Early life and appointment to command the 2nd Armada

Although details of Cabral's early life are unclear, and few records of his later life have survived, he is known to have come from a minor noble family that rose to some prominence in the 14th century.

Cabral's great-great-grandfather remained loyal to João I after the king of Castile invaded Portugal to remove him from the throne and received the hereditary fiefdom of Belmonte after the decisive Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385. 

Pedro Álvares Cabral was born there around 1467, one of eleven children (five boys and six girls) in the family  of Fernão Álvares Cabral and Isabel Gouveia

As a page at the court of Afonso V from around 1479, Cabral received a good education. He was named moço fidalgo (young nobleman) by João II on 30 June 1484. He may have served in North Africa before Manuel I upgraded his ranking to fidalgo (nobleman) with a knighthood in the Order of Christ and an allowance of 30,000 reais a year on 12 April 1497.

Six months after Vasco da Gama returned from India, Cabral was appointed Capitão-mor (Captain-Major, or commander-in-chief) of Portugal's Second India Armada on 15 February 1500. There is nothing in the official records to explain why Cabral received the appointment but he seems to have had two brothers on the King's Council and may have been a member of an influential faction at the royal court.

Cabral was the expedition's military chief, with the practical maritime side of things delegated to experienced navigators, including Bartolomeu Dias, Diogo Dias and Nicolau Coelho.

Cabral's fleet would carry fifteen hundred men, in a roughly half-and-half mixture of soldiers and sailors, and travel in two divisions. Nine naus (carracks) and two caravels, were bound for Calicut to establish a factory there, while one nau and a caravel would stop off at Sofala to create a Portuguese presence there.

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© Ian Hughes 2017