1383–1385 Crisis

1383–1385 Crisis

History of Portugal

caption=Battle of Aljubarrota
The 1383–1385 Crisis was a period of civil war in Portuguese history that began with the death of King Fernando I of Portugal, who left no male heirs, and ended with the accession to the throne of King João I in 1385, in the wake of the Battle of Aljubarrota.

In Portugal, this period is also known as the "Portuguese Interregnum", since it is a period when no crowned king reigned.


In 1383, King Fernando I of Portugal was dying. From his marriage with Leonor Telles de Menezes only a girl, princess Beatrice of Portugal, survived. Her marriage was the major political issue of the day, since it would determine the future of the kingdom.

Several political factions lobbied for possible husbands, which included English and French princes. Finally, the king settled for his wife's first choice, King Juan I of Castile. The marriage was celebrated in May 1383, but was not a widely accepted solution. This dynastic union meant that Portugal would lose independence to Castile; many nobles were fiercely opposed to this possibility, but they were not united under a common pretender to the crown. The two candidates, both illegitimate half-brothers of Fernando, were:

* João, son of Pedro I of Portugal and Inês de Castro, at the time living in Castile
* João, Great Master of Aviz, another natural son of Peter I, very popular among the Portuguese middle class and traditional aristocracy

On October 22, King Fernando died. According to the marriage contract, dowager queen Leonor assumed regency in the name of her daughter Beatrice and son-in-law, Juan I of Castile. Since diplomatic opposition was no longer possible, the party for independence took more drastic measures, starting the 1383–1385 crisis.


The first act of hostility was taken by the faction of João of Aviz in December 1383. John, the count of Andeiro and lover of the dowager queen, was murdered by a group of conspirators led by João of Aviz. Following this act of war, João was now the leader of the opposition. With the help of Nuno Álvares Pereira, a talented general, he took the cities of Lisbon, Beja, Portalegre, Estremoz and Évora. In retaliation, King Juan I of Castile entered Portugal and occupied the city of Santarém. In an effort to normalize the situation and secure his wife's crown, he forced queen Leonor to abdicate from the regency and took control of the country.


The armed resistance met the Castilian army on April 6, 1384, in the battle of Atoleiros. General Nuno Álvares Pereira won the battle for the Aviz party, but victory was not decisive. Juan I of Castile then retreated to Lisbon in May and besieged the capital, with an auxiliary fleet blocking the city's port in the river Tagus, in a severe drawback to the independence cause. Without the capital and its riches and commerce, little could be done to free the country from the Castilian king. On his side, Juan I of Castile needed Lisbon, not only for financial reasons, but also for political ones—neither he nor Beatrice had been crowned, and without a coronation in the capital he was only a designated king.

Meanwhile, João of Aviz had surrendered the military command of the resistance to Nuno Álvares Pereira. The general continued to attack cities loyal to the Castilians and to harass the invading army. João of Aviz was now focused on diplomatic offensives. International politics played an important role in deciding Portuguese affairs. In 1384, the Hundred Years' War was at its peak, with English and French forces in a struggle for the crown of France. The conflict spilled beyond the French borders, and influenced, for instance, the Western Schism in a papacy only recently moved to Avignon from Rome. Castile was a traditional ally of France, so, looking for assistance in England was the natural option for João of Aviz. In May, with Lisbon under siege, an embassy was sent to Richard II of England to make a case for Portuguese independence. In 1384, Richard was seventeen years old, but the power lay with his uncle John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, and regent of England. Despite initial reluctance to concede men, John of Gaunt finally agreed to levy troops to reinforce the Portuguese army. These proved to be decisive.

Lisbon was struggling with famine and feared defeat by the Castilian siege. Blocked by land and by the river, the city had no hope of relief by the Aviz army, which was too small to risk an intervention and was occupied subduing other cities. An attempt was made by a Portuguese fleet to relieve the Castilian blockade. On July 18 a group of ships led by captain Rui Pereira managed to break the blockade and deliver precious supplies of food to Lisbon. The cost was high, since all the boats were lost and Rui Pereira himself died in the naval combat. Despite this minor success, the siege held on; the city of Almada on the south bank of the Tagus surrendered to Castile. But the siege was hard not only on the inhabitants of Lisbon: the army of Castile was also dealing with a shortage of food supplies, due to the harassment of Nuno Álvares Pereira, and the bubonic plague. It was the outbreak of an epidemic in his ranks that forced Juan I of Castile to raise the siege on September 3 and retreat to Castile. Weeks later, the Castilian fleet also abandoned the Tagus, and Lisbon avoided conflict.


