Biography of King of Portugal Juan II (1455-1495)

Portuguese monarch born in Lisbon of May 5, 1455 and died October 18, 1495 in Alvor. He reigned from 1481 to his death. He was the initiator in Portugal of a monarchical politics strongly centralist, preceding of the modern State which would reach its shape defined in the reign of his successor, Manuel.

Eldest son of King Alfonso V and his first wife, Isabel of Coimbra, was associated with power from a young age. In 1464, from his father to a campaign in Morocco, Juan was in charge of the Government as Regent. In January 1471 he married his cousin Eleanor, daughter of the Duke of Viseu in Lisbon. In 1475, when his father went to Castile to defend rights of inheritance of his wife, the Princess Juana, call la Beltraneja - daughter of Henry IV of Castile, Juan was in charge of the Regency. In January of the following year he joined the army of his father at the battle of Toro, in which the Portuguese were defeated by the Spaniards of the party of the Queen Isabel, which concluded in this way the Castilian succession war. Juan maintained the Regency as his father traveled to France to seek the support of Luis XI in its claims to the Castilian throne. In 1477 came letters to the Portuguese court announcing that Alfonso V had decided to take habits and relinquishing the Crown in favor of his son. Juan II was acclaimed King in Satarem on 27 September of that year. However, a few weeks after Alfonso V returned unexpectedly, overruling their previous abdication. Although Juan would not be King of right until his father's death in 1481, from 1477 he in fact ruled the Kingdom, while Alfonso V remained retired into a monastery.

Interior of Juan II policy was oriented towards the strengthening of monarchic power versus disruptive trends of the high nobility feudal and, especially, outside the home ducal de Braganza, whose power meant a constant threat to the Crown. In 1483, Juan II accused the Duke Fernando, head of the Braganza, of conspiring with Castille against her and ordered his execution and the confiscation of the immense property of the lineage. The following year it was discovered a new conspiracy, led by the Duke of Viseu, brother of Queen Eleanor, whose murder ordered the King. Attempts to rebel to depose him noble party led Juan II to take tough measures of repression in 1484. Most of the ringleaders of the noble side were condemned to death, exile and the loss of their property. The Elimination of the aristocratic opposition allowed King to strengthen badly weakened, monarchical power during the reign of Alfonso V.

Juan II developed a paternalistic view of power, which can be considered a forerunner of the modern monarchical absolutism. The motto adopted by the monarch - a Pelican, animal symbolizing the attachment to the parenting - evidence this characteristic of its political attitude. Its willingness to strengthen the monarchical institution in an authoritarian sense manifested itself also in limited calls to cuts made by the monarch (Evora, 1481 and 1490;) Satarem, 1482 and 1483), always motivated by the need for subsidies or loans of the representatives of the Kingdom. The position of hinge of the reign of Juan II between the medieval feudal monarchy and the modern authoritarian monarchy is also evident in the fact that King kept an itinerant court - as it was the custom in the middle ages - and, however, to pass long periods on their favorite places (Évora, Santarém and Lisbon).

One of the main efforts of the monarch was foreign policy. From 1474, when he was still Regent, he directed the Atlantic expansion of Portugal, trying to constantly deal with the Spanish penetration in waters of the Gulf of Guinea. Heir to the adventurous tradition of King Henry the Navigator, Juan II covered numerous exploratory trips along the West African coast, as the Bartolome days, who managed to bend the southern tip of Africa, baptized by the King as the Cape of good hope.

Its Atlantic policy was based on the doctrine of the mare clausum, "closed sea" whose domain belonged entirely to Portugal. This resulted in a continuing tension with the Castilian monarchy, whose lines of the expansion were, until the end of the 15th century, in open competition with the Portugal. This conflict resulted in the Treaty of Toledo in 1489, by which both monarchies agreed to the partition of the Atlantic in two expansion areas separated by the parallel of Canary Islands. Despite its entrepreneurial nature, Juan II dismissed the project which, in 1484, presented to him by Christopher Columbus, who sought to reach the East Indies by the West. Upon returning to the Peninsula after his first trip to America, Columbus stopped in the Portuguese court to realize their success and reprimand indirectly to Juan II by the mistrust that had shown him previously. The opening of the horizon of the westward expansion that was the discovery of the new world led to the signing of the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), which meant an important diplomatic to Juan II triumph, by ensuring Portugal expansion of vast territories of South America (Brazil) and the hegemony of the route to the East Indies by the African coast.

Its policy toward the Western Christian kingdoms was also determined by Atlantic interests. The main objective of the monarch in this area was to strengthen ties between Portugal with the States of their environment, in order to avoid foreign conflicts that may clog the Portuguese maritime expansion. This policy also included Castile, whose monarchy Juan II tried to strengthen ties through the wedding of his son, the infante Alfonso, with Princess Doña Isabel, eldest daughter of the Catholic monarchs. This marriage, held in Evora, in 1491, did conceive hopes of Juan II of a future unification of the Iberian crowns under the Portuguese cane. But the project was truncated by the premature demise of the infante Alfonso.

The final phase of his reign was marked by the succession problem, which became the main concern of the King. From his marriage with Doña Leonor was born in 1475 the infante Alfonso, which went all hopes of perpetuation of the dynasty. The King had also an illegitimate son, don Jorge, who recognized and gave a careful education at the Court. Expectations to ensure the legitimate succession were dashed after it, in 1483, the Queen had an abortion. Therefore, the death of Alfonso - caused by a fall from the horse - meant a hard blow for the King. This weighed the possibility of recognizing as heir to his illegitimate son, he had made away from the Court by not increasing tension that erupted in its relations with the Queen after the death of the infant. Doña Leonor intended that the succession on the shoulders of his brother don Manuel, Duke of Beja, to which the monarch was opposed in principle firmly.

The depression that caused the death of his son was added from 1494 worsening of dropsy suffering. In September 1495 he issued Testament, by which it appointed successor to the Duke of Beja. In their final wills even made mention of the Queen, who at that time lived separately. He died on 18 October in Alvor, at the age of forty, after a terrible agony, accompanied by his son don Jorge. He ran the rumor - picked up by the chroniclers - that had been poisoned, although this idea has been rejected by the modern historiography of his reign.

The facts of Juan II were narrated in the Chronicle of the King don Juan of Rui de Pina and the Chronicle of the life of the exemplary King don Juan de García de Resende, both contemporaries of the monarch. According to these authors, Juan II was a man of a severe nature and little given to flattery, harsh treatment and more rigorous than pious. It was, without a doubt, a skillful and pragmatic politician that he put the raison d ' état to any other consideration. The achievements of his reign in order to strengthen the monarchical and the Portuguese maritime expansion earned him the nickname of the perfect one.


Garcia DE RESENDE, Chronica to tratta da life, and grandissimas virtues and benefits... Chrsitianissimo D. Joao (Coimbra, 1902).

RUI DE PINA, Chronicle of King Dom Johan II (Coimbra, 1950).