SOUSA, Martim Afonso de (1500-1570)
He was the first-born son of Lopo de Sousa, the tutor of the fourth Duke of Bragança, Chief Alcaide of Bragança and Lord of Prado, and of Dona Brites de Albuquerque, the daughter of the Chief Alcaide of Oporto, João Rodrigues de Sá. He was admitted into Court in 1516, when the Duke and King Dom Manuel I intervened to prevent him from heading to Castile. Thus, he was allowed in the House of the Crown Prince, Dom João, as wardrobe groom. There he met his first-degree cousin, Dom António de Ataíde. Soon, the three of them became close friends, due to the close contact they had and to their age proximity. Several circumstances provide evidence to this fact. For example, in 1518 King Dom Manuel I decided to marry Dona Leonor of Austria, who had been formerly promised to his son. Martim Afonso and his cousin firmly supported the Prince?s claim, even if probably at the prospect of being rewarded for that support, as was expected within the curial dynamics of the period. In this context, it becomes clear why in 1520 he started serving the Crown, giving up, therefore, his bond to the House of Bragança and its ensured benefits (the title of Chief Alcaide of Bragança and a highly annual income).
In 1523, Martim Afonso was a member of the royal entourage which escorted the widow Queen of King Dom Manuel, the first, back to Castile. Two years later, he returned to Portugal accompanied by his new sovereign, Dona Catarina. In the meanwhile, he got married to the Castilian Dona Ana Pimentel and helped the neighbouring troops during the first war that opposed Charles V to Francis I of France, being complimented for his deeds in the war by the Emperor.
In 1530, he began his overseas career, after being nominated Commodore of the Fleet and of Brazil. He also became Member of the Council then. During that time, King Dom João III was engaged in producing deep changes in the pattern of daily government by reducing the number of Counsellors with an active role. Among these there was Dom António de Ataíde, who had been appointed Treasurer and, consequently, had to deal with issues relating to the Expansion. Within the framework of the initial Portuguese occupation, the presence of the French in Brazil was becoming alarming. In addition, in 1525, due to debts he had to the Crown, Martim Afonso de Sousa was forced to sell his land-lordship of Prado to the Crown. As a result, Martim Afonso de Sousa was losing his status. Thus, one can observe how suitable it was for him to command the above mentioned Expedition. On the one hand, it was mandatory to intervene in the area. On the other hand, it was convenient to assign the command to a political and personal trustworthy nobleman, in whom both the King and the Treasurer in charge of superintending the mission could trust.
On the 3rd of December 1530, Martim Afonso?s squadron left Lisbon. Among the other office holders, there were the Commodore?s brother, Pêro Lopes de Sousa, and other members of his lineage. A tendency to include relatives on his own endeavours can be observed, so that they could fall in the King?s good graces. During the three-year expedition, the Portuguese were well-succeeded on several undertakings, as, for example, the chasing of the French ships, the recognition of the Amazonian and Platina basins, the successful experiments in the adaptation of sugarcane, and the foundation of settlements in São Vicente and in the plateau of Piratininga.
As King Dom João III was very pleased with his friend?s performance, in 1534 he bestowed him two Donator-captaincies established in Brazil: São Vicente and Rio de Janeiro. That same year Martim Afonso sailed to the East in the capacity of Fleet Commodore of the Kingdom. After his arrival, he took office as Commodore of the Indian Sea. Although he was number two in the hierarchy of Estado da India, his expectations ranked higher than that. He aspired to be Governor, a position occupied then by Nuno da Cunha. That same ambition is evinced in the letters he wrote to the King and to Dom António de Ataíde during his voyage to India and in the years that followed. Evoking their privileged relationship that bound them together and the obligations implied in that same relationship, that correspondence was merely a means to claim for benefits for himself and for his relatives and friends that followed him to the Subcontinent. In addition to this, Martim Afonso did his utmost to belittle the way Nuno da Cunha governed Portuguese India. Indeed, Martim Afonso had the power of argumentation on his side, due to the effective actions he had accomplished: the Portuguese settlement in Gujarat, which was possible due to the concession of Bassein by the local Sultan after the attack on Daman (1534), and the agreement between the two parties concerning the construction of a fortress in Diu (1535); the defence of the Kingdom of Kochi against the troops of the Zamorin of Calicut; and the chase of the Mappilas fleets (1536-1537). On this particular matter, the Commodore and Nuno da Cunha did not share the same point of view. As a result, the Commodore accused Nuno da Gama of protecting Gujarat, and of neglecting, therefore, the reinforcement of the troops in Malabar, with the ensuing disadvantage of endangering the Portuguese pepper interests in the South of India.
The interpretation of this political framework cannot just be viewed against the traditional backgroung of the clash between liberal and centralising forces. Although Martim Afonso was the main agent of the Expansion towards Gujarat, he did not ignore the importance of the pepper trade and, especially, the geopolitical scope of the emerging problem when the Zamorin and his privateers strengthened their relationship with the Cingalese Kingdom of Sitawaka, a declared rival of the Kingdom of Kotte, which was the great ally of the Portuguese on the Island of Ceylon. In January 1538, Martim Afonso was able to defeat the Calicut Fleet in the port of Beadala-Vedalai. This was crucial not only in terms of weakening the counterattack of the enemies, but also for the purpose of stating the Portuguese hegemony over the areas between Malabar and the Sea of Ceylon. The benefits accomplished by the Portuguese went beyond the regional level. Thus, the strong presence that the Portuguese accomplished in the South of India provided them more safety to face the Ottoman attack over Diu, in the beginning of September 1538.
