JOÃO III, Dom (1502/1521-1557)
Born in Alcáçova Palace, Lisbon, on 7 June 1502, he was the first-born son of Dom Manuel I and Queen Dona Maria. Sworn Heir to the Crown by the Cortes gathered in the capital August of the same year, he would be acclaimed King six days after the death of his father, on 19 December, 1521.
Dom João III was the first Portuguese sovereign to be born and raised, and to govern in the context of a world vision ruled by awareness of the existence of four continents and by the dynamization of the flow of multiple commercial exchanges at the global scale. While a prince, he was never formally associated with the exercise of power, having in fact been close to the group that politically opposed Dom Manuel I. Given this stance, it is understandable that one of the first markers of his reign was the capture and destruction of the vast majority of the copies of ?Carta das Novas,? whose impression had been ordered by Dom Manuel I for two purposes: divulging the recent arrival of the Portuguese in Ethiopia and mobilizing Portuguese society for relaunching the war against Islam.
In the long run, the depletion of part of the ideological baggage to which Portuguese Expansion had always been associated resulted in Morocco being relegated to a secondary position in the panorama of the Empire´s priorities and in the readjustment of Portuguese presence in that region. The difficulties had become manifest there at the end of Dom Manuel I´s government. To the structural problem posed by the dispersed nature and isolation of the Portuguese establishments ? and the lack of dominions in the interior that could serve as a protective shield ? was added the growing influence of the Ottoman Empire in North Africa, especially, the movement of political and territorial reunification undertaken by the Saadids, starting from the Suz area. The Crown´s growing military responsibilities in Asia and the Atlantic as well as the increasing onus on the Royal Treasury added to the picture that predisposed Dom João III to spur the debate around the question of retreating from Morocco. Only in 1541 would the King´s will be imposed, in face of the increased accuity of the crisis provoked by the loss of Santa Cruz of Cabo de Gué. Safi and Azemmour were abandoned that same year, and this would be repeated in 1550 in Asilah and Alcácer Ceguer. Portuguese presence, then, was confined to the citadels of Ceuta, Tangiers, and Mazagan.
By comparison, in general terms, the situation in Maritime Asia during the Johanine period was one of active expansion. The early years were definitely disturbed by uncertainty regarding the inclusion of the Moluccan Islands in the Portuguese area of influence and by the governmental instability of Estado da India, which was fueled both by the deaths of Dom Vasco da Gama and Dom Henrique de Meneses and by the power struggle between Pero de Mascarenhas and Lopo Vaz de Sampaio. The purchase of the so-called Spice Islands from the Castillian Crown, as agreed in the Zaragoza Treaty in 1529, and Nuno da Cunha´s departure in 1528 to occupy a position at the top of the Portuguese hierarchy in Asia obviated the problems in both cases.
In the following years, the history of the Estado da Índia was marked by growth and consolidation dynamics. As of 1530, Goa had achieved definitive status as capital of the Portuguese establishments and interests, which were being disseminated east of the Cape of Good Hope. The network grew in both amplitude and depth, as a tendency towards territoriality and a concomitant increase in revenues from the exploration of land became faintly noticeable. The installations in Bassein and Diu, which were authorized by the Indian Sultan of Gujarat between 1534 and 1535, and the annexation of the terras firmas neighboring Goa Island, Bardez and Salcette, which was negotiated with the Sultan of Bijapur in 1543, contributed to this situation.
Parallel expectations that maritime and commercial hegemonies would develop in the Arabian Sea and adjoining areas continued to be fostered. The conflicts between the Portuguese and the coalition formed by the Zamorin of Calicut, the Mappila Corsairs (Muslims native to the Indian Coast of Malabar), and the Singhalese King of Sitawaka were manifestations of this reality. In 1539, in the aftermath of the main operations, Portuguese authority spread without contestation from Malabar to the Sea of Ceylon, with concomitant benefits at the levels of geostrategy and mercantile traffic. Such a demonstration of force helps us to understand better the capacity for resistance that was evinced in the same year during the siege of Diu, organized by an Ottoman armada in collaboration with Gujaratan forces. The Portuguese responded in 1541 via an expedition to the Red Sea, commanded by Governor Dom Estevão da Gama, which reached the Suez area without causing significant damage. A panorama of geostrategic stalemate was defined, arising from Ottoman inability to remove the Portuguese from India and Portuguese ineffectiveness at suppressing the commercial route of the Red Sea (especially since in 1538 the Sublime Door extended his authority to Adem, in the Strait of Mecca). The second siege of Diu, which Dom João de Castro faced in 1546 did not rely on Ottoman participation; the onus of the attack fell entirely on the Sultanate of Gujarat.
