Skip to content

We ask you, humbly: don't scroll away.

Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

Help Now >


Free World Class Education
FREE Catholic Classes


Portugal is situated on the west of the Iberian Peninsula, being bounded on the north and east by Spain and on the west and south by the Atlantic Ocean. It lies between latitudes 37 and 42 north, and longitudes 6 1/4 and 9 1/2 west of Greenwich. The form is approximately rectangular, with a maximum length of 362 miles, a maximum breadth of 140 miles, and an area of 35,490 square miles. For purposes of administration it is officially divided into districts, but the old division into provinces (which originated in the differences of soil, climate, and character of the population) has not lost its meaning and is still employed in common parlance. The names of these provinces are Entre-Douro-e-Minho, Traz-os-Montes, Beira, Estremadura, Alemtejo, and Algarve. The island groups of Madeira with Porto Santo and the Azores are considered as part of Continental Portugal, the other possessions being colonies. Excluding these islands, Portugal has a sea-board of nearly 500 miles and a land frontier of about 620 miles, the greater part of which is marked by rivers or mountains. But though only a small portion of this frontier is conventional, Portugal and Spain are not separated by a strongly marked natural boundary such as divides some countries; indeed they are geographically one.

As regards the nature of the soil, Portugal may be roughly divided into three zones: (1) the northern, which is mountainous and rises from 1800 to 5000 feet, including the Serra do Gerez, notable for its vegetation and thermal springs; (2) the central, a zone of extensive plains divided by mountain ranges, among the latter being the Serra da Estrella (6540 feet), the highest and largest in the country; (3) the southern, the most extensive of the three, almost entirely composed of low-lying plains and plateaus of small altitude. In all these regions the mountains are usually prolongations of Spanish systems. The only independent range of importance is the Serra de Monchique. Briefly, in the north, Portugal has many chains of mountains, plateaus of considerable height, and deep narrow valleys; in the centre, together with high and extensive mountains, we find broad valleys and large plains. Lastly, south of the Tagus, the country is one of plains throughout the Alemtejo, but in the Algarve it again becomes hilly, though the altitudes are rarely considerable. The chief rivers are: (a) the Minho, which forms the northern frontier; (b) the Douro, which rises in Spain and enters the sea near Oporto, about one-third of its course being in Portugal; (c) the Mondego, the largest river rising in Portugal, which enters the sea at Figueira after a course of 140 miles; (d) the Tagus, which rises in Spain, forms above Lisbon a gulf more than eight miles wide, and enters the sea below that city, after a total course of nearly 500 miles, about one-third in Portugal; (e) the Sado, which flows out in a large estuary at Setubal; (f) the Guadiana, which serves in part as frontier between the two countries. The Tagus is navigable for small vessels as far as Santarem ; the Guadiana, as far as Mertola. There are no lakes worthy of mention, the ria at Aveiro connecting with the sea.

Portugal has few good natural harbours. That of Lisbon is the best, and indeed one of the largest in Europe, and is of easy access at all times. The bar of the Douro is shallow and difficult; a fine artificial port has therefore been built at Leixões to serve Oporto. Setubal is a fair harbour, as is Villa Real de S. Antonio, in the Algarve, while Lagos Bay, in the same province, affords a secure anchorage for a numerous fleet. The other ports are only suitable for small craft and are continually being blocked by sand. Portugal is rich in metalliferous deposits, including antimony, copper, manganese, uranium, lead, tin and iron. Coal is scarce and of poor quality. The country has more than a hundred mineral springs, of which the most important are Gerez and Vizella (Minho), Vidago, Pedras Salgadas, and Moledo (Traz-os-Montes), S. Pedro do Sul and Felgueira (Beira Alta), Caldas da Rainha (Estremadura), Moura (Alemtejo), and Monchique (Algarve). A branch of Gulf Stream runs down the West Coast and the climate is temperate, but it differs from province to province according to soil, distance from the sea, etc.; while equable on the coasts, it is subject to sudden changes inland. The plateaux of Traz-os-Montes and Beira are cold and harsh, while the Algarve littoral is hot, but even where the temperature is most extreme, the thermometer rarely rises to 3 Fahrenheit or descends to 2 below freezing. Snow only falls in winter in the high mountains and in north. The rainfall is more abundant in the north. The rainfall is more abundant in the winter than the South, and on the littoral than inland. The humidity produces fogs which render the coasts dangerous to shipping. The most usual winds are north-west, north, and north-east, but in winter south-west winds prevail, accompanied by storms. The nortada and the east wind are dry and disagreeable. Generally speaking, the climate is healthy, the mean temperature being 61 Fahrenheit. In the eighteenth century Lisbon was much recommended by English physicians as a health resort, and Mont' Estoril, on the sea outside the estuary of Tagus, is now increasing in favour as a winter residence.

