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A Likely False Travel Account to Northeastern Brazil in the 16th Century  

José Alexandrino de Souza Filho

It is known that the French cosmographer André Thevet (1516–1592) used to appropriate materials produced by third parties to enrich his own writings and travel narratives. He firmly claims to have made two expeditions to Brazil, but only one of them is proven (the foundation of a French colony in Guanabara Bay, in 1555). The other expedition includes a trip to Northeastern Brazil in the text, but this claim is probably false. There is no way to positively affirm or deny the hypothesis of the two expeditions, because there is no evidence. However, the analysis of the documents of the “northeastern chapters” strongly suggests that they were written based on the portolan prepared by the French cartographer Jacques de Vau de Claye, at the request of Philippe Strozzi, within the scope of the crisis of succession to the Portuguese throne, that is, between 1578 and 1582. The motive for rewriting the same experience some thirty years later (1588), as History of the two travels made by André Thevet to the Southern and Western Indies, seems to come from the theft of a manuscript written by René de Laudonnière, chief of a French former colony in Florida, lent by Thevet himself to the English compiler Richard Hakluyt, who published it without authorization, on behalf of a French friend, Martin Basanier. Regardless of whether or not the cosmographer’s trip to Northeastern Brazil is true, one can read Thevet’s latest travel account as a kind of literary memorial of the (unsuccessful) experiences of French colonization on the American continent, whether in Canada, Florida, or Brazil.