The Anglo-Portuguese Treaty, signed on June 13, 1373, marked the earliest formal recognition of an alliance that already had roots more than 200 years old and has remained in effect, with a brief hiatus, ever since. That makes the relationship by far the oldest in-force alliance in the world.
Friendly relations started as Christian Portugal was beginning to establish itself. Back in 1147 a joint army of Norman, English, Scottish, Flemish, Frisian, and German Crusaders arrived at the port of Porto in June of that year after bad weather forced the fleet that had departed from Dartmouth to seek shelter on their way to Jerusalem. Once there Portuguese King Alfonso I presented them with a Papal document authorizing the extension of the Second Crusade to include the Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula. The king negotiated an agreement with the visiting knights and men at arms for them to join him in a siege of Moorish Lisbon in exchange for the right to loot and plunder the city and hold its nobles for ransom. 17,000 Crusaders joined with Alfonso’s 7,000 man force to lay siege to the city. After four months the Moors surrendered and true to their words the Crusaders sacked the city with the zeal and efficiency. Many of the knights found the city so attractive that they stayed and settled there. Others participated in the conquest of the towns of Sintra, Almada, Palmela and Setúbal. Their decedents merged with the Portuguese nobility providing blood links between the countries.
|The Moors surrender the English-led Crusaders after the Siege of Lisbon.|
An informal alliance between England and Portugal was formed in 1294. It was officially sealed with 1373 treaty between King Edward III of England and King Ferdinand and Queen Eleanor pledging “perpetual friendships, unions [and] alliances” between the two nations. By this this time both nations had established themselves as sea faring countries with similar interests in trade, access to European ports, and fisheries.
In 1385 a crisis that began with the death of Portuguese King Ferdinand I died in 1383 leaving no male heir. His daughter, Princes Beatrice had been wed to King Juan I of Castile who then laid claim to the Portuguese throne. Portuguese nobles and particularly the powerful merchants of Lisbon refused to recognize the claim and selected João or John, the Grand Master of the Aviz Order and a bastard son of Peter I, as Rector and Defender of the Realm. John called upon English support and was sent a force of yeoman longbow men who trained the Portuguese in the new tactics that had defeated the French at Crécy in1346 and Poitiers 1356. The effective use of the bowmen and Portuguese crossbowmen against an advancing force of heavy cavalry squeezed into a narrow front defeated an invading Castilian army in April 1384 at the Battle of Atoleiros.
|English longbowmen and tactics developed in battles with heavy French cavalry at Crecy and Poitiers helped the Portuguese defeat a larger Castilian invading army at the Battle of Atoleiros in 1384.|
The following year King Juan personally led a massive new invasion army accompanied by 2000 French heavy knights, plus allies from Aragon and Italian principalities. At the Battle of Aljubarrota 6,500 Portuguese and 100 critical English bowmen destroyed the Castilian joint force of more than 31,000. King John was forced to run for his life, deserting his un-horsed chivalry. About 5000 invaders were killed outright in the battle and almost as many including hundreds of captured French knights who were hacked to death as prisoners and fleeing stragglers who were attacked by villagers and peasant.
John was crowned undisputed King of Portugal establishing the new Aviz dynasty. He was naturally grateful to his English allies. When the ambitious John of Gaunt, son of the late king Edward III of England and father of the future King Henry IV, landed with an army in Galacia, a kingdom north of Portugal whose ruler was a vassal of Juan of Castile, to press a flimsy claim on the Castilian throne, the Portuguese monarch was glad to lent him support.
John of Gaunt’s venture petered out, however, when expected support from dissident Castilian nobles failed to materialize. He accepted what amounted to a large bribe and annual pension to renounce his claims on the Castilian throne and go away. On the way out, by way of thank you he gave his daughter Philippa of Lancaster to be the bride the Portuguese king.
|The marriage between King John I of Portugal and Philippa of Lancaster.|
Close relations were further enhanced with the new Treat of Windsor in 1386 which said:
It is cordially agreed that if, in time to come, one of the kings or his heir shall need the support of the other, or his help, and in order to get such assistance applies to his ally in lawful manner, the ally shall be bound to give aid and succor to the other, so far as he is able (without any deceit, fraud, or pretense) to the extent required by the danger to his ally’s realms, lands, domains, and subjects; and he shall be firmly bound by these present alliances to do this.
As the new queen Philippa had extraordinary influence. Not only did she promote English interests and trade—cod and woolens for wine, cork, salt, but she introduced the manners and formality of a Norman Court to Lisbon, thereby strengthening her husband’s position as a truly national ruler with a compliant aristocracy. More importantly, she gave birth to five sons and insisted on the finest education for each. These sons would fortify the Aviz Dynasty lead to Portugal’s Golden Age as a world power.
