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History of Portugal (1139–1279)

Kingdom of Portugal
Reino de Portugal
Regnum Portugalliae

Flag (1143-1185) Coat of arms
Capital Coimbra (1139-1255)
Lisbon (1255-1279)
Languages Portuguese
Religion Roman Catholicism
Government Monarchy
 •  1139-1185 Afonso I
 •  1185-1212 Sancho I
 •  1212-1223 Afonso II
 •  1223-1247 Sancho II
 •  1247-1279 Afonso III
Historical era High Middle Ages
 •  Establishment 25 July 1139
 •  Recognition by León 1143
 •  Death of Afonso III 16 February 1279
Currency Portuguese dinheiro

The kingdom of Portugal is established from the county of Portugal in the 1130s, ruled by the Alfonsine Dynasty. During most of the 12th and 13th centuries, its history is chiefly that of the gradual reconquest of territory from the various petty Muslim principalities (taifas) of the period.

This process was essentially complete with the ascension of Afonso III of Portugal, the first to claim the title of King of Portugal and Algarve.


  • Background 1
  • Reconquista in Portugal 2
  • Afonso II 3
  • Sancho II 4
  • Afonso III 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8


Towards the close of the 11th century crusading knights came from every part of Europe to aid the kings of León, Castile and Aragon in fighting the Moors. Among these adventurers was Henry of Burgundy, who, in 1095, married Theresa of León, illegitimate daughter of Alfonso VI of León. The County of Portugal was included in Theresa's dowry. Count Henry ruled as a vassal of Alfonso VI, whose Galician marches were thus secured against any sudden Moorish raid. But in 1109 Alfonso VI died, bequeathing all his territories to his legitimate daughter, Urraca of Castile, and Count Henry at once invaded León, hoping to add it to his own dominions at the expense of his suzerain.

After three years of war against Urraca and other rival claimants to the throne of León, Count Henry himself died in 1112, leaving his widow Theresa to govern Portugal north of the Mondego during the minority of her infant son Afonso: south of the Mondego the Moors were still supreme.

Theresa renewed the struggle against her half-sister and suzerain Urraca in 1116-1117, and again in 1120; in 1121 she was besieged in Lanhoso and captured. But a peace was negotiated by the archbishops Diogo Gelmires of Santiago de Compostela and Burdino of Braga, rival churchmen whose wealth and military resources enabled them to dictate terms. Bitter jealousy existed between the two prelates, each claiming to be primate "of all Hispania", and their antagonism had some historical importance insofar as it fostered the growth of separatist tendencies among the Portuguese. But the quarrel was temporarily suspended because both Gelmires and Burdino, virtually princes within their territories, had reason to dread the extension of Urraca's authority. It was arranged that Theresa should be liberated and should continue to hold the county of Portugal as a fief of León. During the next five years she lavished wealth and titles upon her lover Fernando Peres, count of Trava, thus estranging her son, the archbishop of Braga and the nobles.

Meanwhile, her son Afonso Henriques (meaning "Afonso son of Henry") thrived. The boy, probably born around 1109, followed his father as Count of Portugal in 1112, under the tutelage of his mother. The relations between Teresa and her son Afonso proved difficult. Only eleven years old, Afonso already had his own political ideas, greatly different from his mother's. In 1120, the young prince took the side of the archbishop of Braga, a political foe of Teresa, and both were exiled by her orders. Afonso spent the next years away from his own county, under the watch of the bishop. In 1122 Afonso became fourteen, the adult age in the 12th century. He made himself a knight on his own account in the Cathedral of Zamora, raised an army, and proceeded to take control of his lands. Near Guimarães, at the Battle of São Mamede (1128) he overcame the troops under his mother's lover and ally Count Fernando Peres de Trava of Galicia, making her his prisoner and exiling her forever to a monastery in León. She died there in 1130. Thus Afonso become sole ruler (Duke of Portugal) after demands for independence from the county's people, church and nobles. He also vanquished Alfonso VII of León and Castile, his nominal suzerain, and thus freed the county from political dependence on the crown of León. On April 6, 1129, Afonso Henriques dictated the writ in which he proclaimed himself Prince of Portugal.

