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About Madeira : History Last Updated: Jun 28, 2008 - 12:29:23 AM

The conflicting reports on the discovery of Madeira: An Introduction
By Jorge Barbosa
May 13, 2007 - 4:53:21 PM

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So with all the verifiable and confirmed evidence of the islands being known of prior to the Portuguese claim why the conflicting dates of discovery?

During the time of the voyages of discovery initiated in the early fifteenth century much dispute was to be had as to whom the new lands and islands were to belong to. Portuguese and Castilian sailors under the aegis of their respective crowns sought to grow their kingdoms by the right of first discovery. It was convenient, then, for the Portuguese and Castilians to simply ignore any previous account of discovery of any new lands and lay claim to first discovery when these claims were “published*” or pronounced under the socio-economic system of the time - which was governed strongly by ties to the catholic church – the church which in turn was ultimately the final authority for claims of title to property. Any claim made by, say Arabic explorers, who were outside the scope of papal control, would just be squashed and title given to whomever brought proof of first discovery. So it was then that in 1419 the official discovery of the archipelago took place by João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira as vassals to the Portuguese crown and title was taken of the islands.

The importance of making a “claim of discovery” was very much tied into the way the Catholic church endorsed and recognised the fiefdoms of Kings. The pope, who was after all the King of Kings, was the ultimate authority in awarding recognition of title to the new lands. The competition between the Portuguese and the Castilian monarchs for territorial expansion was heating up and the Atlantic Ocean became the new frontier for the expansion of the catholic influence. Some measure of control had to be installed to avoid conflicts. Hence the need and consequent negation of any previous claims to first discovery of the new territory.

* It is interesting to note that to provide physical evidence of first discovery the discoverers would install a stone cross or standard on the new found territories. The cross being an immitigable token of Christian right to the new land.

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