1580 - Spain Takes Control of Portugal

Before Humphrey Gilbert’s and Walter Ralegh’s ships sailed to North America, something important happened on the international front that affected colonization.

On January 31, 1580, Henry I, King of Portugal died, causing another succession war. Henry (1512-1580) had been a Cardinal in the Catholic church. He did not marry and had no children. He had succeeded his grand-nephew, Sebastian I (1554-1578), who also died without issue and was an only child. Henry had super-ceded his brother’s son António [Sebastian’s uncle], because António was illegitimate. But in 1580, Antonio was the only one left if male lines ranked higher than legitimate lines. Here is a family tree to illustrate the connections. [Click on the image to download a hi-rez pdf of the same.]

As you can see from the image above, King Philip II of Spain was the son of Henry’s sister Isabel. If Isabel’s female line held any weight, then Philip was just as qualified to succeed his uncle Henry as Antonio was.

The problem was that the Portuguese people – if you read Crossing the Ocean Sea, you know this – hated the Spanish. They favored Antonio.

Philip did not hesitate. As soon as Henry died, he ordered General Alva and a large Spanish army to march into Portugal. At the same time, he ordered Admiral Santa Cruz and a large Spanish armada to block the entrance of the Tagus River leading to Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon. Within thirty-three days, the Spanish had taken control of Portugal.

Don Antonio [don is the equivalent of the English lord] fled to France, carrying some of the crown jewels with him.

Philip took command of all Portugal’s dominions: the African colonies, the Indian colonies, the Cape Verde Islands, and the Madeiras – all except the Azores islands and Brazil. The Azores, led mostly by the Tercierans, refused to change allegiance. One island, San Miguel, went with the Spanish.

Don Antonio sailed from France to England. He begged Queen Elizabeth to ally with the French and send a fleet to help the Portuguese in the Azores. Elizabeth’s secretary of state, Sir Francis Walsingham, and Sir Francis Drake were all for the idea. But Elizabeth vetoed the plan. She did not want to have any more trouble with Spain than she had already. Don Antonio held out in the Azores until 1583, hoping to muster a new armada. But eventually the Portuguese monarchy moved to Brazil, along with the crown jewels.

Portugal will remain under Spanish control until 1640, ten years after John Winthrop sails to Massachusetts Bay.

By the way

In October of 1582, while politics changed on the Iberian peninsula, Pope Gregory XIII in the Vatican in Rome changed the calendar. This adjustment did not affect colonization, however it did affect our study of it.

As we explained in the article about ‘Time’ in Crossing the Ocean Sea, since Roman times, Europeans used the Julian Calendar, named after Julius Caesar, who died in 44 BCE. For complicated reasons having to do with calculating the date of Easter – and naming the calendar after a Christian instead of a pagan – the Catholic church reformed the calendar to the Gregorian Calendar, naming it after Pope Gregory. It is sometimes referred to as the Western or Christian Calendar. Protestant countries did not make the change until later. England will not make the change until between 1750 and 1752 – a hundred years after they colonize Boston.

The difference between the two calendars is ten days. The start of a new year was shifted from March 1 to January 1. For example, the date “April 1, 1500” on an old document translates to “April 11, 1501.” The date “March 21, 1560” translates to “April 2, 1561.” As we also said, do not worry about it too much. We will do the translation for you when it is important.

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