Can Portuguese history in the era of the House of Avis be analysed without reference to overseas expansion?
First of all, it is important to define the key terms and concepts we are using. What is an overseas expansion? In this case, it is the extension of a state’s sovereignty to territories that are beyond the sea. Naval access to any part of the world might seem easy today but we have toremember which period we are studying and try to understand how people might have seen the world at that time. To do so, you need to analyse the leaders that oversaw this project of oceanic conquest. What does the House of Avis refer to? It refers to the dynasty ruling Portugal from 1385 to the death of the cardinal Dom Henrique in 1580. It is a contentious period, including the late Middle Ages andthe Renaissance. When Dom Sebastião started his reign, he lived in a world totally different from the one João I saw when he obtained his throne. It is interesting to understand the causes of these changes; this is the reason why I will adopt a chronological and dynastic approach in this essay. I will divide my essay in two major parts. The first part, focusing on the period 1383-1455, will showhow Portuguese history, in the beginning of this dynasty, can be analysed with only a minor reference to the overseas expansion. The second part, on the contrary, will demonstrate how oceanic conquest becomes, from 1455 to 1580, essential to analyse Portuguese history.
Firstly, to analyse Portuguese history of 1383-1455 without referring to the oceanic expansion, I will focus mainly on thecrisis of 1383-85, European diplomatic relations and the constant peninsular threat. In 1383 Dom Fernando dies. He only has an eleven years old daughter: Beatriz. To ensure that his daughter reign will be respected and as part of the peace treaty of Elvas (1382), Dom Fernando marries Beatriz to Dom João I of Castile: the Portuguese independence becomes uncertain. Portuguese diplomats then manage toestablish that the widow queen should rule until Beatriz has a son completing fourteen years of age, in which case Dona Leonor will give him the power. Unfortunately, the common do not understand it that way and when, eight days after the King’s death, the nobles announces the news, people, in some cities, are already acclaiming Dom João as their new king. He is the eldest son of Dom Pedro and DonaInês de Castro and is living in Castile. When a rumor that he is acclaimed in Portugal arrives in Castile, Dom João is imprisoned. Dona Leonor Teles remains the Queen and has for advisor Dom João Fernando Zandeiro. He is from Galiza and was given the title of Count of Ourém, therefore raising against him the Menezes family and a big part of the nobility. He is fundamentally a diplomat, he knowsEngland, he knows France and he is conscious of the important decisions he has to make. Europe is engaged in the hundred years’ war since 1337. The Portuguese maritime trade relies primarily on the North Sea navigation and English ships control it. Consequently, without England’s support, the Portuguese will not be able to export any more wine or olive oil. He tries to arrange agreements with Castilebut the bourgeoisie disagrees and France is not an option either. He has to choose a new policy but at that moment, both bourgeoisie and nobility agreed a political change was necessary: the Count’s death is inevitable. They conspire against the Count of Ourém’s life and the master of Avis kills him. He is himself, acclaimed as a potential king but he has brothers that have stronger rights to thethrone: they are imprisoned. Castilians react and invade Portugal, besieging Lisbon for months but at that moment a plague affects the Castilian army and before he has too many losses, the King of Castile decides to go back home to recover his military strength. The master of Avis does not loose time; he summons the courts in Coimbra. He highlights there the fact that the throne is empty and...
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