History of Portugal

From Roses, Tulips, & Liberty

Premodern history

The area that is now Portugal was ruled successively by the Celts, Romans, Goths, and Arabs until the independent County of Portugal was established in 1096 during the Reconquista. Spain recognized Portugal's sovereignty in 1143 and the Church in 1179. Portugal, under the Burgundy dynasty, conquered the Algarve in 1249, establishing the final form of its continental European territory.

The Treaty of Windsor in 1386 formed a strong alliance with England. King John I established the Portuguese empire in 1415 with the invasion of Morocco and the capture of Ceuta. In the 15th century, the Portuguese reached India, the Cape, Kongo, western Africa, and eventually the Americas. After the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, explorer Pedro Cabral arrived in Brasil in 1500.

The Iberian Union (1580-1640)

The Iberian Union was the name given to the dynastic union of the crowns of Aragon, Castille and Portugal for sixty years, bringing together the Iberian Peninsula and the vast Spanish and Portuguese empire under the next three Spanish Habsburg monarchs: Philip II, Phillip III and Phillip IV.

Started by a succession crisis between the grandchildren of king Manuel I, due the death of the young king D. Sebastian in 1578 and shortly after the death of his successor, Cardinal Henry due to old age in 1580, the throne of Portugal was taken by Phillip II after his successful campaign in the Battle of Alcântara.

Gilded Century (1640-1754)

The Iberian Union saw its end after the restoration of the Portuguese Crown under John IV, former 8th Duke of Braganza, in 1640. In the late stages of the Iberian Union, the Portuguese noble support to the Spanish king was reaching its lowest point. High taxation, the economic burden of Spanish wars across Europe and the mostly Spanish occupied public offices, drove them, along with the wealthy class of merchants from Portugal, to rise in a rebellion which began a conflict that would last for the next almost 30 years, as peace with Spain was reached only in 1668.

From 1645 to 1654, a joint force of Pernambucan colonists and Portuguese troops retook Recife, the last bastion of Dutch occupation in Brasil. In 1661, peace between the Netherlands and Portugal was finally established as the Dutch ownership of Ceylon, Cochin and Malabar was recognized.

In the next 86 years of peace, Portugal saw its empire lose prestige and relevance on the world stage to other European nations.

Three Tragedies period (1755-1834)

1755 earthquake

On November 1, 1755, Portugal was hit by a powerful earthquake with an epicenter in the Atlantic Ocean, close to the Iberian Peninsula and Morocco. The disaster destroyed almost all of Lisbon. Shortly after the earthquake, a tsunami took shore, elevating even more the destruction. It’s estimated that the death toll of the catastrophe was around tens of thousands. Among these ten thousand was most of the Portuguese Royal Family. The earthquake not only caused massive destruction but also almost ended the House of Braganza. The only ones spared were King Henry II’s brother, John, proclaimed King John IV, and one of his daughters, Joana,  who ended up receiving the nickname Astúcia (the Astuteness).

Arrangement with Tuscany:

To prevent the end of the royal house, efforts to engage Joana took place as quickly as possible. At the end, one of the sons of Tuscany’s Grand Duke, Ferdinando (Fernando in Portugal), was chosen to engage in a marriage with the heir to the crown of Portugal. The ceremony happened in 1757, and the hopes of a new generation of Braganzas were high.

Second Habsburg Rule:

In 1766, Joana became regent of Portugal as King John IV's health deteriorated, and she was crowned queen in 1768 after her uncle's death. Still childless and with a life marked by miscarriages, tensions over the fate of the royal house started again as uncertainty arose about the generation of an heir. In 1771, the expectations were finally fulfilled after the birth of a healthy boy, Afonso. Although the heritance of the throne was secured for now, Queen Joana died days after giving birth.

After Joana's death, no one in Portugal was in a position to take regency until Afonso’s 18th birthday. Therefore, the king of Habsburg Spain, Philip V, was recognized as regent of Portugal. Once again, Portugal was under the rule of a Spanish Habsburg more than a hundred and thirty years after the dissolution of the Iberian Union in 1640.

Differently from the Iberian Union, this period of Habsburg control was much shorter and calmer, as Europe was at the moment in a state of stability. Of course, a significant part of the government became upset and fearful of Philip appointing the Spanish to take their positions, but this did not end up happening. The most notorious achievement of the second Habsburg period was the completion of the Lisbon reconstruction in 1773.