The vegetation is rich, including nearly all the vegetable species of temperate climates and a large number of those found in hot countries. Among trees the pine is the most characteristic, but it does not grow south of the Sado. The pinhal of Leiria planted by King Denis is the largest forest and the mato of Busaco is famous for the size and variety of its trees. Fruit trees abound, especially on the Upper Douro, and in Beira. Olives and oranges are everywhere, the Algarve produces figs, and Traz-os-Montes almonds. The vine is universal and forms Portugal's principal wealth. The chief wines are port, which comes from the Douro region, and the wines of Beira and the Peninsula of Lisbon (Collares and Carcavellos), but the largest vineyard is found just south of the Tagus and is a recent creation. The cereals most grown are wheat, maize (Indian corn), and rye, but Portugal still has to depend on foreign countries for a portion of its bread supply. Wine, oil, fruit, vegetables, cattle, and cork are exported in large quantities, and the chief manufactures are cotton wool, gold and silver work, lace, and pottery. The fisheries are the main occupation of the coast population, and the sardine industry at Setubal is a flourishing one.


The lifework of Alfonso Henriques first King of Portugal (1128-85) consisted in his assertion, by fighting and diplomacy, of the political independence of the country, and in his enlargement of its boundaries by conquests from the Moors who occupied more than half the present kingdom when he began to rule. Though he had assumed the government in 1128, it was only after a period of fifteen years, during which he suffered a series of reverses, that he was able to obtain recognition of his kingship from Alfonso VII of Leon, to which kingdom the territory of Portugal had formerly belonged. Alfonso Henriques early resolved to protect himself against the claims of his powerful neighbour and overlord, and in 1142 he offered his kingdom to the Church, declared himself the pope's vassal, and promised, for himself and his successors, to pay an annual feudal tribute of four ounces of gold. Lucius II ratified the agreement, taking Portugal under his protection and recognizing its independence, and in 1179 another pope, Alexander III , confirmed Alfonso Henriques in his royal dignity. The later now gave up all idea of extending his dominions, beyond the Minho and the Douro, which rivers formed its boundaries to the north and the east, and endeavoured to increase them to the south. He carried on a persistent warfare against the infidel by sudden incursions into Moorish territory and by midnight assaults on Moorish towns, and on the whole he was successful. In 1147 he took the almost impregnable city of Santarem. In the same year, after a four months' siege, the great city of Lisbon, containing "154,000 men, besides women and children", fell to his arms assisted by a Northern fleet of 164 ships which was on its way to the Second Crusade. The king thereupon moved his capital to the Tagus, appointed Gilbert, an Englishman, its bishop, transported the body of St. Vincent to the cathedral, and perpetuated the saint's memory in the arms he gave to Lisbon, viz., a ship and two crows, in allusion to the manner in which the relics were transported from Cape St. Vincent and to the birds which were said to have accompanied them during the whole journey.

The reduction of the neighbouring strongholds followed, but the king had to wait for the arrival of another crusading fleet before he could take Alcacer do Sol, in 1158. The cities of Evora and Beja fell into his hands soon afterwards, but he could not hold so extensive a territory, and the country south of the Tagus was retaken more than once. At the end of his life an unwarrantable attack on Badajoz placed him in the power of King Ferdinand of Leon, and his last years were full of defeats and humiliations. Nevertheless, when he died the independence of Portugal had been secured, its area doubled, and the name of the little realm was famous throughout Europe for its persistent struggle against the enemies of the Cross. A rough warrior, an astute politician, and a loose liver, Alfonso Henriques was yet a man of strong faith. He corresponded with St. Bernard and put his country under the protection of the Blessed Virgin, decreeing that an annual tribute should be paid to the abbey of Clairvaux. For the Cistercian Order, to whose prayers he attributed the capture of Santarem, he founded the great monastery of Alcobaça, the most famous in Portugal, and endowed it handsomely, so that its lands stretched to the ocean and contained thirteen towns in which the monks exercised authority and levied taxes. They corresponded to such generosity by reducing that great territory to cultivation, and Allocable became the mother of numerous daughter monasteries, while its chartulary served in early times as that of the kingdom. The Abbot of Allocable had the post of chief almoner and sat in the Royal Council and the Cortes with the honours of a bishop. Furthermore, Alfonso Henriques, in 1132, established for the Augustinian Canons the monastery of Santa Cruz at Coimbra, which rivalled Allocable in its wealth and social mission, and for the same order he built S. Vicente in Lisbon, which is now the residence of the Patriarch.

