Agents of political change: noblewomen in Portugal at the turn of the sixteenth century.
The case of the wives of the nobles who had been exiled for their role in the two conspiracies launched against Joao II (1481-1495) demonstrates ways by which female members of the Portuguese high nobility were able to exercise political agency. Although the discovery of the two plots spearheaded in 1483 by Fernando, the third Duke of Braganca and in 1484 by Diogo, the fourth Duke of Viseu resulted in what historians have traditionally viewed as "purge" of the high nobility, the crown treated the female members of these families with a surprising degree of amnesty. Despite Joao II's steadfast refusal to pardon the conspirators and their heirs, their wives and mothers were able, over the course of the subsequent decade, to use political connections to lobby the crown to the advantage of their families.
The role played by clientage networks in directing the political history of medieval and early modern Europe has long been a subject of inquiry among historians of the nobility. More than thirty years ago, K. B. McFarlane affirmed that individual self interest was a significant motivating force behind political developments taking place in England during the fifteenth century. (2) His research spawned numerous studies that focused on how networks of affinity and service shaped local power structures. (3) In subsequent decades analyses of patron-client relationships have been conducted by historians of the nobility of other European kingdoms. (4) But it has been only recently that definitions of "lordship" have been modified to account for roles played by female members of the high nobility. (5) While noblemen exercised "public" power: through knighting, through inheritance or enfeoffment, or through public office, women exerted influence in more informal ways. Although they were normally barred from political office and discriminated against in inheritance practices, women were often able to exercise the functions of lordship when widowed, through wardship, or in cases where their husband was absent from their estates. Moreover, married noble women often wielded power as intermediaries during disputes over patrimony because they were considered to be full members of both their natal and affinal families. As Janet Nelson and Pauline Stafford have argued, noble women were able to tap into multiple bases of power using maternity, marriage, as well as property bequests, to pursue familial agendas. (6)
To date, the wealth of research on clientage networks and the political avenues open to women has been largely centred on twelfth and thirteenth century England and France, but the dynamics explored in these works can be more widely applied. In Portugal, women retained significant rights as land owners, and married women could own property in their own right. (7) Principles of primogeniture were not rigidly enforced until the institution of Lei Mental during the reign of Duarte I (1433-1438), and throughout the fifteenth century members of the high nobility were able to secure exemptions from this law and thus pass property on to their daughters if they should happen to be the family's sole surviving heir. The ability to administer lands and to command both tenants and retainers gave Portuguese noblewomen the potential to realise political interests.
Still, within the historiography of Portugal, the agency of noble women, as a subject, has not been well explored. Part of the problem lies in the fact that narrative sources and proscriptive literature reveal little about their lives and actions. The chronicles of realm, depicting the political events of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, were primarily written to glorify the deeds of knights on the battlefield as well as to stress the independence and wisdom of the protagonist ruler, while the legal treatises and didactic literature stress the subordination of women to men. Because noble women exercised political influence through informal and "non-public" means, women's political agency can only be addressed through a synthesis of documentary and genealogical sources with these narrative sources.
The records of the royal chancery, especially those pertaining to the reigns of Joao II and Manuel I, are a relatively untapped source of information on the nobility, overlooked because many historians working in the so-called "Vasco da Gama era" have favoured documents of the burgeoning empire over those of the realm. Another valuable source is the Livro de Apontamentos, compiled by Alvaro Lopes de Chaves, secretary to the king, which contains transcripts of private correspondence sent to and by Joao II as well as records of meetings of the royal council. (8) In the necessary reconstruction of family relationships, works of the genealogists Dom Antonio Caetano de Sousa, Anselmo Braamcamp Freire and Antonio Machado de Faria are particularly useful. (9) Through a synthesis of such sources and through the application of insights and questions formulated by historians of other European kingdoms, the lives and avenues open to the noblewomen of Portugal can be better understood.
Until recently, prosopography, the approach best suited to the study of Portuguese noble women, has been represented by only one major work: Humberto Baquero Moreno's A Batalha da Alfarrobeira, which traces the lives of the male combatants in this 1449 conflict. Although this study is not primarily concerned with the political roles of women, his research points to the ways in which family connections allowed many noble houses to recuperate patrimony that had been forfeited following the civil war. (10) More directly related to the agency of women is the research currently being undertaken by Ivana Elbl in her article on royal grants in the early fifteenth century, as well as in her other work on the fortunes of the Meneses family in the fifteenth century and the social mobility of other Portuguese noble families. (11) Joao Paulo Oliveira e Costa and a team of graduate students at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa have also used prosopography as an approach to gaining insight into the role played by the nobility in the formation of the Estado da India. Although their interests lie outside the field of women's history, their research promises to benefit other scholars. (12)
In confronting the conspiracies of 1483 and 1484 that targeted his life, Joao II adopted what appeared to be a tough stance toward the families of the conspirators. Among those catapulted into exile were the young sons of the Duke of Braganca, little more than toddlers at the time of their father's execution. Up until his death, Joao II refused to allow them to return to Portugal, even though the children could not have possibly been involved in the conspiracy. Given this harsh treatment, it is curious that so few of the conspirators' wives were condemned alongside their husbands; the Duchess of Braganca, the Marchioness of Montemor and the Countess of Faro were all permitted to remain in Portugal. Upon closer consideration, it appears that the exoneration of these women, and others, was less attributable to Joao II's reluctance to prosecute women, than to the strong ties connecting them to political elites allied with the king.
