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War & Peace: Dom João I

The military successes (and failures) of Dom João I of Portugal.

João I reigned as the 10th king of Portugal, succeeding Fernando I in 1385. As the naturalized son of Pedro I and a Galician noblewomen, his ascension to the throne represented the beginning of the Aviz dynasty. His coronation came during a time of conflict with the Castilian crown, who had sought authority over Portugal during a period of anarchy following the death of Fernando. It could be said that turbulent relations with Portugal’s Iberian neighbours defined João’s reign.

João is commonly referred to as ‘the good’ or ‘the great’ by the Portuguese, due primarily to his victories over the Moroccan Marinid Empire in Ceuta as part of the Reconquista. This accomplishment, combined with the death of rival claimant to the Portuguese throne Juan I, ensured peace with Castile. However, this was not before João had helped provoke war between the two nations.

In 1387 João married Philippa of Lancaster in a political act intended to protect his claim to the Portuguese throne. Philippa was the daughter of John of Gaunt, the uncle of the King of England, who himself had a claim on the Castilian throne. By marrying Philippa João strengthened the existing Anglo-Portuguese alliance and entered into John of Gaunt’s campaign against Castile. This proved a poor political move. John of Gaunt had a history of military failures, notably leading the disastrous 1373 Great Chevauchée in France. His efforts in Iberia ended similarly, with many English troops succumbing to disease before an eventual retreat. João I demonstrated poor judgement by placing such faith in an unreliable ally, and it is possible that if it were not for the death of Juan I of Castile in 1390, Portugal would have fallen to Spanish rule far earlier than 1581.

It is safe to say that João’s great successes were in peacetime. His marriage to Philippa of Lancaster resulted in the flourishing of the House of Aviz, most notably their son Prince Henry the Navigator. João’s victory in Ceuta also gave the Portuguese a foothold in the Atlantic from which to launch the Portuguese Discoveries, which resulted in the discovery of Madeira and a golden age of Portuguese prosperity.

Short Bio

Josef Butler is a volunteer from London. History and Politics graduate from the University of Leicester. Currently living in Funchal and collaborating with University of Madeira Students’ Union as part of the History Tellers programme.


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