Anthroponyms seta João, Prince (1400-1442)

Dom João was born in Santarém on 13 January, 1400 and died on 18 October, 1442 in Alcácer do Sal. He was the fifth son of King João I and Queen Philippa of Lancaster. Dom João did not accompany his father and older brothers on the journey to Ceuta in the year 1415. In 1419, however, he left Portugal with the fleet commanded by Prince Henrique, to help in Ceuta, which was under the second great Muslim siege. When the fleet neared the city, the attacking army was in process of being repelled by the Portuguese men led by Dom Pedro de Meneses. The Portuguese reinforcements did not participate in the battle, even though their arrival was decisive in the withdrawal of the Muslim army. Dom João had been appointed governor of the Order of Saint James of Compostela the previous year. In 1424 he married his niece, Dona Isabel, daughter of the Count of Barcelos and granddaughter of Dom Nuno Álvares Pereira. After Dom Nuno Alvares´death in 1431, his connection by marriage secured Dom João the appointment to the position of Constable of Portugal. When in 1432-1433 the royal family revisited the possibility of resuming the war against the Muslims, Dom João´s judgment oscillated between prudence and chivalry, showing hesitation. Dom João was aware that a new expedition against the Muslims would be difficult to carry out given the high costs, wich would be a burden to the Portuguese people, and the logistical difficulties that would be associated with such an endeavor. Should it be decided to carry out this expedition, however, it seemed to him that attacking the Kingdom of Fez would be preferable. The prince was still doubtful as to the legitimacy of an attack in the name of Holy War, deffending that Portugal should remain neutral in the conflicts that constantly ravaged Christianity. Thus, Dom João´s judgment illustates well the climate of stalemate exisiting in Portugal on the eve of the Era of Discovery.

Despite holding the position of Constable, Dom João did not participate in the 1437 expedition that Dom Henrique led against Tangier. His responsibility was to remain in Algarve with a contingent of troops to reinforce the expedition if necessary. When the news of the difficulties faced by his brothers in the African battlefield reached the kingdom, Dom João organized a rescue squadron, but unfavorable weather conditions greatly delayed its departure. When he set sail for Morocco, it was too late. By the time the Portuguese ships neared Arzila, Dom Fernando was already being held hostage there and the remainder of the Portuguese army had retreated ingloriously. Immediately after that, Dom João returned to Algarve. He actively opposed Dona Leonor´s regency, supporting the appointment of his brother, Dom Pedro, as regent of the kingdom. Dom João died shortly after his brother assumed the regency. His son and successor, Dom Diogo, who took over the government of the order of Saint James of Compostela and the office of Constable, also passed away a few months later.

Author: João Paulo Oliveira e Costa
Translated by: Maria João Pimentel


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