Day of Restoration

Dom Sebastiao

Today is a national holiday in Portugal: the Day of Restoration, celebrating the date in 1640 when Portugal wrested its throne back from Spain.

The problem started, as so many do, with a young man in love with the idea of war. He was the king of Portugal, Dom Sebastião. His birth had been awaited with considerable anxiety, because his father had died three weeks earlier; thus he was named O Desejado — The Desired — even before he was born. (Later, after he screwed everything up, he was referred to as The Regretted.)

Ascending the throne at three years of age, Dom Sebastião grew up surrounded by ecclesiastics and believed himself to be “God’s own captain,” destined to rid Christendom of its various threats. (You can probably see the bad end coming already.)

He reached his majority and took over affairs at the age of fourteen. And for the short duration of his rule, he accomplished quite a bit, including freeing the Brazilian Indians from slavery, establishing a system of measures for solids and liquids, and creating a set of laws for the military that became a model for future armies.

But…there was that whole “God’s own captain” thing. And North Africa was having a succession struggle, in which one of the throne seekers asked Portugal’s help. Dom Sebastião saw this as a golden opportunity for a crusade, so at the age of 24 — having never married nor produced an heir — he packed up an army of 17,000 and sailed for Morocco. His army included most of the nobility of Portugal. (Now you really see the bad end coming, yes?)

He picked up another 6,000 Moorish soldiers upon meeting Abu Abdullah Mohammed II, the man who’d asked his help. That gave him 23,000 men and far too much confidence, because his opponent was waiting for him with 50,000 troops and cavalry. The Portuguese army was utterly routed, with a good number taken prisoner and the rest slaughtered. Dom Sebastião was reckoned among the latter, since the last time anyone saw him, he’d been riding hell bent into the enemy lines. But no one actually saw him killed, and no body was produced, so for a very long time the Portuguese were convinced that their young king would return at any moment, riding a horse out of the fog. (Several pretenders took advantage of the legend; they didn’t have good ends either.)

Meanwhile, Portugal had no king, no heir and a decimated nobility, which left it wide open to a takeover by Philip II of Spain (who was indeed in the line of succession). The remaining Portuguese nobles weren’t happy about it, but had to give in when Philip’s troops took over Lisboa. So Philip II of Spain became Philip I of Portugal, and the Iberian Peninsula was united under one crown for the one and only time.

The problem with being part of Spain (besides the obvious, that is) was that Spain had many enemies — the English, French and Dutch — and it was on the losing side of quite a few battles. That meant Portugal also lost vast numbers of ships, men and wealth. After 60 years of it, the new Portuguese nobility had had enough. On 1 December 1640, they engineered a coup. The throne was restored to Portugal, and a new king — a decidedly Portuguese king! — was crowned.

As part of his coronation, the new king swore that he would hand back the crown should Dom Sebastião reappear. Such was the strength of Sebastião’s legend…because by then O Desejado would have been 86 years old.

And that’s why my stepson didn’t have school today.

(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

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About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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4 Responses to Day of Restoration

  1. Wonderfully explained. Congratulations.

  2. oregon expat says:

    Thank you! I’ve noticed that history became much more interesting once I got out of the classroom. Why don’t our teachers realize it’s about interesting stories, not boring dates and treaty titles?

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