Dutch-Portuguese War over Brazil, 1630-1654

A.) Pre-History

From 1580 to 1640, Portugal and Spain were united in Dynastic Union. Since 1579, the Dutch Republic was in open rebellion against King Philip II. of Spain (and Portugal). Politically and militarily, the Dutch Republic had stabilized in the 1590es and in the first decade of the 17th century. With the Dutch fleet being superior, the Dutch began the conquest of the most lucrative assets of the Portuguese Colonial Empire, beginning in the Indian Ocean.
Actually, it was not the Dutch state, but a state-chartered, private company - the V.O.C. (Dutch United East India Company, since 1602). Her success caused the establishment of another such state-chartered company equipped with a monopoly, the W.I.C. (Dutch West India Company) in 1621. A first attempt to conquer Brazil resulted in the temporary control over Salvador de Bahia, 1624-1625. In 1625 the Spanish Marine Infantry was dispatched against the Dutch in Brazil.
When Piet Heyn in 1628 succeeded in taking that year's Spanish Treasure Fleet, much of the profit was invested in the fleet which was to conquer Brazil.

B.) The Course of Events

In February 1630, a Dutch fleet of 67 vessels, with 1170 cannon and 7,000 men arrived off Pernambuco (=Recife), which by March 3rd was under their control. The following years, the Dutch conquered Portuguese strongholds and extended their control of the northeastern coast. The city of Porto Calvo was contested, changing hands several times.
In 1636 Johan-Maurice of Nassau-Siegen, a relative of the stadholder, was appointed Governor General; he took Porto Calvo and launched an unsuccessful attack on Salvador de Bahia (1638).
More importantly, he undertook expeditions against Portugal's possessions in West Africa; Elmina on the Gold Coast was taken in 1637, Angola, Benguela, Sao Tome 1641, Axim in 1642. These conquests secured the supply of slaves to Brazil's sugar industry.
In 1640, Portugal, under the Duke of Braganca, rebelled against Spain, restored her independence. Governor Johan Maurice returned to the Dutch Republic in 1644; this marks the turning point in the history of Dutch Brazil.
Since 1645, the Portuguese took the initiative; by the end of that year, the Dutch were reduced to a number of strongholds, most importantly Recife. Both sides repeatedly were reinforced by expeditions from the mother country; the Dutch side was on the defensive. The siege lasted several years. The First Anglo-Dutch War interrupted communication between the Republic and her outpost in Brazil. Recife surrendered in 1654.

C.) Legacy

If it had not been for the Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch outpost at Recife might have held out longer. However, it was not only a military matter; the continuous hostilities, the inability of the W.I.C. to protect her sugar plantation industry made the Brazilian enterprize deficitary. The W.I.C. never recovered from the blow.
The Dutch Republic and Portugal concluded a peace treaty in 1661, in which the former recognized Portuguese sovereignty over Brazil.

The Dutch in Brazil, by Marco Ramerini
Dutch Brazil, 1600-1636, 1637-1654 from Brazil Netherlands, Meeting in History, a timeline
Frans Post : New Holland (Brazil), 1650, from Jodensavanne
Historia de la Infanteria de Marina Espanola (History of the Spanish Marines), in Spanish; lists expedition to Brazil 1625.
DOCUMENTS Pernambuco 1640, Pernambuco/Recife 1662, Pernambuco 1657, Salvador 1626, Pernambuco 1662, Recife c. 1600 from Mappe di Citta' ed altre mappe antiche diverse, comment in Italian

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on June 13th 2003 , last revised on November 19th 2004

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