COVILHAM (COVILHAO, COvILHA), PERO or PEDRO DE, Portuguese explorer and diplomatist (f. 148 7-15 a 5) , was a native of Covilha in Beira. In early life he had gone to Castile and entered the service of Alphonso, duke of Seville; later, when war broke out between Castile and Portugal, he returned to his own country and attached himself to King Alphonso V. and his successor John II. On May 7, 1487, he was despatched, in company with Affonso de Payva, on a mission of exploration in the Levant and adjoining regions of Asia and Africa, with the special object of learning where "cinnamon and other spices could be found," as well as of discovering the land of Prester John, by "overland" routes. Bartholomeu Diaz (q.v.) at this time was seeking the same country by sea (see GEOGRAPHY). The ex plorers started from Santarem and travelled by the way of Bar celona to Naples; thence they went to Rhodes, and so to Alexan dria and Cairo, where they posed as merchants. In company with certain Moors from Fez and Tlemcen they went by way of Tor to Suakin and Aden, where they parted, Covilham proceeding to India and Payva to Ethiopia—agreeing to meet again in Cairo. Covilham thus arrived at Cannanore and Calicut, whence he retraced his course to Goa and Ormuz, the Red Sea and Cairo, making an excursion on his way down the East African coast to Sofala, which he was probably the first European to visit. At Cairo he heard of Payva's death, and met Rabbi Abraham of Beja and Joseph, a shoemaker of Lamego, who had been sent by King John with letters for Covilham and Payva. By Joseph of Lamego, Covilham replied with an account of his Indian and African journeys, and of the observations on the cinnamon, pepper and clove trade at Calicut, together with advice as to the ocean way to India. This he truly represented as quite practicable. The first objective in the eastern ocean, he added, was Sofala or the Island of the Moon, our Madagascar—"from each of these lands one can fetch the coast of Calicut." With this information Joseph returned to Por tugal, while Covilham, with Abraham of Beja, again visited Aden and Ormuz. At the latter he left the rabbi, and himself came back to Jidda, the port of the Arabian holy land, and penetrated even to Mecca and Medina. Finally, by Mt. Sinai, Tor and the Red Sea he reached Zeila, whence he struck inland to the court of Prester John (i.e., Abyssinia). Here he was honourably received but he was not permitted to leave. When the Portuguese embassy under Rodrigo de Lima, including Father Francisco Alvarez, en tered Abyssinia in 1520, Covilham wept with joy at the sight of his fellow-countrymen. It was then 4o years since he had left Portugal, and over 3o since he had been a prisoner of state in "Ethiopia." Alvarez praises his power of vivid description "as if things were present before him," and his extraordinary knowledge of "all spoken languages of Christians, Moors and Gentiles." His services as an interpreter were valuable to Rodrigo de Lima's embassy ; but he never succeeded in escaping from Abyssinia.
See Francisco Alvarez, Verdadera Informacam das terras do Preste foam. esp. chs. 73, 89, 98, 102, 103, 105 (pp. 177, 224, 254, 264, 275, of the Hakluyt Society's English edition, The Portuguese Embassy to Abyssinia . • . 1520-1727, 1880 ; an abstract of this, with some inaccuracies, is given in Major's Prince Henry the Navi gator, pp. 339-340 (i868).