Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Story of Monarchy: The Kingdom of Portugal

The history of the Kingdom of Portugal dates back to the ‘Reconquista’ of the Iberian Peninsula by the Christians against the Moorish invaders from North Africa. Earlier, the Phoenicians and Carthaginians had visited the country, finding people already there who they named Iberians. The Greeks founded colonies there, one where Lisbon stands today. In the 100’s BC the area was conquered by the Romans and remained part of the Roman Empire until the final days of the Western Roman Empire when the whole peninsula was conquered by the Visigoths. They remained in control until Arab and Moorish forces invaded and subjugated almost the whole of the Iberian Peninsula in the 700’s. In the 1000’s the Christians began to fight back and the longest war in history ensued as the Muslim invaders were slowly driven out. The first area to be liberated was known as Pôrto, formerly Portus, and it is from that that the name of Portugal was derived. In 1094 a French knight, Henri of Burgundy, was rewarded for his service by King Alfonso VI of Castile with the counties of Pôrto and Coimbra, with the title “Count of Portugal”.

Afonso I Henriques
That was the first seed of what would become independent Portugal. The son of Henri of Burgundy, Afonso Henriques, was a champion of the Christian forces and won many hard fought battles against the Moors. His strength and prestige grew and in 1143 he upgraded his title to King of Portugal, claiming independent sovereignty. Within four years he had liberated the city of Lisbon and made it his seat of power. The war dragged on but by the mid-1200’s all of what is now Portugal was finally freed of the invaders and totally under Christian control. In 1383 the reign of the House of Burgundy came to an end when King Ferdinand I died without an heir. There was an interregnum but ultimately the throne was claimed by the illegitimate brother of Ferdinand I, John, the Grand Master of the Order of Aviz, a Portuguese order of knights. In 1385 he succeeded in taking control of the country as King John I, his dynasty being known as the House of Aviz because of its knightly origins. Aviz kings would rule Portugal for the next two hundred years and bring it to great fame and fortune.

King John I was a very successful monarch, maintaining Portuguese independence from Castile, expanding Portuguese territory into north Africa and making an alliance with England that remains in effect to this day, making it the oldest alliance in the world. It was also under the reign of King John that Prince Henry the Navigator explored the African coast. The island groups of the Azores and Madeira were claimed by Portugal and the country became the preeminent power in the western world in the areas of exploration, sailing and cartography. All of this set a trend that was to continue and kept Portugal at the forefront of exploration and discovery of new lands and trade routes. It can be compared to American astronauts landing on the moon in the 1960’s as the Portuguese explorers were truly going “where no man had gone before” and discovered new lands and peoples, originally in Africa, who had never been contacted before. Under King Afonso V, Portuguese forces won further victories in North Africa and later, under King Manuel I, Portugal became a country with truly global influence.

Manuel I
In 1488, under the reign of John II, Bartolomeu Dias discovered the Cape of Good Hope at the bottom of Africa, allowing for further explorations into the Indian Ocean and the original sea route to East Asia. King Manuel I came to the Portuguese throne in 1495 and two years later another intrepid Portuguese navigator named Vasco de Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and sailed to India, establishing the first Portuguese presence on the subcontinent. Portugal would maintain holdings in India from that time until 1961. Under King Manuel, the Portuguese established trade routes, gained ports and made commercial agreements with the Persians, numerous Indian princes and even the Emperor of China. Portugal was on the cutting edge of new technologies, new discoveries and international trade. A relatively small country with a small population and few natural resources, the Kingdom of Portugal rapidly became a world power and the wealthiest country in Europe. Other powers could scarcely find any part of the world where the Portuguese had not preceded them. The Kingdom of Portugal was the trailblazer in opening up contact between Europe and all the previously unreached lands of Africa and Asia. In 1500, Pedro Àlvares Cabral discovered Brazil, giving Portugal a foothold in the Americas as well which would eventually grow into the largest and most important Portuguese colony.

