The Anglo-Portuguese alliance. An alliance - the oldest alliance to ever exist – is shared between two European countries - England and Portugal.
Dated back the treaty of Windsor on the 9th of May 1386, Edward the third of England and Ferdinand the first of Portugal signed the most enduring and durable pact in history. The treaty was signed by the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Portugal but has now succeeded to the modern United Kingdom and the Portuguese Republic.
To put it in perspective, the Anglo-Portuguese alliance has lasted 635 years and 26 days; or 33,136 weeks and 3 days; or even 231,955 days. And in those days, the world has seen countless conflicts and wars.
But what makes England and Portugal so peacefully connected, despite having completely different cultures?
Professor Edgar Prestage conveys in his journal article ‘the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance’ that the two countries shared similar norms many years before the treaty was signed, with “perennial trading and intermittent political relations existed” - noted to date back to the year 1147.
Moreover, in the years 1325 and 1326, Alfonso the fifth of Portugal sent two ambassadors “to arrange the marriage between one of his daughters and the future King of England”.
Therefore, since 1147, England and Portugal have been connected through relations, trade, and royal marriages.
Indeed, along with the political and royal relations between the two countries, both England and Portugal have supported each other through wars, which according to the University of Manchester’s Dr. David Bailey - a lecturer in Portuguese Cultural Studies- “Portugal might not be Portugal today without John of Gaunt”.
The Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt was an English prince who had married the daughter of the late King of Castile – an area in Spain. The Portuguese initially offered the special treatment for Duke of Lancaster that was to pass through Portugal so he could visit his daughter in Castille.
However, this may have been a move to protect Portugal from stronger European countries, as each country sought allies – Castille turning to the French, and Portugal turning to the English.
England and Portugal further supported each other in conflicts, including the seven-year war – a time in 1762 where Spain invaded Portugal, Britain allied with Portugal - and the Portuguese civil war – which the UK gave important liberal support to in the year 1828.
Nevertheless, the professor claims that in terms of power, the English have had an advantage of the treaty, with the Portuguese “having the unfair deal of the alliance”.
This is regarding an ultimatum given to Portugal by the Brits in 1890, which was to withdraw from modern-day Botswana and refrain from colonising Africa. Consequently, the ultimatum is said to be a prominent cause the Portuguese Republican Revolution, ending monarchy in Portugal 20 years later.
Reaching the 20th century, the countries further supported each other through wars including the first and second world wars. However, the fact that both countries did not ask each other for assistance meant that the alliance remained intact.
Britain’s major role in both world wars is no illusion, however, Portugal is often noted as the “hidden ally”, as its major diplomatic motives benefited not only both sides of each war – specifically the Second World War -, but more importantly the winning side in both wars.
In the First World War, Portugal helped the British to confiscate German ships in Portugal. This was met negatively by Germany, resulting in Portugal being allied with Britain in the war.
Nevertheless, during Second World War Portugal remained a balance for Europe, Dr. David Bailey further conveys that the Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar “in part cemented his popularity due to his diplomatic success in maintaining Portugal’s neutrality during the Second World War”.
“Salazar tried to appease both parties, the allies by giving them and the axis by selling them tungsten [a rare chemical element which Portugal had the most of]”.
The Portuguese also maintained an effort to appease Spain’s Franco, because “if Spain’s dictator had been brought into the axis, the war may have ended up differently”.
Furthermore, since the Second World War Portugal and the United Kingdom have each joined institutions that have overpowered alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union. These institutions combine several countries through an alliance or a political institution that can implement actions.
The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union may impact relations with Portugal through the European Union. In addition to Covid-19, forcing restrictions – that consistently change – and effect the Portuguese and Brits being able to freely travel, the question of what is next for the two nations is conscious.
However, especially in a time which the start of Brexit is creating tensions between Britain and the EU, and the world is being forced through a global pandemic, the UK and Portugal seem to be closer than ever.