The fleet left Spain on 20 September 1519, sailing west across the Atlantic toward South America. In December, they made landfall at Rio de Janeiro.
From there, they sailed south along the coast, searching for a way through or around the continent. After three months of searching (including a false start in the estuary of Río de la Plata), weather conditions forced the fleet to stop their search to wait out the winter. They found a sheltered natural harbor at the port of Saint Julian, and remained there for five months.
Shortly after landing at St. Julian, there was a mutiny attempt led by the Spanish captains Juan de Cartagena, Gaspar de Quesada and Luis de Mendoza. Magellan barely managed to quell the mutiny, despite at one point losing control of three of his five ships to the mutineers. Mendoza was killed during the conflict, and Magellan sentenced Quesada and Cartagena to being beheaded and marooned, respectively. Lower-level conspirators were made to do hard labor in chains over the winter, but were later freed.
During the winter, one of the fleet’s ships, the Santiago, was lost in a storm while surveying nearby waters, though no men were killed. Following the winter, the fleet resumed their search for a passage to the Pacific in October 1520. Three days later, they found a bay which eventually led them to a strait, now known as the Strait of Magellan, which allowed them passage through to the Pacific.
While exploring the strait, one of the remaining four ships, the San Antonio, deserted the fleet, returning east to Spain. The fleet reached the Pacific by the end of November 1520. Based on the incomplete understanding of world geography at the time, Magellan expected a short journey to Asia, perhaps taking as little as three or four days. In fact, the Pacific crossing took three months and twenty days. The long journey exhausted their supply of food and water, and around 30 men died, mostly of scurvy.
Magellan himself remained healthy, perhaps because of his personal supply of preserved quince.
On 6 March 1521, the exhausted fleet made landfall at the island of Guam and were met by native Chamorro people who came aboard the ships and took items such as rigging, knives, and a ship’s boat. The Chamorro people may have thought they were participating in a trade exchange (as they had already given the fleet some supplies), but the crew interpreted their actions as theft. Magellan sent a raiding party ashore to retaliate, killing several Chamorro men, burning their houses, and recovering the stolen goods.
On 16 March, the fleet sighted the island of Samar (“Zamal”) in the eastern Philippine Islands. They weighed anchor in the small (then uninhabited) island of Homonhon (“Humunu”), where they would remain for a week while their sick crew members recuperated. Magellan befriended the tattooed locals of the neighboring island of Suluan (“Zuluan”) and traded goods and supplies and learned of the names of neighboring islands and local customs.
After resting and resupplying, Magellan sailed on deeper into the Visayas Islands. On 28 March, they anchored off the island of Limasawa (“Mazaua”) where they encountered a small outrigger boat (“boloto”). After talking with the crew of the boat via Enrique of Malacca (Magellan’s slave-interpreter who was originally from Sumatra), they were met by the two large balangay warships (“balanghai”) of Rajah Kulambo (“Colambu”) of Butuan, and one of his sons.
They went ashore to Limasawa where they met Kulambo’s brother, another leader, Rajah Siawi (“Siaui”) of Surigao (“Calagan”). The rulers were on a hunting expedition on Limasawa. They received Magellan as their guest and told him of their customs and of the regions they controlled in northeastern Mindanao. The tattooed rulers and the locals also wore and used a great amount of golden jewelry and golden artifacts, which piqued Magellan’s interest. On 31 March, Magellan’s crew held the first Mass in the Philippines, planting a cross on the island’s highest hill. Before leaving, Magellan asked the rulers for the next nearest trading ports. They recommended he visit the Rajahnate of Cebu (“Zubu”), because it was the largest. They set off for Cebu, accompanied by the balangays of Rajah Kulambo and reached its port on 7 April.
Magellan met with the King of Cebu, Rajah Humabon, who asked them for tribute as a trade, thinking they were traders bartering with them. Magellan and his men insisted that they did not need to pay tribute as they were sent by the king of Spain, “the most powerful king in the world”, and that they were willing to give peace to them if they wanted peace and war if they wanted war. Humabon then decided not to ask for anymore tribute and welcomed them instead to the Kingdom of Cebu (Sugbo).
To mark the arrival of Christianity in the Far East, Magellan then planted a Cross on the shorelines of the kingdom. Magellan set about converting the locals, including the king and his wife, Queen Humamay, to Christianity. Rajah Humabon was renamed “Carlos” and Queen Humamay was renamed “Juana” after the king and queen of Spain. After her baptism, the queen asked the Spaniards for the image of the Child Jesus (Santo Niño), which she was drawn to, and begged them for the image in contrition, amidst her tears. Magellan then gave the image of the Child Jesus, along with an image of the Virgin Mary, and a small cross to the queen as a gesture of goodwill for accepting the new faith.
The king then had a Blood Compact with Magellan in order to cement the allegiance of the Spaniards and the Cebuanos. The king then told the Spaniards to go to the island of Mactan to kill his enemy Lapulapu.
The Spaniards went to the island of Mactan just as Rajah Humabon told them to. However, they did not initially come by force and wanted to Christianize them. Unlike the people of Cebu who accepted the new religion readily, the King of Mactan, Datu Lapulapu, and the rest of the island of Mactan resisted. On 27 April, Magellan and members of his crew attempted to subdue the Mactan natives by force, but in the ensuing battle, the Europeans were overpowered and Magellan was killed by Lapulapu and his men.
The monument of Lapulapu at Mactan Shrine, the site of the Battle of Mactan.
Following his death, Magellan was initially succeeded by co-commanders Juan Serrano and Duarte Barbosa (with a series of other officers later leading). The fleet left the Philippines (following a bloody betrayal by former ally Rajah Humabon, who had poisoned many Spanish soldiers on a banquet ruse on the night after the battle for being easily defeated by Lapulapu and the people of Mactan and failing to kill Lapulapu) and eventually made their way to the Moluccas in November 1521. Laden with spices, they attempted to set sail for Spain in December, but found that only one of their remaining two ships, the Victoria, was seaworthy. The Victoria, captained by Juan Sebastián Elcano, finally returned to Spain by 6 September 1522, completing the circumnavigation. Of the 270 men who left with the expedition, only 18 or 19 survivors returned.