Manuel Pessanha (Portuguese translation of Italian Emanuele Pessagno) was a Genoese merchant sailor who served in Portugal in the 14th century as the first admiral of Portugal at the time of King Denis of Portugal. His brother was Antonio Pessagno.
Manuel Pessanha was the son of Simone, lord of the Castle di Passagne. In 1316-17 he made an agreement with king Denis of Portugal, appointing him to rearrange the incipient Portuguese Navy (for which he would bring twenty men from Genoa to exercise as mayors of vessels). In a royal charter of 1 February 1317, he was appointed with the title of Admiral of Portugal (which would become hereditary in his family), entitled to a pension of 3,000 pounds, divided into three equal payments due the months of January, May and September, and from rural incomes from several land possessions in Portugal. This contract was subsequently confirmed to him in 1317, 14 April 1321 and 21 April 1327.
He participated in the naval battles that opposed the Crown of Castile to Portugal during the reign of king Afonso IV of Portugal and was made prisoner by the Castilians in 1337, after the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, and released in 1339. On 30 October 1340 he commanded the Portuguese fleet that helped Castile in the Battle of Río Salado, fighting off Cádiz, while the Moors' ships blocked Tarifa. In 1341, he participated in an attack on Ceuta, considered a nest of Moroccan pirates who regularly attacked the coasts of Algarve. His performance in this confrontation led to the Pope Benedict XII praising him in a bull consigned to the Portuguese king.
From his first marriage to Genebra Pereira, was born Carlos Pessanha and Bartolomeu Pessanha, both of which would succeed him in turn as Admiral of Portugal, and from a second marriage to Leonor Afonso, Lançarote Pessanha yet another Admiral of Portugal, who was murdered at the Castle of Beja during the 1383–85 Portuguese interregnum. Carlos and Bartolomeu having no heirs, the admiralty title would pass through both of Lançarote's sons, Manuel II and Carlos II, until the 1430s, when lacking male heirs, the Admiral title would pass via female lines through several Portuguese noble houses, ending up in the house of Azevedo in 1485 and in the house of Castro (Counts of Resende) after 1660.
- Diffie 1970, p. 26
- Diffie 1960, p. 54
- Diffie 1960, p. 54
- Diffie, Bailey (1960). Prelude to empire: Portugal overseas before Henry the Navigator. U of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-5049-5.
- Diffie, Bailey (1977), Foundations of the Portuguese Empire, 1415–1580, p. 210, University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0-8166-0782-6
- FERREIRA, João Pedro Rosa. Manuel Pessanha. in: ALBUQUERQUE, Luís de (dir.); DOMINGUES, Francisco Contente (coord). Dicionário de História dos Descobrimentos Portugueses (v. II). Lisboa: Editorial Caminho, 1994. pp. 896–898.