Fernando, Prince Dom (1433-1470)
Dom Fernando was born on 17 November 1433, in Almeirim, and died on 18 September 1470, in Setúbal. He was the second son of King Dom Duarte and he was affiliated by prince Dom Henrique, his uncle, on 7 Mars 1436. He married his first cousin, Dona Beatriz, the daughter of his uncle Dom João. This complex network of family relationships turned him into the most powerful fidalgo of peninsular Christendom during the third quarter of the fifteenth century.
On 23 Mars 1444, he was named governor of the Order of Santiago. This was a position previously held by Dom João, who died in 1142, and by Dom Diogo, Dom João?s son, who died soon after, in 1443. Even before he married Dona Beatriz, Dom Fernando had already taken a position which had been held by his uncle and father-in-law. By then, another important position which had belonged to Dom João and to Dom Diogo, that of Constable, was attributed to Dom Pedro, the first son of Dom Pedro, duke of Coimbra who was then the regent of the kingdom. The marriage agreement between Dom Fernando and Dona Beatriz was signed on 28 September 1445 However, for unknown reasons, the couple only started to bear children twelve years latter. During the crisis which led to the Battle of Alfarrobeira, Dom Fernando stood out for his declared animosity against Dom Pedro, who was with the king when the battle took place. In the aftermath of the combat, the House of Coimbra having fallen into disgrace, Dom Fernando was attributed the post of Constable. Latter on, in 1455, he was one of the few fidalgos who did not participate in the exequies of the duke of Coimbra. Although he was Prince Henrique?s adopted child, Dom Fernando seems not to have spent much time with him, establishing his relationships preferably with the House of Bragança, to which, by the way, his mother-in-law belonged.
Like his brother, King Dom Afonso V, Dom Fernando was always interested in the war in Africa and by the end of 1452 he secretly departed to Ceuta. Contemporary testimonies all agree on the prince?s dispositions: one can assume he only wished to engage in warfare and gain political power in the kingdom, but the idea that he had other dreams of greatness is also worth considering, for his maternal uncle, Afonso V of Aragão, had no legitimate heirs. By then, Dom Fernando was still the prince and heir of the Portuguese Crown, for Dom Afonso V still had no son; a delegation leaded by the counts of Arraiolos and Atouguia persuaded him to give up and the prince returned to Portugal. He was awaited by prince Dom Henrique in Castro Marim. In the aftermath of this incident, Dom Afonso V granted him the title of duke of Beja. Dom Fernando participated in the 1458 expedition against Ksar-el-Kebir and, the previous year he had obtained from his brother a letter which granted him any island his men discovered on the ocean. This shows a growing hostility between Dom Fernando and the old prince Dom Henrique, who had the monopoly of the navigations south of Bojador since 1443. In fact, the relationships between Dom Henrique and his heir had not been easy and, in his last will, Dom Henrique tried to attribute a significant part of his patrimony to the Crown instead of letting it fall in the hands of his heir.
During that same year of 1460, Dom Fernando sent Dom Afonso V a written document, where he gave his opinion on the possibility of the king moving to Ceuta, to personally conduct the war against the kingdom of Fes. Dom Fernando was against such a possibility, and argued the king should only settle in Morocco if he was to lead an army which was powerful enough to try conquering the enemy kingdom. He also called attention to the fact that the monarch?s absence could be dangerous for the kingdom and remembered the French were willing to go to the islands. This was a sign that, due to their economic development and their strategic importance, these places were starting to be coveted by other peoples from Christendom.
When Dom Henrique died, on 13 November 1460, Dom Afonso V approved the handing of a great part of Dom Henrique?s patrimony to his brother, mostly the dukedom of Viseu and the lordship of the islands, as well as the monopoly of the soap houses. Later on, during the summer of 1461, the king unwillingly allowed Dom Fernando to keep also the government of the Order of Christ. The monarch kept under the control of the Crown all the lands of the Algarve which had been given to Dom Henrique for life, as well as the monopoly of the navigation south of Bojador, which put the Discoveries under the control of the Crown.
In the fourteen-sixties, Dom Fernando governed the Atlantic Islands. He was mostly interested in the island of Madeira, where sugar production and its export to several markets on the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean were quickly evolving. Contemporary documents show that the ducal court was functioning as a court of second instance in solving the social conflicts taking place in Madeira. The prince had some difficulties in starting to populate the archipelago of Cape Verde, but he could count on the support of the king. In fact, in 1466, Dom Afonso V granted special privileges to those who would populate the island of Santiago, allowing them to trade with the Rivers of Guinea, a region which was under the king?s monopoly. For the monarch this meant loosing a source of income. However, it allowed him to make sure the archipelago was populated, which was an essential condition to guarantee the control over the ocean and the continuity of the exploration of meridian waters in safety.
In 1463, Dom Fernando participated in the attempt to conquer Tangier, which failed and led to the death of over a thousand Portuguese, a significant number of noblemen included, namely the count of Marialva. The prince returned to Africa in 1469, in an expedition organized by his House and attacked Anafe (nowadays Casablanca). There, he found a deserted village, which he sacked, taking away its doors, after which he returned to the kingdom. Dom Fernando probably expected to be welcome by a portion of the population which he thought could be interested in putting itself under Portuguese suzerainty. Without local support he did not dear leaving a garrison there.
By that time, Dom Fernando was negotiating the marriage of his two daughters, Dona Leonor and Dona Isabel. He decided the older one would marry the prince (future king Dom João II) and the younger one would marry the heir of the duke of Bragança. The duke of Viseu and of Beja, governor of the Orders of Santiago and of Christ, lord of the islands and constable of the kingdom thus became the father-in-law of the future king of Portugal and of the future duke of Bragança. Thirty-seven-year-old Dom Fernando was then at the peak of his power, but he was overtaken by a sudden disease and died. His older sons also died soon after, either by disease or by ambition. Only his younger son, Dom Manuel, future king of Portugal, survived.
COSTA, João Paulo Oliveira e, D. Manuel I, um Príncipe do Renascimento, Lisboa, Temas & Debates, 2007. GOMES, Saul, D. Afonso V, o Africano, Lisboa, Círculo de Leitores, 2006. LOPES, Sebastiana, O Infante D. Fernando e a nobreza fundiária de Serpa e Moura (1453-1470), Beja, Câmara Municipal de Beja, 2003.
Author: João Paulo Oliveira e Costa
Translated by: Dominique Faria