Spain Annexes Portugal Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Spanish king Philip II took advantage of a Portuguese crisis of succession to annex Portugal within the Spanish Empire, adding the Portuguese spice empire to Spain’s already extensive imperial holdings and suppressing Portugal’s sovereignty for sixty years.

Summary of Event

Succession to the throne of Portugal was placed in doubt by the accession of King Sebastian following the death of John III in 1557. Only three years of age at the time of his coronation, Sebastian remained physically weak throughout his life. He never married and had no direct heir. In 1578, he launched an ill-conceived and poorly planned invasion of Morocco, a self-styled crusade against the Moors, and many Portuguese nobles joined his venture. In August, 1578, the Moors trapped Sebastian’s forces and killed him, while most of the Portuguese nobility were captured and held for ransom. The throne passed to Henry, brother of John III and Sebastian’s great-uncle. This succession did not resolve the dynastic crisis, however, for the new monarch was sixty-seven years old and also had no heir. He was a weak ruler, moreover, and various claimants began conspiring to succeed him. Portugal;annexation by Spain Spain;annexation of Portugal[Portugal] Philip II (1527-1598) John III (1502-1557) Sebastian Henry António Moura, Cristóbal de Granvelle, Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Sebastian (king of Portugal) John III (king of Portugal) Henry (king of Portugal) Philip II (king of Spain) António Granvelle, Antoine Perrenot de Moura, Cristóbal de

The strongest claim was put forward by Philip II of Spain—a grandson of Manuel I of Portugal, who had reigned before John III. Spain needed spices from Portugal’s East Indian empire, but Portuguese merchants needed Spanish gold and silver, as did the Portuguese aristocrats being held for ransom by the Moors; a merger of the two economies seemed to be mutually desirable. Henry was sympathetic to Philip but dared not name him as heir because of popular support for António of the Order of the Knights of Malta, prior of Crato, an illegitimate nephew of John III, and also a grandson of Manuel I. António was a vigorous contender and a staunch upholder of Portugal’s independence from Spain. A third claimant was Catherine, a granddaughter of Manuel I, but she had little support.

Henry died in 1580 without naming an heir, and a council of regency was appointed to govern until a successor could be chosen. Philip of Spain had anticipated these events, however, and through Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle, his chief adviser and a strong proponent for the annexation of Portugal, Philip selected Cristóbal de Moura, a pro-Spanish native of Portugal, to plead his case in Lisbon. Backed by Spanish gold, Moura persuaded the regency council to name Philip heir to the Portuguese throne.

Philip then had to contend with the Portuguese army, led by the popular António. Philip sent the duke of Alva and twenty thousand troops, who defeated the Portuguese forces. The entire country was occupied within four months. In April, 1581, before a Portuguese Cortes (parliament) in the town of Tomár, Philip was formally recognized as king of Portugal. As Moura had promised earlier, Portuguese rights were respected, and Philip’s interference in the internal affairs of his new kingdom remained minimal.

Significance

Portugal under Philip II essentially remained intact, with changes occurring only in the head of its government. At Tomár, Philip had promised to maintain all the laws of the kingdom, never to hold a Portuguese Cortes outside Portugal, and not to allow any foreign assembly to legislate for Portugal. All official positions were filled by Portuguese natives, and the viceroy of Portugal, who governed in Philip’s absence, was also Portuguese. Colonial trade continued in Portuguese vessels, Spanish taxation was not introduced into the country, and customs frontiers between the two countries were abolished. Thus, Spain gained a kingdom without Portugal losing either its national identity or its economic and political institutional structures. Portugal remained a self-contained Spanish kingdom for sixty years.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Birmingham, David. A Concise History of Portugal. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. A good and accessible overview that includes discussion of Sebastian and Philip. Also includes bibliographical references.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bovill, E. W. The Battle of Alcazar. London: Batchworth Press, 1952. This narrative of the battle in which Sebastian was killed and his nobility captured also covers the international implications of the annexation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Davies, R. Trevor. The Golden Century of Spain, 1501-1621. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984. This survey includes a useful chapter on the acquisition of Portugal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Elliott, John H. Imperial Spain, 1469-1716. Reprint. New York: Penguin, 1990. A portion of this work on imperial Spain is devoted to the Portuguese succession. Asserts that one of the few periods when the government of Philip II was solvent was during the annexation of Portugal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kamen, Henry. Philip of Spain. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1997. A massive and detailed biography of Philip, documenting almost every aspect of his life, but somewhat light on his legacy and influence on future events. Includes photographic plates, illustrations, maps, bibliographic references, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Livermore, Harold V. A New History of Portugal. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976. One of the best and most detailed histories of Portugal in English. Includes photographic plates, illustrations, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lynch, John. Spain, 1516-1598: From Nation-State to World Empire. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1991. Emphasizes the support given to Philip by Portuguese mercantile interests who stood to profit from a merger of the economies. Includes a brief but useful bibliography and tables of economic facts.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Merriman, Roger B. The Prudent King. Vol. 4 in The Rise of the Spanish Empire in the Old World and in the New. Reprint. New York: Cooper Square, 1962. This volume, the last section of Professor Merriman’s classic study of sixteenth century Spain, contains a judicious evaluation of Philip and a complete narrative of the annexation of Portugal, though some scholars have criticized inaccuracies in his economic evaluations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nowell, Charles E. A History of Portugal. New York: Van Nostrand, 1952. Along with Livermore, the other top English-language history of Portugal. Includes illustrations, maps, and bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Parker, Geoffrey. The Grand Strategy of Philip II. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998. Contests the traditional view of Philip as conducting his empire by reacting to events as they occurred without any grand plan to guide him. Uses correspondence and other historical documents to delineate a “strategic culture” informing Philip’s decisions and his reign. Includes illustrations, maps, bibliographic references, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Parker, Geoffrey. Philip II. 4th ed. Chicago: Open Court, 2002. A good overview of Philip’s reign, this edition is updated with a new bibliographic essay. Also includes map, portraits, genealogical table, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Walsh, William Thomas. Philip II. London: Sheed and Ward, 1937. Reprint. New York: McMullen Books, 1953. A laudatory, pro-Catholic work written with masterful style.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Williams, Patrick. Philip II. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Biography that attempts to capture the complexities of Philip’s public and private lives and of the evolution of both his private persona and his royal career over time. Includes maps, bibliographic references, and index.

1505-1515: Portuguese Viceroys Establish Overseas Trade Empire

1563-1584: Construction of the Escorial

Aug. 4, 1578: Battle of Ksar el-Kebir

Categories: History Content