Part 1 . During the Burgundian Dynasty
Mediaeval Europe consisted largely of a patchwork of small monarchies, principalities and city-states which were cemented together by a complicated system of marital union between royalty and nobility whose fecundity often produced generations of “bastard relations” who competed in a “game of thrones”. Papal authority was accepted as being supreme and its approval of the many unions and alliances (and their dissolution) was often delegated to national archbishops who themselves were supported by private armies and the wealth of church estates.
The Iberian peninsular consisted of five Catholic monarchies in the north : from west to east Portugal, Léon-Galicia, Castille, Navarre and Aragon while the entire south was ruled by the Islamic dynasty of the Almohades.
Portugal was led into nationhood by the remarkable king Afonso Henriques who, at the age of 17 seized power from his mother, Teresa of Léon. She had derived her wealth and power by accepting her half-sister, Urraca, as suzerain. A year after the Battle of São Mamede (1128) he proclaimed both independence from Léon and himself as Prince of Portugal . He then embarked upon campaigns against the Moors which culminated in the great victory at Ourique (1139) and his receiving the crown of a now fully independent state.
The young king, with only meagre resources, was unable to continue his campaigns against the Moors who firmly controlled the south of his realm as far as Lisbon and Sintra until, in 1147, a fleet carrying one thousand knight/crusaders anchored in the mouth of the Douro. Afonso´s powerful counsellor, archbishop João Peculiar, persuaded a group of English (140) , German (120) and Flemish (40) warriors to join the siege of Lisbon in return for the right to plunder the Moors and to ransom their captives. After a siege lasting four months , this alliance eventually proved to be successful but not after much bickering concerning the positions to be attacked and the division of spoils.
Some of these crusader-marauders accepted an invitation by King Afonso to become resident in his kingdom as a household militia whose loyalty was sworn directly to the crown. Gilbert of Hastings became bishop of the Lisbon see while others were nominated for courtly positions and all received tracts of land or property. In 1189 a contingent of English and Flemish members of the third crusade made a bargain with King Sancho 1 to conquer the city of Silves from the Moors. This they did but the crusaders looted and pillaged the twenty thousand Portuguese inhabitants causing a great disorder. A year later King Richard 1 (the Lion Heart) detached six hundred of his English troops to relieve the siege of Santarem by the Moors. In both instances , some of these “holy warriors” opted to join their brethren of forty years earlier as servants of the crown.
This anglicisation (initially of a military nature) increased in the ensuing years of the Burgundian dynasty and led to the formation of the first “chambers of commerce” in the principal ports of Porto and Lisbon to encourage the trade with England which Portuguese merchants had commenced in the 11th century . In 1294 a Treaty was signed by King Edward 1 of England and D. Dinis 1 which ratified such commerce. Expansion was encouraged by providing free timber from the royal forests of Leiria for the construction of ships greater than one hundred tonnes which could be used for both commerce and war.
Throughout Europe these were turbulent times . In 1295 the kingdoms of Scotland and France created “the auld alliance” for mutual military and commercial assistance and in 1297 the Treaty of Alcanizes (almost) set the frontiers between Portugal and Castille-Léon which were in alliance with France. As a result England was hemmed in by enemies to the north, east and south so it made political sense to increase its overtures of friendship with the Portuguese who included in their nation a small but influential English community . These converging political interests were brought to a head by a formal Treaty signed in 1369 between France and Castille which placed the large fleet of the latter at the disposal of the former in its war against England.
The English countered this by proposing a closer alliance with Portugal which would also further the dynastic claim of the Duke of Lancaster (John of Gaunt) to the throne of Castille. In July 1372 at Braga, João Andeiro , ambassador to the English court, and Lancaster concluded terms but these were put on hold because of a row between Henry II of Castille and Fernando 1 concerning succession to their thrones and his marriage (which had been proposed in the Treaty of Alcoutim) to a Castilian princess. War broke out and the army of Castille entered Portugal to capture Coimbra thus forcing king Fernando to sign a treaty of peace at Santarem in March 1373 which made Portugal subservient to Spain and an enemy of king Edward III of England. However, having received a firm promise from Lancaster of military and naval assistance and the distraction of Henry II with rebellion and war in other quarters, Fernando I perfidiously signed , six months later, a Treaty with England´s king Edward III which sealed mutual military and commercial cooperation.
The consequences of this Treaty of 1373 will be dealt with in Part 2 : From the Treaty of Windsor to Modern Times