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While in the service of Spain, the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan led the first European voyage of discovery to circumnavigate the globe.
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Ferdinand Magellan was born in Portugal circa 1480. As a boy, he studied mapmaking and navigation. By his mid-20s, he was sailing in large fleets and was committed in combat. In 1519, with the support of King Charles V of Spain, Magellan set out to circumnavigate the globe. He assembled a fleet of ships and, despite huge setbacks, his own death included, proved that the world was round.
Ferdinand Magellan was born in Portugal, either in the city of Porto or in Sabrosa, circa 1480. His parents were members of the Portuguese nobility, so after their deaths, when he was just 10 years old, Magellan became a page for the queen. Magellan studied at Queen Leonora's School of Pages in Lisbon and spent his days poring over texts on cartography, astronomy, and celestial navigation—subjects that would serve him well in his later pursuits.
In his mid-20s, Magellan joined a Portuguese fleet that was sailing to East Africa. He soon found himself at the Battle of Diu, in which the Portuguese destroyed Egyptian ships in the Arabian Sea. He also explored Malacca, located in present-day Malaysia, and participated in the conquest of Malacca's port. It is possible that he sailed as far as the Moluccas, islands in Indonesia, then called the Spice Islands. The Moluccas were the original source of some of the world's most valuable spices, including cloves and nutmeg. The conquest of spice-rich countries was, as a result, a source of much European competition.
While serving in Morocco, Magellan was wounded, and walked the remainder of his life with a limp. After his injury, he was falsely accused of trading illegally with the Moors, and despite all of his service to Portugal, and his many pleas to the king, any further offers of employment were withheld him.
In 1517, Magellan moved to Seville, Spain, to offer his skills to the Spanish court. In the three years following his departure from Portugal, he had religiously studied all of the most recent navigation charts. He had also benefited from the mistakes and discoveries of several other explorers—Christopher Columbus's "discovery" of North America and Vasco Núñez de Balboa's march across the Panamanian isthmus to the Pacific Ocean were just two of the many events that inspired Magellan's bold quest for an all-water passage to farther-flung, spice-rich lands.
Magellan devised a plan for circumnavigating the globe, and King Charles V of Spain gave it his blessing. On September 20, 1519, he set out with a fleet of five ships, beautifully named but hardly adequate to sail the distances he proposed. The fleet sailed first to Brazil and then down the coast of South America to Patagonia. There, an attempted mutiny took place, and one of the ships was wrecked. Despite the setback, the crew continued on with the four remaining vessels.
By October 1520, Magellan and his men had entered what is now called the Strait of Magellan. It took them over a month to pass through the strait, during which time the master of one of the ships deserted and sailed back home.
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