Ten Things I Didn’t Know About Portugal

In my previous existence (so long ago – i.e. a week – that it all seems like a dream), I mentioned a distinct lack of knowledge of Portugal, Britain’s oldest ally. Thanks to David Birmingham’s Concise History of Portugal, I am getting better informed. Among much other stuff:

Portugal

  •  The side-chapel of St John the Baptist in the Jesuit church of São Roque in Lisbon was put together (out of many valuable varieties of stone and jewels) in Rome, blessed by Pope Benedict XIV in 1744, disassembled, shipped to Portugal and put together again.
The glittering chapel of St John the Baptist in the Jesuit church of São Roque

The glittering chapel of St John the Baptist in the Jesuit church of São Roque

  • This and other jeux d’esprit were made financially possible by gold shipped back to Portugal from its Brazilian empire. (The Spanish grew rich on silver from theirs, and both started running out in the eighteenth century, though happily, diamonds from Brazil kept the regime going for a bit longer.)
  • Winding back to BCE, Julius Caesar was responsible for the ‘pacification’ of the Celtic tribes of Portugal – who presumably wouldn’t have needed pacifying if the Romans hadn’t decided to invade them?
Another Gaul submits to Caesar

Another Gaul submits to Caesar

  • King Sebastian I was killed during an invasion of Morocco in 1578, at the battle of Alcacer Quibir. His body was never found, leading to a legend that he will come again one day (like King Arthur and the Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos).
The young Sebastian, already looking martial, alas. (By Alonso Sanchez Coello (c.1531-1588))

The young Sebastian, already looking martial, alas. (By Alonso Sanchez Coello (c.1531-1588))

  • Before Catherine of Braganza married Charles II, her family had tried to get Louis XIV as a son-in-law. Her dowry was 2 million pieces of gold, plus access to the Portuguese trading port in India, Bombay (Mumbai), which was a bit of a historical turning point.
The young, convent-educated Catherine, demure in Portuguese court dress. (c) National Portrait Gallery.

The young, convent-educated Catherine, demure in Portuguese court dress. (c) National Portrait Gallery.

Queen Catherine, normalised to a heavy-lidded Stuart court female by Sir Peter Lely. (c)The Royal Collection

Queen Catherine, normalised to a heavy-lidded Stuart court female by Sir Peter Lely. (c) The Royal Collection Trust/Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

  • The great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 happened on All Saints’ Day, and crushed to death hundreds of worshippers in churches, among an estimated total of about 40,000–50,000 victims in Portugal, Spain and Morocco. Tsunamis reached Cornwall and the West Indies.
The Lisbon earthquake, contemporary print

The Lisbon earthquake, contemporary print

  • ‘Brazilian export tobacco was prepared in two-and-a-half-hundredweight rolls coated with molasses and wrapped in cow hides’ to preserve the weed [yum!]; 20,000 such rolls were imported to Europe each year in the earlier part of the seventeenth century.
  • Madeiran agricultural prosperity was originally based on wheat; then sugar (till Caribbean production undercut it); then wine.
The famous irrigated terraces of Madeira, now used for wine

The famous irrigated terraces of Madeira, now used for wine

  • Portugal had its own dissolution of the monasteries, in 1834.
Sir Douglas Haig and the President of Portugal, Bernadino Machado, who was visiting the Expeditionary Force on France

Sir Douglas Haig and the President of Portugal, Bernadino Machado, who was visiting the Expeditionary Force on France

  • In 1917, Portugal, under pressure from Britain, entered the First World War. There were 10,000 casualties among the expeditionary force sent to France; 60,000 Portuguese lives were lost in the subsequent influenza pandemic.

Caroline

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