Pedro, Prince Dom (1392-1449)
Dom Pedro was born in Lisbon on 9 December 1392. He was the third son of King João I and of Queen Filipa de Lencastre. In 1400, when the heir to the throne died, Dom Pedro gained political power and, in 1408, he started creating his own House and that of Dom Henrique, a process that came to an end in 1411. Its seignory was established in Coimbra.
Dom Pedro 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 Pedro 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. To prepare the assault, King João I trusted Dom Pedro with the command of part of the fleet. For that reason the prince, unlike his brothers, was not in the first group which disembarked in Ceuta. Dom Pedro integrated the second group and fought on the streets of Ceuta. He was then knighted, along with Dom Duarte and Dom Henrique.
Upon his return to the kingdom, in Tavira, the king bestowed him the title of duke of Coimbra. Soon after, a privateering fleet was put at his disposal, which he operated from Ceuta. The following years the king?s favours mostly privileged Prince Dom Henrique, named governor of Ceuta in 1416, and governor of the Order of Christ in 1420. As early as 1418, a representative of the duke of Coimbra received in his name, in the imperial court, the mark of Treviso, which is very revealing. The prince ended up momentarily abandoning the kingdom, between 1425 and 1428, to make his well known journey which led him to visit several European courts, namely the English one, the court of Burgundy, the imperial and the papal court, and the courts of Aragon and Castile. In Aragon, in 1428, he negotiated with king Afonso V his marriage with Dona Isabel of Urgel. She was the granddaughter of the Aragonese king Pedro IV, but also the daughter of the count of Urgel, who was being held captive in Castile for the last fifteen years, for not having accepted the election of Fernando de Antequera as king of Aragon, in 1412. By that same time, the wedding of Dom Duarte and Dona Leonor, the sister of the Aragonese king and the daughter of Fernando de Antequera was being prepared. This means that Dom Pedro accepted to get married to one of the enemies of his brother?s wife ? a decision which definitely contributed to enhance the divergences which divided the Portuguese court in the fourteen-forties and of which Dom Pedro himself would be one of the main victims.
It was during this journey, in Bruges, in 1426, that Dom Pedro wrote a famous letter to Dom Duarte, in which he positioned himself against the way Ceuta was being kept. After his return to the kingdom, Dom Pedro repeatedly positioned himself against the Moroccan adventure: he always stood up against those who were in favour of continuing the war in Africa, a party which was led by Prince Dom Henrique; latter on, in 1438, he supported the idea of surrendering Ceuta as a way of bringing back his brother Dom Fernando, who was held captive, as a result of the expedition made the previous year, which had failed; he tried, in 1440, to hand the city to the Moors, but a Genovese fleet attacked the Portuguese squadron which was about to fulfil that mission, and the death of its commodore forced them to cancel the deal. This is an obscure episode, for which the Genovese authorities immediately apologised, but which seems to symbolically show the importance this African city had for Christians in the Strait of Gibraltar ? this seems to have been the reason for this incident. The following years, Dom Pedro sent no new emissary to be responsible for the surrendering of Ceuta, which means the 1440?s strange incident was a clear enough message for the prince to have given up on releasing his captive brother. Meanwhile, Dom Duarte had passed away in September 1438, and Dom Afonso V being a minor, Dom Pedro opposed the regency of the widow queen. With the support of his brothers, Dom Henrique and Dom João, he was named the kingdom?s regent, in 1440.
Between 1420 and 1440, not only the possibility of organizing one more big attack on the Moors was regularly discussed in the Portuguese court, but also Portuguese ships started to explore the unknown sea and occupying Atlantic archipelagos nearby Portuguese mainland territory ? Madeira and the Azores, while pursuing unsuccessful attempts to take over the Canary Islands. In the twentieth century, some maintained that Prince Pedro had an active role in this process, or even that he was its main leader. Yet, coeval documents do not include one single testimony as to a hypothetical intervention of Dom Pedro in the genesis of the Discoveries. Besides, Dom Pedro himself, in a royal letter dated from 22 September 1443, recognized it was his brother Prince Henrique who was responsible for the navigations. The fact that the Portuguese chronicler Zurara, in his Crónica da Guiné [Guinea Chronicle], mentions he had used texts which had been written by Afonso Cerveira, led the most imaginative authors to maintain that these texts accounted for Dom Pedro?s accomplishments. However, besides the fact that we do not have access to that text, the only Afonso Cerveira known during the fourteen-forties was a clerk to Prince Henrique, who had written at least one letter signed by the duke of Viseu on 25 March 1448. This means he was a member of the House of Dom Henrique, like Zurara was, who was in charge of registering the accomplishments done by men belonging to this House, a task which had previously been attributed to Zurara. A serious reading of the documentation can only lead to one conclusion: until 1440, Dom Pedro had never interfered in sea issues, neither concerning the islands, nor the journeys of ocean exploration.