As the sister of Joao II's consort, Dona Leonor, the Duchess of Braganca received a degree of protection for herself and for her daughter Dona Margarida, even though she was unable to secure a pardon for her sons, nor indeed for her brother Dom Diogo, the Duke of Viseu who was executed in 1484. Despite the fact that her husband was publicly executed in effigy in 1483, the Marchioness of Montemor, Dona Isabel de Noronha was granted amnesty and even managed to retain a pension of 45,000 reis from the crown. (13) In the case of the Marchioness, this special consideration can be understood by the fact that two of her brothers were trusted councilors and household men of Joao II, and that her late father had been the eminent Archbishop of Lisbon and confidante of Afonso V. (14) Dona Maria de Noronha, the Countess of Faro also remained in Portugal in the immediate aftermath of the conspiracies; her prestige as heiress of the Count of Odemira, famed captain of Ceuta, seems to have afforded her protection, even though her son was sent into exile. Chaves' record of the 1487 meeting of the royal council suggests that the wives of other political dissidents continued to reside in Portugal following the exile of their husbands and sons, but their movements are more difficult to track.
Joao II's decision to allow the wives of the conspirators to remain in Portugal was justified by prevailing cultural assumptions that women were divorced from the sphere of politics and were incapable of military action. Certainly the letrados refrained from making overt suggestions that the conspirators' wives posed any physical threat to the crown. Yet recent events would have made it very clear to both Joao II and his councillors that noble women, especially those who controlled large landed estates in the border lands, could endanger the security of the king and realm. During the 1480s, potential for renewed conflict with Castile loomed large in Portugal's diplomatic horizons. Although war over the succession of Isabel I of Castile (1474-1504) had officially ended with the Treaty of Alcacovas-Toledo in 1479, Joao II had retained custody of the rival claimant to the Castilian throne, a factor which jeopardised Isabel I's security. On the other side, the threat to Portugal was implicit with the unification of Aragon and Castile that came about with Fernando II's succession to the Aragonese throne in 1479. Therefore, tensions between the two kingdoms remained heightened long after peace was officially declared. It was fears of a Castilian invasion that haunted Joao and formed the back-cloth of the plots hatched in both 1483 by the Duke of Braganca and in 1484 by the Duke of Viseu.
Portugal was most vulnerable to invasion in its borderland regions where many of the fortresses were held by powerful magnates of realm. To increase security in this region, Joao II required more money with which to undertake necessary repairs, and more control. Thus, soon after his accession to the throne in 1481, he had altered the customary oaths of homage sworn by the nobility to the king, requiring them to promise to submit their castles and property titles to inspection by crown-appointed procuradores. This actions was viewed by the high nobility as an infringement on ancient privilege and was seen, by the chronicler Garcia de Resende, as a move that drove the third Duke of Braganca and his brothers to enter into treasonous negotiations with the crown of Castile. (15) The execution of the Duke of Braganca and the exile of his brothers in 1483, increased fears among other members of the high nobility that Joao II was becoming a tyrant and thereby encouraged the young Duke of Viseu to seek the support of other magnates, as well as his cousin Isabel I, in bringing about the deposition of Joao II--a plot which also failed.
Although women were barred from knighthood, as land owners they were nonetheless endowed with the capacity to undertake military action. In 1478, the alcaide mor of the castle at Moura renounced allegiance to the king of Portugal and declared his support for the crown of Castile. (16) At the time, the town of Moura had been under the control of Portugal's most powerful magnate, the Infanta Dona Beatriz who was closely connected to many political elites in Portugal and also the mother of Joao II's consort Leonor, as well as the Duchess of Braganca, the Duke of Viseu and the future Manuel I. But more importantly, the Infanta Dona Beatriz was also connected by blood ties to Isabel I of Castile. Although she was never implicated in the rebellion led by her alcaide, following the execution of her son, the Duke of Viseu, in 1484, Joao II took immediate steps to confiscate all lands and castles under her control, including the fortresses at Moura and Serpa. (17) The actions of the king came at the same time as Dona Catarina da Costa, another member of the high nobility and sister-in-law of the Count of Penamacor, held the castle at Sabugal for a number of days in armed resistance before being defeated by crown forces, proving that women were indeed capable of orchestrating rebellion. (18)
Apart from the stand-off at Sabugal, no direct military action appears to have been taken by the wives of the conspirators or their political affiliates. But their potential for committing treason seems to have preoccupied Joao II and his council, as evidenced by the arrest of Rui Pereira in 1487. The Pereira family had long been in service of the Dukes of Viseu: Rui Pereira's father Joao having been a prominent servant in the household of the Infanta Dona Beatriz and her husband the Infante Dom Fernando. His sister, Justa Rodrigues Pereira had also served as wet nurse to their youngest son, the future Manuel I. (19) Rui Pereira probably entered the household of the third Duke of Braganca when he married his second wife, the Duchess Dona Isabel. Following the conspiracy of 1483, Pereira ac companied the Duke's young sons to Castile, residing with them at the court of Isabel I. Four years later, he was captured by agents of Joao II, while carrying a message from the Castilian court to the Duchess of Braganca, and his actions suggest that he carried something more than affectionate banter between children and their mother. Upon his arrest, rather than surrendering his documents to the king's men, he was said to have consumed the documents, and even when tortured refused to reveal the nature of their contents. (20) The fact that Pereira was travelling in disguise suggests that Joao II deployed considerable effort to intercept the communication. Although it can never be known as to whether the consumed documents held treasonous information, it is clear that their possible contents sufficiently alarmed Joao II, who in 1487 faced another supposed attempt on his life. (21) It was in this climate of political instability that the king's council debated the wisdom of allowing the wives of the exiles to remain in Portugal.
