Restoration, Portuguese War of (1640–1668)

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RESTORATION, PORTUGUESE WAR OF (16401668). In December 1640 a palace coup in support of the duke of Bragança and his acclamation as King John IV restored the Portuguese monarchy and ended sixty years of rule by the Spanish Habsburgs. From 1641 to 1668 the two nations were at war, with Spain seeking to isolate Portugal militarily and diplomatically and Portugal hoping to find the resources to maintain its independence through political alliances and colonial income.

The military aspects of the war fall into three periods: an early stage when a few major engagements demonstrated that the Portuguese could not be easily returned to submission; a long second period (16461660) of military standoffs characterized by small-scale raiding, while Spain concentrated on its military commitments elsewhere in Europe; and a final period (16601668) during which the Spanish king Philip IV unsuccessfully sought a major engagement that would bring an end to hostilities.

Spain in early 1641 faced a war with France as well as rebellions in both Catalonia and Portugal. Hoping for a quick victory in Portugal, Spain immediately committed seven regiments to the Portuguese frontier, but delays by the count of Monterrey, a commander more interested in the comforts of camp than of the battlefield, lost any immediate advantage. A Portuguese counter-thrust in late 1641 failed, and the conflict soon settled into a stalemate, especially after a major column under the Neapolitan marquis of Torrecusa was stopped at Montijo in 1644 by the Portuguese under the Brazilian-trained Matias de Albuquerque, one of a number of experienced Portuguese colonial officers who rose to prominence during the war. Shortly thereafter, in November 1644, Torrecusa crossed from Badajoz in a rare winter campaign to attack Elvas, where he suffered heavy losses and was forced to retreat back across the border.

The war now took on a peculiar character as a frontier confrontation, often between local forces that knew each other well, but whose familiarity did not diminish the destructive effects on either side. The bloody nature of the combat was often exacerbated by the use of foreign troops and mercenaries. Incidents of singular cruelty were reported on both sides as the Portuguese settled old animosities, while Spanish commanders often took the view that their opponents were disloyal and rebellious subjects, not an opposing army entitled to the rules of combat.

Three theaters were eventually opened, but most activity focused on the northern front and on the frontier between Portuguese Alemtejo and Spanish Extremadura. The southern front in Spanish Andalusia was a logical target for Portugal, but it never bore the full weight of Portuguese attack, probably because the Portuguese queen, Luisa de Gusmão (Guzmán), was the sister of the duke of Medina Sidonia, the leading noble of Andalusia. Spain at first made the war defensive. Portugal, for its part, felt no need to take Spanish territory in order to win, and it too was willing to make the war a defensive one. Campaigns typically consisted of correrias, or 'cavalry raids', burning fields, sacking towns, and appropriating large herds of enemy cattle and sheep. Soldiers and officers primarily interested in booty and prone to desertion were poor instruments for the conduct of serious war. For long periods, without men or money, neither side mounted formal campaigns, and when actions were taken, they were often driven as much by political considerations, such as Portugal's need to impress its potential allies, as by clear military objectives. Year by year, given the transportation problems of campaigning in winter and the heat and dry conditions of summer, most fighting was limited to the spring and fall.

The war settled into a pattern of mutual destruction. As early as December 1641 there were Spanish complaints that "our Extremadura is finished." Tax collectors, recruiting officers, the billeting of soldiers, and depredation by Spanish and foreign troops were feared as much by the Spanish population as the destructive raids of the enemy. In Extremadura, local militias bore the brunt of the fighting until 1659, and this was destructive to agriculture and local finances. Since there was often no money to pay or support the troops or to reward commanders, the crown turned a blind eye to the contraband, disorder, and destruction on the frontier. Similar conditions also existed among the Portuguese forces.

The war was also expensive. In the 1650s there were over 20,000 Spanish troops in Extremadura alone, compared to 27,000 in Flanders. Between 1649 and 1654 about 29 percent (over six million ducats) of Spanish defense spending went to Portugal, a figure that rose during the major campaigns of the 1660s. Portugal was able to finance the war because of its ability to tax the spice trade from Asia and the sugar trade from Brazil, and because of support from the European opponents of Spain, particularly Holland, France, and England.

The 1650s were indecisive militarily but important on the political and diplomatic fronts. The death of John IV, the former duke of Bragança, in 1656 brought the regency of his wife, followed by a succession crisis and a palace coup (1662). Despite these domestic problems, the expulsion of the Dutch from Brazil (1654) and the signing of a treaty with England (1654) improved Portugal's diplomatic and financial position for a while and gave it needed protection against a naval attack on Lisbon. Nonetheless, the major goal of a formal pact with France continued to evade Portugal, whose weakness and isolation had been driven home by its virtual exclusion at the negotiations for the general European peace of Westphalia (1648). With that treaty and the end of hostilities in Catalonia in 1652, Spain was again ready to direct its attention against Portugal but faced a lack of men, resources, and especially good military commanders.

By 1662 Spain committed to a major effort to end the rebellion. Don Juan José de Austria, Philip IV's illegitimate son, led some 14,000 men into Alemtejo and in the following year succeeded in taking Évora, the major city of the region. The Portuguese under the marquis of Marialva and the German soldier of fortune Friedrich Hermann von Schönberg, the duke of Schomberg, who had been contracted along with other foreign officers to bolster the Portuguese forces, were able to turn the tide. They defeated the Spanish in a major engagement at Ameixial (8 June 1663), forcing Don Juan José to abandon Évora and retreat across the border.

The Portuguese now had some 30,000 troops in this theater, but they could not draw the Spanish into a major engagement until June 1665, when a new Spanish commander, the marquis of Caracena, took over Vilaviciosa with about 23,000 men, including recruits from Germany and Italy. The Portuguese relief column under Schomburg met them at Montes Claros (17 June 1665). The Portuguese infantry and gun emplacements broke the Spanish cavalry, and the Spanish force lost over 10,000 men as casualties and prisoners. This was the last major engagement of the war. Both sides returned to skirmishing campaigns. Portugal, with the intercession of its English ally, had sought a truce, but after the Portuguese victory at Montes Claros and with the signing of a Franco-Portuguese treaty in 1667, Spain finally agreed to recognize Portugal's independence (13 February 1668).

The war proved costly to both sides. Portugal won its independence at a high price in terms of concessions it made to forge the alliances needed for its political survival. Its economy was damaged by reduced access to Spanish-American silver and colonial losses. The effect on Spain was difficult to calculate. The economy of Spanish Galicia and especially Extremadura were devastated, and the reputation of Spanish arms suffered badly. The war drained resources and men for almost three decades. It may well be true, as the historian R. A. Stradling has said, that the war with Portugal, "ended contributing more than any other single factor to the final dissolution of Spanish hegemony."

See also Portugal ; Spain .


Bouza Álvarez, Fernando. Portugal no tempo dos Felipes. Lisbon, 2000.

Livermore, H. V. A History of Portugal. Cambridge, U.K., 1947.

Magalhães Godinho, Vitorino. "1580 e a restauração." In Ensaios, 3 vols. Vol. 2, pp. 255292. Lisbon, 1968.

Stradling, R. A. Europe and the Decline of Spain: A Study of the Spanish System, 15801720. London and Boston, 1981.

Valladares, Rafael. La rebellion de Portugal, 16401680. Valladolid, Spain, 1998.

White, Louise. "War and Government in a Castilian Province: Extremadura, 16401668." Ph.D. diss., University of East Anglia, 1985.

Stuart B. Schwartz