Sancho I (1185-1211) continued the work of reconquest and a large part of the Algarve fell into his hands, but a fresh invading wave of Moors from Africa ultimately pushed the Christian frontier back to the Tagus. In the intervals of peace allowed him, the king was active in building towns and settling his territory, thus deserving his name of "The Peopler", and, being a thrifty man, he amassed a large treasure. On his accession, he asked and obtained the papal confirmation of his title, which protected him against his Christian neighbours, and after some delay paid the tribute to the Holy See. This was continued by his immediate successors, but afterwards fell into abeyance. Sancho imitated his father's liberality to the Church and gave further endowments to bishoprics and abbeys ; he likewise favoured the military Orders of the Temple of Hospitallers of Aviz, and of S. Thiago, which, besides their pious works, supplied the best disciplined soldiers for the war against the Moors and garrisoned the frontier towns and castles. But he was a man of irascible temperament, and his superstition led him to keep a "wise woman " in his company whom he used to consult on his enterprises. His disputes with the clergy and the violent measures he dealt out to them are explained partly by his character and partly by the influence of his chancellor Julian, who had studied Roman Law at Bologna and aimed at increasing the royal authority. Sancho intervened in a question between the Bishop of Oporto and the citizens and ignored the interdict with which Innocent III punished his high-handed proceedings. He also came in conflict with the Bishop of Coimbra, whom he imprisoned and treated with great cruelty.

Sancho persisted in invading the rights of the Church and in particular refused to recognize the ecclesiastical forum and clerical immunity from military service. Though he made some concessions before his death, the conflict he had opened lasted through the next two reigns, and for nearly a century the clergy and the Crown were involved in a struggle over the limits of their respective powers. All the early kings were wont to reward services by extensive grants of lands, and in these lands they gave up royal jurisdiction. In time, so large a part of the country was held in mortmain, or had passed into the hands of the nobles, that the rest did not produce enough revenue to meet the increasing expenses of government. The monarchs then tried to overcome the difficulty by a revocation of grants, which naturally met with resistance from the nobility and clergy. Denis, though so generally favourable to the Church, employed a more equitable remedy by prohibiting, in 1286, the purchase of real estate by clerics, but this and a stricter law of 1291 were found too severe and had to be modified. The evil was a great and growing one and, had there been no other cause of discord, would have sufficed to set the Crown and landowning classes at issue. Alfonso II (1211-23) took care to obtain the confirmation of his title from the Holy See, and at the Cortes of Coimbra he sanctioned the concessions made by his father to the Church, whose help he hoped to have when he came to annul the large bequests of land which Sancho had made to his children. In this he was disappointed, for the pope intervened as arbiter, and Alfonso's sisters got their legacies, but they and they all took the veil, and his brothers never obtained the estates which had been left to them.

This was a victory for the king, who now, on the advice of his chancellor, sent a commission of enquiry through the kingdom to ascertain the titles to land and either confirm or revoke them, as seemed to him just. So far he had kept on good terms with the clergy, but Alfonso's determination to increase the power of the Crown and fill his treasury affected their immunities, and his action in a dispute between the Bishop of Lisbon and his dean showed that the king's attitude towards the Church had changed. By 1221 the old differences had appeared again, and in an acute form: Alfonso had seized church property, compelled ecclesiastics to plead before secular justices and to serve in the wars. The learned and holy Archbishop of Braga convoked an assembly of prelates in which he accused the king of his breaches of faith and scandalous life. The latter met this by confiscating the goods of the prelate, who fled to Rome. Honorius dispatched three Spanish bishops to remonstrate with Alfonso, and, as this had no effect, they excommunicated him a year later. The pope then threatened to absolve the king's subjects from their allegiance and hand over the realm to any prince who cared to take it. A further papal Brief, in 1222, insisting on reparation, together with an attack of leprosy induced Alfonso to enter into negotiations of peace, and these were in progress when he died.

