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John II of Portugal

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John II of Portugal

John II
King of Portugal and the Algarves
Reign 28 August 1481 – 25 October 1495
Acclamation 31 August 1481
Predecessor Afonso V
Successor Manuel I
Reign 11 November – 15 November 1477
Acclamation 11 November 1477
Predecessor Afonso V
Successor Afonso V
Born (1455-03-03)3 March 1455
Died 25 October 1495(1495-10-25) (aged 40)
Alvor, Algarve
Burial Monastery of Batalha
Spouse Eleanor of Viseu
among others...
Afonso, Prince of Portugal
House House of Aviz
Father Afonso V of Portugal
Mother Isabella of Coimbra
Religion Roman Catholicism

John II (Portuguese: João II, Portuguese pronunciation: ; 3 March 1455 – 25 October 1495), the Perfect Prince (Portuguese: o Príncipe Perfeito), was the king of Portugal and the Algarves in 1477/1481–1495.

He is known for re-establishing the power of the Portuguese throne, reinvigorating its economy, and renewing its exploration of Africa and the Orient.

Early life

Born in Lisbon, the son of King Afonso V of Portugal by his wife, Isabella of Coimbra, infanta of Portugal, John II succeeded his father in 1477 when the king retired to a monastery, but only became king in 1481, after the death of his father and predecessor.

As a prince, John II accompanied his father in the campaigns in northern Africa and was made a knight after the victory in the Conquest of Arzila in 1471. In 1473, he married Leonor of Viseu, Infanta of Portugal and his first cousin.

Even at a young age, John was not popular among the peers of the kingdom since he was immune to external influence and appeared to despise intrigue. The nobles (including particularly Ferdinand II, the Duke of Braganza) were afraid of his future policies as king.

Consolidation of power

King John II

After his official accession to the throne in 1481, John II took a series of measures to curtail the overgrown power of his aristocracy and to concentrate power in himself. He deprived them of their right to administer justice on their estates.[1] Immediately, the nobles started to conspire. Letters of complaint and pleas to intervene were exchanged between the Duke of Braganza and Queen Isabella I of Castile.

King João took the precaution of renegotiating the "Tercerias de Moura" agreement to insure that his son, Alfonso, was living safely back at court, before moving against Braganza, the most powerful noble in the realm.[2] In 1483, additional correspondence was intercepted by royal spies. The House of Braganza was outlawed, their lands confiscated and the duke executed in Évora. His widow, Joao's sister-in-law, fled with her children to Castile.[3]

In the following year, the Duke of Viseu, John's cousin and brother-in-law, was summoned to the palace and stabbed to death by the king himself for suspicion of a new conspiracy. Many other people were executed, murdered, or exiled to Castile including the Bishop of Évora who was poisoned in prison.[1] Following the crackdown, no one in the country dared to defy the king and João saw no further conspiracies during his reign. A great confiscation of estates followed and enriched the Crown, which now became the one power of the realm.


Facing a bankrupt kingdom, John II showed the initiative to solve the situation by creating a regime in which the Council of Scholars took a vital role.[3] The king then conducted a search of the population and selected members of the Council according to their abilities, talents and credentials. Popular complaints on judicial acts normally had the sympathy of the king. João's exploration policies (see below) also paid great dividends. Even before the Tordesilhas Treaty, such was the profit coming from John II's investments in the overseas explorations and expansion that the Portuguese currency had become the soundest in Europe. The kingdom could finally collect taxes for its own use rather than to pay debts, mainly thanks to its main gold source at that time, the coast of Guinea.


King John II in Chronica d'El-Rei D. João II; Rui de Pina, c. 1497-1504.

