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D. AFONSO HENRIQUES
of the Portuguese Nation: 1109-1185
by ANGELA DUTRA DE MENEZES
Translated by John D. Godinho
She knows her history quite well, indeed. But her tropical irreverence takes her by the arm and she begins to remove the dust we allowed to accumulate on Portugal's first prominent figures. The dusting is done and here comes the Founder. Let's seize the moment and strike up a conversation...
Fernando Correia da Silva
no longer interested in the type of
does not liberate."
(Manuel Bandeira, Poética)
No one is more deserving of the title of
Founding Father than Afonso Henriques, son of Teresa, bastard daughter of
King Alfonso VI, of Castile and León, and Count Henry of Burgundy. Very few people know, but it's thanks to the political
shrewdness of Afonso Henriques that Portugal is the first European country
to establish itself as an independent state.
Even before the year 1200, Portugal is already Portugal. And that included the right to its own language - the
Genius, statesman, political fox,
victor, implacable, extremely clever:
Afonso is able to create an amazing story.
Everything that can be manipulated in his favor, will be so,
without any scruples. He begins his sequence of victories by founding a
kingdom. To do so, he banishes his mommy to outer space, without as much
as a farewell glance. At the time, though, nobody is thinking of Portugal as a
possible consequence of an Oedipus Complex not well worked out. (Freud
would only be around many centuries later).
Afonso's grandfather stands out as one
of the most powerful men of his time.
He is a personal friend of Saint Hugo - who doesn't know yet that
he'll become a saint and builds the Abbey of Cluny, which, at the time, is
the biggest house of worship in all Christendom. Afonso VI
dips into his pockets, or into the public coffers, for the funds
needed to finance Hugo's dream. The
king is well connected in the royal circles of the Christian world; he has
influence, he's flexible. Between
one donation and another, he manages to have his bastard daughter married
off to one of the Counts of Burgundy - a family of the upper-crust that
will not easily mingle with people born on the wrong side of the tracks.
But Alfonso VI prepares an attractive
package as a wedding present: Henry takes Teresa and, to boot, he gets the
Portuguese Province, west of Castile, that for sometime now has been
entertaining thoughts of independence.
So, Alfonso VI, well aware of the antics practiced by the
Portuguese, decides to kill two birds with one stone.
In 1092, he joins the two distinct territories in that region -
north and south of the Rio Douro - and decrees that the new province
belongs to Teresa, and to her husband, of course.
Urraca, his legitimate daughter, will sit on the throne of León
and Castile, as dictated by the rules of morals and good manners.
Alfonso VI is more than a good and
dedicated daddy, so he later tries to increase his power and dominion over
additional territories. But his plans backfire. As soon as the king of León
and Castile sticks his nose in the Portuguese Province, the local nobility
starts a strong separatist movement.
superior power rises..."
(Camões, The Lusiads)
Henriques proclaims himself a knight...
One must take precautions when he is the
grandfather of a statesman. Afonso Henriques is only 20 years old when
Alfonso VI dies. If families
tear each other to pieces over grandma's silverware, one can imagine what
they might do when the item in dispute is the power of a crown.
Everyone is in a fighting mood.
Urraca argues with the Bishop of Compostela, quarrels with the King
of Aragon, spews insults at the Count of Galicia, and causes a general
uproar. As for Teresa, she
suffers from growing ambitions, a syndrome that usually attacks less
favored heirs, and sets out to make disastrous alliances.
Like father, like daughter.
Suddenly, Teresa takes a fatal step.
While planning to annex the Portuguese Province to Galicia, she
makes an alliance with the Galicians who are traditional rivals of the
She doesn't understand her son, a child
who, at 13, already shows signs of genius, in the good as well as in the
bad sense of the word. At
that tender age, he simply ignores the cardinal who conducts the ceremony
at which he is to knighted, and proclaims himself a knight.
He refuses divine intervention.
Just like Napoleon, a few centuries later.
Pity that he doesn't speak French, the language of sophisticated folk, so that his gesture would not be left out of the
It is said that the grandfather is quite proud of the
brat's petulance, although there's no documentary evidence to prove it.
