The Corte Real Family was very famous
& very closed to the Portuguese Royal House.

The father, Joao Vaz Corte Real made the first voyages to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in 1472. For this discovery he received from the King half of the Island of Terceira in the Azores, where he built a house that still stands there today in the City of Angra do Heroismo.

One son, Gaspar Corte Real made two trips to North America. One  voyage was in 1500 and the other in 1501. He did not return to Portugal.

His brother Miguel Corte Real, who was the Chief of the Protocol of King Manuel I, came to America in 1502, looking for his brother Gaspar, but unfortunately did not return either to Portugal .

To see all the documentation pertaining to the Corte Real family and their voyages to North America, we are offering our readers the chapter  of the book "Portuguese Pilgrims and Dighton Rock"  that explains all the history of the Corte Real family as navigators. Here it is: 



Chapter 5


(1) 1474, April 2 — Charter giving half the Island of Terceira (Angra) to João Vaz Cone Real. 

(2) 1483, May 4 — Donation Charter by Dom Manuel (later King Manuel) on conferring on João Vaz Corte Real the governorship of Angra and St. George. 

(3) 1500, May 12 — Royal charter granted by  King Manuel 1, giving Gaspar Corte Real the islands and continents that he will discover. 

(4) 1501, January 27 — Royal charter give to João Martins, confirming Gaspar Corte Real’s voyage of 1500. 

(5) 1501, October 6 — Letter of Miguel Corte Real to Cristovão Lopes ordering supplies of wine and meat for his voyage. 

(6) 1501, October 7 — Receipt by Miguel Corte Real for the wine and the meat

(7) 1501, October 17 — Espionage letter of Alberto Cantino to Duc de Ferrara. 

(8) 1501, October 18 — Espionage letter of Pietro Pasqualigo from Lisbon to the Doge of Venice. 

(9) 1501, October 19 — Espionage letter of Pietro Pasqualigo from Lisbon addressed to his brothers. 

(10) 1502, January 15 — Royal charter given to Miguel Corte Real granting him per mission to search for his brother, Gaspar Corte Real. 



(Il) 1501 — The Cantino Planisphere with Greenland, Newfoundland labeled as “The Land of the King of Portugal”. 

(12) 1502 — Pedro Reinel map describing Newfoundland with several Portuguese names. 

(13) 1519 — World map by Jorge Reinel showing Newfoundland and Labrador as territories of the King of Portugal. 

(14) 1522 — Map of Reinel showing land of the Corte Reais. 



The Azores are a group of nine islands in the North Atlantic. Click on photo for larger view.

027.jpg (42514 bytes)  PORTUGAL lies 800 miles to the east (from Santa Maria Island).

 NEWFOUNDLAND lies about 1000 miles to the northwest (from Corvo Island). 

SANTA MARIA is on the same latitude as the Promontory of Sagres — 37 degrees

TERCEIRA ISLAND is on the same latitude as Lisbon — 38' 40’.

The Island of Terceira, which means ‘the third”, was so called because it was the third Azorean island to be discovered in 1449. Terceira was also called the island of “Jesus Christ” in honor of the patrons of the Order of Christ. 



 The genealogy of the Corte Real family dates from 1 367, beginning in the city of  Tavira, in the Southern Province of Algarve.

It is believed that the name “Corte Real” was originally a nickname given because these nobles were always to be found in the “Corte Real” or “Royal Court”; another version  relates that the surname was given as a title because the family had distinguished itself in many royal services. The Cone Real family was always very close to the Royal House and there fore took an active part in the conquests in North Africa as well as in the progress of the discoveries.

 028.jpg (60875 bytes)Click on photo for larger view. Gaspar Corte Real's receipt

The earliest documents connecting the Corte Real family with the Azores Islands are the charters of February 17, 1474 and April 2. 1474 granting João Vaz Corte Real, father of Gaspar and Miguel, the governship of the Island of Terceira. 

The first charter clearly in dictates the division of the island of Terceira between João Vaz Corte Real and Alvaro Martins: and thus the island divided, I ordered João Vaz Corte Real to choose first, and he chose the part of Angra, and left the part of Praia for (Alvaro Martins) . .“ The second charter confirms the division of the island, and the rights of João Vaz Corte Real to administer justice and maintain the general welfare of the people. 