The continued presence of the wives of the conspirators in Portugal posed other problems for Joao II. It appears that over time these noble women coalesced as a powerful interest group that aimed to restore the titles and patrimony that had been confiscated by the crown following the conspiracies. One of the serious problems facing Joao II upon his accession had been the battered state of the crown finance. The liberality with which his father, Afonso V had distributed favours and crown lands had depleted the treasury. Financial problems had been compounded by the growing cost of warfare and the enormity of the losses sustained by the Portuguese crown at the Battle of Toro in 1476. At the time of Afonso V's death in 1481, the crown had become seriously indebted to its subjects and the consequent signs of social unrest were felt in the sessions of the Cortes. (22) Although the reign of Joao II has been viewed as a turning point in the fortunes of the Portuguese crown with the establishment of the trading fort at Sao Jorge da Mina and an influx in wealth from overseas trade, profits from these enterprises were not seen until the end of the reign. (23) Thus, in the mean time, it was the additional revenues from the newly confiscated lands that eased the financial dearth felt by the crown in the 1480s.
Despite Joao II's firm resolution that there would be no reconciliation with the families of the conspirators, their wives and mothers were able to make subtle gains in the late 1480s that facilitated the restoration of their patrimony in the following reign. In 1484, the legal status of the lands belonging to the Duchy of Viseu was unclear. Firstly, unlike the Duke of Braganca who was tried and convicted by the Casa da Supplicacao, the Duke of Viseu met his demise at the hand of Joao II who stabbed him in the great wardrobe at his residence in Setubal. Although this act may have been deemed to be legitimate on the grounds of lese majeste, it would have been more difficult for the king to argue that the Duchy itself had been legally forfeited. Secondly, the proprietary ownership of the lands and revenues was somewhat ambiguous even before the execution of the Duke. After the death of the Infante Dom Fernando in 1470, the Infanta Dona Beatriz had been granted a license from Afonso V, Fernando's brother, that prevented the custody and wardship of her sons from passing to the crown. A further concession allowed her to retain control of the lands of the Duchy of Viseu until her eldest son reached the age of twenty. (24) A warrant, contained in the royal chancery documents, specifies that the officials responsible for revenue collection in the Duchy at the time of the conspiracy were serving the Infanta Dona Beatriz and not her son. (25) Thus it appears that, at the time of his death, the Duke was still in his minority and that the Duchy was being held in wardship by the Infanta Dona Beatriz. Given her powerful status, Joao II was forced to tread with caution. Although the Duchy should have passed directly to her remaining son, according to the chronicles, the king dissolved the Duchy of Viseu, granting the young Dom Manuel a reconstituted Duchy of Beja in lieu. (26) This move is probably what allowed Joao II to usurp the wardship of the fifteen-year-old Dom Manuel and assume control of the landed estates worth twenty-eight million reis, (which exceeded more than a third of all crown revenues at the time), and added to his control seventeen castles, many of which were strategically located along the Castilian border. (27)
Although this arrangement was of immediate benefit to the king, these gains were temporary. When, on 31 May 1489, Dom Manuel reached his twentieth birthday, he gained full control of all of the lands and privileges pertaining to the Duchy of Beja. And in addition to the lands, castles and overseas territories which had belonged to the Duchy of Viseu, he was also granted the town of Vila Vicosa, which had been the seat of administration of the Duke of Braganca. This inclusion of Vila Vicosa was likely a concession to both the Duchess of Braganca and the Infanta Dona Beatriz because it kept the estates in the family and in the future would serve to facilitate the restoration of the Duchy of Braganca if the rightful heir, Dom Jaime, was ever allowed to return. A similar concession was made when, in February 1489, the Marquis of Vila Real was granted the title Count of Ourem. (29) Although the Marquis of Vila Real was not a blood relation, his wife, Dona Beatriz de Meneses, was the sister of the executed Duke, a family tie that would also later ease the restoration of Dom Jaime. Furthermore, in 1488, Joao II appears to have returned a number of lands that had belonged to the Countess of Faro but had been confiscated along with the lands of her husband in 1483. In 1491, Joao II bequeathed the city of Faro itself to his consort Leonor, a move which further simplified the return of the city to the son of the Countess during the subsequent reign. (30)
It is no coincidence that these land transactions occurred in 1488 and 1489, and should not be attributed to any generosity on the part of Joao II. The year 1483 had seen the breakdown of the Tercarias da Moura, a subsidiary arrangement derived from the negotiations forged between Castile and Portugal at Alcacovas-Toledo in 1479. Under the terms of the Tercarias da Moura, Joao II had promised to recognise Isabel I's right to the throne and confine her rival claimant, Dona Juana to a monastery; at the same time the Infanta Isabel of Castile was betrothed to Principe Dom Afonso of Portugal to safeguard the peace between the two kingdoms. However, the terms of the Tercarias had done little to alleviate the distrust on both sides of the border and in 1483 Isabel I discovered that Joao II had hatched a covert plan to arrange a marriage between Dona Juana and the king of Navarre. (31)
It was at this point that the Tercarias were called off, the Duke of Braganca was arrested for treason, and it appeared that Portugal and Castile were again moving toward war. The combined military might of Aragon and Castile drove Joao II to seek military alliances with other kingdoms and in 1485 he sought to marry his sister to the newly widowed Richard III of England, although the untimely deposition and demise of that king at the Battle of Bosworth quashed this attempt to garner naval support. (32) After this point, Joao II busied himself with the fortification of castles along the Castilian border, supplying them with siege machines and other weapons, presumably in preparation for war. (33) In 1487, in the midst of these increasing tensions between Portugal and Castile, Castilian ambassadors arrived in Portugal to discuss a possible resolution and reopen the possibility of a diplomatic marriage between the Infanta Juana of Castile and the Principe Dom Afonso. In the following year, Joao II's ambassador Rui de Sande managed to raise the terms, successfully negotiating the hand of the Infanta Isabel, the eldest daughter of the Catholic Kings. (34)
