Second Thoughts on the Anglo-Portugese Alliance 1661-1808

Port wine and a queen for England from Braganza - commercial and cultural links strengthened the alliance steadily during the Age of Reason.

When I was a schoolboy some seventy years ago I knew a history master who could always get a laugh out of his class by stating: 'Portugal has been described, quite correctly, as our oldest ally. She has also been described, equally correctly, as our worst'. Nor would it be difficult to find some Portuguese, whether schoolmasters or statesmen, who substituted 'England' for 'Portugal' in the foregoing assessment of what post-prandial speakers commonly extol as 'The Oldest Alliance'. For instance, in 1726 the Marquis of Abrantes declared that the Anglo- Portuguese Treaty of 1654 was 'the most pernicious ever made with a crowned head'. Anglo-Portuguese colonial rivalry in Nyasaland in the late nineteenth century nearly led to war in East Africa. The brusque (to put it politely) British Ultimatum of Janaury1890, provoked a violent out- burst of anti-British feeling in Portugal, gave a tremendous boost to the Republican Party there, and was largely responsible for the fall of the monarchy in October 1910.

It cannot be said that the Portuguese maritime discoveries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which brought the conquistadores from Ceuta in 1415 to Japan in 1543, aroused much interest in England. Thomas More's Utopia (1516) has a Portuguese Traveller as an interlocutor, but he is given a most un- Portuguese name, Hythlodaeus, and what he has to say about the discoveries is more fanciful than factual.

To read this article in full you need to be either a print + archive subscriber, or else have purchased access to the online archive.

If you are already a subscriber, please ensure you are logged in. 

Buy Subscription | Buy Online Access | Log In

Get Miscellanies, our free weekly long read, in your inbox every week