Afonso then turned his arms against the persistent problem of the Moors in the south. His campaigns were successful and, on July 25, 1139, he obtained an overwhelming victory in the Battle of Ourique, and straight after was unanimously proclaimed King of Portugal by his soldiers. This meant that Portugal was no longer a vassal county of León, but an independent kingdom in its own right. That he then convened the first assembly of the estates-general at Lamego (wherein he would have been given the crown from the Archbishop of Braga, to confirm the independence) is likely to be a 17th-century embellishment of Portuguese history.

Independence, however, was not a thing a land could choose on its own. Portugal still had to be acknowledged by the neighbouring lands and, most importantly, by the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope. Afonso wed Mafalda of Savoy, daughter of Count Amadeo III of Savoy, and sent Ambassadors to Rome to negotiate with the Pope. In Portugal, he built several monasteries and convents and bestowed important privileges to religious orders. In 1143, he wrote to Pope Innocent II to declare himself and the kingdom servants of the Church, swearing to pursue driving the Moors out of the Iberian Peninsula. Bypassing any king of Castile or León, Afonso declared himself the direct vassal of the Papacy. Thus, Afonso continued to distinguish himself by his exploits against the Moors, from whom he wrested Santarém and Lisbon in 1147. He also conquered an important part of the land south of the Tagus River, although this was lost again to the Moors in the following years.

Meanwhile, King Alfonso VII of León (Afonso's cousin) regarded the independent ruler of Portugal as nothing but a rebel. Conflict between the two was constant and bitter in the following years. Afonso became involved in a war, taking the side of the Aragonese king, an enemy of Alfonso VII. To ensure the alliance, his son Sancho was engaged to Dulce, sister of the Count of Barcelona, and princess of Aragon. Finally, in 1143, the Treaty of Zamora established peace between the cousins and the recognition by the Kingdom of León that Portugal was an independent kingdom.

Afonso was occupied in almost incessant border fighting against his Christian or Moorish neighbours. Twelve years of campaigning on the Galician frontier were concluded in 1143 by the Treaty of Zamora, in which Afonso was recognized as independent of any other Iberian sovereign, although he promised to be a faithful vassal of the Pope and to pay him a yearly tribute of four ounces of gold. In 1167, however, the war was renewed. Afonso succeeded in conquering part of Galicia, but in attempting to capture the frontier fortress of Badajoz he was wounded and forced to surrender to Ferdinand II of León (1169). Ferdinand was his son-in-law, and was probably disposed to leniency by the imminence of a Moorish invasion in which Portugal could render useful assistance. Afonso was therefore released under promise to abandon all his conquests in Galicia.

In 1179 the privileges and favours given to the Roman Catholic Church were compensated. In the papal bull Manifestis Probatum, Pope Alexander III acknowledged Afonso as King and Portugal as an independent land with the right to conquer lands from the Moors. With this papal blessing, Portugal was at last secured as a country and safe from any Leonese attempts at annexation.

In 1184, in spite of his great age, King Afonso of Portugal still had sufficient energy to relieve his son Sancho, who was besieged in Santarém by the Moors. He died shortly after, on December 6, 1185.

Reconquista in Portugal

Portugal and the Iberian Peninsula in 1157.

Afonso had already won many victories over the Moors. At the beginning of his reign the religious fervor which had sustained the Almoravide dynasty was rapidly subsiding; in Portugal independent Moorish chiefs ruled over cities and petty taifa states, ignoring the central government; in Africa the Almohades were destroying the remnants of the Almoravide power. Afonso took advantage of these dissentions to invade Alentejo, reinforced by the Templars and the Hospitallers, whose respective headquarters were at Tomar and Soure.

On July 25, 1139 he defeated the combined forces of the Moors on the plains of Ourique, in Alentejo.[1] Legend has magnified the victory into the rout of 200,000 Muslims under five kings; but so far was the battle from being decisive that in 1140 the Moors were able to seize the fortress of Leiria, built by Afonso in 1135 as an outpost for the defence of Coimbra, his capital. In 114? they defeated the Templars at Soure. But on March 15, 1147 Afonso stormed the fortress of Santarém,[2] and about the same time a band of crusaders on their way to Palestine landed at Porto in 16 June 1147, and volunteered for the impending siege of Lisbon.[3] Among them were many Englishmen, Germans and Flemings, who were afterwards induced to settle in Portugal. Aided by these powerful allies, Afonso captured Lisbon on October 24, 1147.[4]