Afterwards, as he assumed the regency, he became more aware of the strategic importance of the navigations conducted by Dom Henrique and managed to put this private initiative under the control of the Crown. One good example of this were the measures he created to encourage the population of the Island of São Miguel. This was a way of substantiating the Portuguese dominion over the archipelago of the Azores, which was already an essential space for the dominion over the ocean, for the return from Guinea was being done in caravels which escaped the trade winds and sought the Azores area to turn east heading for the mainland territory.
However, the main measure taken by Dom Pedro concerns the dominion of the sea south of Bojador. Dom Henrique?s ships were heading for faraway regions and were starting to bring more and more valuable merchandises. Yet, the duke of Viseu had no political mechanisms which allowed him to legitimate, on his own, the exclusive access to these newly discovered territories. Thus, in 1443, Dom Pedro and Dom Henrique established a political agreement of mutual support, as they had done in other occasions. On 22 September, Dom Pedro granted Dom Henrique, in the name of the King, the exclusive right to navigate south of Bojador, for as long as he lived. Dom Henrique gained the right to legitimately attack whoever dared dispute his monopoly, while Dom Pedro made sure the Guinea treaty would be exclusively royal, upon the death of Dom Henrique. And thus it was: in November 1460, when the king of Viseu perished, Dom Afonso kept the trade in Guinea under the Crown?s control, thus accomplishing the strategy Dom Pedro had thought through 17 years earlier. In fact, by attributing to his brother the monopoly of the navigation and the trade south of Bojador, the regent proclaimed, for the first time, the Portuguese Crown had rights over these waters, which became a milestone of the House of Avis politics.
Dom Henrique was therefore, without any doubt, responsible for the genesis of the Discoveries and for the unleashing of the first globalization phenomenon, while it was Dom Pedro who gave this process a political dimension, substantiating a doctrine of the dominion of the seas which had first been thought trough by his great-grandfather, King Dom Afonso IV, one century before.
Those who sustain that it was Dom Pedro who was mainly responsible for the genesis of the Discoveries also argue that the length of African coast discovered during his regency was higher than during the next period, from 1448 to 1460. Because of this fact, they concluded that without the duke of Coimbra?s encouragements, the journeys of the Discoveries faded. The authors of such an obnoxious argument forget that during Dom Pedro?s regency, the caravels explored the Saharan coast, an arid and not very populated area, which allowed the navigators to travel over long distances in a single journey. From 1444 on, after having crossed the Senegal river, navigators started to find several settlements, with very rich markets and peoples speaking different languages, which naturally slowed the rhythm at which the discoveries evolved, just as the navigator Alvisse de Cadamosto, for example, explained in his report about the fourteen-fifties.
Meanwhile, Dom Pedro had not been able to maintain a trustful relationship with Dom Afonso V, and after having abandoned the regency he did not resist the intrigues his enemies plotted to impress the young king. This environment of high tension and mistrust led the duke of Coimbra to make a serious political mistake, as he faced the court accompanied by his army, prepared for war. Caught in a trap he led himself into, Dom Pedro was wounded to death during the battle of Alfarrobeira, on 20 May 1449 ? the single fifteenth century military confrontation in which a private lord faced the royal army.
COSTA, João Paulo Oliveira e, Henrique, o Infante, Lisboa, Esfera dos Livros, 2009 (no prelo). Moreno, Humberto Baquero, A Batalha de Alfarrobeira, 2 vols., Coimbra, Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra, 1979-1980. 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.
Author: João Paulo Oliveira e Costa
Translated by: Dominique Faria