It's a shame that so much talent simply evaporates in Portugal,
says Alfonso VI.
Just idle gossip, of course.
Portugal and Spain have nurtured
ill feelings for each other for centuries; it's common
knowledge and everybody likes to add fuel to the flame.
Anyway, with such a son to deal
with, Teresa goes and allies herself with the Galicians and then shows up
escorted by another count telling a lame story about his "political
stage is set.
Afonso Henriques, now 21, surrounds the Castle of Guimarães and
starts a barroom brawl: those outside, can't come in and those inside,
can't leave - not even mamma, supposedly the ruler of the province.
It should be said, though, that the boy,
just like his grandfather, doesn't fool around.
He senses that he doesn't have much of a chance in the line of
succession to the throne of León and Castile, so he must create his own
space. He wants power, his
place is in the Portuguese Province.
have but two hands,
and the feelings of the whole
(Carlos Drummond de Andrade,
Feelings of the World)
like that, it seems an easy task to accomplish.
But it's not, otherwise it could have been done by just anybody.
Afonso Henriques has great sensibility.
He acts at the proper time, with the right people and in the right
manner. He doesn't miss a trick. He
behaves like a perfect political animal from the beginning to the end of
his story. He makes History;
he holds the world in his hands. Those
around him are fools incapable of sensing the Prince's shrewdness while he
prepares the final blow.
governing were an easy task,
enlightened spirits would not
(Bertold Brecht, The Difficulty of Governing)
Prince pays for the construction of the Cathedral of Braga.
Right there, the Portuguese Province
begins to slip into his pocket. From
then on, it's up to him to keep things under control and fight whoever
attempts to thwart his dream. So he fights and wins. When he can't get his
way by force, he gets it through the use of gold coins - ah, corruption
has been plaguing us for such a long time.
His principal enemies are the Moors who
occupy the greater part of Portuguese territory.
But his cousin Alfonso VII and Fernando II, both of Castile, also
get clubbed over the head a few times.
The latter will imprison Afonso Henriques in Badajoz and will be
astonished by the wealth of the Portuguese king.
Afonso Henriques pays almost two and a half tons of gold as ransom
for his release. And he does
so with no great effort and under the delirious applause of his countrymen
who don't want to lose him for anything in the world.
But the Prince has to sweat bullets to
gain such prestige. His life is spent fighting and making political deals.
The first one is with the Catholic Church, the keystone for any
power scheme during the Early Middle Ages.
He who doesn't obtain the Church's blessings better move on.
Immediately after his victory at São Mamede, Afonso Henriques
establishes his relations with the Church:
he accepts all conditions. He
knows the grounds he treads; the
clergymen are much too strong to be opposed.
In exchange for his complete and
unconditional support, the Archbishop of Braga receives certain privileges:
the right to coin money and the absolute control of the city of
Braga. As if this weren't enough, the Prince pays for the construction of
the Cathedral of Braga, stuffs
the pious church coffers with money, acknowledges the Church's divine
authority as being superior to his own, and lends his prestige to Church
events. Surprise, surprise:
the archbishops of Braga keep their word and stick by Afonso
Henriques during the nearly sixty years of his reign. It's a perfect
relationship; if marriages were as successful, family lawyers would die of
The lower clergy cooperates in the best
way possible. In a number of
documents, the monks at the Santa Cruz Monastery, in Coimbra, lavishly
praise Afonso Henriques: "he is prudent, wise, intelligent, handsome,
a giant, a roaring lion." They're like a master of ceremonies
introducing the guest of honor. And after the Battle of Ourique,
in which he thrases the Moors, the brothers become delirious.
In their opinion, the Prince is "the elected of God to prove
that Portugal and its people are independent."
promised period had come to an end, And the Castilian king was now
exacting That the Prince confined at his command, Pay the homage that he
(Camões, The Lusiads, 3rd Canto)
once the conflicts over the succession of Alfonso VI are settled, Urraca's
son becomes king as Alfonso VIII. The crowning ceremony at the Cathedral
of León was marked by great exaltation, with the new king exhibiting
excessive luxury. Afonso
Henriques is the only member of the family not present.