Philippa’s eldest son, Duarte, wrote books on morality and religion became king in 1433. Pedro, who travelled widely and had an interest in history, was Regent from 1439 to1448 after Duarte died of the plague in 1438. Ferdinand the Saint Prince became a crusader and in the attack on Tangiers in 1437. Perhaps most important was Henrique, known to history as Prince Henry the Navigator the instigator and organizer of the Portugal’s early voyages of discovery which in turn led to a world girdling empire in the Atlantic, in Africa, Asia, and South America.
Through those glory years the English-Portuguese Alliance held firm, cemented by both nation’s rivalry with and fear of rising united Spain.
A sixty year disruption of the alliance occurred when the Spanish House of Hapsburg established the Portuguese Philippine Dynasty after the House of Aviz petered out. Philip II of Spain assumed the Portuguese throne as Philip I of that country. Dynastic union meant a de facto end of Portuguese independence and placed it in the camp of England’s greatest enemy.
The Iberian Union ended when the Portuguese rebelled against Philip III (Philip IV of Spain) and set John, 8th Duke of Braganza, a descendent of one line of the Aviz, on the throne as King John IV. After the Portuguese Restoration War, 1640-1668 and the firm establishment of Portuguese independence and the Restoration in England, the old alliance was back in force as if it had never gone out effect.
Over the tumultuous centuries that followed the alliance would be repeatedly invoked.
During the War of the Spanish Succession, 1701–1714 following the death of the last Spanish Hapsburg, Charles II, Portugal was initially aligned with France. But after the major English and Allied victory at the Battle of Blenheim, in which distant Portugal was not directly involved at all, the traditional alliance was invoked and Portugal changed sides. It actively joined a war in which it had previously been principally an onlooker. Lisbon was opened to the Royal Navy and Austrian Hapsburg Arch Duke Charles, crowned Spanish King in Vienna, arrived in the country to lead a large Allied army in an invasion of Spain to combat the French backed Bourbon claimant. Portuguese troops fought alongside the Austrians, English, other Allies, and Spanish nobles who rallied to the cause. In the end of the long and complicated war Bourbon Philip V did sit on the Spanish throne, Gibraltar was in the hands of the English, and the French lost much of their holdings in North America and Caribbean spice islands. The Portuguese gained the favor of the ascending world power, England and the protection of its Navy for their maritime trade.
During the Seven Years War, the world-wide war ignited, as you might recall, by an attack by Virginia militia Colonel George Washington on French and native forces near present day Pittsburgh, the Spanish launched an invasion of Portugal in 1762. The English responded with thousands of troops reinforcing the Portuguese army. The combined forces repeatedly routed and nearly destroyed the Franco-Spanish Army. In South America the Spanish and Portuguese fought to a virtual draw, but due the disastrous defeat of Spain in Europe, Portugal was able to regain lost territories and even claim some Spanish lands.
During the Napoleonic Wars, Portugal tried to maintain neutrality while continuing to trade with England and her colonies. In reprisal Spanish and French forces again invaded, nearly overrunning the country and sending King John VI to seek refuge in the Viceroyalty of Brazil, transported by the Royal Navy. Portuguese forces and irregulars joined in the guerilla campaign against the French, fought principally in Spain and supported the Duke of Wellington’s victorious army. With Brazil the seat of the Empire during the war, its status and power grew. Eventually, in 1822 it would become an independent Kingdom when Regent Prince Dom Pedro refused to return to the mother county and proclaimed himself Emperor of Brazil.
|Dom Pedro, self-proclaimed Emperor of Brazil relinquished his claims on the Portuguese Crown to his daughter Maria and landed a large army in his motherland with the support of the Royal Navy in 1834.|
In the tumultuous aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, the Portuguese Civil War erupted in 1828 caused by the rival claim to the throne by two brothers, Dom Pedro of Brazil and Miguel. Neither Brazil nor Portugal desired a united crown so Dom Pedro relinquished his claim to his daughter Maria and a liberal Constitutional Council. Miguel, with the support of Portugal’s autocratic nobility and of France, raised an army that bloodily defeated the liberals and instituted a notoriously repressive five year rule by Miguel. In 1832 Dom Pedro arrived via London and landed a large army at Porto with the aid and protection of the Royal Navy. The United Kingdom recognized Maria and the Liberals and were responding under the old treaties and alliances. By 1834 Miguel was forced to renounce his claim to the crown and Maria was restored.