The reign of this excommunicated king witnessed a religious revival which was rendered necessary by the general laxity of both clergy and laity. The Franciscans were introduced by the king's sister and, although they soon won the affection of the people, they were received with little cordiality on the part of the secular clergy and the other orders, who saw their pecuniary interest damaged. In a Bull of Gregory IX (1233) the pope complains of the hostility shown to the friars by bishops and clergy. At Oporto the bishop ordered them out of the city, sacked their convent, and burned it, but the citizens sided with them, and in the end they were able to return. The order soon spread over the country, convents were built for them, members of the royal family chose their churches as burial places, and the popes bestowed bishoprics on friars and charged them with delicate missions. It was the custom for testators to leave a part of their property to the Church, and Bishop Sueiro of Lisbon promulgated a statute that one-third should be so bequeathed under pain of refusal of the sacraments and canonical burial. The citizens appealed to the pope against this violence, and Honorius condemned it, and charged the superiors of the Dominicans and Franciscans to see that the practice was discontinued. The Dominicans had entered Portugal between 1217 and 1222, and, by virtue of their austere morals, poverty, and humility, they obtained a welcome second only to that given the Franciscans. Sancho II (1223-48) was still only a boy when he succeeded his father. His ministers bound him to make satisfaction for the material losses inflicted on the Church by Alfonso II, and to punish the guilty parties. They also promised that ecclesiastical privileges should be respected, but those responsible for the outrages of the last reign remained in power, and the king had small control over them.

The bishops showed as little desire for peace as the nobles, and vied with them in vexing the monasteries by their monetary exactions. With each succeeding year a state of anarchy increased over the kingdom. The bellicose Bishop of Oporto, Martinho Rodrigues, presented to the pope a long list of accusations against the monarch, in reply to which Cardinal John de Abavila was dispatched to Portugal on a reforming mission, but though he did much good he was unable to end the discords. Bishop Sueiro then put himself at the head of the malcontents and painted in dark colours the condition of the Church. The clergy were blackmailed and deprived of their property, the king and the nobles despised ecclesiastical censures, public offices were given to Jews, and so on. Pope Gregory thereupon sent a commission to require the king to correct abuses under threat of penalties, but at first there were some difficulties in the way of reform. The bishops too often abused their immunities, they admitted men to orders who were only anxious to evade military service, and sometimes to avoid answering to the secular courts for their crimes. The pope remedied these evils, but the Government failed to repress those which were charged against it. Yet the Holy See was averse to extreme measures, because it appreciated Sancho's crusading energy — for, though a bad man and an indolent administrator, he was a bold soldier. An ancient dispute between bishop and citizens as to the jurisdiction over the City of Oporto revived again, and bishop and king were soon at issue. Furthermore, the latter roused strong opposition by refusing to allow ecclesiastical bodies or individuals to accept gifts of land, or to purchase it, and, not content with robbing and profaning churches, he slew some priests. He brought matters to a climax when he intervened in a disputed succession to the bishopric of Lisbon and used the most brutal methods to enforce his will and Gregory IX, who had previously threatened, now confirmed a sentence of interdict.

Sancho gave way for the moment, and peace was made, the king turning his arms against the Moors, but in an interval between his successful campaigns he became enamoured of a widow, Dona Mercia Lopes de Haro, whom he met during a visit to the Court of Castile, and under her influence his character deteriorated. The bishops renewed their complains of the disorders in Portugal, and in 1245, by the Bull "grandi non immerito", Innocent IV committed the government to Sancho's brother Alfonso who was living in France. The latter undertook to remedy the ills of the kingdom and grievances of the Church, and on his arrival the greater part of the country accepted him for regent in accordance with the papal directions. Sancho, finding resistance hopeless, passed into Spain, where he died a year later. In the reign of Alfonso III (1248-79) Portugal attained its farthest European limits by the conquest of The Algarve from the Moors, but Alfonso X of Castile claimed the kingdom, and the Portuguese king was forced to recognize Castilian suzerainty and, though already married, to further purchase his possessions by agreeing to wed Beatrice, his brother monarch's illegitimate daughter. Fortunately, the first wife of Alfonso III died shortly afterwards, and the king's bigamous union with Beatrice and their issue were legitimated by Urban IV at the request of the bishops.

