D. Manuel I and D. Maria Tombs

Photo from Alexandra Pelúcia

Anthroponyms seta Manuel I, Dom (1469-1521)

D. Manuel was born in Alcochete, on 31 may 1469, and he died in Lisbon on 13 december 1521. He was named duke of Beja, lord of Madeira, the Azores and Cape Verde, and, in 1484, governor of the Order of Christ, succeeding his brother Dom Diogo. He ascended to the throne on 25 October 1495, upon the death of Dom João II (king between 1481 and 1495), his first cousin. D. Manuel was the son of prince Dom Fernando (1433-1470) and the grandson of Dom Duarte (king between 1433 and 1438). He became a king due to the extinction of his grandfather?s primogeniture, and to the death of his five older brothers. For this reason he is recalled as the ?Venturoso? [The Fortunate]. According to the Portuguese chronicler Damião de Góis, Dom Manuel I dedicated himself almost exclusively to the government of the empire, which created a distorted image of his reign. In fact, besides directing the overseas expansion, the monarch also deeply reformed the kingdom and intervened frequently in the Castilian politics. He was, in fact, a prince of the Renaissance, who used the empire as a way to strengthen his internal power and to search for prestige in Christendom.

Dom Manuel married three times, to Dona Isabel (1470-1498), in 1497, to Dona Maria (1482-1517), in 1500, both daughters of the Christian kings, and to Dona Leonor (1498-1558), the sister of Carlos V, in 1518.

The seignory of the islands brought him great wealth, mostly due to the sugar from Madeira, as well as knowledge on how to govern at a distance. In 1493, he created a new commandery for the Order of Christ, built on the income the Order was getting from taxes on the trade with Guinea. During these years, Dom Manuel started a strong propaganda of his own image, associated with the armillary sphere, which he intensified after ascending to the throne.

Not having been able to turn his illegitimate son into his lawful heir, in his will, Dom João II acknowledged Dom Manuel?s right to the succession to the throne. However, he also asked him to grant Dom Jorge, who was already governor of the orders of Santiago and of Aviz, the dukedom of Coimbra, plus the seignory of the island of Madeira and to name him Governor of the Order of Christ. The king, who had killed to impose his authority, was asking his heir to split the kingdom in two, but Dom Manuel kept the Order of Christ and the island of Madeira to himself, placing it under the Crown?s control.

Dom Manuel I started his reformation program in 1496 and continued to extend the politics of expansion developed by Dom João II. Thus, on July 1497, a fleet, commandeered by Vasco da Gama, left in search of the maritime route to India and returned two years latter with the long wanted spices. With the support of Genoa and Florence, Portugal challenged the old route of Asian products controlled by the mamelukes, established in Cairo, and by Venice. Gama brought spices but also news that the Indian Ocean was controlled by the Moors. It was for this reason that, in March 1500, a great fleet, commandeered by Pedro Álvares Cabral, set sail. It had orders to attack its rivals, but it first dedicated itself to exploring the southeast Atlantic Ocean. As Cabral casted anchor in the Brazilian coast, other men the king truly relied upon, the Corte-Real, were sailing the waters of the North-eastern Atlantic Ocean. It was urgent to know the configuration of the Ocean and to identify all the lands which would be under Portuguese influence according to the Treaty of Tordesillas. Since Colombo?s journeys, the western part of the Atlantic Ocean was of crucial importance. In the early sixteenth century, England also showed some interest in reaching Asia by the west. Portugal may very well control the route of the Cape, but on the other side of the sea it depended on the generosity of geography, and in 1513 the existence of America and of the Pacific Ocean was confirmed.

In the beginning of the sixteenth century, Portugal was experiencing a period of euphoria. The horizons suddenly widened and Dom Manuel ascended to the throne in an extraordinary way, all of which contributed to built the belief that the king had been chosen by God to heighten Christendom and eliminate its enemies.

While Cabral negotiated in India, Dom Manuel I prepared a fleet against the kingdom of Fes. His expansionist politics had this double feature: the desire to create an oriental empire, and the will to conquer the African kingdom. Beyond these national and immediate purposes, hope was also fed that Dom Manuel I would lead the Crusade against the Holly Land. The king?s emissaries crossed Europe twice in search of supporters for such an enterprise.

The fleets sent to the Indian Ocean succeeded, because of their strategic superiority and of the efficiency of their armament. Due to the hostility of Calicut, as well as to the merchants of the Red Sea, the Portuguese settled in Kochi and in Kannur. In 1505, Dom Manuel I instituted the viceroyalty of India, thus trying to create a stable government in the East. Dom Francisco de Almeida, the first viceroy, consolidated the Portuguese presence in the western part of the Indian Ocean by destroying the fleet sent by Cairo, in the sea battle of Diu, on 3 February 1509, thus neutralising the mamelukes? reaction.

In Morocco, Dom Manuel I faced mainly the opposition of the Catholic Kings to the Portuguese intervention in that region. However, after the death of Isabel, on 26 November 1504, Castille sank into a long political crisis, and Dom Manuel I was able to conduct a politics of systematic conquests. The take over of Safi, in 1508, the conquest of Azemmour, in 1513, and the triumph in the battle of the Alcaides, in 1514, helped building an image of invincibility of the Portuguese. The action of Nuno Fernandes de Ataíde, captain of Safi (1510-1516) was particularly important, for he created a vast area of Mouros de pazes [Moors who recognised Portuguese overlordship] and the Portuguese army reached twice the doors of Marrakech.