Although the chronicles reveal little about discussions undertaken, it is probable that the Infanta Dona Beatriz had a hand in the matter. In 1479, the Infanta Dona Beatriz had been the architect of the Tercarias da Moura and had negotiated its terms directly with Isabel of Castile. This role was conferred upon the Infanta Dona Beatriz because she was Isabel I's maternal aunt and was plausibly a neutral party. Their family connection had likely been reinforced by the fact that Isabel I had grown up under strong Portuguese influences, raised by her mother, Isabel of Portugal and her grandmother (the Infanta Dona Beatriz's own mother) Isabel of Barcelos, both of whom were women of considerable political influence. (35) Although Isabel of Barcelos died in 1465, Isabel of Portugal lived until 1496, and may well have played a part in cross-border diplomatic negotiations. (36) The apparently close relationship between the Infanta Dona Beatriz and the queen of Castile made the exile of the political dissidents, particularly the young sons of the Duke of Braganca, more than just a domestic affair. When, in 1484, Isabel I had sent ambassadors to the Portuguese king asking him to allow the young sons of the Duke of Braganca to return to Portugal, she was probably acting on behalf of her Portuguese aunt and her cousin, the Duchess of Braganca. (37) It seems equally likely that when the ambassadors of the two kingdoms re-entered into discussion over the diplomatic marriage of the Principe Dom Afonso and the Spanish Infanta in 1488, the terms were negotiated with the landed interests of the Infanta Dona Beatriz and her family in mind. Revealing is the fact that when the Infanta Isabel arrived in Portugal in November 1490, she was symbolically delivered into the hands of Dom Manuel. (38)
The interference of Infanta Dona Beatriz in foreign policy was not limited to the influence of the terms of the royal marriage. In the 1490s, it is apparent that she used her diplomatic ties to Isabel I to secure the position of her youngest son Dom Manuel as heir to the throne. Six months following the arrival of the Infanta Isabel in Portugal, the Principe Dom Afonso died in a tragic riding accident, rendering Dom Manuel the strongest legitimate claimant to the throne. However, Joao II found the young Duke of Beja unpalatable as his successor. Suspecting that his accession would bring about a rapprochement with the exiles, in May of 1494, he informed two Castilian religious delegates that he intended to name his illegitimate son, Dom Jorge, as his successor. Immediately the Castilian crown voiced hostile objections, realising that the accession of Dom Jorge would mean a further diplomatic distance between the two kingdoms. When Joao II dispatched an ambassador to Rome to gain papal approval for his plan, he was met with refusal--Pope Alexander VI claiming that the nomination of an illegitimate heir degraded the office of kingship. (39) Given that the founder of the Avis dynasty, Joao I (1385-1433) had also been illegitimate, it is more likely that the objections of this notoriously pro-Castilian Pope were political rather than ideological. Castilian support for Dom Manuel's accession to the throne of Portugal continued right up until the death of Joao II. Although the ailing king did ultimately name Dom Manuel as heir to the throne in his testamentary provisions, he did not do so until the last moment, bringing Portugal to the brink of civil war and very close to Castilian invasion. In the days leading up to Joao II's death, Queen Leonor provided her brother with armed protection in preparation for a face off with adherents of Dom Jorge, while Isabel I gathered an army along the Castilian border, prepared to intervene on behalf of Dom Manuel in the event of a contested succession. (40)
The ways in which the Infanta Dona Beatriz and others exerted influence in international affairs was not limited to their interference in matters of succession. During the 1490s, the Countess of Penamacor appears to have used her family connections to prevent the extradition of her husband to Portugal. Implicated as a conspirator in 1484, the Count of Penamacor had fled, first to Castile, then to Scandinavia and then on to England. Living under the pseudonym Pedro Nunes, he joined a Portuguese merchant community until his identity was disclosed to Henry VII and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Although Joao II demanded that the Count return to face trial in Portugal, in 1493 Isabel I intervened on his behalf. Having no personal connection to the Count of Penamacor, it appears that Isabel I was acting at the behest of the Countess, Dona Leonor de Noronha, and perhaps also her sister, who was the Marchioness of Montemor, both of whom were resident in Castile by this time. (41) This intervention was effective because Henry VII was seeking a closer diplomatic relationship with Castile and having just re-negotiated the Treaty of Medina del Campo in 1492, he acquiesced to these demands, releasing the Count of Penamacor to Spanish authorities.
It remains that the so-called purge of the nobility by Joao II in 1483 and 1484 did not result in the exorcism of a rival faction. Although the king managed to temporarily rid the kingdom of a number of male members of the titled nobility, their female relatives, who were allowed to remain in the kingdom, surfaced as an equally, if not more powerful interest group. Even during his reign and despite the fact that he refused to authorize the return of the most powerful contingent of the nobility, Joao II had been forced to make some concessions to a few of the more minor figures who held strong family connections to important courtiers and councilors. In 1492, for example, when Dona Joana de Meneses, daughter of the executed conspirator Dom Fernando de Meneses, was married to the Count of Monsanto, her four brothers received a royal pardon from Joao II and were allowed to return to Portugal. (42) Dom Francisco de Almeida, future vice-roy of India and brother of two of the king's most important councilors, was similarly forgiven for the minor part that he played in the 1484 conspiracy. (43) Moreover, the king's ultimate decision to name Dom Manuel as his successor was not only the result of external pressure applied by Isabel I, but was achieved in part by the astute negotiations of the queen-consort Dona Leonor, and others. As historian Jean Aubin has claimed, by 1495 many of the key members of Joao II's cabinet were already persuaded to accept the young Duke of Beja as successor to the throne. (44) Such men included: the king's mordomo mor, D. Joao de Meneses, whose wife's family had been long standing members of Dona Leonor's household, the Marquis of Vila Real, whose wife was the sister of the executed Duke of Braganca, and the Count of Abrantes, whose wife Dona Ines de Noronha, was the sister of both the Marchioness of Montemor and the Countess of Penamacor.