So far there had been peace between the king and the clergy, but the former did not intend to keep the promises on the strength of which he had ascended the throne, and the latter would not abate their claims. In 1258 Alfonso sent a commission of inquiry through the kingdom to determine the royal rights and fiscal obligations of his subjects, and as result he revoked, in 1265, many of the crown grants of land. Seven of the bishops took up the challenge, and in 1267 appealed to Clement IV. They alleged that the king, besides seizing their possessions, deprived them of their liberty of action, refused to pay tithes, exacted forced loans, compelled ladies to marry men of no birth, and men of family to wed low women, or those of Moorish or Jewish race. The abuses of civil administration were dealt with in five articles, ecclesiastical grievances occupied forty-three. The charges were true in the main, but the king met them by presenting to the pope a petition signed by all the concelhos in favour of his rule, and, to defeat the bishops by a policy of delay, he took the Cross for a crusade led by St. Louis, but never went. Moreover, the pope and some of the protesting bishops died, while certain abuses were remedied. Relying on his good fortune he became more oppressive than ever, usurping the revenues of four sees, and in 1273 Gregory X ordered the heads of the Franciscan and Dominican Orders in Lisbon to remonstrate with the king. It was long before Alfonso would see them and then he assembled the cortes at Santarem and had a committee appointed to correct everything done "without reason ". This committee was composed of his friends so that the concession was illusory. On hearing of the king's duplicity, the pope sent him a strongly-worded Bull, dated 4 Sept., 1275, reminding him of what he owed the Church and requiring him to keep the agreement made in Paris under pain of censure and, in the last resort, of losing the realm.

Again, however, time favoured the king, for Gregory and his two successors all died in 1276, and, though the Portuguese John XXI took the matter up, the king would do nothing until the terms of Gregory's Bull, which he called ordinatio diabolica , were softened. An interdict was therefore pronounced on the realm, and Alfonso's subjects were absolved from their allegiance, but without effect, for the king had a stronger position than Sancho II. However, he relented when death approached; he promised restitution to the Church and made his heir swear to perform what he himself had promised. His understanding with the municipalities enabled Alfonso III to consolidate the power of the Crown by limiting that of the nobility, both lay and clerical, and even to brave the censures of the Church, which by constant repetition had lost some of their effect. Denis (1279-1325), a cultured man, abstained from foreign wars and developed himself to developing the resources of the country, his care to agriculture winning him the title of "the Cultivator". He favoured commerce, founded the royal navy, and above all gave peace to the Church. After long negotiations a concordat of forty articles was signed in 1289, and this was followed by two others. The beneplacitum regium was abandoned, the property seized by Alfonso III was restored, and the king bound himself to respect ecclesiastical privileges and immunities, and to observe the old laws and customs of the realm. The free election of bishops was secured, and the extortions practised by lay patrons of churches and monasteries were prohibited.

The long struggle between Church and Crown terminated; but if the first gained most of the points contended for, its commanding position ceased. With the increasing weakness of the papacy, the clergy became more dependent on the monarch. Moreover, the complete nationalization of the military orders effected by Denis also tended to increase the central power, and it was of him "that he did all he wished". On the initiative and at the expense of the Priors of Santa Cruz at Coimbra, S. Vicente at Lisbon, and Santa Maria at Guimaraens and the Abbot of Alcobaca, a university was established at Lisbon and confirmed, in 1290, by papal Bull, with faculties of arts, canon and civil law , and medicine, but not theology, which was studied in the monasteries. The king showed great liberality to the new foundation, which was subsequently, by papal permission, moved to Coimbra. When the Templars were suppressed, John XXII allowed their property to go to the new Order of Christ established in 1319.

