Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Schwartz: Colonial Holdings Fueled Iberian Fires

September 14, 2010

Animosity between Portugal and Spain (as expressed in the saying, “never a good wind or a good marriage from Spain”) spiked after the Spanish Empire engulfed Portugal in 1580. But Portugal’s successful war of liberation that followed was prompted by factors both in and outside the Iberian Peninsula, said Yale Professor Stuart Schwartz at a talk at the Institute during the past academic year.

It was Spain’s failure to fully protect Portugal’s vital colonies that prompted the Portuguese Restoration War, Schwartz said.

“More than any single issue the colonial situation created a sense of crisis in Portugal,” he said. “Between 1640 and 1668, Portugal fought a global war of recognition… Brazil proved to be the element essential for victory.”

The expansive Lusitanian Empire, which spawned from Brazil to present-day Goa, India, generated enormous revenue for the Portuguese crown. Angolans in Portugal’s West African country were forcibly moved to Brazil to cultivate sugar, which was then traded for silver. 

But as the South Atlantic Empire grew indispensable in Portuguese eyes, rival nations also noticed their success, he added. 

“The Dutch had kind of singled out the Portuguese colonies as their major objective,” Schwartz said. “Portugal became an easy target.” 

The Lusitanian lost a number of strongholds, like the Bahia enclave to the Dutch in 1624. “All of this was perceived as a disaster for Portugal,” according to Schwartz.
But while the colonial crisis galvanized the independence movement—as well as fueling it monetarily—Portugal was also fortunate, Schwartz added. Had Spain not opted to tackle Catalonia’s contemporaneous rebellion before fighting the Lusitanian, Portugal may not have succeeded, he said. 

Schwartz spoke for the “Forty Years After Charles Boxer: Explorations in Early Modern Imperial History” lecture series, which was part of the “Early Modern European Empires” graduate seminar. His lecture was sponsored by the History Department, the Portuguese and Brazilian Studies Department and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. 

By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Alexandra Ulmer ’11