Updated: February 20, 2023Published: January 4, 2023
Did Spain conquer Portugal? Some will say yes, others will say no, and others will tell you it’s relative. It depends on who you are asking!
There have been several events throughout history where the border lines between Spain and Portugal have been almost invisible.
After reading this article, you will be able to tell by yourself if the Portuguese-Spanish conflicts between the 12 and 19 centuries can be defined (or not) as conquest.
Some of the events between the monarchies of these two countries will remind you of your favorite medieval series, or at least that is what happened to me.
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Did Spain conquer Portugal?
In “A Short History of Spain and Portugal” by Standford University, historians describe the union between Spain and Portugal as a dispute of multiple claimants from which Phillip II was the strongest and fittest to rule.
“The strongest was Philip of Spain, who the Jesuits supported. A Spanish army under the Duke of Alva invaded Portugal, and after their victory at Alcantara, near Lisbon, in 1580, Philip was accepted as King of Portugal. For the next sixty years, Portugal was under Spanish rule, and her interests were subordinated to those of Spain” - Standford University.
But this is not the only time Spanish and Portuguese borders become invisible. Throughout history, there were years when Portugal and Spain were one, others where wars were fought because people liked one monarch more than the other, and even others when plans were drafted but never executed.
However, Phillip II’s proclamation of the crown is a historical event known as “conquest” because he entered or invaded Portuguese territory with his military to claim his legitimate title. In contrast, other Portuguese wanted a local on the throne. I will tell you the complete story in a bit.
There was a Portugal before Spain
What we know as modern-day Spain received its name in 1978 when it was officially registered in the constitution. However, before that, the territory was occupied by a great Empire, and before that, by a few powerful kingdoms, and even before that, by powerful civilizations.
But don’t worry; we won’t go that far in time!
Our starting point is the 8th century when the Moors occupied almost all of the Iberian peninsula except for the Kingdom of Asturias. The king at the time, Don Pelayo, was the founder of the Christian Kingdom of Asturias and the ruler responsible for the Reconquest.
In the 10th century, as the Reconquest advanced, the Kingdom of Asturias turned into Leon, which extended to the northern part of Portugal.
In the 12th century, Alfonso I, known for his conquest against the Moors, was named king of the county of Portugal. By doing that, he separated his territory from Galicia’s realm and formed the Kingdom of Leon.
So, by 1143, almost thirty years after Alfonso I became king, the Christians had recovered much of the region. The present kingdoms were Castille-Leon, Navarra, Aragon, Portugal, and Almoravid (Muslim rule in the south).
If you are interested on the Iberian peninsula, check this articles!
Portugal remained an independent kingdom through the 15th century, but there were four years when it almost lost its autonomous status. The latter was due to the War of Castilian Succession. Before I tell you the complete story, let me give you a little clue: imagine that it would have been Castile and Portugal instead of Castile and Aragon!
So, around the 1470s, King Henry IV of Castile had two possible successors to the throne after the loss of his son, his daughter Joanna (daughter of Joan of Portugal, who was also the daughter of the former Portuguese king) and his half-sister Isabel de I.
However, some people argued that Joanna was an illegitimate daughter of the king, and therefore the throne should be given to Isabel. At the time, Joanna was already married to Alfonso V, king of Portugal, and Isabel intended to marry Ferdinand II in line for the throne of Aragon.
Henry IV drafted a treaty that granted Isabel the throne but limited her choices of future husbands.
Nevertheless, Isabel went ahead and married Ferdinand in secret. And when Henry IV died, a war between the two possible queens exploded.
As was expected, each husband supported their wife in the war, but Alfonso V didn’t put enough resources into their military and lost.
The Treaty of Alcazoba ended the conflict; in this document, each marriage agreed to renounce the other’s throne and recognized the Portuguese colonies in South America.
So, this was the time when part of what came to be Spain and Portugal almost united. Imagine how that would have affected the future.
The War of Portuguese Succession and the Iberian Union
In 1578 the king of Portugal, Sebastian I, died in battle against the Moorish in North Africa. He left no heirs, and his immediate successor was his uncle, Henry I, “the Chaste,” who died two years later in 1580.
Again with no heirs behind, there were three options for the throne:
Catherine of Portugal, Manuel I of Portugal’s granddaughter, married John I, Duke of Braganza.
Antonio, the grandson of Manuel I, but considered illegitimate by society.
Philip of Habsburg, king of Spain, was also the grandson of Manuel I through the female line.
The strongest and eldest contender was Philip II, the legitimate heir to the throne. However, after the court had granted the official title to Phillip, Antonio proclaimed himself king of Portugal, unleashing a second war of succession.
The war lasted from 1580 to 1583, but Phillip II had already won it back in the ’80s when the duke of Alba, Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, successfully took over Lisboa. It is said that the conflict lasted until 1583 because Antonio launched his last attempt to recover the throne that year.
The union of Portugal and Spain under Phillip II is known as Iberian Union, which lasted sixty years.
Let us jump ahead to the 19 century. In a failed attempt by napoleon Bonaparte to invade England, he prohibited continental nations from importing products from them. Portugal ignored his commands honoring the long-term partnership with the English.
This was enough justification for Napoleon to launch an invasion. So, to get to Portugal, the French made a pact with their Spanish allies. French and Spanish troops invaded Portugal and caused the royal family to flee to Brasil.
However, this didn’t benefit Spain because the French took over their territory. The Penisula Wars lasted seven years (1807 - 1814) and took Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom to defeat the French Empire.
Napoleon’s invasion of Spain significantly impacted the control over the Latin American colonies. Spain lost control of all of them while fighting the French.
The artist, Francisco Goya, was so shocked by the attrocities of the French troops that he expressed it all in his black paintings. Two of them are the Battle of the Mameluks and the Thrid of May, check them out here:
Now you know all the Spanish attempts to take over Portugal. Oh! And we still need one! After WWII and the Spanish Civil War ended, historians found a document proving that Franco intended to invade Portugal while still figuring out if Spain should participate in the war.
There was never a full-on Spanish conquest in Portugal, but there were many royal overlaps and one invasion that didn’t work out for the Spanish.
Inigo Navarro is a seasoned travel writer with a deep understanding of Spain's cities, culture, people and language. Born and raised in Spain, he has spent years exploring the country and is currently one of the most-read Travel Bloggers about Spain. Inigo is also an experienced digital marketer, a father to 4 beautiful children and a huge Real Madrid Fan. ¡Hala Madrid!