His intentions seem clear: to
show, once and for all, that the Portuguese Province does not pay homage
to the king of León and Castile and that Afonso Henriques considers
himself as much a king as his recently crowned cousin.
illuminated blue shields, representing the five defeated kings..."
(Camões, The Lusiads, 3rd Canto)
Afonso Henriques and the Battle of Ourique.
Everything we know about Ourique is mere
conjecture. But the story is
so importante that it has branded itself into the Portugese imagery and
still remains in the country's coat of arms:
five shields, five symbols each containing five dots representing
the five Moorish kings beheaded in that battle.
As a final result, Afonso Henriques becomes king, de facto and de
jure. Even today, Portuguese
historians are still discussing this episode.
Alexandre Herculano, the novelist and
historian, is reponsible for making the battle even more famous when he
declares that "Ourique is nothing but a legend." God help us all,
there's general commotion in Portugal.
He is accused of being a heretic - we should remember that the last
Portuguese citizen so accused ended up at the stake only a century before,
which is not a long time, historically speaking.
He's also described as anti-clerical, an atheist, an agnostic,
a...Ah, well, forget it. If
he was called anything worse than that, there are no records to show it.
Contemporary historians, among them José
Hermano Saraiva, tend to place Ourique in its proper perspective. It is
known, for sure, that a battle takes place on July 25, 1139, in which
Afonso Henriques comes out the winner, even though the Moorish forces are
numerically superior. It is
also suspected that Alfonso VII, at that time engaged in the siege of
Aurelia, a Moorish city of great strategic importance,
is instrumental in getting his cousin into trouble. When he finds
out that the Prince is conducting a razzia
- a type of military operation used by the Portuguese, whereby they
infiltrate enemy territory, surprise the enemy, destroy them and run back
to safety - Alfonso VII pulls the strings so that the Islamic army headed
to rescue Aurelia is deployed to destroy Afonso Henriques.
It's possible, but Alfonso's participation in these events is just
Not even the battle's location is known
for sure. The city of Ourique
is so far south of Lisbon, so far inside Moor territory, its seems
impossible that the Prince would take such a risk.
Still, there are records of other daring razzias.
On the other hand, the Lower Alentejo region was known as
Ourique at the beginning of the Middle Ages.
Legend and history do not unlock these mysteries.
The popular version of the Battle of
Ourique tells of Afonso Henriques battling a strong Islamic army, killing
the five Moorish kings and forcing the rest of the Moors to make a run for
it. All in one day. This is due to a special favor of Jesus Christ, who, the
night before, appears to the Prince and has a friendly chat with him.
Only Afonso Henriques sees Our Lord - who, incidentally, is
surrounded by a host of angels - and only Afonso Henriques hears Him
guaranty that the outcome of the battle will be a spectacular victory for
The morale of the soldiers reaches new
heights when they hear about the friendly visit.
In addition to that, July 25 is dedicated to Santiago (Saint James,
the Great), known as the moor-killer, the saint that never abandons
Christians in danger. Santiago
is a specialist in cutting throats with enviable efficiency - apparently
he was the first person on Earth to know the exactly location of the
carotids; he doesn't miss one. But
today, it seems, he's gone into retirement. We can see that everything has
come together for the Prince's success.
The battle is won, the people is
delirious, the Church is proud. From
now on, the Prince signs all documents as "King of the Portuguese."
At this very moment, the Portuguese national edentity is established.
After all, Ourique represents an important development that makes a
difference: where else would
a king chat, live and in color, with the celestial host?
In 1143, Afonso Henriques has another
stroke of genius when Cardinal Guido de Vico, the Pope's emissary,
promotes a meeting between the Prince and Alfonso VII, at Zamora, to try
to convince them that their quarrels only favor the infidels. The Prince
writes to Pope Innocent II describing the miracle at Ourique and claiming
for himself and his descendants the status of liegeman of the Holy See.
That is, he owes allegiance to Rome only. Within Portuguese territory he, and only he, gives the orders
and there will be no more talk about it.
It takes time for the Vatican to answer.
Thirty-six years, to be exact.
