While his idea was unorthodox, Magellan succeeded in winning over Cardinal Fonseca, bishop of Burgos, a former opponent of Columbus’s theories. At first, the Council was divided, but after Fonseca interceded with Charles, Magellan’s proposal won the support of the 19-year-old king. 

On 22 March 1518, Charles authorised Magellan to find the Pacific route to the Moluccas, empowered him to annex new lands discovered and instructed him to map the boundaries of Spain’s sphere of sovereignty. 

A detailed agreement between the King and Magellan survives. The King would provide Magellan with five ships, undertook to allow no other person to embark on the same course for ten years after Magellan’s departure, and granted Magellan part of the wealth that might be gained as a result of the expedition. The king drew up instructions covering every contingency. Magellan became an honorary member of the Spanish nobility invested with the Order of Santiago. 

Charles’ enthusiasm for Magellan did not spread to his subjects, who suspected Magellan’s motives. 

The Portuguese worked to hinder his preparations, afraid that he would undermine their empire. 

The Spanish fitted out five ships for the venture, all of them ‘very old and patched up’ according to the Portuguese envoy in Seville. For more than a year Magellan oversaw repairs to the ships and the laying in of provisions. 

By August 1519, the fleet was ready to leave Seville. Magellan commanded the expedition aboard the Trinidad (110 tons). The others were the Santo Antonio (120 tons) the Concepción (90 tons) under Gaspar de Quesada, and the Victoria (85 tons) under Luis de Mendoza, treasurer of the fleet. Joao Serrao, a Portuguese who may have been Francisco Serrao’s brother, commanded the Santiago, the smallest vessel. 

Most of the five ships were in poor condition, crewed by a motley 237-man collection drawn from Spain, the Basque country, Genoa, Portugal, Sicily, French, Flanders, Germany and Greece, It also includes Malays, Neapolitans, Corfiotes, Africans and an Englishman. 

German traders who had also sent representatives on da Gama’s voyage to India provided trade goods, which included twenty thousand small brass bells. To navigate, they had parchment charts, compasses, quadrants, astrolabes, and hourglasses. 

Across the Atlantic

© Ian Hughes 2017