This was the greatest military achievement of his reign. The Moorish garrisons of Palmela, Sintra and Almada soon capitulated, and in 1158 Alcácer do Sal, one of the chief centres of Moorish commerce, was taken by storm.[5] At this time, however, the Almohads had triumphed in Africa and invaded the Peninsula, where they were able to check the Portuguese reconquest, although isolated bands of crusading adventurers succeeded in establishing themselves in various cities of Alentejo. The most famous of these free-lancers was Geraldo Sem Pavor ("Gerald the Fearless"), who captured Évora in 1165.[6]

In 1171 Afonso concluded a seven years truce with the Moors; weakened by his wound and by old age, he could no longer take the field, and when the war broke out afresh he delegated the chief command to his son Sancho. Between 1179 and 1184 the Moors retrieved many of their losses in Alentejo, but were unable to retake Santarém and Lisbon. In 1179, by the papal bull Manifestis Probatum, Pope Alexander III acknowledged Portugal as an independent nation and Afonso and his heirs as her rightful kings.[7] Afonso died on December 6, 1185.[8] He had secured for Portugal both the status and the name of an independent kingdom, and had extended its frontier southwards from the Mondego to the Tagus. He had laid the foundation of its navy and had strengthened, if he did not inaugurate, that system of co-operation between the Crown and the military orders which afterwards proved of incalculable service in the maritime and colonial development of the nation.

Sancho I continued the war against the Moors with varying fortune. In 1189 he won Silves, then the capital of Algarve; in 1192 he lost not only Algarve but the greater part of Alentejo, including Alcácer do Sal, to the Almohads. A peace was then arranged.

For the next eight years Sancho was engaged in hostilities against Alfonso IX of León. The motives and course of this indecisive struggle are obscure. It ended in 1201, and the last decade of Sancho's reign was a period of peaceful reform which earned for the king his popular name of o Povoador, "the Populator".

He granted fresh charters to many cities, legalizing the system of self-government which the Romans had bequeathed to the Visigoths and the Moors had retained or improved. Lisbon had already (1179) received a charter from Afonso I. Sancho also endeavoured to foster immigration and agriculture, by granting estates to the military orders and municipalities on condition that the occupiers should cultivate or colonize their lands. Towards the close of his reign he became embroiled in a dispute with Pope Innocent III. He had insisted that priests should accompany their flocks in battle, had made them amenable to secular jurisdiction, had withheld the tribute due to Rome and had even claimed the right of disposing of ecclesiastical domains. Finally he had quarreled with Martinho Rodrigues, the unpopular bishop of Porto, who was besieged for five months in his palace and then forced to seek redress in Rome (1209). As Sancho was in weak health and had no means of resisting Papal pressure, he made full submission (1210); and after bestowing large estates on his sons and daughters, he retired into the monastery of Alcobaça, where he died in March 1211.[9]

Afonso II

The reign of Afonso II ("the Fat") is noteworthy for the first meeting of the Portuguese Cortes, to which the upper hierarchy of the Church and the nobles (fidalgos and ricos homens) were summoned by royal writ. The king (1211–1223), was no warrior, but in 1212 a Portuguese contingent aided the Castilians to defeat the Moors at Las Navas de Tolosa, and in 1217 the ministers, bishops and captains of the realm, reinforced by foreign crusaders, retook Alcácer do Sal.[10]

Afonso II repudiated the will of his father, refused to surrender the estates left to his brothers, who went into exile, and only gave up the property bequeathed to his sisters after a prolonged civil war in which Alfonso IX of León took part against them. Even then he compelled the heiresses to take the veil. His attempts to strengthen the monarchy and fill the treasury at the expense of the Church resulted in his excommunication by Pope Honorius III, and Portugal remained under interdict until Afonso II died in 25 March 1223.[11]

Sancho II

Sancho II succeeded at the age of thirteen. To secure the removal of the interdict the leading statesmen who were identified with the policy of his father Gonçalo Mendes the chancellor, Pedro Annes, the lord chamberlain (mordomo-mor), and Vicente, dean of Lisbon, resigned their offices. Estêvão Soares, archbishop of Braga, placed himself at the head of the nobles and churchmen who threatened to usurp the royal power during Sancho II's minority, and negotiated an alliance with Alfonso IX, by which it was arranged that the Portuguese should attack Elvas, the Castilians Badajoz.

