If we were to trace the expansion of the new world to one country, it would be Portugal, and if we were to pinpoint when this turning point began, we find ourselves here, in the 14th century. This would mark the beginning of their Golden Era brought in by the reign of the ‘Farmer King’, Denis I (Diniz). In 1300, he is 21 years into his reign, and married to an Aragonise Princess who later is canonized as St. Elizabeth of Portugal. He established a centralized royal power, established Portugese as their official language, shoved foreign influences from his military, and established Portugal’s navy. In 1308, he signed the first commerce agreement with England, at the end of the century the Treaty of Windsor is signed between the two–it is one of the longest standing diplomatic treaties to date. In 1319, he created the Order of Christ; it was a military organization that took in surviving Knights Templar and eventually they were recognized as their heirs and had their property returned to them from their previous Order by Pope Clement V. The Templars had played a crucial role in Portugal’s Reconquista and Denis felt the desire to reward them for their crimes against the Moors in the name of Catholism.
Denis’ extensive reform of agriculture gave him his nickname, as he worked diligently to build trade and promote better farming through education and land redistribution. During his reign, Lisbon began to flourish and Portugal became a powerful force in the European game. This was much to their benefit, for they sat on the edge of the Iberian Peninsula and their neighbors, Castile and Aragon, were ravenous for territory. The second half of his reign was mostly peaceful, though there was one conflict that led into his son’s reign– he had set his illegitimate son to be almost equal to his heir and the two fought over it, even after his legitimate son was crowned Afonso IV.
Peace would continue to be a theme during the reign of Afonso, and he would expand the navy while beginning exploration of new lands. He had a few conflicts, first with his half brother in the beginning of his reign and later towards the end with his own heir. His son Pedro played the princely role and married a Castillian princess mistreated on his father’s orders. He fell in love with one of her maids though and after his wife died, he refused to marry anyone other than his love. They lived in relative happiness until Afonso decided he had enough and had the women captured, imprisoned, and then executed in front of on of his sons children. For some reason Afonso thought this would out just fine, Pedro would eventually get over the mother of most his children and marry a princess, and everything would be just fine. To his surprise, Pedro was not overjoyed when he heard the news and quickly became enraged. He revolted and while it failed, Afonso was dead within two years and Pedro succeeded as King.
Pedro I would share the reputation his Castilian nephew does as either ‘The Cruel’ or ‘The Just’, depending on how you asked. It is clear from the beginning a plague has grown within his heart from the brutal loss of his love. He loved dispensing justice and ensured those involved in her execution were punished. Only one of the three men escaped, and the two that didn’t were convicted of murder and Pedro ripped their hearts out of their chest himself. There are rumors he dressed his lost love up and made people pay fealty to her, though the only evidence we have is he had her reinterred in an elaborate tomb, so they could lay together at his death. Their story may not have been a happy one, but it has been made immortal through over 22 pieces of literature and art.
Pedro would reign for ten years and was succeeded by both his sons, Ferdinand I and John I, eventually. Ferdinand decided it was in his and the countries best interest to lay claim to Castile. It was believed vulnerable after Henry of Trastámara conquered the throne. He was not the only one who considered the crown was vulnerable, and they were mistaken. Pope Gregory XI built a treaty that was ratified, though Ferdinand betrayed the agreement and married a noblewoman whom he had obtained an annulment for instead of Leonore of Castile. He then secretly allied with John of Gaunt, brother of King Edward III of England. Their first attempt failed, and they tried again, but when it failed this time a dynastic marriage was sprung between Ferdinand’s heiress, Beatrice, and John I of Castile. When Ferdinand died as the last Burgundian King of Portugal, he left a power vacuum. Beatrice was his heir, but she was a woman, and Queen of Castile. There was a civil war and no King was declared for two years before John I, illegitimate son of Pedro I, would take power as the first Aviz monarch.
John was not one of the children of Pedro’s true love, nor did he ever expect to rule, but he was an adequate ruler and known by his people as “John the Good”. He secured Portugal’s sovereignty against Castile, solidified Portugal’s alliance with England, and he brought Portugal into the 15th century on a high note that would continue to grow. His marriage to John of Gaunt’s daughter, Phillipa, proved to be beneficial for the country and their son would be known as Prince Henry the Navigator.
During this period we begin to observe Portugal turn into a mixing pot of culture. They have recently taken the country from the Moors, they have refugees from Castile, and their military exploration brings people and ideas from new worlds. We perceive their suffering through the Black Death and war. We witness their victories like expanses in the spice trade and education in universities. It all blossoms art and literature that blends these cultures together into a lively time for Portugal, and help turn it into a political powerhouse in the next century.
The world will never be the same.
- McMurdo, Edward. The History of Portugal, from the Commencement of the Monarchy to the Reign of Alfonso III. S. Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, 1888.
Speake, Jennifer, and Thomas Goddard Bergin. Encyclopedia of the Renaissance and the Reformation. Facts On File, 2004.