If Denis proved a wise and just ruler, some of the credit is due to his wife, St. Isabel. She intervened successfully more than once to end the rebellions of his son. Alfonso IV, (1325-57) continued his father's policy. He lived on good terms with the other peninsular sovereigns, but when his daughter was illtreated by her husband, Alfonso XI, he invaded Castile. Once more St. Isabel intervened. Leaving her convent of Poor Clares at Coimbra, she came between the opposing armies at Estremoz, and settled the dispute so effectually that when, in 1340, the King of Morocco crossed into Spain to aid the King of Granada against the Christians, Alfonso IV obeyed the papal summons and led a contingent which helped Alfonso XI to win the great battle of Salado. His later years were clouded by the Black Death and the rebellion of son Pedro, who, though married, had become enamoured of the beautiful Dona Ines de Castro. To end this infatuation, Alfonso was unfortunately persuaded to consent to her assassination, whereupon the prince rose in arms against his father and devastated the country. Benedict XII exacted the payment of the tribute promised by Alfonso Henriques and took measures against the incontinency of the clergy (a recurring evil in Portuguese history), while Clement VI answered the complaints of the Kings of Portugal and Castile as the appointment of foreigners to ecclesiastical benefices. The chief characteristic of Pedro I (1357-67), was the pleasure he took in seeking out and punishing lawbreakers, whether laymen or clerics ; hence his title, "the Doer of Justice ". Allying himself with Pedro the Cruel of Castile, he took summary vengeance on the murderers of his mistress. He repressed the violence of the nobles and the usury of the Jews, and this with his generosity earned him the respect of the people, savage despot though he was. It is noteworthy that an especial avenger of adulteries, as well as of witchcraft, he lived an immoral life and had several bastards, one of whom became King John I.

The chief ecclesiastical interest this uneventful reign centered in the Cortes of Elvas, in which the clergy submitted a list of thirty-three grievances, some of which received attention. As regards the admission of papal letters , the king promised to see them and order their publication in so far as was right. It was a shuffling reaffirmation of the beneplacitum regium . Ferdinand (1367-83) had his father's generosity without his strength, and, though he deserves the credit for wise laws encouraging navigation and agriculture, and for the fortification of Lisbon, he fell a victim to animal passion and foolish ambition. His first attempt to win the Throne of Castile against Henry of Tratamara failed, and in 1371 the Peace of Alcoutim was made under the auspices of Gregory XI, Ferdinand agreeing to marry Henry's daughter. But he could never keep a treaty, and, having fallen in love with Dona Leonor Telles, the wife of one of his nobles, he married her, notwithstanding the angry protest of the citizens of Lisbon. Moreover he entered into an agreement to assist John of Gaunt, who claimed the crown of Castile. Henry thereupon invaded Portugal, in 1373, and would have captured Lisbon, had not Cardinal Guy de Bologne, the papal legate, forced him to retire and make peace with Ferdinand at Vallada. Leonor now entirely dominated her vacillating and indolent husband, and by obtaining honors and lands for her kinsfolk and friends provided against the time when he should die. Losing all scruples, she engineered the murder of her own sister, and betrayed the king by an intrigue with the Galician noble, Andeiro, whom she persuaded him to create Count of Ourem. A few years later Lisbon was again besieged unsuccessfully by a Castilian army, and in 1381 Ferdinand undertook a war of revenge with the help of an English force under the Duke of Cambridge. He invaded Castile, but when in the presence of the enemy took fright and made peace with King John, one of the terms being that the latter should wed Ferdinand's heiress Beatrice, which would have led to the union of Portugal and Castile.

At the beginning of the Great Schism it was only the firmness of the bishops that kept Portugal true to Urban VI and prevented the king from offering his obedience to the antipope, Clement VII. The resistance of Lisbon to two Castilian sieges had saved Portuguese independence, and by a Bull of Boniface IX its see was raised to metropolitan rank. The people would not submit to a foreign king, and shortly after Ferdinand's death the citizens of Lisbon rose against Leonor; Andeiro and the archbishop were slain, and John, Grand Master of Aviz, illegitimate son of Pedro I, became defender of the realm. The King of Castile laid seige to Lisbon, but a pestilence compelled him to retire, and in April, 1385, thanks to the eloquence of the great lawyer John das Regras, the Grand Master of Aviz was elected king (1385-1433) at the Cortes of Coimbra. On 14 August he totally defeated the Castilians at Aljubarrota, and this, together with the victories gained by Nuno Alvares Pereira, "the Holy Constable", secured Portuguese independence. The king erected on the field of battle the great monastery of Batalha and there he and his sons were buried. On 9 May, 1388, he made the Treaty of Windsor with England and, though a cleric, sealed the alliance by wedding Philippa, daughter of John of Gaunt. In 1391 Boniface IX legitimated the marriage.