The dynamism of Portuguese expansion in Asia during the reign of Dom João III was also based on the efforts of private initiative, which was particularly active along the Chinese coast and in Japan. The deterioration in official Portuguese-Chinese relations, which transpired largely in the final stretch of the Manuelan Period and was completely confirmed at the beginning of his successor´s reign, greatly contributed to this situation. Imbued by the pragmatism that generally characterized his political activity, Dom João III removed approaching the Middle Empire through diplomacy and commerce from the list of priorities of Estado da India. Portuguese adventurers benefitted from this situation, since they were then able to travel in the region, while disregarding the resolutions originating from both Peking and Lisbon. Physical risk, material losses, but also the prospect of great ?business of China? marked the daily lives of these men. In 1543, some of them accidentally landed on the Japanese island of Tanegashima. Within a short time span, the Portuguese started serving as commercial intermediaries between China and Japan, benefitting from the tension that governed the relationship between the two countries. In the end, the high profits obtained drew the Crown´s attention to East Asia again. This was the context that led to the organization of the Carreira do Japão, at the beginning of the 1550s, to the reestablishment of contacts between the Portuguese and the Chinese and, lastly, to the settlement of Macao by Portuguese, the news of which never did reach Dom João III.
Another relevant and distinctive highlight of this management of the overseas territories was the gradual development of Brazil´s position in the Empire. During the reign of Dom Manuel I, this region of the New World had been viewed as secondary in importance to the Atlantic segment of Carreira da India. The commerce of brazilwood, which was leased to private parties, had not even been an incentive for the Crown. As it happened, growing French interest in this product led to their docking along the Brazilian coast, developing exchanges and alliances with local tribes. At the end of the 1520s, the degree of threat posed by the French was understood to be serious enough to motivate intervention from Lisbon. Concomitantly, the territory´s potential as a source of economic gains must have been pondered. Thus, the armada commanded by Martim Afonso de Sousa, which left Portugal at the end of 1530 and remained in Brazil until 1533, was engaged not only in giving chase to the French ships that were detected, but also in exploring the Brazilian Coast and the Rio de la Plata basin in search of precious metals, experimenting with cultivation of sugar cane, and establishing the first Portuguese settlement nuclei.
The establishment of donatary captaincies, a political and administrative system which was conceptualized and implemented between 1532 and 1534, gave consistency to the royal effort to render the colony viable. As in other parts of the Atlantic, the underlying principle was that the Crown retained oversight of the colonization process, while private parties would promote it by relying on their own investments. For years on end, the absenteism of the majority of captaincy incumbents, the magnitude of the material means required, and the hostility of various groups of natives hindered the system from developing in a satisfactory manner.
In light of the firm intention to promote Portuguese presence in Brazil, a decision was made in 1548 to install a general government in the territory, which was put into practice the following year. Tomé de Sousa was charged with the mission to found a capital, São Salvador in Bahia, and with the organization of the occupation and utilization of the space via the concession of lands in sesmaria [a system by which the Crown granted to private parties the right to develop uncultivated land], the construction of roads, and the organization of a military structure. The power structure was completed via the establishment of other institutions, with more specific jurisdictions, namely the Superintendency of the Royal Treasury, the General Magistracy, and the Captaincy of the Coast.
Problems and difficulties continued to occur, resulting from both the wars with the natives, and the danger posed by the French, who settled in Guanabara Bay in 1555, five years before their expulsion. The high degree of involvement by the Portuguese Crown in the development of the colony and how important it was in making the project viable are evident. On the date of Dom João III´s death, which occurred on 11 June, 1557 in Lisbon, the Empire presented a new identity: it had two poles as a consequence of the attention and simultaneous value that the Crown attributed to the New World and to Maritime Asia. He was buried in the chancel of the Jerónimos Monastery.
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Author: Alexandra Pelúcia
Translated by: Maria João Pimentel