Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Happy Portugal Day

Today is Portugal Day, the date chosen to commemorate the death of Luis de Camoes in 1580. He is best remembered for a poem of his which celebrated the glories and accomplishments of the Kingdom of Portugal. Since (following the triumph of the revolutionary republicans) the fortunes of Portugal have significantly declined, it is easy to forget the multitude of gigantic accomplishments the Portuguese kingdom made to the world. The Portuguese, starting with the patronage of the legendary Prince Henry the Navigator, were trailblazers in global exploration, navigation and cartography. Camoes himself was party to some of these early voyages of exploration and lost an eye after being shipwrecked in what is now Vietnam.

People today do not consider Portugal to be a major power but there is a great deal of history they are forgetting about. When they think of Portugal they think of things like wine and cork trees. When I think of Portugal the first thing I think of is the statue of St Anthony that the country gave to the city of my birth San Antonio which today stands alongside the San Antonio River on the beautiful Paseo del Rio. However, after that, I think of the country that introduced Europe to the wider world, the country that was first to have a global empire and the last to lose it; I think of the country that discovered and settled Brazil, mapped the coasts of Africa, discovered the Cape of Good Hope, were first to trade with India, Indonesia and even Japan. I think of the country that circled the globe and made Europe aware of diverse peoples across South America, Africa and Asia.

Today about the only thing people seem to remember about the Portuguese Empire is the slave trade. The fact is that the Portuguese never even attempted to conquer huge amounts of territory and rule large groups of people. Their colonial empire was based on trade rather than conquering huge swathes of territory. A little history review for the unfamiliar; the first King of Portugal was Afonso I who secured the country from Leon and the Moors and was recognized by the Pope. Early on the country signed a treaty with England, the oldest alliance in Europe. Prince Henry the Navigator spurred Portugal into becoming a great seapower and the world leader in exploration and trade. Over the years that followed Portugal became a major commercial and educational center in Europe and one of the richest countries in Europe. The Portuguese empire stretched from Brazil, the Azores, all around the coast of Africa and the Persian Gulf to India, Indonesia, China and Japan.

Fortunese declined somewhat following the death of the legendary King Sebastian after which a succession crisis arose. The Spanish Hapsburgs later absorbed Portugal but independence was restored by King John IV of the current House of Braganza. More problems, some due to bad ministers and some simply unavoidable natural disasters caused further decline throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries. All of the bad elements came together in the early 20th Century when King Manuel II was overthrown in 1910 and the First Republic declared. The era that followed was one of political chaos and religious persecution which lasted more or less until the rise of the "New State" under the corporatist Salazar. After another revolution brought his regime down the last significant elements of the Portuguese empire were given up, the last being the Chinese port of Macau in 1999. The Mad Monarchist wishes all Portuguese a happy Portugal Day and encourage all to struggle on for the day that the Kingdom and the greatness of Portugal is restored.


  1. Thank you so much. We hope that one day the Dukes of Braganza become again Kings of Portugal.
    Azores? Yes! But do not forget Madeira Island!


  2. And I certainly join you in that. Yes, Madeira did get left out, not because I forgot it; if nothing else I will remember Madeira as the final resting place of the great Blessed Emperor Charles of Austria. However, I had to resist the urge to list all Portuguese holdings for lack of space. The Azores probably also stand out to me since one of my favorite American fighting ships of all time had a crew largely made up of Portuguese sailors from the Azores.

  3. That was the Confederate States Ship "Alabama" ably commanded by Captain Raphael Semmes; the most successful raiding ship in American history, it was finally sunk by the USS Kearsarge off the coast of Cherbourg, France. It was built in England and the officers were all Americans (southerners) but the majority of the crew were Portuguese, British & others but I believe the Portuguese from the Azores where it was outfitted were the largest group.


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