But even then, the result only comes after Afonso Henriques makes a
hefty contribution of one thousand gold coins.
When the Church finally recognizes Afonso Henriques as king, in
1179, such recognition has
very little importance. Portugal's
sovereignty is an accomplished fact and the Prince is now a king of the
The meeting at Zamora between the two
cousins and the Cardinal brings about immediate positive results for
Afonso Henriques. Alfonso VII calls it quits when he sees that
Afonso Henriques will never pay him vassalage. Of his own volition,
he begins treating him as an equal.
blood stains on the clothes, a stern expression in the eyes, on the
clothes the crime is spelled out..."
(Carlos Drummond de Andrade, The Assassins)
Afonso Henriques expands his territories using the
excuse that he is driving the Moors back to where they came from.
takes Lisbon, Santarem, Almada, Obidos, Palmela, Sesimbra.
Battle after battle,
killing Moors as if killing rats, he continues building his kingdom.
In taking back the lands he adopts a policy of scorched earth:
kill anything that moves, burn the rest.
Almost a thousand years before the Americans were defeated by the
guerrila tactics of the undernourished Vietcongs, Afonso Henriques is
practicing guerrila warfare.
Having a small army under his command, he believes that the element
of surprise gives him the upper hand.
Generals, in those days, were quick to ask for their smelling salts,
as if, to die, they had to follow a script.
The Prince is always coming up with
When he foresees a long battle, he contracts mercenaries.
These are usually crusaders on their way to the Holy Land who make
a stop in Portugal to kill Moslems and collect the booty, as promised by
The siege of Lisbon, in 1147, follows this scheme.
Afonso Henriques, between Portuguese citizens and crusaders hungry
for easy money, manages to gather several hundred thousand men and 150
The conquest of Lisbon is a beautiful,
but sad, episode in Portuguese history due to
Afonso Henriques's use of excessive violence.
Later, in 1170, he makes amends by issuing a Letter of Safe-conduct that prohibits Christians and Jews from
molesting the Moors in the region of Lisbon.
Definitely, the King is fond of grand and unexpected gestures.
Shrewd, as always, he usually carries
out his plans under cover, a sample of what would later be the
Portuguese-Brazilian way of being. He probably contracts the services of
one Geraldo Sem Pavor, an outlaw who rambles freely about Castile.
So if the King is not allowed to invade someone else's lands,
an unofficial representative might.
There is no concrete evidence to that effect, but the men under
Geraldo's command are all from the district of Coimbra.
It's difficult to imagine that such citizens would engage in
military activities without the King's approval.
embroidered with gold, emeralds and rubies, amethysts for her fingers,
dresses studded with diamonds, and women slaves to serve her...”
(Jorge Amado, Happy Little Girl)
According to certain accounts, and
allowing for the customary flattery, he is pictured as being fair,
generous and irreverent. He's a man of courage subject to occasional fits
of anger, capable of being violent and then recognizing his faults. They
praise his frugality at the table and highlight his tendency to be a
conqueror. Not only of power and territories, but also of women's hearts,
perhaps even more so.
"WHAT ELSE COULD MY DESTINY BE BUT TO WITNESS
MY OWN DESTINY..."
(Vinicius de Morais, Lived Life)
The Last Will and Testament of Afonso
Henriques, the first king of the first european territory to be conscious
of its own nationality, reveals that even in death he behaves like a
statesman. His immense
fortune, obtained in over fifty years of wars and plunder, is woven
together with the national treasury.
He determines that it be used for the good of the country.
He orders that hundreds of thousands of maravedis
(the Gothic coin then in use) be dedicated to the defense effort. He foresees that the Moors are preparing a counteroffensive.
Other huge amounts go toward the building of hospitals and
the support of religious and military orders.
The poor will also get their share.
Churches and cathedrals are built.
Convents receive donations and become self-supporting for years.
To his successor, his son Sancho I,
Afonso Henriques leaves only one geopolitical
construction of a bridge between the North and the South of Portugal so as
not to jeopardize the unification that took him a lifetime to accomplish
and maintain. Unfortunately, there are no records that indicate whether or
not Sancho followed his father's recommendation.