Portuguese Overseas Administration

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Portuguese Overseas Administration

Portuguese Overseas Administration (Casa da India and Conselho da India). Within two decades after the Portuguese conquest of Ceuta in 1415, a Casa de Ceuta was established in Lisbon to arm and provision Portuguese North Africa. Later in that century, as the Portuguese worked their way southward along the coast of Africa, similar institutions were established. By 1445, in the Algarve seaport of Lagos, an agency had been established for the trade with Arguim. A few years later, another was created in Lagos for trade with the Guinea coast. The latter, called the Casa da Guiné, was eventually transferred to Lisbon. Early in the reign of King João II (1481–1495), as the crown sought to tighten its control over exploration and mercantile activity along the west coast of Africa, its title and jurisdiction were enlarged to include Mina on the Gold Coast. By late 1501, after the return from India of the expeditions of Vasco Da Gama and Pedro Álvares Cabral, a Casa da India was established in Lisbon.

As the sixteenth century progressed, the Casa da India became the main institution for administering overseas activity. The history of all those administrative entities was marked by frequent reorganizations and a variety of additional designations, such as the sixteenth-century ones of Casa da Guiné e India, the Casa da Mina e Indias, and the Casa da Guiné, Mina e India. The Casa da India served many functions: it was a customhouse; the crown's private trading agency; the superintendent of such crown monopolies as gold, spices, and brazilwood; and a supply house for all the crown's overseas expeditions. By the early sixteenth century the casa was located on the ground floor of the royal palace on the Lisbon waterfront.

In 1486 a Casa dos Escravos with its own officials was established and attached to the Casa da Guiné e Mina. Staffed by different personnel, but working closely with the Casa da Guiné e Mina and eventually with the Casa da India, was the Armazém da Guiné, later known as the Armazém da Mina e India. Headed by a provedor, the Armazém was responsible for the construction, outfitting, and manning of overseas shipping. The same provedor was also in charge of the nearby Armazém dos Mantimentos and the Armazém das Armas, which provisioned and armed shipping destined for the Portuguese overseas. A judicial official, the juiz da Guiné e India (judge of Guinea and India), had jurisdiction over the Casa and the Armazém.

In 1509, the agencies supervising overseas activity (which now included Portuguese America) were reorganized and granted a new regimento, or set of standing orders. In 1516, King Manuel I (r. 1495–1521) enacted major financial reforms and named three vedores da fazenda (overseers of the treasury). Among their many responsibilities were overseas finances and the careful supervision of overseas trade. In 1527, King João III (r. 1521–1557) increased the number of vedores da fazenda to four. During that monarch's reign, three mesas (boards) and tribunals of finance (one of which was responsible for India, Mina, Guinea, and Brazil) evolved. Under King Sebastian (r. 1557–1578), the three individual mesas were united under one mesa da fazenda with a separate department for Portugal's holdings overseas. In 1584, the new Hapsburg monarch of Portugal, King Philip II (r. 1580–1598), divided the mesa da fazenda into three, with one of the mesas having jurisdiction over India, Mina, Guinea, and Brazil. Seven years later, a second major financial reform was instituted. By a decree dated 20 November 1591, Philip II created a Conselho da Fazenda (Treasury Council) for Portugal. Initially headed by a vedor da fazenda who served as president, the council also had four councillors (two of whom were letrados with law degrees) and four secretaries. The council's jurisdiction was divided into four repartições, with one of these covering India, Mina, Guinea, Brazil, and the islands of São Tomé and Cape Verde. During the next five decades the Conselho da Fazenda underwent a number of organizational modifications.

The most important change took place in 1604, when many of its overseas responsibilities were transferred to a new tribunal, the Conselho da India (Council of India). With its regimentodated 25 July 1604, the new council was established to govern the Portuguese overseas empire. The Council of India had a president, four councillors (two military men and two letrados, one of whom held a degree in canon law), and two secretaries. Though the Conselho da India had broad powers, the Conselho da Fazenda retained control of a number of its earlier responsibilities. Bitter rivalries with the Portuguese Conselho da Fazenda, the Desembargo do Paço, and the Mesa da Consciência e Ordens doomed the Conselho da India to a short lifetime. On 21 May 1614, King Philip III ordered its extinction. Within several months the Conselho da India's responsibilities were restored to the tribunals that earlier had held them. Most of the functions of the Conselho da India were taken over by the Conselho da Fazenda until 1643. In December of that year, the newly created Conselho Ultramarino (Overseas Council) took responsibility for all the overseas matters previously under the jurisdiction of the Conselho da Fazenda and the Conselho da India.

See alsoConselho da Fazenda; Portuguese Empire.


A survey of Portuguese overseas administration with a focus on the Council of India is found in Francisco Paulo Mendes Da Luz, O Conselho da India (1952). Very useful is the doctoral dissertation of Joseph Newcombe Joyce, Jr., "Spanish Influence on Portuguese Administration: A Study of the Conselho da Fazenda and Habsburg Brazil, 1580–1640" (University of Southern California, 1974). A brief summary of the history of the precursors of the Overseas Council is found in Marcello Caetano, O Conselho Ultramarino: Esboço da sua história (1967). Also valuable are the three articles by Maria Emília Cordeiro Ferreira in the Dicionário de história de Portugal entitled "India, Armazém da"; "India, Casa da"; and "Mina, Casa da." For discussion of the sixteenth-century economic reforms, see Virginia Rau, A Casa dos Contos (1951). The text of the 1509 reorganization and subsequent reforms is found in Damião Peres, ed., Regimento das Cazas das Indias e Mina (1947). A revision of the Regimento da Casa da India was prepared ca. 1630. A transcription of the manuscript (from Spain's Archivo General de Simancas) and an introduction can be found in Francisco Mendes Da Luz, Regimento da Casa da India, 2d ed. (1992). John Vogt, Portuguese Rule on the Gold Coast, 1469–1682 (1979), provides a good description of how the Casa da Guiné e Mina operated.

Additional Bibliography

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

Fragoso, João Luís Ribeiro, Maria Fernanda Bicalho, and Maria de Fátima Gouvêa. O Antigo Regime nos trópicos: A dinâmica imperial portuguesa, séculos XVI-XVIII. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2001.

                                          Francis A. Dutra

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