Melo e Castro, Martinho de (1716–1795)

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Melo e Castro, Martinho de (1716–1795)

Martinho de Melo e Castro (b. 11 November 1716; d. 24 March 1795), Portuguese diplomat (1751–1770), overseas minister (1770–1795). Born in Lisbon, Melo e Castro was a younger son of Francisco de Melo e Castro, Governor of Mazagão in North Africa (1705–1713), and Dona Maria Joaquina Xavier da Silva. His older brother, Manuel Bernardo de Melo e Castro, became the first and only viscount of Lourinha in 1777, after having served as governor and captain-general of Grão Pará and Maranhão (1759–1763). In his youth Melo e Castro followed an ecclesiastical career and studied at Évora and Coimbra. At what time he changed careers is not clear. From 1753 to 1755 he served as envoy to the Netherlands. The following year he was transferred to London, where he held the post of envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary from 1756 to 1762. In that latter year he traveled to France, where he represented Portugal as minister plenipotentiary at the peace talks at Fontainebleau (1762) and Paris (1763) that ended the Seven Years' War (1756–1763). Following the signing of the treaties, Melo e Castro briefly visited Portugal before returning to England, where he continued to serve as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary until 1770.

On 4 January 1770, he was named secretary of state for naval and overseas affairs, a post he held until his death in 1795. His correspondence during that twenty-five-year tenure is of great importance for understanding Brazil during some of the most critical years of its history. Jacome Ratton, the French-born but naturalized Portuguese merchant, industrialist, memoirist, and contemporary of Melo e Castro, described him as honest, though very stubborn and pro-English. He was well aware of the importance of Portuguese America. In 1779 he wrote: "Portugal without Brazil is an insignificant power." A strong opponent of mercantilism, Melo e Castro was in favor of monopoly companies, against "workshops and manufactories" in Brazil, and greatly concerned about the defense of Portuguese America and the extensive illegal trade carried on there. However, he was outvoted regarding the fate of Brazil's commercial companies, and the Company of Grão Pará and Maranhão lost its monopoly status in 1778, as did the Company of Pernambuco and Paraíba two years later. Melo e Castro was minister during the difficult period of adjustment in Minas Gerais in the aftermath of the gold boom. The Minas conspiracy of 1788–1789 was uncovered while he was in power.

See alsoTrading Companies, Portuguese .


Kenneth R. Maxwell, Conflicts and Conspiracies: Brazil and Portugal, 1750–1808 (1973).

Jacome Ratton, Recordaçoens … sobre occurrencias do seu tempo em Portugal … (London, 1813).

José Vicente-Serrão, "Melo e Castro, Martinho de," in Diccionário ilustrado da história de Portugal, vol. 1 (1985), p. 459.

                                      Francis Dutra

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Melo e Castro, Martinho de (1716–1795)

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