The Skowronek Bankers
The Skowronek Bankers in the XIV Century
The Skowronek Bankers in the XV Century
The Skowronek Bankers in the XVI Century
The Skowronek Bankers in the XVII Century
The Skowronek Bankers in the XVIII Century
The Skowronek Bankers in the XIX Century
The Skowronek Bankers in the XX Century
The Skowronek Bankers in the XXI Century
The Story of Things
The Skowronek Bankers - Sources and references
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Sailing in caravels, carracks and galleons, some ancestors of the Skowronek family belonging to the Schoenberg (Sampayo – Belmonte) branch living in Portugal in the XV and XVI centuries took part in the expeditions that opened the sea trade between Europe and Asia.
"The righteous say little, but do much." - Proverb.
Between the XV and XVII centuries the Portuguese navy dominated the trade routes between Europe and the far East; superior technology developed mainly with the auspices of Henry the Navigator[1.5] working in Sintra helped the Portuguese develop the caravel – one of the first truly ocean-going vessels – and naval artillery, enabling them to sail where others couldn't and to impose themselves in the seas.
This led them to organize increasingly ambitious expeditions that in the beginning, were meant for surveying the waters and exploring as far as they could go around Africa, attempting to open the way for more ambitious armadas. Then, as the route around the African continent was explored, each year, fleets of vessels departed from Portugal for a six-month trip to Goa, in India, and even further, and in several of those expeditions and convoys, ancestors of the family belonging to the Schoenberg branch participated.
As we have already commented, the Skowronek family has its origins in several places. One of them is Portugal, and during the Age of Exploration, the ancestors of the family occupied relevant positions that took them around the known world. The Schoenberg branch of the family comes directly from the Sampayo – Belmonte family (see Dom Iago de Sampayo y Belmonte). This family, in turn, was directly related to the Portuguese royalty and to noble families; they were of course, involved in the activities of the Portuguese leadership at the time, and that included sailing and exploring.
We have to differentiate between direct ancestors in this case, and ancestral relatives – that is, the more or less close relatives of our direct ancestors. Both kinds them took part on the initial expeditions originally conceived by Henry the Navigator and meant to actually find the route around Africa, and then, the well-organized Armadas da Índia, which were convoys consisting on a variable number of armed ships – mostly caravels, carracks and galleons (see Ships of Adventure, Exploration and Survival) – that made the voyage known as "Carreira da Índia" going from Portugal to South Africa, rounding the continent and then, thorough the Indian ocean, to the Portuguese colonies in Asia.
The route was used beginning in the XV century and until the construction of the Suez canal; while the route might not be the shortest way around Africa, it is still perfectly valid today, showing that research and development pays. In this case, five centuries after the Portuguese made the original investment it is still possible to benefit from the work of their scientists, engineers and navigators.
The trip around Africa was a complicated affair. The route implied a risky voyage, and required both knowledge and infrastructure like secure harbors and fortifications, like those prepared by the Portuguese in what is now Mozambique.
The "carreira" was seasonally limited because monsoons and winds had to be taken into account, so it wasn't not just a matter of sailing any day of the year. Besides that, piracy was always a danger and there were indeed, formal enemies around. To all this we should add that since spice commerce was so lucrative, the Portuguese state controlled and regulated it.
There are many records of those voyages, such as the "Livro de Lisuarte de Abreu", "Livro das Armadas" and others. In these books, extensive accounts about these expeditions are given, including the names of the commanders and officers.
It was common practice then to commission members of the royalty and nobility in those trips, often regardless of their experience at sea, which meant that mixed results could be expected because not every officer was really well prepared for such tasks. Some of them were excellent leaders, while others were mediocre or even disastrous.
Bad luck or other factors also intervened, and some people lost the favor of the kings because they simply could not obtain good profits despite many other successes during their expeditions. That was the case, for example, of Cabral, the alleged discoverer of Brazil.
Indeed, that was a major achievement, as time proved; but upon his return to Portugal after his own expedition, and despite being able to establish some hard-sought commercial treaties in India, the actual profits obtained from the sale of the cargo taken back to Portugal apparently were not satisfactory for the king, and so Cabral died in obscurity.
One interesting fact about the demise of Cabral is that his family had received a title over the town of Belmonte, but around the same time Cabral apparently quarreled with Manuel I, Dom Iago de Sampayo received a title for a place of the same name, becoming Dom Iago de Sampayo y Belmonte[1.2], according to Gottheil, for unspecified services to the crown[24.41]. Could it be that Cabral was stripped off the title for the town of Belmonte and that it was passed unto the Sampayo family, or was it a different title altogether?
Gottheil himself wrote that Cabral was born in one place called Belmonte; that is a town that has a peculiar history of crypto Jews surviving in hiding for five centuries.
We know from records that the Cabral family was married with families that, in turn, were related to the Sampayos (see The Age of Discovery and its Financiers), so they should be from the same town called Belmonte[24.41].
The common factor among all of them was that they belonged to the nobility and upwards, and hence, being from a closed social group, they were often related. In most cases, those familiar links were somewhat distant but nevertheless real. In other cases, close relatives intervened in such trips. As it happens in the case of the upper echelons of society thorough history, the lives of such people are generally far better documented that the lives of more mundane individuals. So, in many cases surprising details about the deeds of those ancestors can be learned from surviving documents.
Expeditions prior to the formal armadas - The development of the Portuguese trade routes to Asia was not an easy thing to achieve, neither it was achieved in a short time. It all started when the Portuguese felt the necessity to expand their horizons towards the ocean since the stability of the land-based trade routes to the Far East was compromised due to political, military and religious factors around the XIV century.
The Armadas da Índia and Our Ancestors - During the XVI century the Portuguese began organizing the Armadas da Índia, which were large expeditions consisting of many ships that sailed together from Europe to Asia and India around the African continent; some members of our family did take part on those voyages, as well as some descendants who remained in Portugal anfter the Sampayo – Belmonte family moved to Amsterdam.
The reason behind the remarkable proliferation of direct ancestors rand their relatives in such trips is that getting riches was the business of the aristocracy, and being it a closed group, after a couple of generations in any country organized around a feudal system all aristocrats become cousins. A similar pattern of business structure associated to marriage policies has been prevalent in the family up to present times.
Portuguese navy, from the book of Lisuarte de Abreu, 1565.
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