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'We’ve gone to the pinnacle of the Portuguese legal system and we’ve lost.

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Felipa died in 1485, and Columbus took as his mistress Beatriz Enríquez de Harana of Córdoba, by whom he had his second son, Ferdinand (born of Portugal but was denied aid.A source close to the family said: 'It’s not good news.We just don’t know what to do but we need to sit down with our lawyer and discuss it.In a similar manner, but at a more exalted level, the Catholic Monarchs hoped that such an enterprise would gain them greater status among the monarchies of Europe, especially against their main rival, Portugal.Then, in alliance with the papacy (in this case, with the was known to have pressed southward along the coast of West Africa, beyond São Jorge da Mina, in an effort to find an easterly route to Cathay and India by sea.It has been translated into six languages and sold hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide.

It led to libel action from the distraught Mc Canns and action in a civil court, an appeal court and finally the Supreme Court. In a 36-page writ, lodged nearly eight years ago, they describe him as a self obsessed, manipulative money-grabber and accuse him of libel and breaching their human rights.

A close family friend said: 'This news is devastating, not just for Kate and Gerry but for Madeleine wherever she is.' Ex GP Kate and heart doctor Gerry, both 48, from Rothley, Leicestershire, live in hope that 'a miracle' will one day reunite them with their daughter. The appeal hearing in Lisbon which ruled against the Mc Canns was held in private.

The couple's lawyer Isabel Duarte had not even been informed it was happening until after the event.

But a source close to the exasperated couple said: 'I think the fight is finally over.

They want to concentrate on finding Madeleine and don't think they have the time or energy to lodge yet another appeal.'Mr Amaral, who led the initial bungled search to help find their daughter, claimed in a once-banned book that Madeleine was dead.

The sense of triumph has diminished accordingly, and the view of Columbus as hero has now been replaced, for many, by one of a man deeply flawed.