- The Portuguese Revolution (1640-1668): A European War of Freedom and Independence by David Lewis Tengwall
In 1578, the young Portuguese king D. Sebastião was killed in battle in the Moroccan fort town of Alcacer-Quibir, a battle that historians generally view as foolhardy, particularly since the king left behind no heir apparent except for an ailing great-uncle, Cardinal D. Henrique, who died soon thereafter. Although there were a number of Portuguese pretenders to the crown, the most compelling claim came from Phillip II of Spain because he was son of Isabel of Portugal, daughter of the Portuguese king D. Manuel I (r.1495-1521), and husband of the late Maria of Portugal, daughter of the Portuguese king D. João III (r.1521-1557). Most importantly, Phillip had a formidable army which by August 1580 had marched across the border to Lisbon to ensure acquiescence. Thus began the sixty-year Spanish rule, occupation, annexation, captivity - the choice of label is open to debate - of Portugal, ending only in 1640 when a number of [End Page 257] Portuguese nobles rebelled in support of the Duke of Bragança who became D. João IV once he reclaimed the Portuguese crown.
As David Lewis Tengwall demonstrates in his book, taking the crown from the Spanish was relatively easy; maintaining it was another thing. The struggle for recognition of the Portuguese monarchy and Portugal's independence from Spain lasted twenty-eight years, and it is this tumultuous period in Portuguese history that Tengwall sets out to explain, at times in minute detail. The book begins with an interesting thesis as the author proposes that the change of the guard that took place in 1640 was actually a revolution and not a restoration, a rather peculiar position given that the Portuguese refer to the period in question as the "Restauração." This argument, in fact, may be one of the book's weakest points, for although Tengwall spends some time in the book's introduction to explain his position, and he attempts to put Portugal's "revolution" within the broader European context of "the century of revolutions," the argument falters in the ensuing narrative that essentially focuses on the myriad difficulties that D. João IV and his immediate successors had in attaining legitimacy in the European political stage.
Tengwall tells the story of the little country that could, and eventually did, albeit under some relatively favourable circumstances. Sometimes timing is everything, or nearly so. Supporters of the Duke of Bragança were able to storm the royal palace in Lisbon on 1 December 1640 because the Spanish military presence in Portuguese soil was minimal by then, and Spain was unable to retaliate immediately because its resources were already overextended with battles in Flanders, Germany, Italy, and Catalonia, in addition to commitments in its vast overseas territories.
On the one hand, one could stress the failure of the Spanish to maintain control of Portugal; on the other hand, one could highlight the abilities of the Portuguese to manoeuvre their way back into power, and the latter is Tengwall's objective. Unabashedly fond of his research subject, especially of King D. João IV, the author relishes the opportunity to showcase the new king as "a mild-mannered gentleman" (78) who was well placed to serve the Portuguese people during that initial period of transition. As the 8th Duke of Bragança, João was a direct descendant of Catarina, daughter of Duarte, who was son of the Portuguese king D. Manuel I, and thus the Duke was viewed by Portuguese nationals as the legitimate heir and the right man to replace the Spanish usurpers. Although some historians have portrayed João as "spineless, dithering, and apathetic," Tengwall contends that the new king was "cautious, calculating, and manipulative" (82).
According to Tengwall, not only was D. João IV a capable leader in his own right, the king was fortunate in having a shrewd companion with whom he consulted in all...