Overseas Council (Portugal)

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Overseas Council (Portugal)

The standing orders (regimento) of the Portuguese Overseas Council (Conselho Ultramarino) were drawn up and dated 14 July 1642, but a year elapsed before the council was officially created. The formal inauguration did not take place until 2 December 1643. By an alvará (royal decree) of 22 December, the king ordered that henceforth all official overseas correspondence be directed to the council. However, it was not fully functioning until the following year, when it took over most of the overseas responsibilities of the Council of the Treasury (Conselho da Fazenda), founded in 1591 during the reign of Philip II, first of the Hapsburg monarchs to rule Portugal.

In particular, the Overseas Council based its organization and regulations on the short-lived Conselho Da India (1604–1614). The Overseas Council had authority over all overseas possessions except North Africa and the Atlantic Islands of Madeira and the Azores. Initially, it was composed of a president who was always a member of the titled nobility, two councillors with military experience, a councillor with a law degree, and a secretary. All exercised voting power except the secretary. Later the number of councillors was increased. At times, the councillors themselves were serving overseas. In fact, all those serving on the council were expected to have had overseas experience. Therefore the number of members fluctuated, at times reaching six; initially, a quorum of three was required. The council met at the Royal Palace every morning (except for Sundays and holidays) from seven to ten o'clock in the summer and eight to eleven o'clock in the winter. Thursdays and Fridays were reserved for matters dealing with Brazil. One morning a week was also set aside to review petitions for rewards of overseas services and to make recommendations to the crown.

The council made personnel recommendations for most of the overseas positions in the administrative, fiscal, and military spheres as well as for the overseas bishoprics. The council both initiated recommendations to the king and consulted on problems handed them by the monarch. The members had authority over Portuguese America until November of 1807, when the royal court was transferred to Brazil. It is estimated that during that time the Overseas Council had approximately 13 presidents and 126 councillors, although several members never officially took office.

See alsoPortuguese Overseas Administration .


The only available study of the Portuguese Overseas Council is the brief one by Marcello Caetano, O Conselho Ultramarino: Esboço da sua história (1967). Because Salvador de Sá was named to the Overseas Council in 1644 and served on it until his death, Charles R. Boxer, Salvador de Sá and the Struggle for Brazil and Angola, 1602–1686 (1952) is also useful. For the Overseas Council's role in recommending Brazilian bishops, see Francis A. Dutra, "The Brazilian Hierarchy in the Seventeenth Century," in Records of the American Catholic Historical Society, 83, nos. 3-4 (1972): 171-186. A good example of the various kinds of issues handled by the Overseas Council is found in Luiza Da Fonseca, "Indice abre-viado dos documentos do século XVII do Arquivo Histórico Colonial de Lisboa," in Anais do Io Congresso de História da Bahia 2 (1950): 7-353.

Additional Bibliography

Bethencourt, Francisco, and Diogo Ramada Curto. Portuguese Oceanic Expansion, 1400–1800. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Silva, Maria Beatriz Nizza da. De Cabral a Pedro I: Aspectos da colonização portuguesa no Brasil. [Oporto, Portugal?]: Universidade Portucalense Infante D. Henrique, 2001.

                                         Francis A. Dutra