Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
HOW PORTUGAL BECAME A GREAT KINGDOM
 PORTUGAL is the most westerly country in Europe. It is a narrow strip of land bordered on its
northern and eastern frontiers by Spain, to the west and south by the Atlantic Ocean, and
is, roughly speaking, about the same size as Ireland. It is a country of many contrasts,
of barren rocky mountains with deep gorges and valleys, of bleak and treeless moor-lands
and wind-swept plains, of sand-dunes, and bold, rugged headlands. A land also of
vineyards, orange and lemon trees, of pine-forests and cork-woods, chestnuts, oak and
eucalyptus, of olive groves and fruitful fields.
It is one of the smallest countries in Europe, but its early history is a long romance—the
story of a little nation with a great heart. Were it not so, the Portugal of to-day would
not exist at all.
Long, long ago, it was inhabited by men of the Celtic race; later on we read of it as
 the great Empire of Rome, and later still, as being overrun by Germanic tribes, Vandals,
Alans, Suevis, and Goths. In the eighth century came the Moors from the North of Africa,
and about the middle of the eleventh century Ferdinand "the Great" of Castile conquered
the northern portion, and founded the "countship" of Portugal, as the country was to be
henceforth called; and the Counts of Portugal became great feudal lords who owed
allegiance to Spain.
There followed many years of fierce warfare with the Moors, who wished to regain their
lost possessions, and the Spanish King, Alfonso VI., at last appealed for aid to the
chivalry of Christendom, to help him in his battles against the Mohammedan warriors. Among
the knights who joined his army was Count Henry of Burgundy, who distinguished himself
greatly, and afterwards married one of the King's daughters, Theresa, and became Count of
Portugal, and it is their son, Alfonso Henriques, born in 1111, who, in 1140, declared
himself independent of Spain, assumed the title of King, and became the greatest hero of
his country. He did so much for it, and his memory is still so highly honoured, that I
must tell you just a little about him.
He was only three years old when his father died, and his mother acted as Regent till he
was seventeen, when he took over the government himself. An
 old record tells us that at that time he was "a skilful and valiant knight," and "of very
comely presence." He had, what is more, the dash and enterprise, the sound judgment, and
the grace and courtesy of manner of a born leader of men.
He had already seen a great deal of fighting, and had earned the honour of knighthood when
only a little lad of fourteen. The young Count found himself ruler of a land consisting
chiefly of mountains, forests, and heaths, and surrounded by enemies. In the north and
east he had to fight against the power of Spain, in the south he waged incessant war
against the fanatical followers of Mohammed, but he gradually drove them back, till his
"heroic exploits were the theme of the wandering troubadour in every Christian Court in
The capture of Lisbon, Santarem, Evora, Beja, and many other towns and strongholds, added
more and more to his fame, and it is pleasing to learn that it was by the help of some
English Crusaders, who were on their way to the Holy Land, that after several failures he
at last succeeded in taking the strong citadel of Lisbon.
As the King advanced in years, he deputed his son Sancho to carry on the fighting, and
devoted himself to the internal administration of his country, dispensing justice,
granting charters to many of
 his towns, laying down boundaries, and, in fact, doing all he could to promote the welfare
of his subjects.
There is one scene in the life of Alfonso Henriques which I think you would like to hear
about—the last great exploit before his death, which occurred the same year.
The Moors had gathered together a vast army, and had besieged Santarem. Sancho and his
troops had done their best, there had been many bloody encounters, but at last the
overwhelming numbers of the enemy began to tell, and the hard-pressed garrison were on the
point of surrendering, when in the distance a large force of mounted men was seen riding
furiously to the rescue. Nearer and nearer they came, the well-known banner of many a
Christian knight waving in the breeze, and at their head rode the grand old King.
Worn out as he was by years of warfare, bowed down by age, and suffering from the effects
of countless wounds received in his country's cause, this old man of seventy-four, on
hearing of his son's peril, had led his knights by forced marches from the very furthest
corner of the kingdom.
With the help of the now rejoicing garrison, who sallied out to join in the fray, he
entirely routed the enemy, slew their leader, and drove the scattered host back over the
Tagus and across their own frontier.
 It is little wonder that with such a leader the people grew into a brave, chivalrous, and
The curtain may be dropped for a time, to be raised again on the scene of a great wedding,
which was solemnized at Oporto in 1387 with much pomp and splendour, between King John I.,
surnamed "the Great," and an English Princess, Philippa, daughter of John of Gaunt, and
the granddaughter of our own King, Edward III.
Not quite two years earlier, at the Battle of Aljubarrota, Dom John, the first King of the
House of Avis, had gained a great victory over the Spaniards, who had disputed the
independence of his country, and here again we read of 500 English archers fighting on the
side of Portugal, and doing yeoman service. Eight months later the Treaty of Windsor was
signed, the first great link between England and Portugal, binding them to stand by one
another, and in fulfilment of which John of Gaunt, accompanied by his wife and two of his
daughters, landed at Corunna with 2,000 English lances and 3,000 archers. His expedition
against Spain proved successful, and ended in one of his daughters being given in marriage
to the heir to the Spanish throne, and the other to King John of Portugal.
From this time, when English blood first flowed in the veins of the Royal House of Avis,
 real power of Portugal. From an obscure little country, she rapidly became a powerful
nation, with possessions and colonies in every quarter of the globe, and it was one of the
sons of our English Princess, Henry, surnamed "the Navigator," who did so much to help on
the explorations and discoveries which were to make Portugal one of the greatest colonial
Powers in the world. In the course of twenty-four years—between 1497 and 1521—during the
reign of Emanuel, "the Fortunate," her explorers sailed eastward round the coasts of
Africa and India to the East Indian Islands, Siam, and China, and westward to the Brazils,
and through the Straits of Magellan out into the Pacific Ocean.
It was a period of great deeds performed by gallant men, and just as mariners and soldiers
bore high the honour of their country abroad, so also did the statesmen, poets, and
chroniclers at home. Lisbon became the centre for all the commerce of the East. The trade
of the Spice Islands, of Africa, Persia, India, China, and Japan, all passed through it,
and it was the time of Portugal's highest prosperity and power.