John II famously restored the policies of Atlantic exploration, reviving the work of his great-uncle, Henry the Navigator. The Portuguese explorations were his main priority in government, pushing south the known coast of Africa with the purpose of discovering the maritime route to India and breaking into the spice trade. During his reign, the following achievements were realized:

The true extent of Portuguese explorations has been the subject of academic debate. According to one theory some navigations were kept secret for fear of competition by neighbouring Castile. The archives of this period were destroyed in the fire after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, and what was not destroyed during the earthquake was either stolen or destroyed during the Peninsular War or otherwise lost.[5][6][7]

Conflict with Castile

King John II

When Columbus returned from his voyage he thought of first stopping in Lisbon to claim his victory in front of King John II. King John II's only response to this was that under the Treaty of Alcáçovas previously signed with Spain, Columbus's discoveries lay within Portugal's sphere of influence. Before Columbus even reached Isabella I of Castile, John II had already sent a letter to them threatening to send a fleet to claim it for Portugal. Spain quickly hastened to the negotiating table which took place in a small town named Tordesillas. There was also a papal representative during that occasion in order to act as mediator. The result of this would be the famous Treaty of Tordesillas.

But the division of the world was not the main issue between the Iberian kingdoms. Jorge, Duke of Coimbra, his illegitimate son.


John II died at Alvor aged 40 and without legitimate children. He was succeeded by his first cousin Manuel I.

The nickname the Perfect Prince is a late description and refers to Niccolò Machiavelli's work The Prince. John II is considered to have lived his life exactly according to the writer's idea of a perfect prince. Nevertheless, he was admired as one of the greatest European monarchs of his time. Isabella I of Castile usually referred to him as El Hombre (The Man).[8]

The Italian scholar Poliziano wrote a letter to John II, paying him a profound homage:

to render you thanks on behalf of all who belong to this century, which now favours of your quasi-divine merits, now boldly competing with ancient centuries and all Antiquity.

and considering his achievements to be of merit above Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar. He offered himself to write an epic work giving an account of John II accomplishments in navigation and conquests. The king replied in a positive manner, in a letter of October 23, 1491, but delayed the commission. [9]

In popular culture

Marriage and descendants

Name Birth Death Notes
By Leonor of Viseu (2 May 1458 – 17 November 1525; married in January 1471)
Infante Afonso 18 May 1475 13 July 1491 Prince of Portugal. Died in a horse riding accident. Because of the premature death of the prince the throne was inherited by Manuel of Viseu, Duke of Beja, son of Ferdinand, Duke of Viseu, who reigned as Manuel I, 14th King of Portugal.
Infante João (John) 2 March 1482  
By Ana de Mendonça (c. 1460-?)
Jorge 21 August 1481 22 July 1550 Natural son known as Jorge de Lencastre, Duke of Coimbra.
By Brites Anes (c. 1460-?)
Brites Anes de Santarém c. 1485 ? Natural daughter.



  1. ^ a b
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ Disney, A.R. (2009) A History of Portugal and the Portugal Empire, Volume 2: The Portuguese Empire: 38–39; Cambridge University Press: New York
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ (Translation of the latin by Teófilo Braga) "render-vos graças em nome de todos quantos pertencemos a este século, o qual agora, por favor dos vossos méritos quasi-divinos, ousa já denodadamente competir com os vetustos séculos e com toda a antiguidade."


  • Page, Martin The First Global Village
  • Boxer, Charles R. From Lisbon to Goa, 1500–1750 (1991)
  • Boxer, Charles R. The Portuguese Seaborne Empire 1415–1825
  • Mira, Manuel S. Forgotten Portuguese: The Melungeons and the Portuguese Making of America (1998)
  • Duffy, James Portuguese Africa (1968)
  • Bodian, Mirian Hebrews of the Portuguese Nation (1997)
John II of Portugal
Cadet branch of the House of Burgundy
Born: 3 March 1455 Died: 25 October 1495
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Afonso V
King of Portugal and the Algarves
Succeeded by
Afonso V
King of Portugal and the Algarves
Succeeded by
Manuel I
Portuguese royalty
Preceded by
Prince of Portugal
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Prince of Portugal
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