the hemisphere assigned to Portugal. To solemnize Portugal”s claim to those lands, a wooden cross was erected and a second mass was celebrated on May 1. In honor of the cross, Cabral named the newly discovered land Ilha de Vera Cruz. The next day, a supply ship under the command of Gaspar de Lemos (there is a conflict between sources about who was sent), returned to Portugal to inform the king of the discovery, via the letter written by Pero Vaz de Caminha.

Trip to India

The fleet resumed its journey on May 2, 1500, sailing along the east coast of South America. In doing so, Cabral convinced himself that he had found an entire continent, rather than an island. Around May 5, the fleet turned eastward toward Africa. of May, the ships encountered a storm in the South Atlantic high pressure zone, resulting in the loss of four ships. The exact location of the disaster is unknown – speculation ranges from near the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of the African continent to a location “within sight of the South American coast.” Three ships and the caravel commanded by Bartolomeu Dias – the first European to round the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 – sank, losing 380 men.

The remaining ships, hampered by bad weather and with their equipment damaged, separated. One of the ships that had broken up, commanded by Diogo Dias, drifted alone ahead, while the other six managed to regroup. They came together in two formations of three ships each, and Cabral”s group sailed east, past the Cape of Good Hope. Having determined their position and sighted land, they turned north and landed somewhere in the archipelago of the First and Second Islands, off East Africa and north of Sofala. The main fleet remained near Sofala for ten days while it was repaired. The expedition then headed north, reaching Quíloa on May 26, where Cabral made an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate a trade treaty with the local king.

From Quíloa, the fleet sailed to Melinde, where it landed on August 2. Cabral met with the local king, with whom he established friendly relations and exchanged gifts. Also in Melinde, pilots were recruited for the last leg of the voyage to India. Before their final destination, they disembarked at Angediva, an island where the ships on their way to Calicut were supplied. There, the ships were pulled ashore, caulked and painted. Final preparations were made for the meeting with the ruler of Calicut.

The fleet departed from Angediva and arrived in Calicut on September 13. Cabral succeeded in negotiations with the Samorim (title given to the ruler of Calicut) and obtained permission to set up a trading post and warehouse in the city-state. In the hope of further improving relations, Cabral dispatched his men on several military missions at the request of the Samorim. of December, the fiefdom came under surprise attack by some 300 (according to other accounts, perhaps as many as thousands) Muslim Arabs and Hindu Indians. Despite a desperate defense by the besteiros, more than 50 Portuguese were killed. The remaining defenders retreated to their ships, some swimming. Thinking that the attack was the result of unauthorized incitement by envious Arab traders, Cabral waited 24 hours to get an explanation from the ruler of Calicut, but no apology was forthcoming.

The Portuguese were outraged by the attack on the trading post and the deaths of their comrades and attacked 10 Arab merchant ships anchored in the port. They killed about 600 crew members and confiscated the cargo before setting the ships on fire. Cabral also ordered his ships to bombard Calicut for a full day in retaliation for the violation of the agreement. The massacre was attributed, in part, to Portuguese animosity toward Muslims, resulting from centuries of conflict with the Moors in the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa. In addition, the Portuguese were determined to dominate the spice trade and had no intention of allowing competition to flourish. The Arabs also had no interest in allowing the Portuguese to break their monopoly on spices. The Portuguese had begun by insisting that they be given preferential treatment in all aspects of trade. Manuel I”s letter delivered by Cabral to the ruler of Calicut – translated by the latter”s Arab interpreters – called for the exclusion of Arab traders. The Muslim merchants, believing they were about to lose their trading opportunities and livelihood, would have tried to turn the Hindu ruler against the Portuguese. Portuguese and Arabs were very suspicious of each other, in every action.

For historian William Greenlee, the Portuguese realized that “they were few in number and that those who would come to India in future fleets would also always be outnumbered; so this treachery should be punished so decisively that the Portuguese would be feared and respected in the future. It was their superior artillery that would enable them to accomplish this goal.” Thus, the Portuguese set a precedent for the behavior of European explorers in Asia during the following centuries.

