Restoration Day

Today is December 1st, a national holiday in Portugal, marking the day in 1640 when Portugal regained its independence from Spain after 60 years of occupation. During that time, a good part of the lands discovered and colonized following the trail-blazing to Africa, India and Brazil was lost to the Dutch and the English. Technically, it was the Spanish crown that lost the empire, which they had acquired almost without a blow, when the Portuguese throne was left vacant in 1580.

As King John’s advisers had predicted in ‘The India Road’, there was no need for naval battles or fighting in faraway lands. And in those 60 years, much of the Portuguese navy was destroyed, partly through its participation in the ill-fated Spanish Armada. And the persecutions of Jews continued, following on from the sad events which began after King John’s death, and escalated thereafter. In 1622, Jews were forbidden to lecture at Coimbra University. And over those 3 generations the unrest grew.

By 1640, Portugal was ruled by Philip IV of Spain, or Philip III of Portugal, and again the House of Braganza conspired, but this time not to betray a Portuguese king. The story goes that when the Duke of Braganza was tapped at Vila Viçosa by a deputation of noblemen to lead the restoration of the Portuguese monarchy, he refused immediately, considering it to be the signature of his own death certificate. He was then presented with a simple choice: accept or die. As usual, it was a strong woman who tipped the scales – his Spanish wife, Isabel de Gusmao, told him: “Mais vale ser rainha uma hora que duquesa toda a vida.” Better to be queen for an hour than duchess for a lifetime.

Long periods of occupation and protracted wars were the norm in the days before the videobite. Public opinion, human rights and 4-5 year political cycles were not an issue. During Pero da Covilha’s journey down the Red Sea he recalls the words of the Assyrian king Sennacherib in 700 BC:

“…Because Hezekiah, king of Judah, would not submit to my yoke, I came up against him, and by force of arms and by the might of my power I took 46 of his strong fenced cities; and of the smaller towns which were scattered about, I took and plundered a countless number. From these places I took and carried off 200,156 persons, old and young, male and female, together with horses and mules, asses and camels, oxen and sheep, a countless multitude; and Hezekiah himself I shut up in Jerusalem, his capital city, like a bird in a cage, building towers round the city to hem him in, and raising banks of earth against the gates, so as to prevent escape…”

There are lessons here for those who do not learn from history, and are therefore condemned to repeat it. A great book in that context is the description of the 19th century British wars in modern-day Afghanistan:

“The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia”, by Peter Hopkirk. Get it from Amazon, I suspect it is part of the Long Tail, so booksellers would probably have to order it in.

The revolution of December 1st had its most emblematic moment in the royal palace in Lisbon, the Paço. Philip IV’s Portuguese representative, Vasconcelos, was found hiding in a closet, and promptly defenestrated. The good news is that he didn’t die from the fall, cushioned by the crowds below. The bad news is that he was then torn to pieces by the angry mob.

Restoration also has a culinary context, and the Portuguese celebrate this day in the usual restorative fashion – by going out for lunch.


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