Portugal now turned her face to the ocean and prepared to become a great maritime power. The oversea conquest began with the capture of Ceuta, in 1415, and under the auspices of Prince Henry the Navigator the voyages were organized which ultimately led to the discovery of the road to India round the Cape of Good Hope. The pope encouraged these efforts, which had for their object the spread of Christianity as well as of commerce, and, by a Bull of 4 April, 1418, confirmed to the king all the lands he should take from the Moors. In the previous year Ceuta had been created a diocese, and it was the first of many sees erected in non-Christian countries where the Portuguese carried their faith and flag. John made two concordats with the Church, the first at the Cortes of Elvas, the second, in 1427, at the Cortes of Santarem, but he did not abandon the beneplacitum regium . He had been compelled to make large grants to the nobles as the price of their support in the War of Independence. One of the first acts of his son Edward (in Portuguese Duarte-1433-38) was to promulgate the "Lei Mental" which enacted that these properties should only descend in the direct male line of the grantee, on the failure of which they reverted to the Crown. The ill result of the expedition against Tangier, which was undertaken against the advice of Eugenius IV and ended in the captivity of the Infanta Ferdinand, hastened the end of the crowned philosopher, and Alfonso V (1438-81) succeeded to the throne in childhood. The people would not accept his mother, Queen Leonor, as regent, and that office was conferred on the Infanta Pedro, Edward's brother. The queen and her party never forgave this act; they stirred up Alfonso against his uncle, who was defeated and slain at the battle of Alfarroeira. The authors of this tragedy were excommunicated by the pope, and relations between Portugal and Rome ceased, but were reestablished in 1451, and from 1452 onwards became very close.

Alfonso, a typical medieval knight , full of the crusading spirit, was bent on fighting the Moors, and he received every encouragement. Nicholas V, by a Bull of 8 January, 1454, conceded to him all conquests in Africa from Cape Non to Guinea, with power to build churches the patronage of which should be his, and prohibited any vessels from sailing to those parts without leave from the King of Portugal. By another Bull of the same date the pope extended Portuguese dominion over all the seas from Africa to India. A subsequent Bull granted to the Order of Christ authority in spirituals over the peoples subdued by the Portuguese as far as India, and provided that no one but the King of Portugal should be entitled to send expeditions of discovery to those parts. Finally, in 1481, Sixtus IV confirmed to the kings of Portugal all islands and territories discovered now or in the future from Cape Non to India. The voyages continued during Alfonso's reign, and the equator was passed in 1471. But the king thought more of land conquests in North Africa, where he made three successful expeditions, and continued to covet the throne of the neighbouring country until he was defeated, in 1476, at the battle of Toro. His reign was rendered notable by the publication, in 1446 of the Alfonsine Code.

John II (1481-95) showed great energy in the work of discovery, which had been somewhat neglected since the death of Prince Henry, and under his auspices Bartholomew Diaz passed the Cape of Good Hope in 1486, and in 1498 Vasco da Gama reached India. A firm believer in absolute government and a man of inflexible will, John broke the power of the nobility, which had become enormous through the unwise liberality of his father, following on the donations of John I. He deprived them of their right to administer justice on their estates, and when they resisted, led by the Duke of Braganza, the king had him arrested and beheaded, and completed his work by himself stabbing the Duke of Viseu and ordering the execution of the Bishop of Evora and others. A great confiscation of estates followed and enriched the Crown, which now became the one power of the realm. John maintained good relations with Castile and, in 1494, made the Treaty of Tordesillas, confirmed by the Bull of Alexander VI, by which the limits of the possessions of Spain and Portugal in the regions discovered by their seamen were fixed by an imaginary line drawn at 360 leagues west of Cape Verde, the Spaniards acquiring the right to all lands lying to the west and the Portuguese getting those to the east. Under this division of the world most of the coastline of Brazil found in 1500 fell to Portugal, and the rest of America and West Indies to Spain.

Provincial and diocesan synods had become less frequent with each succeeding century (in the fifteenth century not one provincial synod was held) with the result that ecclesiastical discipline declined. The bishops of the best-endowed sees were almost invariably chosen from noble families and some of them lived away from their diocese. This was the case with Ceuta and Tangier. By a Brief of 13 October, 1501, issued at the instance of King Emanuel, the bishops were ordered to fulfil their duty of visitation, which they seem to have generally neglected. From the beginning, the monastic orders and the chapters had attracted the best talents, and the parochial clergy were usually as ignorant as they were poor. Innocent VIII had to issue a Bull in 1485, providing that no one unable to construe Latin well should be ordained. The prevailing laxity had affected the monasteries, but the orders themselves responded to the desires of the king and the Holy See. A reform of the Dominican monasteries began at Bemfica and spread to the other houses. The zeal of the Franciscans was equally marked, no less than twenty-three convents of Observants were founded within a century, and these despite the opposition of the Conventuals, restored the order to its pristine purity.

