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Aude Viaud, ed. Correspondance d'un ambassadeur castillan au Portugal dans les annees 1530: Lope Hurtado de Mendoza.

(Centre Culturel Calouste Gulbenkian.) Lisbon and Paris: Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian, 2001. 653 pp. + 14 color pls. index. bibl. 28.57 [euro]. ISBN: 972-8462-22-0.

When Charles V married Isabel, princess of Portugal, in 1526, he supposed that the double marriage (his youngest sister Catherine married Isabel's brother, King John III, in 1525) had bound Portugal to Habsburg interests. By 1528, he needed all the help he could get from his Portuguese brother-in-law. Charles had acquired two formidable enemies: England under Henry VIII and France under Francis I.

Charles sent Lope Hurtado de Mendoza as his ambassador to Portugal. Lope's family background remains obscure; editor Aude Viaud could not find any solid information about him before he entered royal service in 1513. By 1528, Mendoza was a seasoned diplomat; he had spent the previous ten years in Italy, successfully carrying out diplomatic missions for Charles. He managed, for example, to prevent Pope Leo X from taking control of the Spanish Inquisition.

Upon arriving in Lisbon in February 1528, Mendoza informed John III of the situation in England, where Henry VIII had begun proceedings to divorce Catherine of Aragon. Charles assumed that, since Catherine was the aunt of both the Spanish and Portuguese royal couples, preventing Henry's divorce warranted John's full cooperation. Lope thus had to persuade John to sever Portugal's alliance with England, one of the most enduring friendships in European diplomacy.

Mendoza also was charged with turning the Portuguese against France, now regarded by Charles as "friend to all the ills of Christianity." As long as Charles and Francis I contended for domination in Italy, Charles wanted the Portuguese to break diplomatic ties with France. Despite their multiple family bonds, the two Iberian monarchs perceived European politics from differing perspectives; John understood Portugal's need for powerful allies in order to remain independent of an overly powerful Charles, while Charles saw himself embattled on every side.

Events on the opposite side of the world added to Lope's difficulties. In 1521, two of the Spanish ships Charles had sent around South America under the command of Magellan entered a port in the Moluccas islands. The Spaniards claimed the island of Tidore (modern Soasiu) for Castile, but Portugal had claimed possession of this and neighboring islands--the sole source of mace, nutmeg, and cloves, the most expensive of spices. When the Spanish ship Victoria under the command of Juan Sebastian de Elcano returned to its home port of Sanlucar de Barrameda loaded with cloves on 6 September 1522, the news set off hostilities between Portugal and Castile that lasted most of the century. Each kingdom claimed the Moluccas lay on its side of the Line of Tordesillas, which Christopher Columbus had projected for Queen Isabel of Castile.

With the Moluccas dispute poisoning relations between Charles and John, Lope's mission in Portugal became a tedious exercise in winning small victories only after long and difficult struggles and then losing them in a matter of days. After five years, Lope's letters reveal that he had lost hope of breaking King John's resistance. He repeatedly asked to be reassigned and finally left Portugal in December 1532, destined to carry out the remainder of his diplomatic career in Italy.

For historians of early modern diplomacy, the broad outlines of these negotiations are familiar. Nevertheless, Viaud has given us a valuable resource that reveals much more than diplomacy. Because King John refused to speak openly with him, Lope relied on several members of the royal family--particularly Queen Catherine--to pressure the king. He visited these and other members of the royal court assiduously, gathering impressions, rumors, and opinions and reporting them in detail to Charles and to the regent Empress Isabel. Lope's letters are, therefore, rich sources of information about the domestic life of the highest levels of Portuguese society, including marriage negotiations, illnesses, rivalries, and a whole world of intimate feuds and alliances. Lope also reports in detail on Portuguese operations in the Spice Islands and on far-flung incidents such as Cortez's effort to send five ships from Mexico to the Moluccas.

Viaud provides a masterful overview, a meticulous transcription of Lope's 144 letters surviving from 1530 through 1532, as well as tables, charts, maps, bibliography, illustrations, and three indices. The book is testimony to the aesthetic and editorial excellence that a dedicated scholar can achieve with the support of a generous sponsor.


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Author:Nader, Helen
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2003
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