Biography of King of Portugal Sebastián I (1554-1578)

16th King of Portugal, posthumous son of the infante don Juan de Braganza and the infanta Juana of Austria, daughter of the Emperor Carlos V (1519-1556). Born January 20, 1554 in Lisbon, days after his father, and died August 4, 1578, in the battle of Alcazarquivir, Morocco. Controversial characters in Portuguese historiography, Sebastián I based all of his reign in deploying a quite illusory and aggressive imperialist policy for the military potential of the Kingdom in North Africa, where both he/she and flower and cream of the Portuguese nobility were annihilated by the Moroccan King Muley abd el-Melek. The political consequence of such disaster was the annexation of Portugal, two years later, the Spanish Crown ruled by his uncle Felipe II (1556-1598). This drama was a movement of Messianic kind in Portugal, the sebastianism, announcing the return of the young monarch, incarnation of the triumph of the highest moral values, to return to the Portuguese Empire to its former glory.

First years.

As a result of a series of consanguineous marriages between the Portuguese Crown and the castellana, don Sebastián, great-grandson of Queen Juana la Loca (1504-1555), inherited mental illness, manifesting itself in a mystical quest of glory to which subordinated all its actions. His birth was waited anxiously in the Lisbon Court, since, not carry out or thwart the birth of the infanta Juana of Austria, taking into account that on 2 January of the same year the Crown Prince died, the throne was in danger of being annexed into Spanish precisely by the dynastic agreements between both Crowns. On the death of his grandfather Juan III (1521-1557), don Sebastián was elevated to the throne under the direct Regency of his grandmother Catherine of Austria, counting only three years old. The Regency of the monarca-nino caused the first serious difficulties. The cardenal-infante don Enrique, uncle of the King, claimed his right to the throne, but Catherine of Austria managed to abort the project thanks to the more or less authentic provisions of Juan III, which had appointed as his successor his grandson and as regent to her grandmother. The first years of don Sebastián were marked by the education he/she received from his personal guardian, don Alejo de Menezes, who took care of the preparation of the child for their future duties as King.

For his part, Henry never give up efforts to intrigue against Catherine, at the same time trying to ensure his papal election in Rome and to protect the interests of the society of Jesus in Portugal. His work as a conspirator got the success expected in the year 1562, date in which Catalina resigned for health reasons of Regent, since he/she became the ambitious guy, who was to appoint two new tutors for the boy, choosing for delicate position two Jesuit, the brothers of the camera, the main of them being the father Luis de Gonsálvez camera. In the mood and inclinations of the young King, father Luis exerted an influence something pernicious and decisive, fed his exalted imagination conducive to carry out warriors dreams of cruzadista type very much to the taste of the Jesuit ideals. Don Sebastián ended up wanting to become a warrior in the service of the religion at the same time which abandoned the political preparation suitable for his future as monarch of a European power as it was still Portugal at those times, owner of a colonial empire and commercial negligible nothingness. The original ideal of don Sebastián as 'captain of God' was becoming, little by little, the proud conviction to be predestined to perform large and spectacular feats.

Don Enrique Regency came to an end of January 20, 1568, when the monarch met fourteen of dad. From this moment on, headed all the resources of the monarchy towards the fight against Islam in North Africa. The nobility Portuguese, wary of the notorious influence that Uncle Cardinal and the Jesuits were using about dreamy spirit of the heir to the throne, forced recognition of his majority of age and his coronation, Act which was carried out with the solemnity required in Lisbon, the same day as his birthday.

Reign of don Sebastián.

No more access to the throne of Portugal, the young King hinted his character traits so particular that they greatly worried the Court. At first, her impulsiveness, immaturity and little willingness to assume the tasks of Government that was predestined from birth, which left entirely in the hands of valid, many of them unable to so and little concerned about the political destinies of the Kingdom as it. Another aspect that alarmed nobles and Royal counselors was the fact that continue relish the idea of becoming a kind of upper monarch, played by Providence to perform divine missions in territories of infidels, as had the characters legendary and romantic that don Sebastián knew very well by their many hours of reading youth. The traditional Portuguese policy of expansion in Morocco served playing field to the warlike ambitions of the new monarch, but with a particularity, that only was interested in don Sebastián fight the infidels in the name of the Catholic faith, not with political intentions much less territorial or commercial.

But, without a doubt, the issue that most concerned the Court was nothing concealed dislike, or rather, the panic that don Sebastián felt by women. Don Sebastián was elusive to any type of loving inclination, type or nature that would be. His religious spirit induced him to imitate the ancient knights who made a vow of chastity. When the Court, anxious to secure an heir to the throne emphasized what is suitable and necessary of to marry, don Sebastián had no choice but to accept. But, once the talks were initiated for his marriage to Marguerite de Valois, sister of the French King Carlos IX (1560-1574), the difficulties encountered in the negotiations by the Crown of Spain, whose King Felipe II offered to the young King the Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia, served to don Sebastián appropriate pretext for reversing and remain unmarried as he/she wished.

In the year 1569, died his guardian Alejo de Menezes, who was his disciple written recommendations to carry out a balanced and coherent Government in the Kingdom, instructions which the increasingly crazy don Sebastián overlooked no less flush, maturing more and more in his mind the project become a champion of the Catholic faith among the infidels, fortitude you in his recent and dream victory that don Juan of Austria had achieved in the battle of Lepanto against the Turks. Even so, don Sebastián had to her around some valid and well prepared counselors who managed to implement positive measures, as it was to stimulate the National Merchant Navy, authentic base of the colonial economic clout of the Portuguese Crown. Anyway, the monopolies of the Crown in relation to the colonial produce in spite of great Governors of the likes of Luis de Ataíde, who knew how to enlarge the colonial Territories in the India were reduced during his reign.

