15th Century Portugal

Today we will round out the Iberian Penisula with Portugal, and they spent the century exploring and colonizing. At the beginning of the century, John I of Portugal is ruling. He had won his throne at the end of the last century, and when the rival bloodline died without an heir (John I of Castile), he enjoyed relative peace, which allowed him to be merciful and consolidate his power. He did conquer the city of Ceuta (located in modern-day Mororroco) in 1415. Through his wife, Philippa of Lancaster, he had six children to live until adulthood. His third son, Henry, was both Duke of Viseu and Grand Master of the Order of Christ; he was obsessed with exploration and is now known as the Navigator. He spent his life invading Africa to both exploit them and learn more about the world he grew up in. He began perfecting using the Volto do Mar that would become significant in exploring the Americas and Africa. He worked to colonize Africa, they claimed the Madeira islands in response to Castile claiming the Canary Island. He then set his sights on the Azores, which he brought under Portuguese rule in 1427. 

John I died of plague in 1433, and his eldest son Edward inherited his throne. In 1434, a man named Gil Eanes traveled past the furthest known point, Cape Bojador, and exploration with colonization continued. Some of these colonies proved to be a burden on the Portuguese finances due to the trade route moving to Tangier, making it hard to get resources to places like Ceuta. Henry, along with his brother Ferdinand, decided to attack Marinid, but the Pope and two of their other brothers, Peter and John, all thought this was a terrible idea. They were right, and the invasion went horribly– in the end Ferdinand was used as a hostage after the Portuguese had been starved out. A treaty was signed, and they were to hand over Ceutra for Ferdinand’s release. His brothers urged him to do so, but the Portuguese Cortes denied ratifying the treaty. Edward died soon after of plague in 1438, and Ferdinand would die in captivity in 1443. 

Edwards’ death left Portugal in a peculiar state, as his son and heir, Afonso V, was six years old. His first regent was his mother, Eleanor of Aragon, but she was unpopular due to being a foreigner and a woman. His eldest uncle soon replaced her, Peter, after protest from Peter’s half brother, Afonso, Count of Barcelos. The two uncles would be at constant war as Peter tried to restrict the nobles power and increase the crowns. The Count quickly became Afonso’s favorite and was granted the title Duke of Braganza. Upon his coming of age, Afonso nullified all the actions of his regent and soon named Peter an outlaw. The Battle of Alfarrobeira took place, and Peter died. The Duke of Braganza became a defacto ruler, while the King turned his attention to Africa, wishing to conquer more than his predecessors, though after his uncle Henry died in 1460, efforts died out as well. In 1452, Pope Nicholas V issued a bull called the Dum Diversas that allowed Afonso to entrap certain groups of people, like pagans and Saracens, in hereditary slavery; this act would go on to justify the slave trade Europeans would create. 

In 1474, he found a new cause. Henry of Castile died, and his only heir was a female named Joanna that many believed to be illegitimate. Her aunt Isabella took the throne, but Joanna would not give up easily and appealed to Portugal for help. Afonso married agreed as long as Joanna married him. She agreed, and he traveled to Castile with his son John, and an army to siege the throne. Isabella’s husband met them, Ferdinand I, Cardinal Mendoza, and Duke of Alba, and the battle ensued. It ended in a stalemate as Mendoza defeated Afonso and the Duke, but John was successful. Both claimed victory, but Afonso’s chances of taking Castile were tarnished. He tried to make the French his ally in this, but when this came to nothing, Afonso fell into a state of disillusionment and eventually abdicated in favor of his son John, who has been referred to as the Perfect Prince. 

It was 1481 when John inherited his father’s throne, and he was 26. His first act was to curt the power of nobles and expand his own power by doing things like not allowing them to administer their own justice on their lands, instead bringing those issues to the crown. His cousin, the Duke of Braganza (grandson of Afonso, Duke of Braganza), was discontented with this and began exchanging letters with Isabella of Castile. When John learned of this, he renegotiated the Treaty of Alcáçovas with Castile, and then refocused on his nobles. The Duke of Braganza, as well as his ally, the Duke of Viseu, was executed. Their families fled to Castile as other nobles met their fate or were imprisoned. The crack down was harsh enough to secure peace for the rest of his reign, as well as helped make the crown richer; after 1483, the people were terrified of John II. With the wealth from this and his plundering of Africa (he restarted the exploration efforts of the late Prince Henry), Portugal began using their tax money for their own interest instead of paying off debts, making them an intriguing ally. We know that they found the Congo River and Cape of Good Hope during this period, as well as created the São Tomé and Príncipe, and built the Castelo de São Jorge da Mina, but there is much lost to history, and we will never know truly how far they went. When Christopher Columbus returned “victorious”, he first stopped in Portugal to boast. According to the standing treaty between Portugal and Castile, the territory belonged to John, and so did the riches that came with it. The letter threatening to come take the gold by force reached Isabella before Columbus, and the Spanish raced to renegotiate. With papal mediation, the Treaty of Tordesillas was signed, and the new world was to be divided up equally. 

Despite being married to Eleanor of Viseu since 1470, John died without an heir in 1495. Their only son had died four years prior. He had tried to promote his illegitimate son, Jorge, Duke of Cambria, succeeded him, but was instead succeeded by Manuel I. He had been the Duke of Beja and Viseu, and in the next century we will learn why he was called “the Fortunate”.

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