Return to Portugal

Notices in the accounts of Vasco da Gama”s voyage to India led King Manuel I to inform Cabral of another port, south of Calicut, where trade relations could also be established. The city in question was Cochin, where the fleet landed on December 24. Cochin was nominally a vassal territory of Calicut, as was also dominated by other Indian city-states. The ruler of Cochin was eager to gain independence for the city, and the Portuguese were willing to exploit Indian disunity – as the British would also do 300 years later. The tactic would eventually secure Portuguese hegemony over the region. Cabral forged an alliance with the ruler of Cochin, and with leaders of other city-states, and was able to establish a trading post. Finally, laden with precious spices, the fleet headed to Cananor to trade once more before setting sail on its return voyage to Portugal on January 16, 1501.

The expedition headed for the east coast of Africa. One of the ships ran aground on a sandbank and began to sink. As there was no room in the other ships, the cargo was abandoned and Cabral ordered the ship to be set on fire. The fleet then proceeded to the Island of Mozambique (northeast of Sofala) to provide itself with supplies so that the ships would be ready for the rough passage around the Cape of Good Hope. A caravel was sent to Sofala – another of the expedition”s objectives. A second caravel, considered the fastest ship in the fleet and captained by Nicolau Coelho, was sent ahead of the others to give the king advance notice of the successful journey. A third ship, commanded by Pedro de Ataíde, separated from the fleet after leaving Mozambique.

On May 22, the fleet – now reduced to only two ships – passed the Cape of Good Hope. They arrived in Bezeguiche (now the city of Dakar, located near Cape Verde), on June 2. There, they found not only Nicolau Coelho”s caravel, but also the ship commanded by Diogo Dias – which had been lost for over a year after the disaster in the South Atlantic. The ship had been through several adventures and was in very poor condition, with only seven sick and malnourished men on board – one of whom was so weak that he died of happiness at seeing his companions again. Another Portuguese fleet was also found anchored in Bezeguiche. After King Manuel I was informed of the discovery of Brazil, he sent a smaller fleet to explore it. One of its navigators was Américo Vespúcio (an Italian explorer who would name America after him), who told Cabral details of his exploration, confirming to him that he had indeed landed on an entire continent and not just an island.

Last Years

After Cabral”s return, King Manuel I began to plan another fleet to make the voyage to India and to avenge the Portuguese losses in Calicut. Cabral was chosen to command this “Fleet of Vengeance”, as it was called. For eight months Cabral made all the preparations for the voyage, but for reasons that remain uncertain, he was removed from command. Apparently, it had been proposed to give another navigator, Vicente Sodré, independent command over part of the fleet – and Cabral strongly opposed this. It is not known whether he was dismissed or asked to be released from his post, in any case, when the fleet departed in March 1502, its commander was Vasco da Gama, a maternal nephew of Vicente Sodré, and not Cabral. It is known, however, that hostility arose between the factions supporting Vasco da Gama and Cabral. At some point, Cabral left the court permanently. The king was greatly angered by the quarrel, to the point that simply mentioning the matter in his presence could result in banishment from court, as occurred with one of Vasco da Gama”s supporters.

Despite the loss of the king”s favors, Cabral arranged an advantageous marriage in 1503 with D. Isabel de Castro, a wealthy noblewoman and descendant of King Fernando I. Her mother was the sister of Afonso de Albuquerque, one of Portugal”s greatest military leaders during the Age of Discovery. The couple had at least four children: two boys (Fernão Álvares Cabral and António Cabral) and two girls (Catarina de Castro and Guiomar de Castro). They would also have had two other daughters, named Isabel and Leonor, according to other sources, which also say that Guiomar, Isabel and Leonor were admitted into religious orders. Firstborn Ferdinand would have been the only one of Cabral”s sons to give him heirs, since Antonio died in 1521 without marrying. Afonso de Albuquerque tried to intercede in Cabral”s favor and, on December 2, 1514, asked Manuel I to pardon him and allow his return to court, but was unsuccessful.

Suffering from recurring fever and a tremor (possibly the result of malaria) since his voyage, Cabral retired to Santarem in 1509. He spent his last years there. Only sparse information is available about his activities during that time. According to a royal letter dated December 17, 1509, Cabral became a party to a dispute over a land transaction involving part of the property that belonged to him. Another letter from the same year reports that he was to receive certain privileges for undisclosed military service. In 1518, or perhaps earlier, he was elevated from nobleman to knighthood in the King”s Council, and was entitled to a monthly allowance of 2,437 reals. This was in addition to the annual pension granted to him in 1497, which was still being paid. Cabral died of unspecified causes, probably in 1520, and was buried inside the Chapel of São João Evangelista in the Church of the Old Convent of Graça in Santarem.