King Emanuel (1495-1521) reaped the harvest sown by his predecessors, and every year of his reign witnessed some new discovery, some great deed. The genius of Alburquerque gave him the maritime keys of Asia, and the monopoly of the Eastern trade made him the richest king in Christendom. In 1514 the monarch sent his splendid embassy to Rome to offer the tribute of India at the feet of Leo X, to urge the pope to proceed with the reform of the Church, and to secure a league of Christian princes against the Turks. Though these objects failed, the king obtained many personal favours, including the amplification of the Padroado , or right of patronage over churches in non-Christian countries. The pope received the submission of the Abyssinian Church through Emanuel and, recognizing the king as the chief protector and propagator of the Faith, twice sent him the Golden Rose. Emanuel was especially anxious to add Castile to his world-wide dominions, and he made three marriages to that end, but all in vain. It was a condition of his first marriage (to the eldest daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella) that he should expel the Jews and unconverted Moors. The Jews had enjoyed the protection of previous kings and had supplied them with trusted servants, but, as both the clergy and the people hated them for their usury, and envied their talents and wealth, Emanuel sacrificed them, against the protests of some of his best councillors. They were given the choice of conversion or exile, and naturally, from worldly motives, the greater part accepted the former alternative and became known as "new Christians ", intermarrying with old Christians. Many of these converts went back to Judaism and became the victims of bitter and continual persecution, when the Inquisition was established.

King Emanuel and his son, John III, were great builders; the former erected the Hieronymite church and monastery at Belem, to commemorate Vasco da Gama's discovery, and the later made great additions to the superb convent of Christ at Tomar. Though the Golden Age apparently continued, Portugal began to decline in the reign of John III (1521-57). Emigration drained the best blood of the country; the East corrupted, while it enriched, its conquerors; the cultivation of the soil was left to slaves ; commerce was blighted by the Inquisition, which drove capital abroad. The Government could not make both ends meet, and the wealth of the Hebrews invited their spoliation. The king, a serious, conscientious man, but of small education, satisfied the complaints of the people against that race by petitioning the Holy See in 1531 to establish the Inquisition. After a twenty years' struggle at Rome with the Hebrews, marked by disgraceful bribery on both sides, John forced the pope's consent in 1547, and the bigoted Infanta Henry, afterwards king, became chief inquisitor. The tribunal was popular and practically destroyed Judaism, but its methods divided the nation into spies and victims, encouraged blackmail and false denunciations, and contributed to undermine the national character. It put a new weapon into the hands of the monarch, who now had no check on his rule, for the Cortes had lost their power by the end of the preceding century. In 1540 the first Jesuits came, and the king became a warm patron of their early missionary labours in the East. In addition to the ministry of the confessional and the pulpit, the Society devoted itself to teaching and opened colleges which were crowded by youths of the better classes. The university, which since its foundation had moved to and fro between Lisbon and Coimbra, was fixed at the latter place in 1537, and distinguished professors, Portuguese and foreign, raised its intellectual level. Experience proved however that their learning was superior to their orthodoxy and morals, and they were replaced by the Jesuits, who by degrees obtained that control of higher education which they held for two centuries.

John deserves credit for his policy of peace abroad and for the colonization of Brazil, in which he had the assistance of the Jesuits, who civilized the natives and protected them from the European settlers. A number of the new colonial dioceses were founded in this reign, and Portuguese theologians among them Ven. Bartholomew of the Martyrs, took a prominent part in the Council of Trent . On John's death, his widow became regent for her grandson Sebastian (1557-78), who was a minor. The latter grew up an exalted mystic and knight errant of the Cross, without interest in the work of government. Though pressed by St. Pius V, he refused to marry and obstinately insisted on attempting to conquer North

Join the Movement
When you sign up below, you don't just join an email list - you're joining an entire movement for Free world class Catholic education.

Saint of the Day logo
Prayer of the Day logo

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.