Unfortunately, this was the peak period for Portugal and a decline was soon coming. One of the first causes involved the Jews who had previously been tolerated under King Manuel I but, when he married the Infanta Isabella of Aragon (daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Aragon and Castile), part of the marriage contract stipulated that the Jews be removed from Portugal as they had been from Spain. After that time, Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism or leave the country and as they had a very large presence in the banking and commercial sectors, the Portuguese economy took a heavy blow with this new policy. There was also a complacency that set in regarding the wealth Portugal was gaining from overseas, whether by the spice trade with Asia or the slave trade in Africa, and many took for granted that this prosperity would last forever while other countries were making serious inroads into all of these areas. There was also about to be a major problem with the Kingdom of Spain. However, mention should also be made of the great faith of Portugal. King Manuel I was a very devout Catholic and the first person to receive the honor of a Golden Rose from the Pope twice in his lifetime. The Portuguese took missionaries, often Jesuits, with them on all their overseas adventures and spread Christianity to vast new lands in Africa, Asia and South America. They were the first westerners to visit Japan and planted Christian seeds in that country that endured fierce persecution and centuries of isolation.

John IV
After the death of King Manuel, King John III abandoned North Africa but expanded Portuguese influence in India and East Asia. His grandson and successor, King Sebastian, died in battle in Morocco and was succeeded by King Henry, a cardinal of the Catholic Church who, of course, had no heirs. When he died King Philip II of Spain claimed the Portuguese throne and sent his troops in. From 1581 to 1640 Portugal would be ruled by the Spanish Hapsburgs. The reign of King Philip II was a high point in the history of Spain but Portugal was drained in the furtherance of Spanish causes that were quite ambitious. The period of Spanish rule also involved Portugal in conflicts with other European powers and the English, French and Dutch all made colonial gains at the expense of the Portuguese empire around the world. This finally came to an end when John II, Duke of Braganza, claimed to be the heir of the Aviz dynasty and led an uprising against the Spanish. The English and French were quick to seize the opportunity to hinder their Spanish rival and backed the cause of Portugal. In 1668 the Spanish finally agreed to recognize Portuguese independence under what became known as the House of Braganza.

King John IV, the original Braganza monarch, was succeeded by the weak and chronically ill King Afonso VI under whom Portuguese fortunes continued to decline and he was ultimately deposed and exiled. The next monarch was King Peter II who allied with Britain and Austria in the War of Spanish Succession and whose forces even captured Madrid in the course of the conflict though the overall campaign was not a success. However, Peter was succeeded by King John V and under his leadership, the fortunes of the Kingdom of Portugal finally turned around. An ambitious man with a grandiose style, he expanded the Portuguese empire and brought wealth and prosperity back to the country through his victories and policies. An extremely pious man, he was also given the title of “Most Faithful Majesty” by the Pope, a title passed on to all subsequent Portuguese monarchs. He chose good ministers for the administration of the country, showed good judgment himself and presided over a flowering of art, architecture and other cultural achievements for Portugal.

John V
Further victories followed the reign of King John V but the country also saw the rise in the political class and religious tensions over the expulsion of the Jesuits. Conflicts and later a major earthquake also put a severe strain on the country’s finances. Corrupt and incompetent officials also caused serious damage and it did not help that Queen Maria I went insane. She was ultimately succeeded by King John VI but the whole situation made it extremely difficult to deal with the rot that had set in within the government and there were a succession of huge foreign catastrophes to handle, all stemming from the French Revolution. Portugal was pushed into an alliance with Spain, against the French and then when the country refused to accede to French demands, was invaded by the forces of Napoleonic France. King John VI and the royal court relocated to Brazil while the British landed troops under the Duke of Wellington who assigned a commander to take in hand the reform of the Portuguese army.

The Anglo-Portuguese forces drove the French out of the country and along with the Spanish proved to be a major irritant to Napoleon. Eventually, the French were driven from the Iberian Peninsula but the region was far from free of conflict. In 1821 King John VI returned to Portugal and found a discontented country. From the beginning there had been those who sympathized with the French and their presence had only increased demands for constitutional government and an end to the absolute monarchy. A liberal constitution was produced in 1822 which greatly restricted royal powers, however, it did not include the colonies and Brazil, its status raised by the recent relocation of the seat of power there, rose up to demand independence. The son of King John VI, Peter, took the lead in this movement and became Emperor Peter (Pedro) I of Brazil. King John VI tried to dispense with the liberal constitution but the stage had already been set for a clash between those who favored constitutional monarchy and the supporters of absolutism.

