The European Voyages of Exploration
Without the alliance between King João I, the Archbishop of Braga and Prince John of Gaunt, brother of the Black Prince, Portugal would probably have lost its independence to Castile. Central to that alliance negotiated by the archbishop and Prince John, was that John's daughter, Philippa of Lancaster, would be married to the 28-year-old King João I and become queen of Portugal. King João I was forced by necessity to agree to these terms although he had no intention of fulfilling his part of the agreement. Initially the king retreated to the country for two months with his mistress and their two illegitimate children, and sent back protestations that his monastic oath would prevent his ever contracting a marriage. John of Gaunt immediately produced a letter from the pope absolving the king of his vows of celibacy but the king continued to abscond from the marriage. On February 2, 1387 John sent the king a demand, delivered by an army of England's best troops, that the marriage take place at once or England would withhold from Portugal a loan that was desperately needed. King João I finally capitulated and later that month, on Candlemas Day, the Archbishop of Braga united the sullen king with the mortified princess in a resplendent ceremony. In public the royal couple played their parts but in private King João I treated his bride with churlish asperity. After the ceremony he left her at once for the camp of his army and plunged into the campaign against Castile.
Philippa was older than King João I by some years and had already been refused by several other royal bachelors, notably by King Charles VI of France and Albert, Duke of Bavaria. Despite these rejections Philippa would prove herself to be an extraordinary ruler and mother of a great empire. She had received a remarkable education as a girl studying under the Flemish poet Froissart, the foremost chronicler of medieval courts. Another of her tutors was the learned Friar John, the great pioneer in physics and chemistry, who presumably developed in her a sense of critical inquiry that was to become one of her outstanding characteristics. Her most beloved mentor was Geoffrey Chaucer, an intimate friend of her father's. Her father's confessor was the reformer John Wycliffe, Professor of Philosophy at Oxford and the first translator of the Bible into English. He also played a great role in moulding Philippa's young mind to be free of superstition thus enabling her to become a tolerant and enlightened leader.
King João I initially refused to accept Philippa as his wife because he felt forced to go through with the marriage. Thus he avoided her and sought solace between campaigns from his mistress in Lisbon. This situation reminded Philippa of her father's own mistress who dominated her childhood home at the detriment of her mother. Philippa was determined not to go through the same humiliating experience in her own household. She waited patiently until the king was away at the battlefront, and sent a group of clerics and knights to the house where his mistress lived. The mistress was then committed to an ancient convent of Santos where the king could not access her. Philippa took pains to make certain that her rival was treated with every respect and given a dignified establishment with an ample allowance. Philippa then adopted the king's two illegitimate children and reared them with her own children as they were born. By being so conscientious about the care of her husband's children Philippa became responsible for the founding of the bastard House of Braganza. Philippa's quality of character and integrity eventually gained her husband's respect and affection. She bore him ten children and made him a devoted husband and father by encouraging his taste for study and while discouraging his excesses.
Over the next two generations King João I delegated the administration of civil affairs to Philippa while he guarded the kingdom's frontiers. Philippa became the balance wheel of the kingdom, and quietly introduced many enlightened customs from Flanders and England. Because of her close relationship to the English throne Philippa was able to improve the diplomatic and commercial bonds between the two kingdoms. She was also able to improve internal relations between the Portugal's middle class and the aristocracy, as well as the relations between the Christian and Jewish communities.
By the year 1410 Philippa and João had ruled Portugal together for a quarter of a century, during which the kingdom had been constantly at war with Castile and the Moors. All trade, finance, and taxation were designed as war measures. The law at the time compelled every able-bodied man not serving in the armed forces to labour for a certain number of days per year on the walls and defences of his home town. In addition, all male non-combatants were required to serve some weeks annually in the watchtowers and observation posts on the inland borders with Castile and along the seacoast to defend against Moor raiders. The expense of this extended warfare and the lack of metallic material for coinage exhausted the royal treasury, forcing Philippa to issue a bizarre fiat money, in the form of leather tokens, as legal tender. The situation drastically changed in 1411 with a political change in the enemy kingdom of Castile.