Posthumous rehabilitation

The first permanent Portuguese settlement in the land that would become Brazil was São Vicente, established in 1532 by Martim Afonso de Sousa. As the years passed, the Portuguese slowly expanded the borders of their colony westward, conquering the lands of both Amerindians and Spaniards. Brazil had secured most of its current borders by 1750, and was considered by Portugal to be the most important part of its vast maritime empire. On September 7, 1822, the heir to King João VI, Prince Pedro, secured Brazil”s independence from Portugal and became its first emperor.

Cabral”s discoveries, and even the place where he was buried, had been forgotten for almost 300 years since his expedition. This situation began to change in the early 1840s, when Emperor Pedro II, successor and son of Pedro I, sponsored research and publications on Cabral”s life and expedition through the Brazilian Historical and Geographical Institute. This was part of the Emperor”s ambitious plan to encourage and reinforce a sense of nationalism in Brazil”s diverse society – giving citizens a common identity and history as residents of the only Portuguese-speaking country in the Americas. The beginning of the resurgence of interest in Cabral had resulted from the discovery of his tomb by the Brazilian historian Francisco Adolfo de Varnhagen (later named Viscount of Porto Seguro) in 1839. The completely neglected state in which Cabral”s tomb was found almost provoked a diplomatic crisis between Brazil and Portugal – the latter was then ruled by Pedro II”s older sister, Maria II.

In 1871, the Brazilian emperor – then on an official visit to Europe – visited Cabral”s tomb and proposed an exhumation for scientific purposes, which took place in 1882. In a second exhumation, in 1896, the removal of an urn containing soil and bone fragments was authorized. Although his remains are still in Portugal, the urn was eventually brought to the Old Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro on December 30, 1903. Since then, Cabral has become a national hero of Brazil. In Portugal, however, authors claim that his prestige is overshadowed by Vasco da Gama”s fame. For historian William Greenlee, Cabral”s voyage is important “not only because of its position in the history of geography, but because of its influence on the history and economy of the time.” While this author acknowledges that few voyages “have been of greater importance to posterity,” he also says that “few were less appreciated in their time.” However, historian James McClymont stated that “Cabral”s position in the history of Portuguese conquests and discoveries is impregnable despite the supremacy of greater or more fortunate men. According to him, Cabral “will always be remembered in history as the principal, if not the first, discoverer of Brazil.

Hypothesis of intentional discovery

A controversy that has occupied scholars for more than a century is whether Cabral”s discovery was by chance or intentional. In the latter case, it would mean that the Portuguese had at least some inkling that there was a land to the west. The question was first raised by Emperor Pedro II in 1854 during a session of the Brazilian Historical and Geographical Institute when he asked researchers whether the discovery might have been intentional.

Until the 1854 conference, the widespread assumption was that the discovery had been an accident. Early works on the subject defended this view, such as História do Descobrimento e Conquista da Índia (published in 1541) by Fernão Lopes de Castanheda, Décadas da Ásia (1552) by João de Barros, Crônicas do Felicíssimo Rei D. Manuel (1558) by Damião de Góis, Lendas da Índia (1561) by Gaspar Correia, História do Brasil (1627) by Friar Vicente do Salvador and História da América Portuguesa (1730) by Sebastião da Rocha Pita.

The first work to defend the idea of intentional discovery was published in 1854 by Joaquim Noberto de Sousa e Silva, after D. Pedro II started the debate. Since then, several scholars have supported the idea, such as Francisco Adolfo de Varnhagen, Pedro Calmon, and Mário Barata. For historian Hélio Vianna, “although there are signs of the intentionality” of Cabral”s discovery, “based mainly on previous knowledge or suspicions of the existence of lands on the edge of the South Atlantic,” there is no irrefutable evidence to prove it. This opinion is also shared by historian Thomas Skidmore. The debate about whether the discovery was deliberate or not is considered “irrelevant” by historian Charles R. Boxer. For historian Anthony Smith, the conflicting claims “will probably never be resolved.”