 Infanta Dona Beatriz, acting on behalf of the grandmaster of the Order of Christ, divided the governorship of the Island of Terceira into two countries: one comprised the Southeastern part known as Angra, chosen first by João Vaz Cone Real, who was to be favored by the division; and the other half, known as Praia, was accepted by Alvaro Martins Homem.

J oão Vaz Corte Real wanted to establish himself in the Island of Terceira because he knew the favorable geographical position of that island in the North Atlantic. The navigators accurately calculated that Terceira was situated on the same latitude as Lisbon — 38° 40’. 

João Vaz Corte Real had landed at Terceira in 1472 after he returned from the land of Bacalhaus (Codfish) or Newfoundland. Corte Real wished to have a navigational outpost and also more income to further finance the search for the Northwest Passage. Indeed the island of Terceira became the center from which many voyages radiated out into the Atlantic for the purpose of exploring the Americas.

On May 4, 1483, Dom Manuel, grandmaster of the Order of Christ and later King of Portugal confirmed the Chart of 1472 given to João Vaz Cone Real for “the many  services he performed for Prince Henry”, and in addition gave him the Island of St. George.

For almost 25 years João Vaz Corte Real continued to explore the North Atlantic, at the same time sharing his experience of navigation with his sons. When he died, in 1496, he left to his sons the governorship of Terceira and St. George, and also the fruits and legacy of his explorations.

Evidence that Gaspar Corte Real left Lisbon for North America can be seen on the Royal Charter of May 12, 1500, given by King Manuel I. This document today lies in the Torre do Tombo, or Portuguese National Archives. It states that “the ships and crew were obtained at the expense of Gaspar Corte Real who wanted to continue to look for, discover, and explore more islands and continents.” 

 We know that Gaspar Corte Real was successful in his voyages because King Manuel I (January 27, 1501) gave a letter of promotion to João Martins for his outstanding participation as a crew member in Gaspar Corte Real’s voyage to Newfoundland. 

“King Manuel I: Be it known, that Gaspar Corte Real, knight of the Royal House, who has obtained ships and crew at his own expense, is granted permission to look for, discover, and explore more islands and continents, because he wants to continue now, and do all he can to execute his plan. . .“

The King’s letter, or Royal chart, is dated January 15, 1502, and is in the Torre do Tombo in Lisbon. As a result of the official policy of secrecy, Gaspar Corte Real did not leave any document describing his voyage to North America. In spite of this, we have the letters of the Italian spies, Alberto Cantino and Pedro Pasqualigo, written in Lisbon (October, 1501) describing in detail the voyage, the land, and the people encountered by Gaspar Corte Real. These letters are self-evident and are here presented in their entirety. 

Letter from Alberto Cantino to Hercules d’Este, Duke of Ferrara.
 Lisbon, October 17, 1501. 

(Description of the course and length of the voyage.)

It is now nine months since this most serene king rent to the northern part two well-armed ships, to ascertain if it would be possible to discover land or some islands in that direction. On the 11th of the present month one of them returned, and has brought people and tidings, which it appeared to me ought not to pass without the knowledge of your Excellence. Therefore all that was related by the captain to the king, I being present, is here clearly written down. First they stated that,, after leaving Lisbon, they always went on that course and towards that pole for four months, nor during all that time did they see anything.

(Description of the icebergs.)

In the fifth month, still wishing to push on, they say that they came upon enormous masses of congealed snow floating upon the sea, and moving under the influence of the waves. Owing to the heat of the sun, sweet and clear water is melted on their summits, and, descending by small channels formed by the water itself, it cats away at the base where it falls. The ships now being in want of water, the boats were sent in, and that way as much was taken as was needed. Fearing to remain in that place by reason of their danger, they intended to turn back; but they consulted what was their best course, and, aided by hope, they resolved to go forward for some days. Proceeding on the voyage, they arrived at the frozen sea on the second day, and were forced to abandon their intention. So they began to turn towards the north-west and west, and were three months continuing in that direction, always with fine weather. 

(Description of the continent — Canada.)

 On the first day of the fourth month they came in sight, between these two courses, of a very great country, which they approached with the greatest joy. Many large rivers of fresh water flowed through this region into the sea, one of them sending its waters for perhaps a league from the land. When they landed they found delicious fruits of various kinds, trees and pines of marvelous height and girth, suited for masts of the largest ships that float in the sea. Here there is no corn of any kind, but the men of that country say that they only live by fishing and hunting animals, in which the land abounds. 