The succession of Manuel I had a profound impact on both domestic and foreign policy. Firstly, the return of the political dissidents in 1496 significantly altered the distribution of landed estates within the kingdom. The number of nobles that returned to Portugal in 1496 is difficult to determine, but although the chronicler Damiao de Gois explicitly names only four nobles: Dom Jaime, heir of the Duke of Braganca; his brother, Dom Dinis; Dom Sancho de Noronha, son of the Count of Faro; and Dom Alvaro de Ataide, the general pardon issued by Dom Manuel must have been extended to others. (45) Numbering among those who returned were two of the other three sons of the Count of Faro, Dom Francisco and Dom Fernando, and five of the six children of Dom Alvaro, the youngest brother of the Duke of Braganca. (46) As members of the high nobility, these dissidents would have been accompanied by a number of servants and retainers. Some nobles, such as Dom Alvaro and the Marchioness of Montemor, preferred to remain in Castile for a time and many of the children of the dissidents married into the Castilian nobility, but those who could lay claim to lands and status within Portugal seemed to have returned.
The fact that Manuel I had, before his accession, been the greatest land owner of the realm, facilitated the situation and he was able to compensate a number of displaced nobles with lands and annuities that had been assimilated into the Duchy of Beja as well as those lands that had been taken over by the crown. Thus, the reinstatement of the Duchy of Braganca was not as disruptive as it might have been and Manuel I, was able to re-endow Dom Jaime with the municipality of the Vila Vicosa. Other transactions required more negotiation. Dom Vasco Coutinho, who had been created Count of Borba by Joao II was required to renounce his claim to this town, which had been part of the Braganca patrimony and was given the title Count of Redondo instead. Dom Fernando de Meneses who had since inherited the title Count of Ourem from his father, was required to surrender it in return for compensation from the crown. The full impact of the redistribution of other types of favours such as annuities or tencas is difficult to assess as the manner in which the tencas were comprised and distributed is complex. However, given that the Duchy of Beja was assessed at nearly twenty-eight million reis at the start of the Manueline reign, it appears that this king was far better equipped than his predecessors to provide compensation to nobles directly affected by the return of the exiles. In any case, the financial hit taken by the crown and others, was softened by the fact that upon his return to Portugal, the Duke of Braganca, who was the greatest beneficiary, was still a minor and thus his lands and revenues could be held in wardship by others for a time. (47)
Although the crown, in 1496, was able to accommodate the exiles from a financial standpoint, the return of so many political elites had other political repercussions. One impact that has not been explored is the effect of their return on the noble marriage market. In an attempt to heal the political fissures that had formed during the reign of Joao II, it appears that a number of children of political dissidents were granted favourable marriages. The marriage of Dona Joana de Meneses to the Count Monsanto has already been discussed. Three of the daughters of Dom Alvaro were married to titled nobles: Dona Brites de Vilhena was married in 1500 to Dom Jorge, who had been raised to the title Duke of Coimbra; Dona Joana Vilhena became the wife of the Count of Vimioso after he was widowed in 1515; and Dona Maria Manuel was married to the Count of Portalegre in 1505. (48) Their brother, Dom Rodrigo de Melo was created the Count of Tentugal in 1504. (49) In addition to securing favourable marriages, the dissidents returning during the reign of Manuel I were named, over time, to important offices in the royal household. Thus Dom Fernando, one of the sons of the Count of Faro, became attached to the household of the future Joao III, while one of the sons of the Count of Faro became the mordomo mor of Queen Catarina, while Dom Garcia, son of Dom Fernando de Meneses joined the household of the Infante Cardeal Afonso. (50) Because the procurement of a favourable marriage or a position in the royal household was an important avenue of upward social mobility, the return of so many nobles would have been perceived as being to the detriment of other upwardly mobile families of the middle or lower nobility.
