Nobles were henceforth forbidden to administer justice on their lands with the Crown becoming the sole source of law and order. The Duke of Viseu had the distinction of being stabbed by the King personally for leading an aristocratic conspiracy against him. The Bishop of Evora was among those executed and who had their property confiscated for plots against the King. All of this seems quite harsh to people today but it must be seen in the context of history. The liberalism of Afonso V, building on extensive concessions to the aristocracy in the past, had really made the country rather top heavy and unstable. Previously, the King was usually not the most powerful man in Portugal and the government of the country was little more than a battlefield for the intrigues of the elites, scheming and feuding with each other to increase their own wealth and authority. The confiscated property of these nobles put the monarchy on a solid financial footing and the King made sure that there was one authority, one administrator of justice and one unifying force in the country and that was the monarchy. Overall, the Kingdom of Portugal was considerably better off because of it and the result was increased peace, stability and prosperity.
Also, unlike his father, King Joao II tried to keep peace with the neighboring Spanish Kingdom of Castile. However, this was difficult as tensions were inevitable due to competition in the fields of exploration and colonial expansion. A crisis seemed in the making following the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. Starting in 1485 the ambitious Italian explorer had tried to persuade King Joao II of Portugal to sponsor his voyage. However, the Portuguese experts (correctly as it turned out) believed that Columbus was completely wrong in his estimation that East Asia could be so close, just a short voyage westward across the Atlantic. After being turned down more than once, Columbus gave up on Portugal (which had found an eastern route to India by then) and made his famous agreement with King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile. When he returned with news of a vast new landmass, Columbus was probably rather eager to rub it in the face of the King who had turned him down. King Joao II was also just as upset at the opportunity he had missed. He warned the Spanish King and Queen that, according to the treaty negotiated by he and his father ending the Castilian War of Succession, much of this new found territory should belong to Portugal rather than Spain and he would use force to seize it if he had to.
|King Fernando & Queen Isabella|
One other area in which King Joao II greatly benefited his country was in putting it on a sound financial footing. This was no small task as he had inherited a country that was effectively broke. His response to this worked hand-in-hand with his breaking the power of the aristocracy. For one thing, confiscating the property of traitors brought income to the government but more importantly it meant that status was not the sole determining factor in achieving positions in government. The King assembled a special council to oversee the restoration of the economy and he selected its members from amongst the best and brightest in Portugal, choosing men whose talent could be seen by proven success. Their oversight, combined with the increasing income from the new trade routes and colonial outposts helped pay off the national debt and put Portugal back in the black. In time the Kingdom of Portugal would become one of the wealthiest countries in the world thanks to these changes.
(Additional Note: Part of the reason why King Joao II sometimes is portrayed as having a worse reputation than he should is no doubt colored by those who said he most embodied the leadership portrayed in “The Prince” by Niccolo Machiavelli. Whether this is accurate or not can be endlessly debated, however what cannot be debated is that the principles of the ‘Renaissance man’ Machiavelli were far more than simply “the ends justify the means”. Most have no real knowledge of the work or of Machiavelli himself who was a republican)