Philip V's rule as regent lasted until 1789, when Afonso reached his 18th birthday and was crowned King Afonso II.

Portugal in the Great Silesian War

During the Great Silesian War, Portugal took on a passive, supportive role, diplomatically supporting her longstanding ally, Britain.

Portugal during the French Revolution and Augustine Wars

The reign of Augustine Spiga threatened the stability of the Portuguese monarchy, leading to the country adopting more absolutist and defensive positions. Small Portuguese regiments and flotillas accompanied the Royal British Navy as well. In 1807, several counselors under King Afonso VII put forth a proposal to relocate the empire's capital to Rio de Janeiro in the event of a French invasion. However, this plan was never put into action.

Os Oitenta-Oito (1834-1922)

Constitutional Revolution

In the early 1830s, bourgeoisie and martial radicals inspired by the French Revolution and political turmoil in Spain began resisting absolutist rule in Portugal. The wealthy members of the bourgeoisie had monetary power and the soldiers possessed military power but lacked political representation, leading to the two groups forming an alliance in order to dismantle the status quo. In 1834, riots took place in several Portuguese cities. Several thousand soldiers disobeyed orders to suppress the rioters, leading to the monarchy fearing a civil war. In May, the royal court agreed to begin drafting a constitution.

By 1835, the new constitution was completed. It included the following terms;

  • The Chancellor becomes the head of government, sharing executive powers with the monarch
  • The independence of the judiciary and legislature and the legal codification of all Portuguese laws
  • Suffrage granted to all literate males over 20 years old
  • Limitations on the role of the Catholic Church in society and government

Collapse of colonial Brazil

After decades of revolts and tensions, the colony of Brazil began to fall apart. In 1845, Bahia gained independence, shortly followed by the Riograndense Republic in 1846. When Portugal abolished slavery in 1874, the plantation owners of Equador declared their sovereignty and achieved it in 1877.

By the late 19th century, only the southeast region encompassing Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Minas Gerais, parts of Mato Grosso and Paraná were still under Portuguese colonial rule. In 1878, after the failure to end the revolt in Equador, Portugal feared that their last bit of Brazil would revolt as well. They elevated Brazil to the status of autonomous territory, granting it a legislature, a constitution, and local elections. The Governor of Brazil, the head of state and the most powerful office, was directly appointed by the Portuguese monarch.

Coffee empire

Coffee was first brought to Brazil in the early 18th century yet was not largely cultivated until the early 19th century. As the gold and mining industires had declined, Portugal sought to monopolize the importation of coffee beans into Europe by establishing coffee plantations throughout the colony. However, the coffee industry sharply declined in the late 19th century, leading to the rise of Brazilian nationalism and industrialisation.

Coimbra insurrection of 1875

In the 1870s, Europe was shaken by a wave of egalitarian revolutions. Revolutions in France and in Spain inspired the formation of the Communard Party of Portugal (Portuguese: Sociedade Comunarde de Portugal) in Coimbra. The communard revolutionaries despised the agrarian policies of the conservative Portuguese monarchy and strove to propagate Enlightenment values and industrialisation in Portugal with the establishment of a republic.

The government swiftly censored the media and suppressed public demonstrations. Several leading members of the Party, today known as the Coimbra 28, were arrested and persecuted. By the new year, the communards of Portugal were successfully extinguished.

The Luso-Brazilian Compromise

Carolina's achievement of home rule in 1914 and the European Economic Crisis of the 1920s stirred up republican sentiment in Brazil. Brazilian industries, most notably coffee, suffered overproduction and devaluation. Unemployment and civil unrest plagued the country, often being blamed on Lisbon's disproportionate and unjust political power over Brazilian affairs. In the second half of 1922, large scale riots and demonstrations began en masse.

On the second of November, 1922, the Governor of São Paulo declared a revolt. The province of Minas Gerais followed shortly, forcing the militarily weak Lisbon to accept the prospect of negotiations with the autonomous territory of Brazil.

On December 4th, the Treaty of Rio de Janeiro established a real union between Portugal and Brazil called the United Kingdom of Portugal-Brazil.

  • The creation of a new, more progressive Brazilian constitution;
  • The Kingdom of Brazil would encompass every Portuguese territory in the Americas;
  • Disestablishment of the office of Governor of Brazil and the creation of the Chancellor of Brazil;
  • Brazilians could be elected to all political offices within the empire;
  • A common Ministry of Foreign Affairs and united diplomatic and foreign policies.