D. Duarte e D. Leonor Tomb

Photo from Alexandra Pelúcia

Anthroponyms seta DUARTE, Dom (1391-1438)

Dom Duarte was born in Viseu, on 31 October 1391, and died in Tomar, on 13 September 1438; he was the second son of João I and Philippa of Lancaster. He became heir to the Portuguese throne in 1400, when his oldest brother, Afonso, died.

Dom Duarte took an active part in the political preparations and arrangements for the expedition against Ceuta. All sorts of people and interests combined around a diversified number of political, economic, social and religious motives leading to the Ceuta issue. The princes sought a means of affirming themselves in political and social terms. The Court was still under the spell of the Aljubarrota heroes as well as of the king?s natural son?s doings, Dom Afonso, Count of Barcelos and future Duke of Braganza, who had been knighted in 1398, by his father, after the conquest of Tui. Dom Duarte and his brothers aspired to more than a knighthood obtained within a frame of glittering but vain festivities. Therefore, his voice soon joined those who suggested the attack to Ceuta. The king tried to protect his successor during the assault, and ordered his son Henry to lead the first hostilities, but as the Infante ran along the beach, he met his brother Duarte standing beside him despite the royal orders. It was thus under Duarte?s command that the first Portuguese troops crossed the gates of Ceuta. Zurara clearly states that the assault was led by the heir to the Crown, which provoked in Henry a sullen mood, followed by an unsuccessful display of bravado at the castle walls. When the military operation ended, Dom Duarte and his brothers were knighted.

Even before the expedition took place, Dom Duarte had been empowered by his father to participate in government affairs. For the following 18 years, he continued to control a significant part of the monarchy life on behalf of his father. Dom Duarte married in Coimbra, on 22 September 1428, to Leonor, sister of King Afonso V of Aragon. After the 1415 victory, Dom João I cherished the dream to return to Africa or to participate in the conquest of Granada, but the tense relations between Portugal and Castile were an obstacle to fulfilling the monarch?s intents. After the peace was celebrated with Castile, in January 1432, Duarte led a new series of inquiries on a further attack against the Moors. The fact that he asked for opinions on the matter shows that he did not stand against the idea, as most of his relatives did. King João I died on 14 August 1433, and as the funereal ceremonies were being arranged, Dom Duarte ordered that the sermons included a reference to the King?s willingness to continue the holy war. Shortly after he ascended to the throne, on 25 and 26 September 1433, Dom Duarte confirmed all the grants that his father had conceded to Henry and added a few more, namely one which would prove decisive for the Portuguese Expansion, the archipelago of Madeira. By doing this, Dom Duarte created a new model of overseas expansion which would last for decades ? the donatory system. The islands were ruled by the Donatory Captain, who appointed the officials, and established and collected taxes; the Crown maintained the sovereignty over the lands by prohibiting the donatory captain to coin money and to act as a supreme judge (he was not allowed to apply the death penalty or the quartering of members). Shortly after, in 1434, Gil Eanes sailed beyond Cape Bojador and marked the beginning of the Discoveries, but it?s uncertain whether the monarch had a clear perception of how important this was ? only after 1443, when Dom Pedro granted the life monopoly of sailing activities south of the Bojador to prince Henry, would the Discoveries become a matter of state.

Two of Duarte?s brothers were strongly engaged in supporting the military expansion against the Moors ? prince Henry, who was truly obsessed with the holy war, and prince Fernando, who was unhappy with the fact of never having had the opportunity of participating in a military campaign in more than thirty years of life. After much hesitating, Duarte agreed to organise a new expedition to the kingdom of Fez, and summoned the Cortes [the Portuguese parliament] in Évora, in March 1436, in order to raise the exceptional taxes required to fund the fleet.

However, some time before the meeting took place, Duarte established a special agreement with prince Henry. Assembled in Estremoz, the brothers decided that the Infante Dom Fernando (the youngest son of Dom Duarte) would be adopted by prince Henry and become heir to the House of Viseu. Prince Henry wrote by his own hand a text declaring his resolution to relinquish marriage and to, consequently, renounce to lawfully-begotten children, for which reason he adopted Fernando as his son. Duarte ratified the document and gave in written his assent to his brother?s intents on the same parchment, thus ensuring his youngest son?s future without sacrificing the royal treasury. Henry obtained at last the much desired command for the holy war.

Besides having been able to control for his own benefit the religious impetus of Henry (and Duarte was himself a keen supporter of the war in Africa), the king sought also to counteract the diplomatic pressure of Castile in the Holy See. The Castilian monarchy aimed at obtaining from the Pope the acknowledgement of exclusive legitimacy for attacking the Moors in Africa. Unless Portugal acted adequately, a situation of strategic blockade might arise. King Duarte left in his notes the record of the reasons why he decided to send this expedition: in addition to the wish to honour his father?s memory, he wanted to keep his army busy, trained and influential in case it was called to protect the Realm; he also sought to maintain the nobility engaged in its proper activities, as exemplified by his youngest brother. Finally, he intended to assure the neutrality of Portugal in the context of Christendom, since fighting the Moors might provide a good excuse for refusing military alliances.

The preparations for the mission dragged on until the Summer of 1437, and even so the Crown proved unable to mobilise the expected 14.000 soldiers. As Duarte took no part in the expedition, he was to receive the news of what was both a military disaster and a family tragedy, since the price that the Portuguese had had to pay for the retreat had been the surrender of Fernando, left as hostage for the restitution of Ceuta.

Duarte tried to find a way out for his brother?s ordeal, but the living forces of the Realm could not reach an agreement: part of the nobility and some councils were in favour of giving Ceuta back to the Moors as ransom for the rescue of Fernando, but other councils, namely Oporto, Lisbon and Algarve, as well as the rest of the nobility and the clergy opposed the devolution of the African town. Divided between these two factions, Duarte could not make a decision, fell suddenly ill and died.

His lack of deliberate support to those in favour of delivering Ceuta is the best proof that the monarch approved of conquering Morocco, and that the decision of sending an expedition in 1437 had been more than a mere act of yielding to his brothers? pressing demands ? it was also an example of personal choice. On the other hand, one must not forget that the expedition was poorly prepared and that the king lacked the necessary political or inner strength to thwart the leaving of the small expeditionary body that escorted the two princes on that fatal journey.

COSTA, João Paulo Oliveira e, Henrique, o Infante, Lisboa, Esfera dos Livros, 2009 (no prelo). Duarte, Luís Miguel, D. Duarte, Lisboa, Círculo de Leitores, 2005. RUSSELL, Peter, Henrique, o Navegador, Lisboa, Livros Horizonte, 2004 (original, 2000). THOMAZ, Luís Filipe, ?A evolução da política expansionista portuguesa na primeira metade de Quatrocentos? in De Ceuta a Timor, Carnaxide, Difel, 1994, pp. 43-147. SANTOS, Domingos Maurício Gomes dos, D. Duarte e as responsabilidades de Tânger (1433-1438), Lisboa, 1960.

Author: João Paulo Oliveira e Costa
Translated by: Leonor Sampaio da Silva

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