The direction of the Christian Reconquest

D. Afonso III and the Second Kingdom – the Algarve

For centuries before the Proclamation of the Portuguese Republic on 5th October 1910, the Algarve was considered to be the Second Kingdom of the Portuguese Crown.

Even though there was no practical difference from the rest of Portugal, the Algarve was a separate kingdom in its own right, and the term The Second Kingdom was essentially an honorific title for a particular region. No Portuguese king was ever crowned or acclaimed as King of the Algarve; it was always King of Portugal and of the Algarve, and after the conquest of parts of Northern Morocco in 1471, King of Portugal and of the Algarves.

The first Portuguese king to claim the title of King of Portugal and of the Algarve was D. Sancho I (1179 – 1211) after the successful attack on Silves in 1189. The custom of the time was that a conqueror should publicly lay claim to a conquest before someone else claimed it, and D. Sancho called himself either Rei de Portugal e de Silves, or Rei de Portugal e do Algarve. But he was not strong enough to keep Silves for more than two years, and after its loss his title went into abeyance for sixty years.

The Christian monarchs of Hispania had come to an agreement, possibly tacit, that they would co-operate in the drive southwards. In the Reconquest, Portugal would concentrate on the territory lying to the west of the Guadiana, while Léon and Castile reserved the territory to the east for themselves. Later in the fifteenth century, as the Reconquest moved into Africa, we find Portugal keeping to the west in Morocco, while Spain concentrated on the coast of North Africa to the east.

As Muslim Andalusia dissolved into smaller kingdoms, or taifas, in the first half of the 1200s, the Algarve was annexed by the Emirate of Niebla in southern Spain. Known to the Christians as Aben Mafom, the Emir of Niebla, Musa ibn Mahommed ibn Nasser ibn Mahfuz, referred to himself as King of the Algarve. At the same time, Christian conquests were proceeding apace in Andalusia. And in the 1230s, under D. Sancho II, the Portuguese military orders were making great progress southwards in the Alentejo, but the continuing hostility of the Pope and the church in Portugal undermined the efforts of D. Sancho to complete the conquest of the Algarve.

Much of the Algarve was conquered from the Muslims by the military knights of the Order of Santiago between 1240 and 1249. The great centres of Muslim power, Silves and Tavira, were already in Christian hands by 1249. By the time that D. Afonso III ascended the throne, only Faro, Loulé, Albufeira and Aljezur remained Muslim, and these areas had been physically separated from Niebla, which was not able therefore to offer practical support.

In 1249, the new king D. Afonso III and his forces entered the Algarve by way of Almodôvar and crossing the mountains, D. Afonso made straight for Faro (Santa Maria al-Harun, as its citizens called it). The Christian forces surrounded the town walls, while the royal fleet took up a position outside the gate which gave on to the Ria Formosa. The citizens made out that they were expecting reinforcements from Morocco, but when they appreciated that the Portuguese were able effectively to blockade the town, they immediately began to negotiate for surrender. The Portuguese king had gained the most important of the remaining Muslim towns after a brief siege, and with few losses.

The immediate advance on Faro was a fortuitous choice, since once it had been conquered by the Christian forces, it would be impossible for the towns of the interior to receive any reinforcements from Africa. Loulé, already exhausted by its position so close to the Santiaguista fortresses at Tavira, Salir and Paderne, found its ability to resist severely compromised, and without a great deal of effort on the part of the Christian forces, it fell into their hands.

There remained only Aljezur up in the north west, and Albufeira and Porches. It appears that Aljezur fell to a surprise attack mounted by Gonçalo Peres Magro, Santiaguista Comendador de Mértola, while Porches and Albufeira surrendered to Lourenço Afonso, Master of the Order of Avis. By this time, D. Afonso III had already returned the north. The next year he returned to the Algarve, where he divided the spoils of victory among his followers.

In the attempt to protect the remaining parts of his kingdom, the Emir of Niebla had become the vassal of the king of Castile, Fernando II, who became overlord to the King of the Algarve, and the probable assumption of the title by the king of Castile is what spurred D. Afonso III to make his way down to the Algarve as soon as he could to take control of the remaining Muslim territories. Then as now, possession was nine tenths of the law.

