Some 1,200 miles off the coast of Angola and 1,800 miles off the coast of Brazil lies the island of Saint Helena, an accretion of volcanic basalt protruding from the South Atlantic. It was to this ‘cursed rock’ that the British dispatched Napoleon in 1815 following his defeat at Waterloo, confident that, immured by the ocean swell, he would never again disturb the ‘repose of Europe’.
Napoleon was not the first European pariah to make Saint Helena his home. Three centuries before his arrival there, the island played host to another outcast, Fernão Lopes, the subject of A R Azzam’s new book. Whereas the deposed emperor survived a mere six years on his prison island, Lopes clocked up some three decades there, at a time when it had no permanent inhabitants and was little more than a watering stop for Portuguese ships performing the India run.
Lopes was born in the 1480s into the lower ranks of the Portuguese nobility and brought up at court. Portugal at the time was poor and backward. In this half-barren, sparsely populated land, there were few great estates. Most of those born into the higher tiers of society inherited a