The Capture of Malacca in 1511

The port city of Malacca controlled the narrow strategic strait of Malacca, through which all seagoing trade between China and India was concentrated. The capture of Malacca was the result of a plan by the King of Portugal Manuel I, who in 1505 had resolved to thwart Muslim trade in the Indian Ocean by capturingAden, to block trade through Alexandria, capturing Ormuz, to block trade through Beirut, and Malacca to control trade with China.

The Capture of Malacca in 1511 occurred when the Portuguese admiral Afonso de Albuquerque subdued the city of Malacca in 1511.

The port city of Malacca controlled the narrow strategic strait of Malacca, through which all seagoing trade between China and India was concentrated. The capture of Malacca was the result of a plan by the King of Portugal Manuel I, who in 1505 had resolved to thwart Muslim trade in the Indian Ocean by capturingAden, to block trade through Alexandria, capturing Ormuz, to block trade through Beirut, and Malacca to control trade with China.

Conquest of the city

In 1509, Diogo Lopes de Sequeira was sent to Malacca by the king of Portugal with four ships to establish contact with the Sultanate of Malacca. Initially, Sequeira was well received by the Sultan Mahmud Syah (1488–1528). Soon however, the Tamil Muslim community convinced Mahmud Syah that the Portuguese should be eliminated, based on the Portuguese treatment of Muslims in Goa. Several men were captured and killed, but the ships escaped.

Albuquerque first departed from India for Malacca in April 1511, with 1,200 men and 17 to 18 ships. Albuquerque’s objective was to sever Islamic trade and Venetian trade on the same occasion:

“If they were only to take Malacca out of the hands of the Moors, Cairo and Mecca would be entirely ruined, and Venice would then be able to obtain no spiceries except what her merchants might buy in Portugal.”

—Report on Albuquerque’s words at Malacca.

A first attack by the Portuguese failed on 25 July 1511. Albuquerque’s captains spoke against another attempt, but he struck again, succeeding in capturing Malacca in August, despite strong resistance and the presence of artillery on the Malaccan side. In celebration, Tristão da Cunha was sent to Pope Leo X in Rome with rich presents including the elephant that the pope named Hanno.

Albuquerque then built a fort to strengthen the Portuguese position, the Fort A Famosa, remains of which are still visible to this day. He also dispatched some ships to the “Spice Islands”. Albuquerque returned to Cochin in January 1512. The Portuguese engaged in a massacre of the Muslim inhabitants and also of the Arab community in Malacca. The invasion was specifically intended to break the Arab trade monopoly in spices.

The Portuguese encountered private Chinese merchants trading in Malacca, these merchants were not controlled by the Chinese government, which neither encouraged nor supported them in their trading activities, only collecting taxes from them. Trading was technically illegal under Chinese law, the only trade that was legal was that of tribute missions.

Five of these Chinese merchants who had a dispute with the Malaccan Sultan, who had earlier seized their junks and crew to use against the King of Daru in a war, so these merchants gave the junks to the Portuguese who used them to smuggle in soldiers during the attack. After the Portuguese captured and looted the city, they spared the property of the five merchants.

When the Malaccan Sultan sent a message to the Emperor of China to ask for help against the Portuguese, the Chinese ordered their tributary Siam (then known as theAyutthaya Kingdom or Thailand) and other neighbours of Malacca to come to Malacca’s aid and fight the Portuguese, and the Chinese demanded that the Portuguese leave Malacca. The Thai refused to comply with the Chinese order, leaving Malacca with no help, the Chinese then blamed the Thai and other neighbours for Malacca’s fall.

The Portuguese feared a Chinese invasion after their capture of the city and they did not send any diplomatic missions to China immediately after the capture, waiting until 1516. The exiled Malaccan Sultan sent more messages to China when the Portuguese mission arrived in China, and this time, the Chinese took action against the Portuguese.

Chinese retaliation against Portugal

The Malay Malacca Sultanate was a tributary state and ally to Ming Dynasty China. When Portugal conquered Malacca in 1511, the Chinese responded with violence against the Portuguese when Portugal sent the diplomatic ambassador, Tomé Pires in 1516. After Pires reached Beijing in 1520 the Chinese decided to arrest the embassy. The deposed Malaccan Sultan Mahmud Shah sent another message to China, and this time, China responded by executing the Portuguese diplomatic embassy.

The Chinese Imperial Government imprisoned and executed multiple Portuguese diplomatic envoys after torturing them in Guangzhou. The Malaccan envoys had informed the Chinese of the Portuguese seizure of Malacca, to which the Chinese responded with hostility toward the Portuguese. The Malaccans told the Chinese of the deception the Portuguese used, disguising plans for conquering territory as mere trading activities, and told of all the deprivations they had passed at the hands of the Portuguese.

