The Age of Discovery was the source of several epic developments during the fifteenth century. This included the discovery of a new sea passage to Asia that would circumvent the need for merchants to travel the arduous and costly route via the Middle East. It was dangerous and a costly traveler's tax had to be paid to officials, operating under the auspices of the Otterman Empire, in order to gain entry through foreign lands. This added to the expense of popular silk and spice products that were brought to Europe. The spread of the Black Death, a bubonic plague, which occurred during the fourteenth century, also inhibited travel.

Henry the Navigator, son to Joao de Aviz aggressively pursued his vision of establishing an alternative passage to Asia, around the Cape of Good Hope. He successfully lobbied the church and wealthy monarchs, to provide him with the capital that would be needed to embark on his sea voyages. The seaward bound initiatives were dangerous and not without risk. Securing a new passage to Asia would provide Portuguese merchants with a significant advantage, as they could bring their goods to market quicker and at more competitive prices. To this end, Henry the Navigator set about promoting an entire industry that would be committed to his vision. He developed a school of navigation in Sagres, along the Algarve, which would be a hotbed for aspiring explorers and seamen. The entire country became involved in a cause that gained popularity and captured the hearts of the street. Any person that became part of this effort gained instant fame and recognition. The construction of new ships became a vibrant industry. These pioneers were the venture capitalists of the middle ages.

Given the success that Portugal was able to achieve in its conquest of the high seas and redrawing the map of merchants, Castile (Spain), England and Holland soon followed. Such was their success that they ultimately removed Italy from the trader's equation. The Most Serene Republic of Venice or Las Serenissima, as it was known then, was a powerful entity that had to a large extent held the monopoly over the silk and spice route. The merchants of Venice were able to secure more favorable tax rates for their caravans and had a stronger handle on the land route to Asia that they had pioneered. The travels of Marco Polo was an example of the precedent that Venice set, in its ability to establish new trading partners. Castile's motivation to enter into the fray was inspired by the country's will to compete with Portugal, for its command over the high seas. Castile wished to expand its sea exploration initiatives, hence their sponsorship of Christopher Columbus' exploratory voyage to America.

Several other factors prompted the advancement of the Age of Discovery. Firstly, the development of new technologies in instrumentation and navigation facilitated voyages that were more ambitious. Consequently, the percentage of vessels that returned from an exploration increased significantly. The ability that navigators achieved in drawing more accurate maps, was also influencial. Secondly, a new ship design in the form of the caravel and later the nau, made the Portuguese fleet more agile and easier to navigate. These boats were mounted with a stern rudder that was revolutionary, and which brought seamanship to a new level.

The implications of the new discoveries and the initiatives of Henry the Navigator were broad and significant. They ultimately resulted in the colonization and development of Southern Africa and the Americas.

Book Review: Cavalier's Call

By Benjamin Colepepper

Author Grant de Graf snaps the ribbon with the launch of his historical novel Cavalier's Call (ISBN 978-0-557-22972-7), in early spring. The story, which is based on fact, is set towards the end of Portugal's fourteenth century, an era that immediately precedes the Age of Discovery. Ironically, it is a period that has remained relatively unexplored by the writing fraternity.

Historians have also exhibited a certain restraint in conducting any meaningful research on Portugal's conquests of the high seas. Clearly, de Graf had to dig deep for the facts to fully absorb how the country came to be a powerhouse amongst the nations of the world. He is appreciative of the remarkable manner in which their initiatives laid the foundations for widespread colonization. This was a strategy that Spain, the English and Dutch followed, enacted in the hope that explorers would return to their shores with precious bounty and merchandise from foreign lands.

Colonization, as de Graf is aware, is not free from controversy. The author of Cavalier's Call is a native South African, who is familiar with the cries of disdain that echoed across the savannahs of Africa during the days of apartheid. He knows well the struggle and tears of protest against the legacy that colonization had fathered. Nevertheless, the policy of exploration and conquest became a hallmark amongst the leading nations of the time, and laid the playing field for the discovery of Southern Africa and the Americas. There are probably few nations in the world today, including China, that are unaffected by the impact that it carved on their soil.

As a prelude to a first read the author offers his audience a video clip. It is an enchanting introduction of the early venture capitalism that motivated Portugal to search for a new trade route, and pursue exploration. It allows one to appreciate the serious implications of decisions that were volleyed across the nation's drawing boards during that era. However, Cavalier's Call deals primarily with the period prior to the Age of Discovery, as it was de Graf's intent to capture the mood and spirit that led up to Portugal's coming of age and true independence. An outline of the plot may be viewed on the Official Website

The interplay of different personalities is commendably constructed. At the outset of the novel, the relationship that the main character Joao de Aviz enjoys with his father, the king, is touching, even admirable. De Graf has clearly used accounts from his own personal experience, having lost his father at an early age, to bring to the table some meaningful and candid insights. The author's ventures in life, which extend from a stint as a jackeroo on sheep stations in Australia to a position as a trader on Wall Street, do not make him a candidate who will need tissues to wipe the back of his ears. De Graf warmly captures the childhood relationship that Joao de Aviz and Nuno Álvares Pereira enjoy during their impressionable years, as they gallop across the sierras of Portugal and Castile in quest of their trophies.

The appointment of Joao to defend a man charged with murder in the royal court, moves the story to a new pace. De Graf is a master at recreating the mood and play for power that existed in the legal battles of the time. The tone is enthralling and intriguing.

Ines Peres is the daughter of the all-powerful Don Antonio Esteves, the courtier who leads the bench of prosecution in the royal court, and Joao's bitter opponent. Joao falls for the feisty and strong-willed Ines Peres, and the couple elopes with henchmen in hot pursuit. Although the plot is uncomplicated, chapters are filled with twists that come at the most unexpected moment, adding to the energy that drives the pace. A sample read of the first chapters of Cavalier's Call is available for review, and provides a good example of de Graf's style of writing. It is sophisticated and engaging, consistent with that of a historical novel.

The first edition is in English, but translations into Spanish and Portuguese are sure to follow. A sequel is also in the making. The book trailer, which is available for review on YouTube, is a strong appetizer and makes the prospect of reading Cavalier's Call, compelling. Although no film rights have yet been secured, if the videos are anything to go by, it is difficult to comprehend why the novel will not be snapped up by the circuit.

De Graf joins a line of novelists that are entering a changing industry and pioneering their own path to publication. No attempts were made to identify an agent or secure a publisher to represent the author. "Such initiatives would have just protracted the process of publication," says de Graf. "I was keen to see the book go to print in an expedited fashion." The novel will be listed through Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, and all major distributors. It will also be available as an EBook from LuLu, and accessible via Kindle and iPad.

Cavalier's Call makes its entry onto the successful and appealing bookshelf of historical novels by veteran writers. The author, Grant de Graf, was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. De Graf currently freelances for a number of news channels and tabloids, and has a strong interest in history and wildlife. He is a seasoned globetrotter who speaks at charity events regularly. Additional contact information is available on his Google Profile and Official Website.


Cavalier's Call is a novel, which captures the spirit and atmosphere that prevailed at the dawn to the Age of Discovery.

During the period preceding the Age of Discovery, the powerful and wealthy Don Antonio Esteves serves in King Ferdinand I's court as chief prosecutor. His adversary is Joao de Avis, the Infante, half-brother to the king, who defends those charged by the crown. Contrary to royal protocol, the Infante elopes with the beautiful Ines Peres. Don Antonio Esteves dispatches a band of bondoleros to bring his daughter home and seek vengeance against the Infante.