Pedro Álvares Cabral


Age of Discovery

Quick Facts:

He was the first European to discover Brazil and also established a successful sea route to India and was a leader in commercial expedition there.

Name: Pedro Alvares Cabral

Birth/Death: 1467 CE - 1520 CE

Nationality: Portuguese

Birthplace: Portugal

Pedro Álvares Cabral

Pedro Álvares Cabral

Detail of painting "Vaz de Caminha reads to Commander Cabral, Friar Henrique and Master João the letter that will be sent to King Dom Manuel I". It depicts Pedro Álvares Cabral, leader of the Portuguese expedition that discovered the land that would later be known as Brazil in 1500.

Early Life

Pedro Álvares Cabral is thought to have been born in Belmonte, in the Beira Baixa province of Portugal in 1467/68. He was the third son of Fernão Cabral, the Governor of Beria and Belmonte, and Isabel de Goveia de Queirós, descendent of the first King of Portugal, Afonso I. Pedro Cabral married Isabel de Castro, the daughter of Fernão de Noromha, also a descendent of King Afonso I.


In 1499, Cabral was appointed chief captain of a fleet bound for the Malabar Coast of southern India to establish trading ports for Portugal. The fleet left Lisbon on March 9, 1500, with 13 ships and 1,000 men. Bartolomeu Dias served as one of the commanders on the voyage. Cabral decided not to follow Dias’ route around the west coast of Africa. Instead, he followed Vasco da Gama’s route.

After sailing in a southern direction and passing the Canary and Cape Verde Islands on March 22, 1500, Cabral took advantage of the trade winds and began sailing in a southwesterly direction. Cabral reached the Cape of Good Hope and winds and currents pushed him west. On April 22, 1500, land was sighted at 17° south latitude. Cabral would be the first European to see modern-day Mount Pascal in Brazil.

Cabral claimed the land for Portugal and named it Terra de Vera Cruz (Land of the True or Holy Cross) because he discovered the land at Easter. The name didn’t last once traders began cutting the Brazilwood for red dye; the new land was called Terra do Brazil. Brazil became the most used name. In 12 days, Cabral explored 50 miles of the coast, and when he landed on an island in the inlet of Pôrto Seguro (modern day Baia Cabrália) just north of Rio de Janeiro, he planted a cross and held Mass. In a letter to King Manuel I, he wrote about the Indians he met and described them as “amiable and rustic.” He also described their houses and their use of decorative feathers.

Cabral was not interested in exploring the area he discovered; he was more interested in finding India. In fact, Cabral did not even know if he had found a large area of land or an island. He referred to Brazil as “Ilha (island) de Vera Cruz” rather than Terra de Vera Cruz.

On May 2, 1500, the expedition was reactivated to the Cape of Good Hope. After three weeks at sea, four ships sank during a storm and the rest of the fleet was separated and spread throughout the Cape area. The crew got back together at Mozambique and reached Calicut off the Malabar Coast in India on September 13, 1500. Once there, Cabral set up a trading post, but hostile Muslims attacked the post and killed 50 men who were stationed there. Cabral sought revenge by burning ships and punishing the entire town. Cabral and his crew left Calicut and sailed to Coshin and Cammamore off the Indian Coast. He was much better received there and was very successful with the trading post and in gaining commercial treaties for Portugal.

In 1501, Cabral returned to Portugal with pearls, diamonds, porcelain, and such spices as pepper, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. Because of the great loss of lives on the voyages, especially the loss of Bartlolmeu Dias who went down with his ship off the Cape of Good Hope, it was not a happy homecoming.

King Manuel I greeted Cabral with kindness, but the two of them were in disagreement because Vasco da Gama had been chosen to lead the next expedition. Cabral never returned to the King’s court. He got married, had six children, and lived near the Tagus River until his death around 1520.


There has been much debate over Cabral’s discovery of Brazil. Some say it was an accident, while some believe he had secret orders to sail west to determine if any land was at the western part of the area given to Portugal under the Treaty of Tordesillas.

There were also three other explorers who went to the region and laid claims to the land. Amerigo Vespucci, Vincente Yánez Pinzón, and Diego de Lepe all sailed along the Coast of Brazil and went ashore before Cabral. It is speculated that all of these encounters were continuations of expeditions to other lands. These three men only explored the known land of the northern section of South America, reaching Brazil by the Amazon River. So Cabral is given credit for being the first discoverer of unknown land. Today in Brazil, the Brazilians celebrate Cabral for discovering their county.