Don Sebastián was visited by the Papal legacy, Cardinal Origen, who invited him to take part in a crusade against the Turks in Lisbon. Seeing arrival the occasion and that he/she hoped both of linking his name to a warlike undertaking such as that offered by the Holy Father, don Sebastián began immediately to prepare the Portuguese troops doing part of the feat to the French monarch Carlos IX, to which don Sebastián promised to marry his sister Margarita de Valois if it agreed to join him in the companyas well as providing the amount of 400,000 ducats against the Huguenots of his Kingdom. The French monarch declined the offer because the French Princess was promised to Enrique de Navarra (future King Henry IV). The terrible massacre of Huguenots in the sadly known Noche de San Bartolomé, night from 23 to 24 August of the year 1572, commanded ruined the hopes of don Sebastián going to France in service of the faith to annihilate heretics.

Wanting to realize once and for all his ideals of cross, don Sebastián led an expedition to Morocco in the year 1574. On July 19, don Sebastián departed from Lisbon at the head of an armed contingent, without the minor military readiness and plan of campaign. In his absence, don Sebastián named the Henry Cardinal Regent of the Kingdom. Once in Moroccan lands, the Portuguese troops reached Ceuta and then Tangier, but the superiority of the Moroccans, the lack of reinforcements from Portugal and the dangers that it was going through the Kingdom because of his absence, they did withdraw their projects temporarily and immediately return to Lisbon on 25 October of the same year.

The idea of returning to North Africa was made in the King a real obsession. With a view to establish an alliance with the Crown of Spain against Morocco, don Sebastián commissioned one of his Chief advisors, don Pedro de Alcáçova, to meet with the Spanish monarch, his uncle Felipe II, who did not see with good eyes the project of the Portuguese conquer Larache. Don Sebastián autoconvenció of the Spanish monarch was trying to talk him out of envy for his name to appear in a company that had to report him everlasting glory. Enslaved by their only don Sebastián cruzadista desire in North Africa, was prepared to conscience when arrived the right time to return to Africa. Meanwhile, don Sebastián subjected his body to a real physical punishment with idea of harden to the company that awaited him. The moment it just finally came when the Kingdom of Morocco was involved in a bloody civil war between the two pretenders to the throne: on one hand Muley Muhammad, expelled from the throne, and his uncle, the usurper Abd el-Melek. The efforts made by Felipe II to dissuade his nephew in an interview that both monarchs took place in Guadeloupe, were entirely useless, just point that took place with the warnings of the total majority of the most powerful political forces in the Kingdom: the Council of State, the queen Doña Catalina, Cardinal don Enrique and Castilian ambassadors.

Death of don Sebastián.

Firm in his determination to reach the glory and fame as a "soldier of Christ", on 24 June the year 1578 left don Sebastián in the port of Lisbon, under the command of an impressive army of 800 ships and about 18,000 men, which included flower and cream of the Portuguese nobility. After landing in the town of Arcila, the Portuguese contingent headed to Larache with determination. But on 4 August were surprised by the troops of Abd el-Melek, faced both armies in the plains of Alcazarquivir (Alcáer Qibir). Almost all of the Portuguese troops were literally torn the Warrior impulse that showed the Muslim troops, the King himself, whose disfigured body was driven to Portugal to be buried in the monastery of Belém resulting died in the fray.

The legacy of don Sebastián: the sebastianism.

The death of the King III brought about serious inheritance and dynastic problems to Portugal. After two years of brief reign by Henry the Cardinal, in the year 1580 the country became part of the Spanish Crown from Felipe II, as a Kingdom in its huge territorial Empire. This fact, which awoke the nationalist yearnings asleep between the Portuguese, and fed the mysterious legend woven around the disappearance of the adventurous monarch, to which many believed still alive and hidden somewhere away until his return in which supposedly would recover the throne, created the myth known with the name of sebastianism millennial.

Doubts raised about if in reality had died or not, more the spirit of the time, helped create the legend that the King would appear from one moment to another, circumstance was exploited by all characters laya to make with the Portuguese throne and undo the supervision exercised by the Spanish Crown. Among many imposters that emerged out of nowhere claiming to be sadly defunct monarch, we highlight two. The hermit Mateo Alvares, known with the name of King of Ericeira, suffered the suggestion of the Portuguese people to stop believing being the true don Sebastián and who had been in Africa. Sublevadas Mafra and Ericeira populations for their cause, Spanish authorities beat both peoples and the lunatic impostor, sentenced to death in the year 1589. Marco Tulio Catironi, of Calabrian origin, took advantage of his great physical resemblance with the unfortunate King, advised by fray Esteban de Sampaio, attempting to lead a movement against Spanish domination. Expelled from Venice, he/she was made prisoner in Florence and condemned to the gallows in Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

Finally, suffice it to say that the figure of don Sebastián has served as argument and inspiration of a number of literary and operatic works, highlighting its relevance drama Calderón de la Barca the constant Prince, the ODE for the loss of the King don Sebastián de Fernando de Herrera and self-confessed traitor and martyr of José Zorrilla.


DANVILA, Alfonso: Felipe II and the King don Sebastián de Portugal. (Madrid: Ed. Espasa-Calpe. 1954).

FRANCO, António Candido: Life of Sebastião, rei do Portugal. (Lisbon: Ed. Plubicacoes America. 1993).

PINTO, Paulo Jorge: Do direito ao Empire em don Sebastiâo. (Lisbon: Ed. Universidade Livre. 1985).