The triumphs of Ataíde were contemporary to Afonso de Albuquerque?s campaigns in Asia. Dom Francisco de Almeida had handed him the government only after serious incidents. In fact, Dom Manuel?s government was always influenced by a strong political tension which, in a simplified way, opposed the party that was in favour of centralization to those who fought for lesser intervention from the Crown and which were against the idea of transforming the overseas expansion into a permanent crusade. In the beginning of his reign, there was also a division between Dom Jorge?s supporters and those who were faithful to the king, other than the personal interests of each fidalgo, which interfered with the complex games of courtly politics. Albuquerque did not initially engage in the assault to the Red Sea, as the king had asked him to. Instead, using several excuses, he postponed the expedition and conquered Goa in 1510, and Malacca in 1511. In 1512 he strengthened the domain of Goa and in 1513 he finally attacked the Red Sea, but did not succeed. He afterwards achieved the definitive conquest of Ormuz, in 1515. That year, the king did not reinstate him in government and sent Lopo Soares de Albergaria as his substitute. With his conquests, Albuquerque had given an Asian dimension to the Estado da Índia [The Portuguese Empire east of the Cape of Good Hope subject to the viceroy at Goa], providing it with key strategic ports which secured the control of vital routes and the economic self-sufficiency of Portuguese India. However, the monarch still looked to the East through a Mediterranean perspective, centred on the dream of the crusade. That difference in perspective, together with the deep political struggle which went on in court, where Albuquerque had countless enemies, explain the king?s decision. Lopo Soares boycotted the crusade plans of Dom Manuel I and the military impetus in Asia slowed down; many fidalgos then devoted to trade, which was referred to as the ?grande soltura? [the great unleashing].

The expansionist dynamics in Asia was changing and, at the same time, in Morocco, the Portuguese were starting to draw back: in 1515 an attempt to build a new fortress in Mamora failed and culminated in an enormous disaster with the death of some 5.000 men; in 1516, Nuno Fernandes de Ataíde perished in combat and the Portuguese power was reduced to the perimeter of the fortified strongholds under its control.

In 1518, Dom Manuel resumed his centralising politics in the East by sending Diogo Lopes de Sequeira there. It was this governor who established the first diplomatic contacts with Ethiopian Christendom. It was thought that the king of Ethiopia was very powerful and that he would be available to participate in the holly war. Thus, by the end of 1521, the monarch was supposedly very enthusiastic. He was preparing to distribute a book, the Carta das Novas [Letter of the News], in which he proclaimed the discovery of Prester John; he had hope of having been able to take control of a new spice route, between the Asian southeast and China and, in the fall, Venice had shown interest in buying by wholesale his load of pepper coming from Asia. Twenty-six years after ascending to the throne, Dom Manuel seemed to be winning on the two main fronts of his expansionist politics ? he was about to unleash the Crusade and he had Venice at his feet, begging for spices. By the end of that year however he fell sick and died unexpectedly. Dom João would soon change the course of the Portuguese Expansion.

During the reign of Dom Manuel I, the profits from overseas trade grew enormously. The spices were the most visible side of this phenomenon, but these also brought high expenses, from the costs of the Carreira da India. The king?s wealth came ultimately from the Atlantic: the sugar, the slaves and, mostly, the gold from Mina arrived at Portugal in small ships, manoeuvred by fewer crew and were obtained in exchange for cheap merchandise. The gold flow coming from Mina was at its peak. The king became known for his captains? accomplishments in the East and he also fed the dreams of conquest within the Mediterranean tradition, but he was an extremely wealthy king (as can be seen from his extraordinary patrimonial legacy) due to his Atlantic dominions.

Dom Manuel I took advantage of the Overseas exoticism to stand out from the whole of Christendom. The embassy he sent to Rome in 1513, which included an elephant, became famous; it was through him that Europe came to know Chinese porcelain and acknowledged the unicorn was not, after all, an elegant equine, but a corpulent beast, whose image became famous soon after by Dürer?s paintings.

AUBIN, Jean, Le Latin et l?Astrolabe. Recherches sur le Portugal de la Rennaissance, son Expansion en Asie et les Relations Internationales, Paris, Centre Culturel Calouste Gulbenkian, 2006. COSTA, João Paulo Oliveira e, D. Manuel I, um Príncipe do Renascimento, Lisboa, Temas & Debates, 2007. PEREIRA, Fernando António Baptista, ?D. Manuel, espelho de Salomão, inventor do mundo? in História de Portugal dos Tempos Pré-Históricos aos Nossos Dias (dir. de João Medina), 15 vols., Amadora, Ediclube, 1993, vol. IV, pp. 84-98. SUBRAHMANYAM, Sanjay, A Carreira e a Lenda de Vasco da Gama, Lisboa, Comissão Nacional para as Comemorações dos Descobrimentos Portugueses, 1998. THOMAZ, Luís Filipe, « L?idée impériale menualine »in La Decouverte, le Portugal et l?Europe. Actes du Colloque. Paris, Centre Culturel Portugais, 1990.

Author: João Paulo Oliveira e Costa
Translated by: Dominique Faria

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