The history of Lisbon #2

1st December, Restauração da Independência (Restoration Day)

On 1st December 1640, Lisbon celebrated the restoration of its independence.

On this autumn evening, he sails in the moonlight to avoid being spotted by the Spanish guards. Through a hidden door, Afonso de Menezes goes down the stairs of the Fernandine wall to reach the garden of the fidalgo Dom Antao de Almada. There is an enclosed garden, dotted with mature orange trees and dominated by two large monumental fireplaces. Torchelight is lit in the alleys, making the shadows of cats and restless men twirl. These fallen noblemen crowd into the hovel at the back of the courtyard. It is time to conclude 60 years of humiliation !

Forty of them call out to each other, stirring up the ardour and motivation of each. Their enterprise is high risk, it’s double or nothing. Forsaken by an England in turmoil, they have received the discreet support of Richelieu. Afonso speaks up:

« For 60 years, our sacred empire has disappeared, our destiny has dissipated in British waters. The Habsburgs want to destroy what remains most important in our hearts and minds : being Portuguese. Our Lisbon has become a Castilian provincial city, where have the promises of King Filipe I gone? We have lost half of our kingdom, we have shed our blood for the occupier. And now they want us to go and fight our Catalan brothers? Enough of this ! Enough ! « 


The gardens of the Almada Palace, now the Palace of Independence
The gardens of the Almada Palace, now the Palace of Independence

And the conspirators come out of the palace to stage a coup.

In the early hours of December 1, 1640, these angry men, now brothers in arms, left the palace of Sao Domingos through the main gate. A soft glow from the Castelo Sao Jorge lulls their convictions, the smell of roasted chestnuts whets their appetite for revenge. They advance through the streets of Baixa, carried away by the crowd that Antonio Vieira’s Jesuits exalt with Te deum. These Lisboners were once again true to their old reputation, inherited since Nero, of being a very noble and loyal people. It was a blessed day.

From the Palace esplanade, the 40 conspirators rush to the royal flats where the great Manuel once watched his empire from the balcony. They catch the vice-queen, Margaret of Mantua, while searching for the Portuguese traitor Miguel de Vasconcelos, who had submitted to Madrid. He is found hidden in a cupboard and, in a rage, he is killed on the spot without any further trial. His body was thrown from the balcony and trampled on by a more than enthusiastic crowd.

1 December, day of the restoration of the independence of Portugal
The conspirators celebrating their victory after the death of Miguel de Vasconcelos.

Lisbon is renewing its links with history, but the golden age is over.

Cheers for the conspirators ! A new breath of hope invaded the streets of Lisbon, the city regained its titles and its letters of nobility. Bishop Rodrigo da Cunha organises a great ceremony in the to thank God. The 5th Empire was reborn from its ashes! If for a while  Sebastian woke up from his long sleep. Announced by all as the worthy heir to the Avis, the new master of the kingdom arrived on 6 December and was joyfully honoured by the crowd. His name is John and he is the Duke of Braganza. He accepts the heavy burden that is his due, and from then on the poets will narrate a new page in the history of Portugal.

The clamour of the people resounds far beyond the Tagus. What was left of the Portuguese empire fell to John IV. Only the Portuguese cities of Ceuta and Melilla remained loyal to the Spanish crown. Although the good news had accumulated in December 1640, Portugal had nevertheless lost some of its glory. It quickly became a forgotten empire, and saudade was born. 

John IV is proclaimed king on the esplanade of the Palace, the current Commerce square.
John IV is proclaimed king on the esplanade of the Palace, the current Commerce square.
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