D. BEATRIZ, Infanta (1429-1506)
Daughter of Infante Dom João (the son of King João I) and of Dona Isabel, his niece (daughter of Dom Afonso, the 1st Duke of Braganza, and granddaughter of Dom Nuno Álvares Pereira), she was born in 1429 and died in Beja, on 30 September 1506. In 1445, her mother and uncles decided that she was to marry Prince Fernando, her cousin and the second son of King Duarte.
Apart from having given birth to eight children between 1458 and 1469, the youngest of all, Dom Manuel, future King of Portugal, her life was uneventful until September 1470, when her husband died. By that time, all surviving children were under age. The two girls were engaged to be married to highly placed noblemen: Dona Leonor, to the future King of Portugal, Dom João II; Dona Isabel, to the Duke of Guimarães and heir to the House of Braganza, Dom Fernando. By the time Prince Fernando died, Dom Afonso V granted to his brother?s oldest son the estate of the House of Viseu-Beja, including the dukedoms and the lordships of Covilhã and of the Atlantic islands, as well as the monopoly of the soap business in the Kingdom. He tried however to hamper excessive concentration of power, thus granting the post of Constable to Dom João, the second son of the Duke of Braganza, the rule of the Order of Santiago to Prince João, and the rule of the Order of Christ to Dom Diogo, the second son of Dom Fernando and Dona Beatriz. The King himself embraced the tutorship of this nephew, in an attempt to gain control over the Order of Christ, while Dona Beatriz assumed the tutorship of her first-born and consequently the rule over the dukedom and the islands. Early in 1472, Dom João, the 3rd Duke of Viseu, died, and his brother Dom Diogo succeeded to him in rank and property. The dukedom of Viseu fell again under the control of the ruler of the Order of Christ. Dona Beatriz remained in charge of the estate of the dukedom, now on behalf of Dom Diogo?s interests.
It was surely not an easy task to conduct the affairs of the House of Viseu. A record of a meeting of the Council of Funchal dated 31 January 1472, states an incident that took place after a letter written by the Duchess was read. When the assembled men heard the Duchess?s demand for aldermanship service ?at once Rui Lopes, Squire, said that the afore-mentioned letter was a woman?s letter?. The woman, however, forced her authority upon a men?s world and ruled the vast dominions that belonged to Duke Dom Diogo. During Dom Fernando?s rule of the islands (1461-1470), the House of Viseu had promoted a policy primarily concerned with the economic development of Madeira Island and with the initial stage of peopling Santiago Island in Cape Verde. Dona Beatriz stood out in the attention that she paid to the Azores. She encouraged the replacement of the captain of São Miguel Island, and divided Terceira Island into two captaincies. From 1475 on, she was also tutoring Dom Diogo for the rule of the Order of Christ, due to Dom Afonso V?s involvement in the war against Castile for the benefit of his niece?s (Joana) aspirations to the Castilian throne.
The Luso-Castilian war (1475-1479) proved decisive to rearrange the peninsular political map. Isabel?s victory fostered the strengthening of the bonds as well as the future union of the crowns of Aragon and Castile, as the Castilian Princess was married to Ferdinand, heir to the Aragonese throne. Although the conflict was rooted in the conquest of the Castilian sceptre, the fights went beyond the peninsular territory, and extended into the Ocean. This was the first Luso-Castilian war after the Discoveries, and the new areas under Portuguese rule were quickly engaged in the conflict. Isabel intended to resume her father?s policy, King Juan II of Castile (r. 1406-1454), who had always stood against the progress of the Portuguese caravels along the coast of Guinea, unlike his brother Enrique IV (r.1454-1474), who had never taken any interest in the matter. For this reason, several Castilian squadrons were sent to Guinea in an attempt to control the region of Mina. The first fort in Angra started to be built on that occasion, and Castilian ships attacked the islands of Porto Santo and Santiago. The territories of the House of Viseu-Beja in the mainland were far enough from the frontier to get significantly affected by war and destruction, but the same did not apply to the insular dominions, which were endangered by Castilian attacks. The wealth derived from exporting Madeira sugar and the returns obtained by the Order of Christ from the Guinea trade were seriously undermined at that time. Furthermore, the dominions of the House of Viseu would certainly be called to assist in the war effort. When the conflict reached an impasse, it was Dona Beatriz who represented Portugal in the meeting which would prove decisive to define the peace terms between the two Kingdoms.
Isabel, the princess who had won the Iberian war, had been born within the second marriage of King João II; her mother was Dona Isabel, the sister of Dona Beatriz. The Duchess of Viseu was, therefore, the aunt of the Castilian Lady, and close enough to her to try to settle the conflict personally. By mid March 1479, Dona Beatriz crossed the frontier separating Portugal and Castile at Segura, with a very small retinue, and set off to Alcântara, where her niece was expecting her. Both women were in danger and both trusted each other: the Duchess was defenceless and advancing into enemy territory, and the Queen of Castile was sheltered in a castle in the vicinity of the Portuguese border without the protection of an army. The negotiations lasted about a week. By the end of that time an agreement came out: Portugal acknowledged Isabel as Queen, and vowed to bar Joana?s aspirations to the Castilian throne; Castile kept the right to conquer Canary Islands, but recognised the rights of Portugal over the Ocean. Given the role that she had played in the peace settlement, Dona Beatriz succeeded to secure both the entireness of the dominions and the Atlantic revenues of the House of Viseu-Beja.
It was D. Beatriz who gathered at Moura, during the famous Terçarias, the hostages from both parties, while sending one of her sons (alternately Dom Diogo and Dom Manuel) as hostages to Castile.
Dona Beatriz would witness the execution of her son-in-law, the Duke of Braganza, in 1483, and would live to see her son, Dom Diogo, murdered, in 1484, without losing her discretion. Her youngest son, Dom Manuel, received all her support as ruler of the dukedom of Beja. When her grandson, prince Dom Afonso, died in the aftermath of an accident in 1491, Dona Beatriz joined all the forces of her House to stand for Dom Manuel?s claim as successor to King João II. Although, as a rule, the last days of her life were spent in seclusion, in Beja, it is known that she was in Lisbon in 1500 for Christmas, taking part in the festivities organised by Dom Manuel I.
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. FONSECA, Luís Adão da, D. João II, Lisboa, temas e Debates, 2007.
Author: João Paulo Oliveira e Costa
Translated by: Leonor Sampaio da Silva