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Maria de Portugal (1521–1577)

Maria de Portugal (1521–1577)

Infanta of Portugal . Name variations: Maria of Portugal. Born on June 8, 1521, in Lisbon; died on October 10, 1577, in Lisbon; daughter of Manuel I the Fortunate (1469–1521), king of Portugal (r. 1495–1521), and Eleanor of Portugal (1498–1558); half-sister of João also known as John III, king of Portugal; never married; no children.

Maria de Portugal was born on June 8, 1521, in Lisbon, the daughter of Portuguese ruler Manuel I and his third wife, Eleanor of Portugal , who was the sister of Emperor Charles V. Maria's father died when she was only a few months old, and soon thereafter, in 1523, Charles insisted that Eleanor marry Francis I. Eleanor went to France to live, forced by the Portuguese to leave Maria behind.

Maria de Portugal received an outstanding education at the Portuguese court and proved herself intellectually precocious. She mastered Latin, played the harp and organ, and discussed literature, mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy with celebrated intellectuals. Some scholars have speculated, without offering conclusive evidence, that she inspired some parts of Luis de Camões' Os Lusiadas, the great classic of Portuguese literature.

She inherited her mother's Portuguese properties, and John III bestowed other riches upon her. Meanwhile, her mother Eleanor of Portugal attempted to arrange a marriage for her with a Frenchman, including the dauphin, as a means of ending their separation. On other occasions, negotiators proposed her marriage to the Austrian Habsburg Maximilian, Ferdinand of Guise, and Philip II of Spain, following the death of his wife Mary Tudor . John III frustrated all the negotiations, however, because of his reluctance to lose control of Maria's tremendously rich dowry. As a result, she never married.

Maria and her mother met on the Spanish-Portuguese border at Badajoz in 1558, but she returned to spend the rest of her days in her royal palaces in Portugal. Known for her charitable donations to religious houses and hospitals, Maria died in Lisbon on October 10, 1577. Twenty years later, her remains were moved to the convent of Our Lady of Light, which she had established during her life.


Vasconcelos, Carolina Michaëlis de. A Infanta D. Maria de Portugal (1521–1577) e as Suas Damas. 2nd ed. Lisbon: Biblioteca Nacional, 1994.

Kendall W. Brown , Professor of History, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

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