The decision to allow the exiled nobles to return to Portugal came with political consequences. However, the accession of Manuel I to the throne of Portugal in October 1495 should not be seen as being a disjuncture from the previous reign as claimed by other historians. The overall impression provided is that Manuel I adopted a conciliatory attitude toward the nobility that directly contrasted with the incendiary policies initiated by Joao II. (51) In his recent biography of Manuel I, historian Joao Paulo Oliveira claimed that the authorization of the return of the Duke of Braganca was a calculated move by the new king to install a social counter-weight to Dom Jorge, who was elevated to the honour of Duke of Coimbra. (52) Yet however effective this policy may have been, in achieving a balance of power and in healing social rifts, it would be misleading to suggest that it implies that Manuel I was particularly pro-aristocratic in his political outlook. The further alienation of crown patrimony and redistribution of lands that occurred in the first five years of the king's reign was the culmination of a series of negotiations among political elites that had already begun during the reign of Joao II. Revealing is the fact that the arbitration, following the return of the exiles in Easter 1496 was undertaken, not by the king or members of the council, but privately by Queen Leonor, the Duchess of Braganca and the Infanta Dona Beatriz. (53)
On the international front, the willingness of Isabel I to support the families of the Duke of Braganca and Duke of Viseu was not altogether altruistic. In stepping in to assure the succession of Manuel I, the Queen of Castile hoped to reap the benefits of a close relationship to the new king of Portugal. Illustrative of this expectation is a letter sent from the Castilian court to the Spanish ambassador in England which, in relaying the news of the accession of Dom Manuel to the Portuguese throne in October, 1495 gleefully stated that: "Portugal is now as dependent on the queen [of Castile] as Andalusia." (54) The assumption that the newly acclaimed Manuel I owed the Castilian crown a great debt was not unfounded and explains the otherwise puzzling decision taken by the king, in 1496, to expel the Jewish community from Portugal. Unlike circumstances in Castile, the presence of the Jewish community had not posed a problem to peace and security and prior to 1496, major riots similar to those that had targeted the Jewish and converso populations of the Spanish kingdoms, had not occurred in Portugal. (55) In 1492, Joao II had taken advantage of the Spanish edict of expulsion and allowed refugees to cross the border upon payment of a substantial head tax. Although initially claiming that this admission was to be temporary and that refugees were only to remain in Portugal for six months, Joao II later amended this decree, allowing wealthy families to remain in exchange for a payment of one hundred cruzados per family member. This policy not only generated much needed revenue, but ensured that Portugal retained the wealthiest strata of Iberian Jewish society with an estimated six hundred families remaining in Portugal under these terms. (56) The threat to Castile was clear; the influx of wealth strengthened the military position of Portugal and moreover many of the Jewish refugees entering the kingdoms were artisans specializing in the fabrication of weapons. (57)
While the expulsion of the Jews from Castile and Aragon may have held economic benefits for Fernando and Isabel I, no such argument can be made for Portugal. (58) Not only had the arrival of the Castilian Jews in 1492 been lucrative and strategically beneficial, but the expulsion of the Portuguese Jewish community in 1496 was extremely costly from the crown's perspective. Prior to expulsion, the judiarias (walled ghettos that had segregated the Jews from the Christian population) had been heavily taxed in the major cities around Portugal. Like other revenues from crown monopolies, the rights to the profits from the judiarias were often granted to members of the nobility to form a part or the whole of an annuity that they received from the crown. The eradication of the Jewish faith in Portugal that occurred in 1496, whether through conversion or expulsion, meant that nobles who had received profits from the judiarias as income, had to be compensated. For example, Manuel I was forced to remunerate the Marquis of Vila Real, who had received more than 175,000 reis from judiarias in Leiria, Vila Real and Alcoutim, with equivalent profits from customs houses in Viana and Caminha. (59) The Count of Borba was paid more than 160,000 reis in exchange for giving up his rights to the profits of the judiarias of Borba and elsewhere. (60) Upon his return to Portugal in 1496, the young Duke of Braganca was granted more than one and a half million reis in substitution for the profits that his father had received from the judiarias in his lands. (61) Whatever the benefits that the crown received from the confiscation of Jewish property, were thus outweighed by the compensation paid out to members of the nobility.
The importance of the Jewish community to the crown, even above and beyond the revenues gleaned from their taxation is evidenced by the crown's attempt to staunch their emigration from the kingdom. Although agreeing to proclaim the edict of expulsion, Manuel I attempted to retain members of the Jewish community by facilitating conversions to Christianity and by offering immunity to conversos from trial by any Inquisitorial power for a period of twenty years. So successful was this policy that in 1499, the Catholic Kings demanded that refugees from the Inquisition in Spain be remanded into their custody--a request which was refused. (62) It remains that the expulsion of the Jews from Portugal had few perceived benefits for the Portuguese crown and should therefore be seen as tacit in the agreement that brought Isabel I to intervene on Manuel I's behalf during the succession crisis.
It is impossible to understand the full complexity of political interaction in Portugal at the end of the fifteenth century without considering the role played by female members of the high nobility. With the role of regent as the sole exception, normative ideology denied women a role in formal political society. However, in actuality, one need only examine the pareceres or letters of advice sent to Joao II by the Infanta Dona Beatriz in order to appreciate the degree to which informal mechanisms allowed women to delve into matters of national and international importance. (63) The truth of the matter was that the imperfect separation of public and private interests that characterized the world of the political elites in the medieval and early modern eras, made it impossible to divorce the interests of the consorts, sisters, mothers and daughters of the nobility from affairs of the State.
Unfortunately the dearth of detailed information pertinent to the overt political manoeuvrings undertaken by noble women in the aftermath of the conspiracies of 1483 and 1484 makes it difficult to assess with any certainty the degree of political clout that they wielded. Still, it remains apparent that figures such as the Duchess of Braganca, the Countess of Faro and the Marchioness of Montemor were able to exploit familial connections to important members of Joao II's entourage in 1483 and 1484 in order to obtain pardons for themselves (and perhaps their daughters), that allowed them to avoid prosecution and exile. It is unlikely that the amnesty and generosity shown toward them by Joao II were attributable to any naivete on his part; certainly he was aware that women such as Dona Catarina de Costa were capable of deploying military resources against him and that women, such as the Duchess of Braganca, could engage in espionage. Rather, it seems that in the absence of hard evidence indicting these women, Joao II was powerless to act against them because prevailing ideologies denied that women were capable of serious political involvement. Thus the letrados in 1487 confined their objections to the continued presence of conspirator's wives in Portugal to discussions of moral comportment.
