Monday, November 25, 2013

Guest Post: November 25 - The "Golden Age" of the Anglo-Portuguese Empire begins

In 1487, Elizabeth of York is crowned Queen of England in a ceremony also attended by her beloved husband, Manuel the Fortunate who became the future King Manuel I of Portugal after his nephew Alonso died in an accident.

Though the Yorkist victory at Bosworth secured the throne in their hands, the death of Richard at the same battle placed a great emphasis on the cousins of the White Rose to secure a viable and lasting dynasty. This fell upon the shoulders of Elizabeth of York, daughter to Edward IV and beloved niece of Richard III. Though linked to Henry Tudor, his death at the hands of Lord Stanley, his own step-father, had ended the hopes for the Lancastrians to see their house on the throne again. 

Suitors had been rejected - in 1469, she was briefly betrothed to George Neville, son of John Neville, Earl of Northumberland, who initially supported Edward IV against the rebellion of his own brother Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, but later joined Warwick's rebellion, so the betrothal was called off. In 1475, Louis XI agreed to let her marry his son, Charles, the Dauphin of France, but Louis reneged on the promise in 1482. Instead, Elizabeth was linked with the related monarchs of Portugal. By contrast to the powerful suitors of France or Holy Roman Empire, the young Manuel had grown up in similar circumstances to his new bride. Both had seen cousins kill each other in conspiracies and murder as well as on the battlefield. 

Their union led to lasting peace and sealed the alliance of John of Gaunt and King John of Avis and would lead to the reign of King Henry VII of England and I of Portugal (28 June 1491 - 28 January 1547) and the "Golden Age" of the Anglo-Portuguese Empire.

(Addendum by Jeff Provine)

With its newly found political stability, the shared Anglo-Portuguese court was the perfect place for an exasperated Italian navigator, Cristoforo Colombo, to head after being repeatedly turned down for financing in his ideas for an expedition sailing west to create a new trade route to India. Young King Henry was advised that the eventual route around Africa after the successful 1488 voyage of Bartholomeu Dias around the Cape of Good Hope, but Henry felt that if there were to be another route, he would want it. He dispatched Columbus, who returned successfully after claiming an island he dubbed "Henryland."

Columbus believed it was India, but it was soon discovered that the territory was a New World. As Columbus became intolerable, Henry had him executed and sent more explorers to swarm over the coasts his growing empire, such as the later Sir Francis Drake's conquest of the Inca. A few French and Dutch colonies interrupted the sprawling Anglo-Portuguese Empire, but it became the foundation for international trade in language and economics.

Overwhelmingly religious Spain continued its march into Africa and seemingly perpetual war against the Moors. Meanwhile, religion would end up tearing the Anglo-Portuguese apart as the north turned more Protestant, and the empire's golden age would come to an end. A new empire from Germany would arise centuries later, eclipsing the French and creating a new world order.

From the good folks over at Today in Alternate History

1 comment:

  1. Posts like this have really been why I've started checking in on this site.

    Some points. First, by the time Columbus sought backing to Portugal, the Portuguese had acquired more knowledge about the geography of the world than anyone, possibly excepting the Chinese. They knew perfectly well that Columbus has miscalculated the diameter of the world as too small, and that the shorter route to China was to the east, not the west, even if it meant sailing around Africa (which they finally accomplished a few years after Columbus' first voyage). That is the main reason they didn't back him.

    Second, there is some evidence that the Portuguese had reached the New World, or at least Brazil, before 1492 and were keeping very quiet about it. Portugal is a very small country and could not dominate a new continent in the way that a larger country such as Castille could. They wanted to keep potential competitors away from maritime exploration, until they could acquire at least a temporary monopoly of the most direct route to the Indies, a strategy which actually pretty much worked. If they wanted to do additional exploration there were also tons of very qualified Portuguese mariners available, they didn't need to use an Italian.

    The historical English found their own Italian explorer, generally known by his Anglicized name John Cabot. His voyages are not well documented, but he seems to have gotten to somewhere in Canada and back shortly after Columbus' voyage. Geographically, this was what the English would have focused on, and since Cabot was available it is hard to see what they would need from Columbus.

    So you have to really stretch to get a scenario where either Portugal or England employs Columbus. His best possibilities were always either Castille or France. France is a serious alternative, but as often happened the attention of the French government and French finances were focused on expanding French influence on the European continent.

    The Castillians winding up in the position they historically did in the New World was not an accident. Unlike England and Portugal they had the heft in terms of population, and they had fewer continental commitments and more of a maritime tradition than France.

    Another point is that medieval and renaissance dynastic unions were not the same as national unions. The two countries involved in the union remained separate countries with separate institutions and often had separate foreign policies, they just happened to have one monarch (medieval kings were also not absolute, though this would change shortly). The situation was sort of the same as with Britain and Canada today. This is why the union of England and Scotland dates to the union of the parliaments in 1707, not to they dynastic union in 1603, and why despite his considerable efforts, the empire of Charles V always fell short of the sum of its parts.

    Its not that a dynastic union between England and Portugal wouldn't have worked -the two countries after all have been allies more often than not- its just that it wouldn't have been the powerhouse described here. They were also both fairly small in terms of population. The interesting question is whether the link to England would have saved Portugal from being absorbed into Felipe II's empire in 1580.

    Another note about Bosworth. By that point, the Wars of the Roses as a struggle between Lancaster and York had essentially ended. The Lancastrian King and his heir had been killed fourteen years earlier and all the Lancastrian strongholds in England had been eliminated. The Tudors had backed the Lancastrians but they were pretty minor players. The war in 1483-5 was between two Yorkist factions. Elizabeth of York and her followers really needed allies, so bringing in what was left of the Lancastrian faction made sense and turned out to work, though barely. I agree that she could have just as easily wound up married to someone else.


Site Meter