With peace came the totally upheaval of Portugal's war economy. Thousands of soldiers, sailors, mechanics, and shipyard workers were thrown into unemployment. The royal councillors feared the danger of a civil war from the domestic turmoil of peace and suggested a foreign war as a diversion. Others advisors pushed for a resumption of hostilities against Castile. Another suggestion was to send an army to help the emperor of Austria against the Turks but King João I vetoed sending the kingdom's defenders so far away. It was Philippa who proposed sending an armed expedition to the Muslim kingdom of Fez in order to reach the kingdom of Prester John, the fabled African Christian ruler. Philippa believed that an alliance with him would give Portugal access to the Indian sources of spices and oriental products, thereby destroying the monopoly of Egypt and Venice over the spice trade. Although the majority of the royal council harshly criticised Philippa's proposal, history eventually proved her vision to be quite sagacious as her successors, King João II and King Manuel the Fortunate, both implemented similar policies of pursuing the Indian trade.
Philippa's proposal was not based on a whim but on facts inspired by her extensive readings of the most respected scholars of that age. These included the written account by the Greek historian Herodotus of a voyage around Africa from the Red Sea, south through the Indian Ocean, and north up the Atlantic to Gibraltar, made centuries before Christ by Phoenician galleys at the command of the Egyptian Pharaoh Necho. Philippa also studied the Roman historian Pliny who chronicled a southerly voyage along the southwestern African coast by a Carthaginian named Hanno. She was also aware of the voyages of Lief Ericson across the Atlantic to Greenland that led her to assume that the ocean could be traversed safely without fear of superstitious monsters. Philippa probably studied the popular account of Marco Polo's expedition to the Orient. All of these sources corroborated the personal testimonies of hundreds of Genoese, Venetians, Byzantines, Jewish, and Moorish merchants who all travelled along the eastern coast of Africa to the Malabar coast of India where they traded in the bazaars of Calicut. Using her vast knowledge the queen not only conceived of the bold plan of an invasion of North Africa, but she also painstaking worked to win political support for it among the royal council. On her suggestion, spies were sent to Ceuta, the centre of all North African trade activities, to report back concerning the feasibility of her plan. One spy returned with information about the great south central African market and the importation of gold through Timbuktu, the hub of that particular trade network. This was the first information that Europeans had about the source of Arab gold, until this point they had believed that the gold was brought from India. The importance of this discovery was immense because the Arabic states were the only suppliers for gold-starved Europe, now the capture of Ceuta became an even more attractive option since it could potentially save Portugal's crippled economy.
With this information Philippa believed that the Florentine bankers could be persuaded to finance her invasion, she was correct and the bankers joined the enterprise. Philippa now sought out the good will of the clergy and their assistance in winning popular support for the invasion. Once the blessing of Rome was secured, the queen had to convince her husband to authorise the undertaking. At this time King João I was tired of war and considered the stronghold of Ceuta impregnable. He flatly refused the lure of gold and religious glories. Philippa then enlisted the aid of her three oldest sons, all eager to win the spurs of knighthood, to convince their father. Eventually King João I yielded once he realised that his wife had managed to convince the majority of her former detractors of the logical and potential of her proposal.
It took three years of active preparation before the army and fleet were ready for the invasion. At this stage Philippa stepped aside to allow her husband and sons to take over the planning of the expedition. She was now over sixty years old and exhausted from the task of financing and assembling the expedition. Then disaster struck when Philippa contracted the plague and failed to recover. When she knew her end was near, she called her children to her. Upon her deathbed Philippa made her three oldest sons and daughter swear a solemn vow to carry out her dream of trying to gain an alliance with the kingdom of Pester John and through this gain access to the Indies. On July 25, 1415, the fleet of two hundred vessels dropped down the Tagus into the Atlantic Ocean and steered south; Philippa was dead, but they carried out her invasion and successfully conquered Ceuta.
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