|A cartoon mocks John Bull as a bully threatening an old and enfeebled Portugal and it little King.|
The long cherished alliance was strained almost to the breaking point in 1890. Portugal claimed a large swath of territory between its African colonies of Angola on the west coast and Mozambique on the Indian Ocean on the basis of discovery, exploration, and territorial continuity. But the claims ran counter to British interests, particularly Cecil Rhodes’s powerful British South Africa Company, the African Lakes Company and British missionaries—Protestant—operating in the region. The British were near the height of their Imperial power and nearly drunk with a sense of entitlement and invincibility. Egged on by Rhodes and pressed at home by the Church of England and Methodists who were determined not only to save native souls, but save them from Portuguese Catholicism, the British government issued the Ultimatum of 1890 demanding that the Portuguese evacuate troops from key posts and effectively claimed sovereignty over the territory. The ultimatum stated:
What Her Majesty’s Government require and insist upon is the following: that telegraphic instructions shall be sent to the governor of Mozambique at once to the effect that all and any Portuguese military forces which are actually on the Shire or in the Makololo or in the Mashona territory are to be withdrawn. Her Majesty’s Government considers that without this the assurances given by the Portuguese Government are illusory. Mr. Petre [British legate in Lisbon] is compelled by his instruction to leave Lisbon at once with all the members of his legation unless a satisfactory answer to this foregoing intimation is received by him in, the course of this evening, and Her Majesty's ship Enchantress is now at Vigo waiting for his orders.
That was a none-to-veiled threat that Lisbon would be shelled by the Royal Navy unless it immediately acceded. The by this time much weakened Portuguese had no choice to bow to the haughty British. They were force to sign an 1890 Treaty of London which ceded much of the disputed territory. But the Portuguese Parliament refused to ratify it and popular street demonstrations in Lisbon brought down the government. Rhodes also opposed the treaty because he coveted more territory. He sent his private company troops into the area and attacked Portuguese garrisons inflicting heavy casualties. The British government bowed to Rhodes demands and drafted a second treaty which gave Rhodes his land and compensated Portugal with remote territory along the Zambesi River.
The Portuguese people never forgave this national humiliation. It festered in public resentment for 20 years and was the primary cause of the Republican Revolution of 1910. That followed the assassination of un-popular King Carlos I and his heir, Prince Luís Filipe in 1908. The new republican government was naturally hostile to the British.
When World War I broke out four years later the Republican government was loath to come to the aid British and tried to maintain neutrality. But when the Germans attacked Portuguese East Africa the country had to appeal for help from the British and troops based in South Africa. Once in the war Portugal even contributed some troops to the Allies fighting on the Western Front in France.
In World War II Portugal once again tried to maintain neutrality, with British approval. Both countries knew that Portugal’s entry into the war would result in an invasion by Spain and Franco’s battle hardened and modern army and air forces against which Portugal would have been helpless. That would have brought Spain into the war on the side of the Axis. From total control of the Iberian Peninsula, it would have poured troops into North Africa linking up with the Italians in Libya and pushing south as well as east. The British also prized neutral Portugal as a window on an otherwise hostile continent and a place from which to launch espionage and covert operations. But in 1943 as German submarine warfare in the Battle of the Atlantic was wreaking havoc with convoy operations supplying beleaguered Britain. It invoked the old alliance and was granted use of the Azores for Naval operations and a base for anti-submarine air patrols. In addition thousands of heavy bombers and transports refueled there on the way from North America to Britain.
In the postwar years, Portugal and Britain maintained a close relationship. In 1959 Portugal joined the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), a British dominated alternative trade organization to what was then known as the Common Market which also included Austria, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. In 1973 Britain abandoned the EFTA and Portugal and Denmark followed it into the European Economic Community (EEC.)
When India in 1961invaded Portuguese India, by then reduced to the coastal enclaves of Goa, Daman, and Diu, it invoked the treaty and appealed for British aid. The British sensibly did not want to engage in a war with its former colony, which had one of the largest armies in the world. The best that they could do was offer Portugal diplomatic support.
It was Britain’s turn to invoke the alliance in 1982 when the Azores once again offered support for the Royal Navy in the Falklands War with Argentina. It has not been invoked for military operations since.
But Portugal has joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and therefore its military and defense cooperation with Britain occurs mostly in that context. Politically they are aligned through membership in the European Union as well.
|Huge and sustained left-led anti-austerity protests put Portugal at odds with the European Union (EU) After Brexit the Tory British government hopes to make Portugal one of its first partners in a new bi-lateral trade agreement.|
The Portuguese people rose up against draconian austerity measures demanded by the European Union in exchange for some relief to its massive debt. Conservative British governments backed EU pressure on hard-pressed states including not only Portugal but Spain, Italy, and Greece. Portugal remained in the EU after Brexit ending that phase of political cooperation. But the British believe that Portugal will be an early target for negotiations on a new direct nation-to-nation trade deal.
But after 647 up and down years, the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance remains in effect.