Due to the Malaccan Sultan lodging a complaint against the Portuguese invasion to the Chinese Emperor, the Portuguese were greeted with hostility from the Chinese when they arrived in China. The Malaccan Sultan, based in Bintan after fleeing Malacca, sent a message to the Chinese, which combined with Portuguese banditry and violent activity in China, led the Chinese authorities to execute 23 Portuguese and torture the rest of them in jails. After the Portuguese set up posts for trading in China and committed piratical activities and raids in China, the Chinese responded with the complete extermination of the Portuguese in Ningbo and Quanzhou Pires, a Portuguese trade envoy, was among those who died in the Chinese dungeons. While Pires was imprisoned by the Chinese, he wrote that his cause was that of the Catholic religion’s Crusade against Islam and it was worth dying at the hands of the Chinese for his cause.

Chinese traders boycotted Portuguese Malacca after it fell to the Portuguese in the Capture of Malacca, some Chinese in Java assisted in Muslim attempts to reconquer the city from Portugal using ships. The Java Chinese participation in retaking Malacca was recorded in “The Malay Annals of Semarang and Cerbon” The Chinese did business with Malays and Javanese instead of the Portuguese.

However, with gradual improvement of relations and aid given against the Japanese Wokou pirates along China’s shores, by 1557 Ming China finally agreed to allow the Portuguese to settle at Macau in a new Portuguese trade colony. The Malay Sultanate of Johor also improved relations with the Portuguese and fought alongside them against the Aceh Sultanate.

Captured Artillery

The Portuguese captured a large amount of artillery from Malacca after its fall.

But besides the arms thus enumerated, the Portuguese and Spaniards, when‘ they first arrived, found the most advanced of the Malayan nations in possession of firearms. This is De Barros’ account of the artillery captured by Alboquerque in Malacca. ” And of artillery,” says he, “we found no more than 3000 out of 8000 pieces, which Ruy de ‘Arajo (a prisoner of SequieraVs fleet) had stated to be in the city. Among those taken were many of great size (muy grossas),and one very beautiful piece which the King of Calicut had lately sent.”—Book vi. c. 2. De Barros incidentally mentions the existence of match-locks in the defence of Malacca. The Portuguese had manned a captured junk with cannon, and sent her forward to batter the defences of a bridge, and this is his account of the action which took place: “As soon as the junk had passed the sand-bank and had come to an anchor, ‘a short way from the bridge, the Moorish artillery opened a fire on her. Some guns discharged leaden balls at intervals, which passed through both sides of the vessel, doing much execution among the crew. In the heat of the action Antonio d’Abreu, the commander, was struck in the cheek from a fusil (espingardao), carrying ofl‘ the greater number of his teeth.” The son of Alboquerque, in his Commentaries, is still fuller on the subject of the captured artillery and the weapons of defence used by the Malays. “There were captured,” says he, “ 3000 pieces, of which 2000 were of brass, and the rest of iron. Among them there was one large piece sent by the King of Calicut to the King of Malacca. All the artillery with its appurtenances was of such workmanship that it could not be excelled, even in Portugal. There were found also match-locks (espingardao), blowpipes for shooting poisoned arrows, bows and arrows, lances of Java, and divers other arms, all which created surprise in those that captured them.”—Commentarios do grande Afonso d’Alboquerque; Lisboa, 1576. The greater number most likely consisted of the small pieces called by the natives rantaka or hand-guns. Castanheda also mentions match-locks (espingardao), and while he reduces the captured cannon to 2000, he says that they threw balls, some of stone, and some of iron covered with lead. The cannon (bombardia) were some of them of brass and some of iron. By his account the bridge, the chief scene of combat in the storm of Malacca, was defended by seventy-two pieces of ordnance. In Borneo, the companions of Magellan found cannon, and Pigafetta thus alludes to them : “In front of the king’s residence there is a rampart built of large brick, having barbicans in the manner of a fortress, and on it were planted sixty-two pieces of cannon (bombarde), fifty-six of brass, and six of iron. During the two days we passed in the city they were often discharged.”— Primo viaggio intorno al mondo. Cannon had reached even as far as the Philippine. Magellan, indeed, did not find them in Qebu ; on the contrary, the natives were astonished and terrified at the sound of those discharged from the admiral’s ship in compliment to them. When, however, Legaspi discovered the main island of Luson, he not only found cannon, but a foundry of them at Manilla and Tondo in that island, the knowledge of fire-arms having been introduced by the Mahommedan Malayan nations of the west, along with their religion.

A descriptive dictionary of the Indian islands & adjacent countries, published in 1856

Several thousand artillery pieces, around 3000 out of 8000 of large size were captured by the Portuguese in Malacca. Firearms such as Matchlocks and artillery were both used by the Malays to defend Malacca before it fell.

Effects on Trade

Portuguese attempts to control spice trade didn’t come to fruition however. The trade center still had to procure spices like nutmeg and cloves from Mollucas, pepper from Sumatra and required rice from Java to feed its inhabitants. Consequently many more Portuguese expeditions were launched throughout the archipelago. Subsequently several states came to replace Malaccas dominance in spice trade, especially Johor, Acehand Banten.

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