In late 1384 and the early months of 1385, Nuno Álvares Pereira managed to subdue the majority of those Portuguese cities then in favour of the Castilian cause. Answering the call for help, English troops landed in Portugal on Easter Day. They were not a big contingent, around 600 men, but they were mainly veterans of the Hundred Years' War battles and thereby well schooled in successful English military tactics. Among them were a division of longbowmen who had already demonstrated their value against cavalry charges, as at Crécy,

With everything apparently on his side, João of Aviz organized a meeting in Coimbra of the "Cortes", the assembly of the Portuguese kingdom. There, on April 6, he was proclaimed the tenth king of Portugal, a clear act of defiance against the Castilian pretensions. João I of Portugal nominated Nuno Álvares Pereira Constable of Portugal and went to subdue the resistance still surviving in the north.

Juan I of Castille was not pleased. His first move was to send a punitive expedition, but the forces were heavily defeated in the battle of Trancoso in May. Realizing that he had to use force to solve the problem definitively, the king himself led an enormous Castilian army that invaded Portugal in the second week of June through the central north. An allied contingent of French heavy cavalry travelled with them. The power of numbers was on their side—about 30,000 men on the Castilian side versus 6,000 rebellious Portuguese. They immediately headed to the region of Lisbon and Santarém, the country's major cities.

Meanwhile, the armies of João I of Portugal and Nuno Álvares Pereira joined together in the city of Tomar. After some debate, a decision was made: the Castilians could not be allowed to besiege Lisbon once again, since the city would undoubtedly fall, so the Portuguese would intercept the enemy in the vicinity of Leiria, near the village of Aljubarrota. On August 14, the Castilian army, very slow due to its huge numbers, finally met the Portuguese troops, reinforced with the English detachment. The ensuing fight, the battle of Aljubarrota, was fought in the style of the battles of Crécy and Poitiers. These tactics allowed a reduced infantry army to defeat cavalrymen with the use of longbowmen in the flanks and defensive structures (like caltrops) in the front. The Castilian army was not only defeated, but decimated. Their losses were so great that Juan I of Castille was prevented from attempting another invasion in the following years.

With this victory, João I was recognized as the undisputed king of Portugal, putting an end to the "interregnum" and anarchy of the 1383–1385 crisis. Recognition from Castile would not arrive until 1411, after another Portuguese victory at Valverde, with the signing of the Treaty of Ayton-Segovia. The English–Portuguese alliance would be renewed in 1386 with the Treaty of Windsor and the marriage of João I to Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt. The treaty, still valid today, established a pact of mutual support between the countries. Indeed, Portugal would use it again against its neighbours in 1640, to expel the Spanish kings from the country, and again during the Peninsular War. The Anglo-Portuguese Alliance would also be used by England (succeeded by the United Kingdom) in the Second World War (allowing the Allies to establish bases on the Azores) and during the 1982 Falklands War.


*April – Infanta Beatrice of Portugal (only child of King Fernando) marries king Juan I of Castile according with the Treaty of Salvaterra de Magos
*October 22 – King Fernando dies: dowager queen Leonor becomes regent in the name of Beatrice and Juan I
*The resistance starts, led by João, Great Master of Aviz: occupation of several castles;1384
*January – Juan I of Castile invades Portugal
*April – The Aviz party wins the Battle of Atoleiros, but not decisively
*May – Lisbon is besieged by the Castilians; an embassy is sent to England
*July – A Portuguese fleet breaks the siege
*September 3 – Juan I and his army retreat to Castile
*Winter – Alvares Pereira and João of Aviz subdue pro-Castilian cities;1385
*Easter – The English allied troops arrive
*April 6 – João of Aviz is acclaimed King João I
*June – Juan I of Castile invades Portugal once again and in force, after the defeat of a punitive expedition in Trancoso
*August 14Battle of Aljubarrota: decisive Portuguese victory – end of the crisis

ee also

*Battle of Atoleiros
*Battle of Aljubarrota


*Gouveia Monteiro, João, "Aljubarrota—a Batalha Real" pt icon
*De Oliveira Marques, A.H., "História de Portugal" pt icon

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