Excerpt from Over the Edge of the World by Laurence Bergreen, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Over the Edge of the World

Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe

by Laurence Bergreen

Over the Edge of the World by Laurence Bergreen
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2003, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2004, 528 pages

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King Manuel's judgment, when it came, was swift and sure: The insolent and foolish Magellan was to return to Morocco immediately to face charges for treason, corruption, and leaving the army without authorization. This he did. After investigating the evidence, a tribunal in Morocco dismissed all charges against him, and he returned to Lisbon clutching a letter of recommendation from his commanding officer. Displaying superhuman stubbornness, Magellan went back to his sovereign king to demand the increased moradia with more vehemence than ever.

Once more, the king refused.


Magellan was entering middle age, with a bad leg and an unfairly tarnished reputation. Short and dark, and teetering on the brink of poverty, he looked nothing like the aristocrat he thought himself to be. And he still yearned to distinguish himself in the service of Portugal, to make a name for himself that would rank with the important figures of the day, the explorers who opened new trade routes for Portugal in the Indies, and in the process became rich themselves. It seemed that Magellan was merely compounding his folly by asking the king who had refused to increase his moradia to back an entire expedition, but the would-be explorer saw matters differently. He was offering the king a scheme, admittedly a bit vague and risky, to fill the royal coffers with the wealth of the Indies.

Acknowledging that he needed help to persuade King Manuel, Magellan brought a prominent personage with him: Ruy Faleiro, a mathematician, astronomer, and nautical scholar. He was, in short, that quintessential Renaissance man, a cosmologist. Documents of the era always refer to Faleiro as a bachiller, in other words, a student (and perhaps also a teacher) at a university. Born in Covilhã, a town in mountainous eastern Portugal, Faleiro was a brilliant but unstable man who impressed his colleagues with his demonic personality; like many scholars of the day, he may have been a converso. He often worked closely with his brother Francisco, an influential scholar in his own right and the author of a well-regarded study of navigation, and it was likely that each Faleiro brother planned to play a major role in the expedition.

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