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Key Events in Portuguese History


11. War against Castile, Start of the Avis Dynasty 1383-5

When King Fernando died in 1383, his daughter Beatriz became queen. This was deeply unpopular, because she was married to King Juan I of Castile, and people rebelled fearing a Castilian takeover. Nobles and merchants sponsored an assassination which in turn triggered a revolt in favour of former king Pedro’s illegitimate son Joao. He defeated two Castilian invasions with English aid and won the backing of the Portuguese Cortes, which ruled Beatriz was illegitimate. He thus became King Joao I in 1385 signed a perpetual alliance with England which still exists, and began a new form of monarchy.

12. Wars of the Castilian Succession 1475 – 9

Portugal went to war in 1475 to support the claims of King Afonso V of Portugal’s niece, Joanna, to the Castilian throne against the rival, Isabella, wife of Ferdinand of Aragon. Afonso had one eye on supporting his family and another on trying to block the unification of Aragon and Castile, which he feared would swallow Portugal. Afonso was defeated at the Battle of Toro in 1476, and failed to gain Spanish help. Joanna renounced her claim in 1479 in the Treaty of Alcáçovas.

13. Portugal Expands into an Empire 15th – 16th Centuries

While attempts at expanding into north Africa met limited success, Portuguese sailors pushed their frontiers and created a global empire. This was partly due to direct royal planning, as military voyages evolved into journeys of exploration; Prince Henry ‘the Navigator’ was perhaps the single greatest driving force, founding a school for sailors and encouraging outward journeys to discover wealth, spread Christianity and sate curiosity. The empire included trading posts along the East African coasts and the Indies/Asia - where the Portuguese struggled with Muslim traders - and conquest and settlement in Brazil. The main hub of Portugal’s Asian trade, Goa, became the nation’s “second city”.

14. Manueline Era 1495 – 1521

Coming to the throne in 1495, King Manuel I (known, perhaps wryly, as ‘the Fortunate’) reconciled the crown and the nobility, which had been growing apart, instituted a nationwide series of reforms and modernised the administration including, in 1521, a revised series of laws which became the basis for the Portuguese legal system into the nineteenth century. In 1496 Manuel expelled all Jews from the kingdom and ordered the baptism of all Jewish children. The Manueline Era saw Portuguese culture flourish.

15. The “Disaster of Alcácer-Quibir” 1578

Upon reaching his majority and taking control of the country, King Sebastiáo decided to make war upon the Muslims and crusade in north Africa. Intending to create a new Christian empire, he and 17,000 troops landed in Tangiers in 1578 and marched to Alcácer-Quibir, where the King of Morocco butchered them. Half of Sebastiáo’s force was killed, including the king himself, and the succession passed to a childless Cardinal.

16. Spain Annexes Portugal / Start of the "Spanish Captivity" 1580

The ‘disaster of Alcácer-Quibir’ and the death of King Sebastiáo left the Portuguese succession in the hands of an elderly and childless Cardinal. When he died the line passed to King Ohilip II of Spain, who saw a chance to unite the two kingdoms and invaded, defeating his main rival: António, Prior of Crato, illegitimate child of a former prince. While Philip was welcomed by nobility and merchants seeing opportunity from the merger, many of the populace disagreed, and a period called the “Spanish Captivity” began.

17. Rebellion and Independence 1640

As Spain began to decline, so did Portugal. This, coupled with growing taxes and Spanish centralization fermented revolution and the idea of a new independence in Portugal. In 1640, after Portuguese nobles were ordered to crush a Catalan rebellion on the other side of the Iberian peninsular, some organised a revolt, assassinated a minister, stopped Castilian troops from reacting and placed João, Duke of Braganza, on the throne. Descended from the monarchy, João took a fortnight to weigh his options and accept, but he did, becoming João IV. War with Spain followed, but this larger country was drained by European conflict and struggled. Peace, and recognition of Portugal’s independence from Spain came in 1668.

18. The Revolution of 1668

King Afonso VI was young, disabled and mentally ill. When he married a rumour went around that he was impotent and nobles, afraid for the future of the succession and a return to Spanish dominion, decided to back the king’s brother Pedro. A plan was hatched: Afonso’s wife persuaded the king to sack an unpopular minister, and she then fled to a convent and had the marriage annulled, whereupon Afonso was persuaded to resign in favour of Pedro. Afonso’s former queen then married Pedro. Afonso himself was given a large stipend and deported, but later returned to Portugal, where he lived in isolation.

19. Involvement in the War of the Spanish Succession 1704 – 1713

Portugal initially sided with the French claimant’s side in the War of the Spanish Succession, but shortly after entered into the “Grand Alliance” with England, Austria and the Low Countries against France and her allies. Battles took place along the Portuguese-Spanish border for eight years, and at one point an Anglo-Portuguese force entered Madrid. Peace brought expansion for Portugal in their Brazilian holdings.

20. Government of Pombal 1750 – 1777

In 1750 a former diplomat best known as the Marquês de Pombal entered the government. The new king, José, effectively gave him free reign. Pombal instituted massive reforms and changes in the economy, education and religion, including expelling the Jesuits. He also ruled despotically, filling prisons with those who challenged his rule, or that of the royal authority which backed him up. When José became ill, he arranged for the regent who followed him, Dona Maria, to change course. She took power in 1777, starting a period known as the Viradeira, the Volte-face. Prisoners were released, Pombal removed and exiled and nature of Portuguese government slowly changed.

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