Peter V
After the death of King John VI, Emperor Peter I of Brazil returned to Portugal to claim the throne as King Peter IV, however, he soon passed the Portuguese throne to his daughter Queen Maria II. She was backed by the constitutional monarchists but she had a rival in the person of her uncle who claimed the throne as King Miguel I, backed by the absolutists. There were also problems from the radical revolutionaries who, first appearing during the French occupation, were to never completely go away. In 1834 King Miguel I was defeated and forced to abdicate, going into exile in Italy, Britain and finally Germany. Queen Maria II and her husband King Ferdinand II ruled until her death in 1853 though the king remained a couple more years as regent for their son King Peter V. The country had come through a difficult period of occupation, war, civil war, dynastic dispute and overall chaos but under King Peter V there finally seemed hope for peace, stability and a period of renewal.

Such hopes were well founded as the young King Peter V, who came to the throne in 1853, was a very intelligent and hard-working monarch. The infrastructure of the country was modernized and improved dramatically. However, there proved to be little time as the handsome young king died in 1861 during a cholera outbreak. Ironically, one of the areas that had most improved during his reign was the public health system. Still, his loss prompted further beneficial changes in that regard, most notably the passage of the Sanitary reforms. In 1878 slavery was abolished throughout the Portuguese colonial empire under King Luis I. He put Portugal at the forefront of oceanographic research but overall the country did not live up to the potential many saw in the time of Peter V. Political instability was a major problem as the liberal reforms had created a class of politicians, often corrupt, always eager to struggle for power and influence. Portugal fell behind other countries and was blocked from further colonial expansion in Africa as more countries became involved in the game.

Manuel II
In 1889 Luis was succeeded by his son King Carlos I but the political situation only grew worse due to bad policies enacted by corrupt officials. Portugal, which had once been the wealthiest country in Europe, fell into poverty and was forced to declare bankruptcy twice. Radical revolutionaries, usually socialists, were also increasing in strength and advocating the overthrow of the monarchy in favor of a republic even though it was their sort of state intervention which had helped wreck the Portuguese economy, something they were only too willing to use to their advantage. Tensions and unrest grew worse and in 1908 King Carlos I was assassinated, an act which was shocking even in an era where such assassinations were not uncommon, due to the fact that the Portuguese royals had generally been well liked and had not known great animosity even in periods of internal dispute. He was succeeded by the 19-year old King Manuel II, a very bright and cultured young man but who could hardly be expected to undue such a long period of government extravagance and foolish policies at such a late date.

Only a couple of years later a military coup sparked a revolution that saw the downfall of the monarchy and the establishment of a republic in 1910. There was little popular support for the upheaval but the King was forced to go into exile in Great Britain. There was one major effort to restore the monarchy but this was ultimately unsuccessful and the fortunes of Portugal likewise continued to sink under republican rule. Chaos and power struggles ensued and the country declined ever farther. Order was only restored after the establishment of the Corporatist State in 1933 after which time the economy slowly began to improve. However, that progress was thwarted by the outbreak of communist-backed anti-colonial wars in Africa. Portugal was essentially forced to fight three wars simultaneously and the strain ultimately led to the so-called “Carnation Revolution” in 1974 after which the Portuguese colonies were abandoned.

Socialists seized power and mostly held it, giving way to more moderate liberals from time to time but still pursuing policies that stymied economic growth to the point that Portugal became one of the poorest countries in Europe, a far cry from the fabulous wealth that had existed in centuries past under the monarchy. This made Portugal all too willing to join in with the “European project” but that only made it easier for the republican government to borrow more and more money, putting the country deeper and deeper into debt and all the more dependent on the ruling elite of the European Union. No lasting solution has yet been found and still today the situation in Portugal remains precarious. However, the history of the Kingdom of Portugal contains all the necessary lessons to turn this situation around. The contrast could not be more stark between the current status of the Portuguese republic as a debtor nation and that of the Kingdom of Portugal which was on the cutting edge of innovation, in business and technology, making it a prosperous country with influence all over the world. That is what Portugal needs to return to.


  1. I am portuguese and i couldnt agree more on the fact that the republic ruined my country... But there is a monarchic movement that is growing alot in popularity and I do hope that one day I will see the restoration of the monarchy! Real, real, real! Viva D. Duarte, o rei de Portugal!

  2. Hear, Hear!. Could not agree more. As the first comment states their is a growing monarchist movement in Portugal, and i hope that one day we can hold our heads high and be proud of our country again.

  3. What is your opinion MadMonarchist of the Estado Novo led by Antonio De Oliveira Salazar?

    1. Addressed in past post: http://madmonarchist.blogspot.com/2013/09/monarchism-and-corporate-state-in.html


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