Dying for King, Country and Spices and Spices and Spices and Spices

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By Ken Zurski

coug6In 1517, King Charles I of Spain, who had just assumed the throne at the tender age of eighteen, was approached by a Portuguese explorer named Ferdinand Magellan.

Rejected by his own country, Magellan made the young King an offer: Let him sail around the world and find a direct route to Indonesia, once successfully navigated by Christopher Columbus.

Columbus’s four voyages for Spain, among other revelations, claimed new lands, including one which was named after another Italian explorer Amerigo Vesspucci.

Charles found Magellan’s plan intriguing. After all, great riches awaited any King who could bring back the precious spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves which grew in abundance on the elusive islands.

If Magellan could find a way to get the spices back to Charles, Spain would reap the rewards and rule the spice trade. Charles wholeheartedly approved the voyage and ordered five ships and a crew of nearly 300 men.

In 1519, Magellan set sail from Seville.

Four years later, limping back to port, only one ship named Victoria returned. Every other ship was lost including most of the men. Even Magellan was gone, hacked to death in a fierce battle with a native tribe.

Despite this, the King was pleased.

pekin2The tragic news of the lost ships and crew was irrelevant. The Victoria had returned with a cargo of 381 sacks of cloves, the most coveted of all spices.“No cloves are grown in the world except the five mountains of those five islands,” explained the ships diarist.

Charles questioned the returning men on mutiny claims and other charges of debauchery, but it didn’t matter.

He paid the royal stipends to survivors, basked in his clove treasure, and set in motion plans to put another crew back in route to the islands.


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