There is concrete evidence that two Spaniards, Vicente Yáñez Pinzón and Diego de Lepe, traveled along the northern coast of Brazil between January and March 1500. Pinzón went from Cabo de Santo Agostinho to the mouth of the Amazon River. There, he encountered another Spanish expedition, led by Lepe, which would reach the Oiapoque River in March. The reason Cabral is considered the discoverer of Brazil, rather than Pinzón, is due to the fact that the Spanish navigator”s voyage was brief and had, according to Luso-Brazilian historians, no lasting impact. Francisco Adolfo de Varnhagen, Mário Barata agree that the Spanish expeditions did nothing to influence the development of what would become the only Portuguese-speaking nation in the Americas – with a unique history, culture and society, differentiating it from the Hispanic-American societies that dominate the rest of the continent.

Although it is notorious that the Portuguese did not know of the existence of Brazil before Pedro Álvares Cabral”s arrival – since Cabral”s squadron thought to have discovered an island -, there is a theory based on an interpretation of the book Esmeraldo de Situ Orbis (1505) that points Duarte Pacheco Pereira as the possible discoverer of Brazil, since he supposedly commanded a secret expedition that would have traveled along the Brazilian coast and the Caribbean Sea at the end of the 15th century. The trip aimed to identify the territories that belonged to Portugal or Castile according to the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494 – Pacheco Pereira participated in the treaty negotiations. The possible existence of a policy of secrecy of the Portuguese monarchs was written about in the first half of the 20th century by historian Damião Peres, but it does not hold up, since it was common practice, in the absence of a treaty, to claim sovereignty of a land by publicizing its discovery.

Cabral is one of Brazil”s national heroes, being honored annually on April 22. However, the date is not a national holiday. On April 22, 2000, a series of events promoted by the Brazilian government marked the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Brazil, which led to strong protests from the indigenous peoples and the request for the resignation of the then president of the National Indian Foundation, Carlos Frederico Marés de Souza Filho.

In 1900, as part of the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of Brazil, a monument by Rodolfo Bernardelli in honor of Cabral was inaugurated at the Glória square in Rio de Janeiro. Other Brazilian cities have also honored the explorer by naming public roads after him – the most notable of these is Avenida Álvares Cabral in Belo Horizonte. There are also several public schools and other private establishments that bear the name of Pedro Álvares Cabral.

In Lisbon, a monument in honor of Cabral was erected on the avenue named after the explorer in the parish of Santa Isabel. The statue, inaugurated in 1940, is a replica of Bernardelli”s statue and was a gift from the Vargas government to the Portuguese people. Also inaugurated in 1940 (and rebuilt in 1960), the Padrão dos Descobrimentos in Belém, Lisbon, depicts Pedro Álvares Cabral among the notable figures of the Age of Discovery. Likewise, his hometown honored him with a statue, as did the city where he is buried.

The former Brazilian banknote of 1 000 cruzeiros novos (1967-1970), had the effigy of Pedro Álvares Cabral, as well as the commemorative banknote of dez reais (2000) and the one centavo coin, which currently has limited circulation. In Portugal, the old 100 escudos banknote from the 1950s and the 1,000 escudos banknote from 1996 also had the portrait of Álvares Cabral, the first one accompanied by an image representing the discovery of Brazil.



Little is known for sure about the life of Pedro Alvares Cabral before or after the voyage that took him to Brazil. He is believed to have been born in 1467 or 1468 – the earlier year is more likely – in Belmonte, about 30 km away from the present-day city of Covilhã in central Portugal.

He was baptized as Pedro Álvares de Gouveia, and only years later, supposedly after the death of his older brother in 1503, he began to use his father”s surname.

He was one of five sons and six daughters of:

According to family tradition, the Cabrals were descendants of Carano, the legendary first king of Macedonia. Carano was, in turn, a supposed seventh-generation descendant of the Greek demigod Hercules. Myths aside, historian James McClymont believes that another family tale may hold clues to the true origin of the Cabral family. According to this tradition, the Cabrals derive from a Castilian clan called Cabreiras that possessed a similar coat of arms. The Cabral family gained prominence during the 14th century. Álvaro Gil Cabral (Cabral”s great-great-grandfather and a frontier military commander), was one of the few Portuguese nobles to remain loyal to King João I during the war against the king of Castile. As a reward, D. João I presented Álvaro Gil with the ownership of the hereditary fief of Belmonte.

His family coat of arms was elaborately designed with two purple goats on a silver field. Purple represents allegiance and the goats derive from the family name. However, only his older brother had the right to use the family coat of arms.


  1. Pedro Álvares Cabral
  2. Pedro Álvares Cabral
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