It remains however, that in the aftermath of the conspiracies of 1483 and 1484, female members of the nobility were able to exercise a significant degree of political agency. They were able to lobby for the restoration of their patrimony, to a certain degree, as seen in the cases of the Countess of Faro and the Infanta Dona Beatriz, who was operating on behalf of her son. Notoriously parsimonious and plagued by financial worry, it is unlikely that Joao II made these concessions of his own free will. The timing of these grants, given between 1488 and 1490, suggests that they were conceded while the king was trying to secure a favourable marriage for his son, and required the influence and personal connection of the Infanta Dona Beatriz to Isabel I of Castile. Even after the death of the Principe Afonso, the Infanta Dona Beatriz was able to wield considerable power through her tie to the crown of Castile, using it to oppose Joao II in his attempts both to block her son the Duke of Beja from the line of succession, and to secure the extradition of the Count of Penamacor from England.
Neither Joao II, nor his successor Manuel I, ruled Portugal with complete sovereignty and without challenge. Although by executing the Dukes of Braganca and Viseu and by exiling a number of other political elites, Joao II may have divested the kingdom of much formal opposition to his policies, in many ways he succeeded only in creating greater divisions among the nobility. Unable to debate matters in the council and with few other avenues open to them, the faction of noble women, sympathetic to the interests of the exiles, had to rely upon the support of the crown of Castile to secure their aims. When Manuel I succeeded to the throne in 1495, he was, in many ways, burdened by obligations to the families of the exiles as well as to the crown of Castile, and up until the death of Isabel I in 1504, could not freely determine the direction of domestic and foreign policy.
Susannah C. Humble Ferreira
University of Cuelph
(1) Alvaro Lopes de Chaves, Livro de Apontamentos, 1438-1489, eds. Anastacia Mestrinho Salgado and Abilio Jose Salgado (Lisbon: Imprensa Nacional, 1984), 251-2.
(2) K. B. McFarlane, The Nobility of Later Medieval England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973).
(3) See for example David Crouch, Image of the Aristocracy in Britain (New York: Routledge, 1992); Peter R. Coss, The Knight in Medieval England 1000-1400 (Stroud: Sutton Books, 1993); Nigel Saul, Knights and Esquires (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981); Christine Carpenter, Locality and Polity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); Michael Hicks, Bastard Feudalism (London: Longman Books, 1995); J. M. W. Bean, From Lord to Patron (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989).
(4) Sharon Kettering, Patrons, Brokers and Clients in Seventeenth-Century France (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986) and also Patronage in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth- Century France (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002); Ronald G. Asch and Adolf M. Birke, eds., Princes, Patronage, and the Nobility: The Court at the Beginning of the Modern Age, c. 14501650 (London: German Historical Institute London, 1991).
(5) For recent studies on lordship, see David Crouch, The Image of Aristocracy, 1000-1300 and also "From Stenton to McFarlane: Models of Societies of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries," TrHS, 6th ser., 5 (1995): 179-200; John Hudson, Land, Law and Lordship in Anglo-Norman England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994); Pauls Hyams, "Warranty and Good Lordship in Twelfth Century England," Law and History Review 5 (1987): 437-503. For the ways in which women exercised power through lordship see Susan M. Johns, Noblewomen, Aristocracy and Power in the Twelfth-Century Anglo-Norman Realm (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003).
(6) Janet L. Nelson, "Women at the Court of Charlemagne: A Case of Monstrous Regiment?" in John Carmi Parsons, ed., Medieval Queenship (Stroud: Sutton, 1994), 43-61. Pauline Stafford, "Women and the Norman Conquest," TrHS, 6th ser, 4 (1994): 221-49.
(7) Mario Julio de Almeida Costa, ed., Ordenacoes Afonsinas (Lisbon: Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian, 1984), 3: 154-63.
(8) Chaves, Livro de Apontamentos, 1-387.
(9) D. Antonio Caetano de Sousa, Historia genealogica da Casa Real portuguesa (Coimbra: Atlantida, 1946-55); Anselmo Braamcamp Freire, Brasoes da Sala de Sintra (Lisbon: Imprensa Nacional, 1996); Antonio Machado de Faria, Livro de Linhagens do seculo XVI, (Lisbon: Academia Portuguesa de Historia, 1956).
(10) Humberto Baquero Moreno, A Batalha de Alfarrobeira: Antecedentes e significado historico (Coimbra: Biblioteca Geral da Universidade, 1979). See especially volume 2.
(11) Ivana Elbl, "The Overseas Expansion, Nobility and Social Mobility in the Age of Vasco da Gama," Portuguese Studies Review 6 (1997-8): 67-83. See also Ivana Elbl, "Status and Agency: Royal Grants to Portuguese Noblewomen, 1438-1481," Portuguese Studies Review 13 (1-2) (2005): 61-114.
(12) Joao Paulo Oliveira e Costa ed., A nobreza e a Expansao: Estudos biograficos (Cascais: Patrimonia, 2000); also Joao Paulo Oliveira e Costa and Vitor Luis Gaspar Gomes, A alta nobreza e a fundacao do Estado da India (Lisbon: Universidade Nova--CHAM--IICT, 2004).
(13) Braamcamp Freire, Brasoes da Sala de Sintra, 3: 300.
(14) Caetano de Sousa, "Provas," Historia genealogica, 3: 217-24.
(15) Garcia de Resende, Cronica de D. Joao II e Miscelanea, ed. by Joaquim Verissimo Serrao (Lisbon: Imprensa Nacional, 1991), 34-6.
(16) Resende, Cronica de D. Joao II, 24.
(17) IAN/TT, Chancelaria de D. Manuel, livro 33, fols. 92-93v.
(18) Rui de Pina, Cronica de D. Joao II, ed. by Luis de Albuquerque and Maria da Graca Pericao (Lisbon: Alfa, 1989), 47-8.
(19) Caetano de Sousa, Historia genealogica, 2: 233.
(20) Manuel Teles da Silva, Marques de Algrete, Vida e Feitos de D. Joao II (Lisbon: Imprensa Nacional, 1998), 109.
