Anthroponyms seta SALDANHA, Aires de (1542-1605)

Viceroy of India (1600-1605).

Born at Santarém, in 1542, Aires de Saldanha was the third child of António de Saldanha, one of Afonso de Albuquerque?s companion of arms, who had been Admiral of the Red Sea and of Sofala as well as Knight Commander of Casével, and of Dona Joana de Albuquerque, the sixth child of the Knight Commander of Alcáçova and of Rio Maior, Aires de Sousa. He had eleven brothers and sisters, whose lives took courses as different as the service in India (Vicente de Bobadilha), death at Alcácer-Quibir (Cristóvão de Bobadilha), or the monastic life (Violante de Mendonça and Ana de Mendonça). His brother Juan de Saldanha assumes a particular importance as his sons Fernão de Saldanha (1580-1626) and António de Saldanha, were Governor and Chief Alcaide of Madeira, respectively. From his paternal grandfather?s side, Diego Lopez de Saldaña, who had been Lord of Miranda del Castañar, in 1558, Aires de Saldanha descended from a Castilian family. At the age of 16 he sailed to India in the company of the Viceroy Dom Constantino de Bragança, whom he also joined in the expedition of Jaffanapatnam. In 1564, Dom Antão de Noronha sent him in the aid mission to Cannanore, with the Admiral of the Fleet Gonçalo Pereira Marramaque; in 1565, he was ordered to rescue Daman, besieged by the Great Mughal?s forces. After twelve years of service in India, Aires de Saldanha returned to Lisbon. He married then Dona Joana de Albuquerque, daughter of Dom Manuel de Moura, a relative of Dom Cristóvão de Moura (1538-1613), 1st Marquis of Castelo Rodrigo and a very influential person within the circle of Philip I of Portugal, and of Dona Isabel de Albuquerque, daughter of a former Knight Commander of Penamacor. Three children were born within this marriage. One of his children was Dona Isabel de Albuquerque, married to Dom Simão Gonçalves de Ataíde, Lord of the Desertas Islands and brother of the 4th Earl of Atouguia, Dom João Gonçalves de Ataíde. He travelled back to the Orient in 1576, in the company of Rui Lourenço de Távora, in order to be the successor of António Moniz Barreto, but the premature death of the latter in Mozambique, before Saldanha?s arrival in India, caused a change in the succession line, in accordance with the content of vias de sucessão , and Dom Diogo de Meneses took office as governor. During these years he was captain of Malacca (1576-1579), and provided assistance to the Moluccas, where he engaged in the construction of the fortress of Tidore, after the Portuguese were expelled from Ternate in 1575. After a short stay in the Kingdom, he was captain of Tangier for nine years. He was also designated, by royal decree dated 21 February 1600, the successor of Dom Francisco da Gama (1565-1579), 4th Earl of Vidigueira, in the rule of India, as a result of negative reports concerning the way affairs were being conducted in Asia. Philip II appointed him for the Asian setting on the grounds of Saldanha?s solid political and military experience on that milieu. The King wanted to make sure that Francisco da Gama?s attempts at resuming power would be fruitless. Aires de Saldanha left from Lisbon on 22 April 1600, arrived at Cochin on 28 October and entered Goa on Christmas Day.

