Conflict over Portuguese Succession, 1580

A.) Prehistory

In 1574 King Sebastiao of Portugal embarked for North Africa, where he wanted to lead a multinational force in a campaign against the Moors; he appointed his great uncle, Cardinal Enrique, regent during his absence. The expedition was annihilated at Ksar al Kebir; King Sebastiao himself fell (1578). Cardinal Enrique was proclaimed King; he died in 1580.

B.) The Conflict over succession

As Sebastiao had no immediate sons, the question of succession was wide open. King Philip II. himself claimed succession, but there were several other candidates, among them Catarina, married to the Duke of Braganca, and Antonio, Prior of Crato. Portugal's nobility and clergy sympathized with King Philip II., while Prior Antonio had the sympathies of the commoners.
The Diet of Santarem 1580 remained undecided. On June 18th 1580, Antonio had himself publicly proclaimed King, in Setubal; the governors (diet appointees with the task to decide succession) fled. On June 27th a Spanish army, commanded by the Duke of Alba, 20,000 strong, crossed the border into Portugal, encountered no resistance until reaching Setubal. The decision fell at Alcantara Bridge, where an irregular force of c. 5,000 Lisbon burghers (some released slaves) stood up to the Spanish. They were quickly defeated. Antonio went into hiding and in 1581 fled to France.

C.) The Legacy

Portugal was ruled in Dynastic Union with Spain from 1580-1640. The institutions of Portugal remained separate, as did her colonial Empire.
The matter was a Portuguese civil conflict with Spanish interference.

Battle of Alcantara 1580, from Historiske Slag, in Danish
Timeline Portugal 1536-1580, by Jefferson R. Kailey
Biography of the Duke of Alva, from Catholic Encyclopedia
Philip II. and Foreign Policy, from History Learning Site, scroll down for Portugal Paragraph
Philip II claims the succession to Portugal, Don Antonio. Philip takes possession of Portugal, from Martin Hume, Spain under Philip II., posted by MATEO
REFERENCE James Maxwell Anderson, The History of Portugal, Greenwood 2000, 248 pp.; KMLA Lib.Sign. 946.9 A546h

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on June 6th 2003, last revised on November 17th 2004

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