History of Portugal

History of Portugal

Under King Emanuel, Portuguese power reached
its height. From 1497 to 1499 Vasco da Gama made the first voyage to India
following the route discovered by Dias, and inaugurated a lucrative trade
in spices and other luxuries between Europe and South Asia. Led by Afonso
de Albuquerque, the Portuguese occupied Goa, India, in 1510, Malacca (now

Melaka, Malaysia) in 1511, the Moluccas (in present-day Indonesia) in 1512-14,
and Hormuz Island in the Persian Gulf in 1515. During the same period they
opened up trade with China and established relations with Ethiopia. As
other Portuguese kings had done, Emanuel dreamed of uniting Portugal and

Spain under his rule and successively married two daughters of King Ferdinand

V and Queen Isabella I. Under pressure from his Spanish relations, he followed
their example by expelling Jews and Muslims from his domains in 1497, thus
depriving Portugal of much of its middle class. His son, John III, promoted
the settlement of Brazil and (again influenced by the example of Spain)
introduced (1536) the Inquisition into Portugal to enforce religious uniformity.

By the time he died in 1557, Portugal had begun to decline as a political
and commercial power. This trend continued under King Sebastian, who was
killed during another expedition against Morocco in 1578. On the death
of his successor, King Henry, in 1580, the Aviz dynasty came to an end.

When Henry died, seven claimants disputed
the succession to the throne. The most powerful was Philip II, king of

Spain, who in 1580 became Philip I of Portugal. The annexation of Portugal
to the Spanish Habsburg monarchy subjected it to the heavy expenses of

Spanish wars in a period known as the Sixty Years’ Captivity. After 1600,

Portuguese domination of trade with the East Indies was lost to the Dutch
and the English. Under Philip I, Portugal enjoyed considerable autonomy,
but his successors, Philip II (Philip III of Spain) and Philip III (Philip

IV of Spain), treated it as a Spanish province, provoking widespread discontent.

After unsuccessful revolts in 1634 and 1637, Portuguese conspirators with
the support of France won independence for their kingdom in 1640. John,
duke of Braganza, was elected John IV, first king of the house of Braganza,
which ruled Portugal as long as the monarchy endured.

John IV and His Successors (1640-1816)

King John expelled the Dutch from Brazil, which they had occupied in 1630,
and renewed the traditional tie with England. Although further weakened
by conflicts with Spain in the second half of the 17th century, Portugal
recovered a measure of prosperity in the 18th century, after gold and diamonds
were discovered in Brazil. Between 1683 and 1750, during the reigns of

Pedro II and John V, British merchants came to dominate Portuguese trade;
the monarchy became more despotic and the Cortes fell into disuse. During
the reign (1750-77) of Joseph Emanuel, the kingdom was controlled by the
chief-minister, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Mello, marquês
de Pombal, considered one of the greatest statesmen in modern Portuguese
history. Although a ruthless dictator, he worked to weaken the power of
the privileged nobility and the church, encouraged industry and education,
and ended the foreign monopoly of trade. Pombal was dismissed, however,
at the accession of Joseph Emanuel’s daughter Maria I in 1777. During the

French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, Portugal sided with Britain against


In 1807, when the armies of Napoleon threatened

Portugal, the royal family withdrew to Brazil and made Rio de Janeiro the
seat of government. A French army occupied Portugal but was defeated in

1808 by a British army under Sir Arthur Wellesley, 1st duke of Wellington.

By the Convention of Sintra (August 30, 1808), the French left the country,
but they reinvaded a year later. Wellington again checked the French advance,
and by 1811 Portugal was free of French influence. The Portuguese royal
family chose, however, to remain in Brazil, which in 1815 was made a separate
kingdom. In 1816 John VI succeeded to the two thrones, ruling Portugal
through a council of regency.