His first governmental act took place in Cochin when he ordered the captain of Manar, Manuel Barreto da Silva, to attack the Ceylonese sovereign of Jaffanapatnam for breaking the peace treatises established with the Portuguese by granting passage in his territory to the King of Kandy, an enemy to Estado da India. The expedition never occurred, though, due to the intervention of Friar Manuel de São Matias. Once in Goa, Aires de Saldanha was invested by the Archbishop and not by his predecessor, and dispatched the fleet for the Kingdom by the end of 1600. According to Manuel de Faria e Sousa, there is not much information available on this vicereign, because it was of scarce political or military relevance, which is why the chronicler focuses on analysing the situation in Burma and on writing down the growing difficulty of the fleets in reaching Goa without being harassed by Dutch ships. Sousa provides no information with regard to the years 1601 and 1602, merely mentioning 1603 and 1604 in the context of the events in Burma. The chronicler incorrectly dates the end of the vicereign of Aires Saldanha in 1604 instead of 1605, which may account for a chronological imprecision: the events he describes with respect to Burma may have occurred between 1603 and 1605, and not between 1603 and 1604. Before endeavouring a thorough analysis of the achievements of Filipe Brito de Nicote in Burma, Manuel de Faria e Sousa mentions the role of André Furtado de Mendonça in the expulsion of the Dutch from the island of Sunda, as well as in some actions against the people of Ito and the King of Ternate. Burma was at the time divided into several kingdoms. Filipe Brito de Nicote engaged in getting the support of the King of Arakan, whom he had helped to ascend the throne in the 1570s. In return for the support from the Portuguese, that king had agreed to deliver the fortress of Siriam to Nicote, in order to improve his control over trade in Lower Burma, especially, in Pegu. However, Filipe Brito de Nicote rebelled against that sovereign and tried to put the fortress under the authority of Estado da India, which had a minor presence both in Southeast Continental Asia and in the Gulf of Bengal, when compared to other regions. Nicote sailed to Goa with the purpose of personally discussing the matter with Aires de Saldanha, and left Salvador Ribeiro at the command of the fortress, which suffered then several attacks from the King of Arakan. After a first unsuccessful siege by naval forces, that king firmed an alliance with the King of Pram to lay siege to the town by land, but Ribeiro?s men managed to defeat the general of the enemy army and set the whole contingent to flee. A third siege was successfully opposed, and after eight months of blockade, the fortress was still able to resist the attacks. Meanwhile, the Viceroy had sent military aid to Siriam, which in spite of not being yet a territory officially under the authority of Estado da India, was considered in Goa as a means of penetrating into the rich trade of the Gulf of Bengal and of conquering Southeast Asia. Once in Goa, Filipe Brito de Nicote met with such a warm reception that a marriage proposal with the Viceroy?s niece was made in addition to granting the military support that he requested. Ayres de Saldanha entitled Nicote captain of Siriam and general of the conquest of Pegu, while retaining control over the customhouse of the stronghold. Meanwhile, at the fortress a fourth siege was broken and Nicote was acclaimed king of Pegu. Dom Francisco de Moura was sent at the command of a fleet to subdue some private merchants of Coromandel who opposed the transference of the Siriam customhouse into the authority of Estado da India. The forces of Arakan laid more sieges to the town but in spite of alliances made with sovereigns of Upper Burma, the enemy forces were always defeated, due to the performance of Rodrigo Álvares de Sequeira, the successor of Salvador de Ribeiro in that captaincy during the absence of Filipe Brito de Nicote. Shortly after the return of Nicote, a new battle ended with the capture of the King of Arakan?s son. These events were coincidental with the arrival of Dom Martim Afonso de Castro in Goa, in the capacity of successor of Aires de Saldanha, to whom the Viceroy handed over the rule of Portuguese India on 19 May 1605. Aires de Saldanha died during his voyage back to Portugal, off the coast of Terceira Island. He was buried at the See of Angra, and was later removed to his home town of Santarém.

His four and a half year rule was completely occupied with the Siriam affair and described as a weak one. As a matter of fact, a Viceroy with Saldanha?s military experience was expected to be more enterprising, a fact that doesn?t go unnoticed in Manuel de Faria e Sousa?s writings. It is surprising that the Viceroy should disobey the royal order of leaving to Malacca, as proven by the historical documents of the time, an order which would not be carried out until Dom Martim Afonso de Castro took office. Even so, Aires Saldanha did not end his term under the suspicion of corruption as some Viceroys before and after him did during the Philippine dynasty.


SUBRAHMANYAM, Sanjay, O Império Asiático Português 1500-1700 - Uma História Política e Económica, Lisboa, Difel, 1993. SOUSA, Manuel de Faria e, Ásia Portuguesa, tradução de Maria Vitória Garcia Santos Ferreira, vol. VI, Parte 4, cap. VI, Porto, Livraria Civilização, 1947. ZÚQUETE, Afonso, Tratado de Todos os Vice-Reis e Governadores da Índia, Lisboa, Editorial Enciclopédia, 1962.

Author: Nuno Vila-Santa
Translated by: Leonor Sampaio da Silva

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