Against Martim Afonso?s wish, that same year the Crown appointed Dom Garcia de Noronha as the successor of Nuno da Cunha. Behind this decision laid two particular reasons: the possibility of an Ottoman attack and the need to create a strong and consensual government solution in Estado da India. After raising the siege of Diu, the new Viceroy did not allow Martim Afonso to chase the enemies. As a result, the nobleman sailed back to Lisbon in the beginning of 1539. If he had remained in India, he would have had the chance of becoming Governor in April 1540, after the death of Dom Garcia and the opening of the first line of succession.
In the meanwhile, back in Portugal, the King Dom João III had already promised to Martin Afonso that he would be the one to occupy that position. Consequently, as soon as the news of the death of Dom Garcia and the rise of Dom Estevão da Gama to Governor arrived to Portugal in January 1541, the King confirmed his will. Thus, the son of the discoverer of India became a short-term Governor and could not fulfil his regular three-year mandate. This arose quarrels at the Court. Dom Estevão?s brother, Dom Francisco da Gama, Count of Vidigueira, defended his brother?s cause, benefiting from the support of his father-in-law, Dom Francisco de Portugal, Count of Vimioso. On the other hand, Dom António de Ataíde gave his support to Martim Afonso. This event clearly demonstrates the power of kinship ties and strategic alliances for the purposes of accomplishing personal ambitions and of strengthening the influence of the aristocratic Houses of the Kingdom, in particular the most recent ones which viewed overseas territories as an opportunity of social climbing. This issue was eventually solved in a meeting of the Royal Council, which decided in favour of Martin Afonso. He left Lisbon on the 7th of April 1541. Nevertheless, the voyage was eventful and he was only able to put into the port of Goa in May 1542.
From that period on, the Governor not only did his utmost to favour his relatives (both on his mother side as on his father?s), his personal attendants and close officials, but he also engaged in profitable trade activities. This liberal dimension of his government has caused a series of similar conclusions regarding his entire mandate, especially on two particular events: the Voyage of the Pagode (the failed attempt to rob the Hindu temple of Tirumala-Tirupati) in 1543 and the planning of an expedition to find the mystical Island of Gold in 1543. However, the Crown had formerly approved both endeavours. His government was also marked by other events: the reformation of the Customs Houses in Ormuz and Malacca; the effective territorial dominion of the Portuguese presence in Goa with the attachment of Bardez and Salcette; and the devaluation of the bazarucos, the copper currency used in the capital city of Estado da India. These last events generated a serious controversy on a local level, because they evinced the Portuguese will on delivering to the Sultan of Bijapur [sem vírgula] the exiled Prince of Mealecão, and implied the inflation of food. However, it were not the complaints that arrived from India that made King Dom João III replace Martim Afonso by Dom João de Castro in 1545. The sovereign had been informed of his friend unavailability to continue in charge of the government. Thus, the tension that affected their relationship was dependent on what happened after the arrival of Martim Afonso to the Kingdom in the summer of 1546, namely the countless complaints arriving from India. Nonetheless, in 1547, there were able to solve their problem and harmonise their relationship.
From 1542 onwards, Martim Afonso as Lord of the village of Alcoentre and of the hamlet of Tagarro, dedicated himself to enrich his House. He also became Chief Alcaide of Rio Maior at an uncertain date. He distinguished himself in the support given to the sovereignty of Queen Dona Catarina. Later on, Cardinal Dom Henrique also sought for his advise. He died on the 25th of November 1570 and was buried on the Chapel he himself founded at the Church of the Convent of São Francisco, in Lisbon.
ALBUQUERQUE, Luís de (dir.), Martim Afonso de Sousa, Lisboa, Publicações Alfa, 1989. FLORES, Jorge, Os Portugueses e o Mar de Ceilão. Trato, Diplomacia e Guerra (1498-1543), Lisboa, Edições Cosmos, 1998. FREITAS, Jordão de, «A Expedição de Martim Afonso de Sousa», in História da Colonização Portuguesa do Brasil, vol. III, Porto, Litografia Nacional, 1924, pp. 96-164. PELÚCIA, Alexandra, Martim Afonso de Sousa e a sua Linhagem: A Elite Dirigente do Império Português nos Reinados de D. João III e D. Sebastião, Lisboa, UNL-FCSH, 2007, dissertação de doutoramento policopiada. SUBRAHMANYAM, Sanjay, «Notas sobre um Rei Congelado: o Caso de Ali bin Iusuf Adil Khan, Chamado Mealecão», in Passar as Fronteiras. Actas do II Colóquio Internacional sobre Mediadores culturais ? Séculos XV a XVIII, coors. Rui Loureiro & Serge Gruzinski, Lagos, Centro de Estudos Gil Eanes, 1999, pp. 265-290. Idem, «Of Pagodas and Politics: Tirupati as El-Dorado», in Penumbral Visions. Making Polities in Early Modern South India, Nova Deli, Oxford University Press, 2001, pp. 22-60.
Autor: Alexandra Pelúcia
Translated by: Andreia Melo