There are very large stags with long hair, the skins of which they use for clothes, and make houses and boats of them. There are also wolves, foxes, tigers, and sables. They affirm that the peregrine falcons are so numerous that it appears to me to be a miracle, like those in our con n try. I have seen them, and they are very fine. (Description of North American Indian). They kidnapped nearly 50 of the men and women of that land by force, and brought them to the king. I have seen them, touched and examined them. Be ginning with their size, I say they are bigger than our people, with well-formed limbs to correspond. The hair of the men is long, as we wear it, letting it hang in plaited rings. They have the face marked with great signs, like those of the Indians. Their eyes incline to green, and when they look from them it gives a great fierceness to the whole countenance. 

Their speech cannot be understood, but, however, there is no sharpness in it, and it is altogether human. Their behavior and gestures are very gentle; they laugh a good deal, and show great delight. So much for the men. The woman has small breasts and a very beautiful body. She has a very gentle countenance, and its color may he said to be more white than any other tint, but that of the men is much darker. In fine, except for the fierce look of the men, they are very like ourselves. They are naked except for a small covering made of deer-skin. They have no arms nor iron, but for working or fashioning any thing, they use a very hard and sharp stone, with which there is nothing so hard as that they cannot cut it. 

(Description of the distance from
Newfoundland to Lisbon and purpose of espionage.) 

This ship has come from thence to this place in a month, and they say that the distance is 2,800 miles. The other consort has decided to go so far along the coast, with the desire of ascertaining whether it is an island or mainland. The king awaits the arrival of the others with much anxiety, and as soon as they come, bringing news worthy of your Excellency’s attention, I will at once send the particulars. 


FIRST LETTER-- Lisbon, October 18th, 1501.
(Description of the voyage)

On. the ninth of the present month there arrive here one of tile two caravels which the Majesty of ti said king sent to discover towards the north-western part in tile past year. It has brought seven native men, women, and children, from that discovered land The country is at a distance of 1,800 miles to north and west.

(Description Of The North American Indian)

These men, in their aspect, figure, and stature, are like gypsies. They are marked on the face in several places, some with more, others with fewer lines. They are dressed in skins of different animals, but chiefly of otters. Their speech is entirely different from any that has ever been heard in this kingdom, and no one understands it. Their limbs are exceedingly well made, and they have very gentle countenances; but their habits are filthy, like wild men. 

(Description of North American Mainland.)

The people of the caravel believe that the above land is the mainland, and that it joins to the other land that, in the previous year, was discovered to the north by another caravel of his Majesty. But they were not able to reach it, because the sea was frozen over with vast quantities of snow like mountains on the land. They also think that it is joined to the Antilles, which were discovered by the Sovereigns of Spain, and with the land of Papaga, lately discovered by the ship of this king when on its way to Calicut. This belief is caused, in the first place, because, having coasted along the said land for a distance of 600 miles and more, they did not come to any termination; also because they report the discovery of many very large rivers which fall into the sea. The other caravel (Capitana) is expected from day to day, from which the quality and condition of the said land will be clearly understood, as she has gone further along that coast, to discover as much as possible.

(Purpose of Espionage) 

This royal Majesty has derived great satisfaction from the news, because he considers that this land will be very useful to his affairs in many respects, but principally because, being very near to this kingdom, it will be easy, in a short time, to obtain abundant supplies of wood for making the masts and yards of ships, and slaves fit for any work; for they say that the land is very populous, and also full of pines and other excellent timber. This news has given such pleasure to his Majesty that he has issued orders for ships to go there, and also for the increase of his Indian fleet, to conquer it as quickly as it was dis covered; for there it appears that God is with his Majesty and his works, and favors his designs. 


(Description of the voyage) 

Lisbon, October 19th, 1501:On the 8th of the present month there arrived here one of the two caravels which this most serene king sent on a voyage of discovery towards the north in the past year, under Captain Gaspar Cortereal (sic). It reports having discovered land two thousand miles from here towards the north-west and west, which was before not known to any one. 

They discovered from 600 to 700 miles of coastline, without finding the end of it. They, therefore, believe that it is mainland, which is continuous with another land discovered in the previous year to the north. The caravel could not reach the end of the land because the sea was frozen over with a vast quantity of snow. This is also believed because of the multitude of very large rivers they discovered there, for certainly there would not he so many nor such large ones on an island. They say that this land is very populous, and the houses of the inhabitants are of wood, very large, and covered outside with skins of fish. 

