Miguel Corte Real Biography

Explorer
Miguel Corte Real was a 16th century Portuguese explorer who partook in sailing expeditions to the North Atlantic.

Synopsis

Miguel Corte Real was born in the mid-15th century in the kingdom of Portugal. His younger brother, Gaspar, became an explorer, and is believed to have reached Greenland and Newfoundland in the early 1500s. Once Gaspar went missing, Miguel went in search of his sibling, only to end up missing himself. The boulder named Dighton Rock offers clues to Miguel's final whereabouts, according to some scholars.

Background

Miguel Corte Real, born in the mid-15th century in Portugal or a related territory, was the son of João Vaz Corte Real, who governed portions of the Azores cluster of islands. Miguel’s younger brother, Gaspar, went on to become an explorer for the Portuguese crown.

Sailing to the North Atlantic

With an eye on cementing Portugal’s imperialistic ambitions within New World territories, King Manoel sent forth sailing expeditions to the North Atlantic region at the turn of the 16th century. Gaspar Corte Real was among this bunch, and Miguel was an investor in Gaspar’s initial expedition. Upon reaching the North Atlantic, the younger Corte Real initially sighted either Greenland or Newfoundland in 1500, though he was unable to come ashore for reasons not known.

Gaspar sailed back to Portugal, only to return to the North Atlantic in 1501 with three sailing vessels. Due to frozen water, however, he couldn’t reach the previous location he’d sighted. Instead, the vessels made their way to what is believed to be the eastern region of Newfoundland. During this journey, Gaspar enslaved a number of native peoples and had them brought back to Portugal. It has also been stated that Miguel accompanied Gaspar on this expedition, though it is believed he commandeered one of the ships for non-exploratory purposes.

Two of the sailing vessels from the 1501 expedition returned to Lisbon, Portugal, one with Miguel, but the vessel on which Gaspar travelled was lost and never heard from again. By May 1502, Miguel had organized three ships to search for his brother, with King Manoel promising the elder Corte Real dominion of any new land he came upon. The three ships split up at one point, agreeing to rendezvous at a specific place and time; two of the ships made the rendezvous, while the vessel containing Miguel was never heard from again. A third Corte Real brother, Vasco Añes, wished to send forth yet another expedition to locate his siblings, but the king forbade the trip.

Though the Corte Real expeditions claimed Greenland and Newfoundland territories for the crown of Portugal, contributing to a Portuguese presence on maps of the time, the region is believed to have been explored by Norse seafarers in prior centuries.

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