Elvas was taken from the Moors in 1226, and in 1227 Sancho assumed control of the kingdom. He reinstated Pedro Annes, made Vicente chancellor, and appointed Martim Annes chief standard-bearer (alferes mor), i.e., the chief military official. He continued the crusade against the Moors, who were driven from their last strongholds in Alentejo, and in 1239-1244, after a dispute with Rome which was once more ended by the imposition of an interdict and the submission of the Portuguese ruler, he won many successes in the Algarve. But his career of conquest was cut short by a revolution (1245), for which his marriage to a Castilian lady, Mécia Lopes de Haro, furnished a pretext.

The legitimacy of the union has been questioned, on grounds which appear insufficient; but of its unpopularity there can be no doubt. The bishops, resenting the favour shown by Sancho to his father's anti-clerical ministers, took advantage of this unpopularity to organize the rebellion. They found a leader in Sancho's brother Afonso, count of Boulogne, who owed his title to a marriage with Matilda, countess of Boulogne. The pope issued a bull of deposition in favour of Afonso, who reached Lisbon in 1246; and after a civil war lasting two years Sancho II retired to Toledo, where he died in January 1248.[12]

Afonso III

One of the first acts of the usurper, and one of the most important, was to abandon the semi-ecclesiastical titles of visitor (visitador) or defender (curador) of the realm, and to proclaim himself king. Hitherto the position of the monarchy had been precarious; as in Aragon the nobles and the church had exercised a large measure of control over their nominal head, and though it would be pedantry to over-emphasize the importance of the royal title, its assumption by Afonso III does mark a definite stage in the evolution of a national monarchy and a centralized government.

A second stage was reached shortly afterwards by the conquest of Algarve, the last remaining stronghold of the Moors. This drew down upon Portugal the anger of Alfonso X of Castile, surnamed the Wise, who claimed suzerainty over Algarve. The war which followed was ended by Afonso III consenting to wed Beatriz de Guzmán, illegitimate daughter of Alfonso X, and to hold Algarve as a fief of Castile. The celebration of this marriage, while Matilda, countess of Boulogne and first wife of Afonso III, was still alive, entailed the imposition of an interdict upon the kingdom. In 1254 Afonso III summoned cortes to Leiria, in which the chief cities were represented, as well as the nobles and clergy.[13]

Fortified by their support the king refused to submit to Rome. At the cortes of Coimbra (1261), he further strengthened his position by conciliating the representatives of the cities, who denounced the issue of a debased coinage, and by recognizing that taxation could not be imposed without consent of the cortes. The clergy suffered more than the laity under a prolonged interdict, and in 1262 Pope Urban IV legalized the disputed marriage and legitimized Dinis (future king Dinis), the king's eldest son. Thus ended the contest for supremacy between Church and Crown.

The monarchy owed its triumph to its championship of national interests, to the support of the municipalities and military orders, and to the prestige gained by the royal armies in the Moorish and Castilian wars. In 1263 Alfonso X renounced his claim to suzerainty over the Kingdom of the Algarve.[14] Lisbon was henceforth recognized as the capital. Afonso III continued to reign until his death in 16 February 1279,[15] but the peace of his later years was broken by the rebellion (1277–1279) of Dinis.

See also


  1. ^ Ribeiro, p.60, Volume I
  2. ^ Ribeiro, p.69, Volume I
  3. ^ Ribeiro, p.69, Volume I
  4. ^ Ribeiro, p.70, Volume I
  5. ^ Ribeiro, p.71, Volume I
  6. ^ Ribeiro, p.75, Volume I
  7. ^ Ribeiro, p.77, Volume I
  8. ^ Ribeiro, p.77, Volume I
  9. ^ Ribeiro, p.91, Volume I
  10. ^ Ribeiro, p.111, Volume I
  11. ^ Ribeiro, p.115, Volume I
  12. ^ Ribeiro, p.8, Volume II
  13. ^ Ribeiro, p.15, Volume II
  14. ^ Ribeiro, p.14, Volume II
  15. ^ Ribeiro, p.21, Volume II


  • Ângelo Ribeiro, Volume I A formação do território-da Lusitânia ao alargamento do País (2004) ISBN 989-554-106-6
  • Ângelo Ribeiro, Volume II A afirmação do País-da Conquista do Algarve à regência de Leonor Teles (2004) ISBN 989-554-107-4
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