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History & Culture of Portugal - Part 7

 HISTORY & CULTURE OF PORTUGAL - PART 7Part 7. A Tale of Two Henrys. 1415 – a year etched in the English and Portuguese history books, for different reasons, yet also a story of two famous cousins, King Henry V of England, and Henry “The Navigator”, Prince of Portugal.

The battles – Agincourt and Ceuta, both successful outcomes, yet Agincourt, a most glorious victory, soon turned to the loss of all French territories including prized Calais. Ceuta, Europe's first toe-hold in Africa, led to the failure of Tangier, loss of a prince, yet Henry ending his days in Algarve exploring the Atlantic and Africa, enriching Portugal greatly. Portugal learned to bypass the North African Arab kingdoms, with nose bloodied, and headed further south to explore West Africa, discover Brazil, and build a global empire. Britain introspectively collapsed from the successful 100 Years' War into a bloody, internal War of the Roses, Lancaster vs York.

The link – one John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, son of Edward III of England and cousin of Richard II, himself son of the Black Prince. A time of military alliances, intercontinental weddings, and war, John married Constance of Castile in 1371 and even styled himself as King of Castile & Leon (almost 2/3rds of modern-day Spain). Constance's sister Isabella also married John's brother Edmund, Duke of York. As a third son and unlikely claimant to the English throne, John introduced Constance and himself into London court as the King and Queen of Castile. She was made a Lady of the Garter. When John of Castile and French allies threatened Portugal in 1385, John sent troops and archers to support Joao I of Portugal, and victory at the Battle of Aljubarrota under General Nuno Alvares Pereira, flying the flag of St George, resulted in safeguarding Portugal's borders for ever more, and the start of the Aviz dynasty. 

The next year, 1386, the Treaty of Windsor was signed Richard II of England and Joao I of Portugal – a pact of mutual support that lasts to this day – Europes' oldest alliance. Under this alliance, John landed an Anglo- Portuguese fleet of 5,000 men in Spain later in the year, and together with Joao 1 of Portugal they invaded Castile in early 1387. Though unsuccessful due to army sickness, the alliance was further cemented by the marriage of Joao to Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt, in Porto. Of their children, the “Illustrous Generation”, was Duarte, future king, and the infamous Henry the Navigator. Philippa's brother, Henry, was to become King Henry IV of England.

Henry IV was crowned king of England in 1399, strengthening Anglo-Portuguese ties – his son Henry V succeeded as king in 1413. His outstanding military successes in the Hundred Years' War against France rendered England one of the strongest military powers in Europe. In 1415, with the famous battle of Agincourt, he almost conquered all of France. However, he died 2 years later, and his infant son was unable to capitalise on his father's gains and lost France and more importantly Calais, and thus lost the people's support. He was imprisoned and possibly killed in the Tower of London, succeeded by Edward IV, the first Yorkist king – the War of the Roses broke out and dominated England militarily for the rest of the 15th Century.

In Portugal, Joao I, a Knight of the Garter since 1400 (an order of chivalry founded by Edward III of England), was close to the English court through his wife Philippa, sister of Henry IV. Indeed his sons Duarte, Pedro, Henry were also invested as Knights of the Garter in the Englsih court. He established the Aviz dynasty, reigning for 48 years (the longest of any Portuguese monarch). In the early 1400's Portugal cast an eye at gaining Ceuta in North Africa. The prospect of taking of Ceuta offered the young princes an opportunity to win wealth and glory. Ceuta's position opposite the straits of Gibraltar gave it control of one of the main outlets of the trans-African Sudanese lucrative gold and slave trades;  nd it could enable Portugal to flank its most dangerous rival, Castile.

The Portuguese fleet captained by King Joao left Tavira in the Algarve in the summer of 1415 – John led his sons and their assembled forces in a surprise assault on Ceuta. The 45,000 men who traveled on 200 Portuguese ships caught the defenders of Ceuta off guard. On the morning of 22 August, Ceuta was in Portuguese hands. The fleet then returned to Tavira. Henry the Navigator distinguished himself in the battle, also being wounded during the conquest. Unlike Calais, Ceuta remained in Portuguese hands untll the Iberian Union in 1580 and thereafter it passed into Spanish hands. Henry spent the rest of his life in Algarve exploring the source of the caravans that brought gold to Ceuta,
expanding exploration of the African coast southwards. His explorers in the newly designed caravels settled Madeira, Acores, and reached the mouth of the Senegal River. Under Henry, West African trade was re-routed from Algiers and Tunis, and slaves and gold flooded into Portugal, making it a very rich nation.

Read other parts of this series HERE.

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