(21) Pina, Cronica de D. Joao II, 55.
(22) Armindo de Sousa, As Cortes medievais portuguesas, 1383-1490 (Lisbon: Casa da Moeda, 1990), 363, 384.
(23) Vitorino Magalhaes Godinho, Ensaios, 2, Sobre historia de Portugal (Lisbon: Sa da Costa, 1978), 55.
(24) IAN/TT Chancelaria de D. Afonso V, livro 21, fol. 29v; Chaves, Livro de Apontamentos, 281-3.
(25) IAN/TT Chancelaria de D. Manuel, livro 33, fols. 92-93v.
(26) Pina, Cronica de D. Joao II, 45-46.
(27) Damiao de Gois, Cronica do felicissimo Rei D. Manuel (Lisbon: Escriptorio Rua dos Retrozeiros, 1908), 1: 15; Joao Paulo Oliveira e Costa, D. Manuel I (Lisbon: Circulo de Leitores, 2004), 51.
(28) IAN/TT, Chancelarias, D. Joao II, livro 24, fol. 15v.
(29) This title was in addition to the castle that the Marquis of Vila Real had already received in October of 1487. IAN/TT, Chancelarias, D. Joao II, livro, 21, fol.37v; IAN/TT Leitura Nova, Misticos, livro 2, fol. 118.
(30) Braamcamp Freire, Brasoes da Sala de Sintra, 3: 314.
(31) Pina, Cronica de D. Joao II, 21-2.
(32) Chaves, Livro de Apontamentos, 254-5.
(33) Pina, Cronica de D. Joao II, 62; Alegrete, Vida e feitos de D. Joao II, 114.
(34) Pina, Cronica de D. Joao II, 65.
(35) Peggy Liss, Isabel the Queen: Life and Times (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 12-3.
(36) Although the chronicles have claimed that Isabel of Portugal descended into madness in 1454, Bethany Aram has pointed out that the seclusion described in the chronicles was common practise signalling piety rather than insanity. Bethany Aram, Juana the Mad (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 10-11. Moreover, the fact that the testamentary provisions that Juan II made for his wife were conditional upon her continued chastity suggest that her seclusion may have been made for political considerations. Liss, Isabel the Queen, 16.
(37) Braamcamp Freire, Brasoes da Sala de Sintra, 3: 315.
(38) Pina, Cronica de D. Joao II, 93.
(39) Jean Aubin, "D. Joao II devant sa succession," in Le Latin et L'Astrolabe: Recherches sur le Portugal de la Renaissance, son expansion en Asie et les relations internationales (Lisbon: Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian, 1996), 2: 71-2.
(40) Aubin, "D. Joao II devant sa succession," 2: 80-1.
(41) Braamcamp Freire, Brasoes da Sala de Sintra, 3: 300, 308-9.
(42) Braamcamp Freire, Brasoes da Sala de Sintra, 3: 393.
(43) Resende, Cronica de D. Joao II, 211.
(44) Aubin, "D. Joao II devant sa succession," 79.
(45) Gois, Cronica de Dom Manuel, 1: 41-4.
(46) Machado, Livro de Linhagens do seculo XVI, 7, 10-1.
(47) IAN/TT, Chancelarias, D. Manuel, livro 13, fol. 55. Braamcamp Freire, Brasoes da Sala de Sintra, 3: 343-344.
(48) Machado, Livro de Linhagens do Seculo XVI, 10.
(49) Braamcamp Freire, Brasoes da Sala de Sintra, 3: 367.
(50) Machado, Livro de Linhagens do seculo XVI, 9, 115.
(51) For an overview of the reign see Joao Jose Alves Dias, Isabel M. R. Mendes Drumond Braga and Paulo Drumond Braga, "A Conjuntura," in Joao Jose Alves Dias ed., Portugal do Renascimento a Crise Dinastica (Lisbon: Editorial Presenca, 1998), 713. Joaquim Romero Magalhaes, "Os regios protagonistas do poder," in Joaquim Romero Magalhaes ed., Historia de Portugal: No alvorecer da Modernidade (Lisbon: Editorial Estampa, 1993), 517, 521.
(52) Oliveira e Costa, D. Manuel I, 78
(53) Gois, Cronica de Dom Manuel, 1: 41-4.
(54) G. A. Bergenroth, ed., Calendar of Letters, Despatches and State Papers relating to Negotiations between England and Spain (Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint, 1969), 77.
(55) Antonio Jose Saraiva, Inquisicao e Cristaos-Novos (Lisbon : Editorial Estampa, 1985), 29-33.
(56) Liss, Isabel the Queen, 311.
(57) Saraiva, Inquisicao e Cristaos-Novos, 37.
(58) Liss, Isabel the Queen, 312.
(59) IAN/TT, Chancelarias, D. Manuel, livro 44, fols. 89-89v.
(60) IAN/TT, Chancelarias, D. Manuel, livro 41, fol. 78.
(61) IAN/TT, Chancelarias, D. Manuel, livro 13, fol. 55.
(62) Saraiva, Inquisicao e Cristaos-Novos, 38. This request appears to have been reissued in 1503. See IAN/TT, Corpo Cronologico, maco 4, fol. 17.
(63) Chaves, Livro de Apontamentos, 78-80, 284-6, 290-1.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||Women and Power in the Late Middle Ages|
|Author:||Ferreira, Susannah C. Humble|
|Publication:||Portuguese Studies Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2005|
|Previous Article:||Status and agency: Royal Grants to Portuguese noblewomen, 1438-1481.|
|Next Article:||La Emperatriz Isabel de Portugal, mujer de Carlos V: Casa Real y facciones cortesanas (1526-1539).|