Sebastian (Sebastião) of Portugal (1554–1578)

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Sebastian (Sebastião) of Portugal (1554–1578)

Sebastian (Sebastião) of Portugal (b. 20 January 1554; d. 4 August 1578), king of Portugal. Camões called him "the well-born hope" of the Portuguese; his nation remembers him as "O Desejado," the Desired One; yet Sebastian also became a symbol of the disgrace the Portuguese dreaded most: loss of their independence.

Sebastian succeeded his grandfather, Dom João III of Portugal, in 1557, and assumed his powers as ruler in 1568. Educated by the Jesuits, Sebastian had acquired a taste for religion; had developed the belief that he was to be Christ's soldier; and had dedicated himself to the goal of leading a crusade to rid North Africa of the Muslims. A succession dispute in Morocco that pitted Abd-al-Malik against his nephew Sultan Al-Mutawakki provided Sebastian with the pretext for launching his crusade. After collecting a force of Portuguese, Spanish, German, and Italian mercenaries, Sebastian invaded North Africa in June 1578. On 4 August, at Al-Ksar-al-Kabir in Morocco, in what became known as the Battle of the Three Kings, Sebastian's army was crushed by a vastly superior Moroccan force. During this battle, three "kings" lost their lives: Al-Mutawakki, Abd-al-Malik, and Sebastian. Sebastian was childless; after his death the Portuguese crown passed to his aged great-uncle, Cardinal Henry, the last monarch of the house of Aviz. After Henry died in 1580, the crown passed to Philip II of Spain, who was acclaimed king of Portugal in 1581; Portugal did not regain its independence until 1640.

The death of King Sebastian left a vacuum in the Portuguese soul that was filled by the illusion that the king was not really dead and that he would return to claim his throne and initiate a new golden age. "Sebastianismo" is the longing for the return of King Sebastian, a longing that crossed the ocean to Brazil and became part of that country's popular culture.

See alsoPortuguese Empire; Sebastianismo.


José Maria De Queirós Veloso, D. Sebastiao, 1554–1578 (1945).

José Timóteo Montalvão Machado, Causas da morte dos reis portugueses (1974).

Joaquim Verissimo Serrão, História de Portugal, 12 vols. (1978–1990).

A. H. De Oliveira Marques, História de Portugal, 3 vols. (1981–1983).

M. El Fasi, "Morocco," in Africa from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century, edited by B. A. Ogot, vol. 5 of the UNESCO General History of Africa (1992).

Additional Bibliography

Villacorta Baños, Antonio. Don Sebastián, Rey de Portugal. Barcelona: Editorial Ariel, 2001.

                                   TomÉ N. Mbuia JoÃo