(Description of North American Indian)

They have brought here seven of the natives; men, women, children, and fifty others will come in the other caravel, which is expected from hour to hour. These are like gypsies in figure, stature, and appearance, and are dressed in the skins of divers animals, but chiefly of otters. In summer they turn the skin inside, and in winter the 0ther way. These skins are not sewn together in any way, nor tanned, but are thrown over the shoulders and arms just as they are taken from the animals. The loins are fastened with some cord made of the very strong sinews of a fish. Although they appear to be wild men, yet they are modest and gentle, and their arms, shoulders, and legs so well proportioned that I can not describe them. Their faces are marked in the fashion of the Indians, some with six, some with eight, some with no lines. They talk, but they are not understood by anyone. I believe they have been addressed in every possible language. They have no iron in their country, but make knives of some stones, and in like manner the points for their arrows. 

(Purpose of espionage) 

There is a very great abundance of salmon, her rings, cod, and similar fish. There is also plenty of wood, and, above all, fine trees for making masts and yards of ships. This most serene king hopes to derive very great profit from the new land, both from the wood for ships, of which they have need, and from the men, who will be excellent for labor, and the best slaves that have hitherto been obtained. It appears to me a matter worthy of being brought to your notice, and if I shall learn more on the arrival of the caravel (Capitana), I will let you know. 

 Miguel Corte Real’s letter to Christovão Lopes
for wine and meat for his voyage:

 035.jpg (97172 bytes)Click on photo for larger view. 

Order & receipt for provisions by Miguel Corte Real with his signature.

 October 6, 1501, by King’s orders. “Senhor Ghristovão Lopes: When I prepared (for voyage) in Lisbon, I took provisions for three months. Enough for fifty men and then the King ordered me to take thirty more men, but I could not take any more provisions because of lack of space in the ship. I ask you to give me two casks of wine and an ox or about four hundred and forty pounds of meat; this request of mine has the approval of the King.” 

And he pays for the provisions by signing a receipt one day later.

 “I, Miguel Corte Real swear that I received from Christovão Lopes, King’s esquire, two casks of wine and four hundred and forty pounds of meat for eighty men for whom I was in need of provisions”. Signed Miguel Corte Real 

We have seen the documents in which Miguel Corte Real reveals his readiness (ships, 80 men, and provisions) for the voyage in search of his brother Gaspar. We should examine now the King’s letter giving Miguel half of the new found lands, or all, if his brother Gaspar should die. 

KING’S LETTER TO MIGUEL CORTE REAL — 1502 January 15, 1502.

037.jpg (186121 bytes)“Click on photo for larger view. 
Letter of King Manuel to Miguel Corte real, 1502

King Manuel I: Be it known that Miguel Corte Real, knight and Chief Porter of the Royal House, informed us that his brother Gaspar Corte Real had left this city (Lisbon) with. three ships to discover new land, part of which he had previously found, and that after five months upon their departure two ships had returned home, and that so far he (Gaspar) had failed to appear, he (Miguel) would like to go and look for him, and because said Miguel Corte Real had spent much on ships of Gaspar’s first and second voyage. * * * 

 * * * and in case he does not find his brother (Gaspar), I declare that all the continents, or islands that he discovers, plus those found by Gaspar, be all granted to him (Miguel) with all the rights * * * 



043.jpg (132548 bytes)Click on photo for larger view
Front cover design--imprinting carving--Damião de Góis book of discoveries (1567)

António Galvão in his famous book “Tratado dos Descobrimentos antigos e modernos (Treatise of the discoveries, old and new) describes the Corte Reais’ voyages this way:  There are two other accounts we should consider before concluding the list of secondary sources for the Corte Reais’ voyages:

- - And returning (1474) João Vaz Corte Real from the discovery of Newfound,  Land of Codfish, which he did by order of the King, he received the Governship of Angra in the island of Terceira and the island of St. George.”



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Detail of planisphere of Diogo Ribeiro, 1529, showing Labrador, Land of Corte Reais and land of Estevão Gomes


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Detail of João Freire's chart, 1564 showing Newfoundland's coast with Portuguese names



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Chart of Lopo Homem, c. 1550, showing the Canadian coast with Portuguese place names.



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Chart of Fernão Vaz Dourado, 1568 with Portuguese place names along the coast from Labrador to Rhode Island.



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Chart of Fernão Vaz Dourado, 1571. Terra dos Corte Reais or Land of Corte Reais. Includes the north part of New England