After a long struggle, Fernando II of Castile in 1248 had finally subdued and captured the Muslim city of Seville, and many of the surrounding smaller towns also capitulated. Fernando died in 1252, and his son Alfonso X immediately annexed the Emirate of Niebla and called himself King of the Algarve. There was an armed stand-off between Alfonso X (Castile) and D. Afonso III (Portugal) and war was averted only by the intervention of the Pope.

The two kings agreed that D. Afonso III would marry Alfonso´s twelve year-old bastard daughter Beatriz of Castile, which he did in 1253. Their legitimate son would become king of the Algarve when he reached the age of seven. In the meantime, the king of Castile would enjoy the produce of the Algarve. The problem was that D. Afonso III was already married. As a second son, D. Afonso had given up thoughts of inheriting his father’s crown, and in 1238 had married Matilda, the Countess of Boulogne (1202 – 1259) in Northern France as her second husband. By right of marriage, D. Afonso became Count of Boulogne, Mortain, Aumale and Dammartin-en-Goële, all areas in Northern France. In a foreign country, and dependent on his wife for his titles, perhaps D. Afonso felt undervalued and bored.

When in 1245 Pope Innocent IV decided to confront D. Sancho II, D. Afonso immediately answered the call. In May, 1245 Pope drew up a bill calling on nobles, knights, concelhos and communities to take a more worthy ruler, who was of course the virtuous Count of Boulogne. Anyone refusing was liable to excommunication.

The Portuguese pretender arrived in Paris, where he promised to restore the good old customs of Portugal and to set aside the bad innovations of his brother and father, to appoint honest judges, and to punish crimes against churchmen.

Although D. Afonso III became king of Portugal by promising obedience to the Pope, and to protect the interests of the church, his next moves put a question mark over his real intentions. First he completely forgot his lawful wife, and married young Beatriz. Justly accused of bigamy by Matilda, D. Afonso III was placed under a papal interdict, which was not lifted until 1263. In the meantime, Matilda died in 1258, and Afonso and Beatriz produced a daughter, Branca, and in 1261 the heir to the throne, D. Dinis.

Their third child was Infante D. Afonso, born in 1263 after the interdict had been lifted. Infante D. Afonso always had a bee in his bonnet that he was the first legitimate child of D. Afonso III. He later committed himself to opposition to D. Dinis, on the ground that Dinis was born out of legitimate wedlock, and that he, Infante D. Afonso was the legitimate king of Portugal. This claim led to armed conflict between him and his king on at least three occasions (1281, 1287 and 1291). Unsure of the loyalty of his brother, D. Dinis also removed Infante D. Afonso from the command of various castles on the Castilian frontier. The arms of Infante D. Afonso, and of the Spanish town of Niebla show that the idea of using Castilian and Leonese symbols heraldically was not confined to D. Afonso III.

D. Afonso III went on to pursue a similar trajectory to that of his late brother, D. Sancho II. He reclaimed much royal patrimony from the church. D. Afonso called the Cortes of Leiria in 1254 to discuss the status of the city of Porto, which had originally granted to the bishop by D. Teresa, mother of Afonso Henriques. The king had established a royal borough on the opposite bank at Gaia and there was continuing friction over tolls, and the unloading of merchandise.

Porto opposed the entry of royal officers, and the bishop appealed to the Pope to protect his ancient rights.

The king began a fresh set of inquiries to determine who improperly held royal patrimony, and yet again the clergy were offended, reminding the king of his promises to defend the church. Soon seven of the country’s nine bishops were in revolt and only the bishop of Lisbon supported the king. Five bishops went to Rome to complain of his misgovernment, whereupon he declared a crusade, and began to take the income of the five vacant bishoprics. Procrastinating successfully, he put off the Pope´s threat of deposition until 1278, after which he promised obedience, received absolution and then died. D. Afonso had hardly proved a docile instrument of papal policy, and he had behaved exactly like his deceased brother.

The question of the Algarve was discussed and settled between the two peninsular monarchs at the Treaty of Badajoz of 1267. Alfonso X of Castile gave up his claim to the Algarve west of the Guadiana in favour of his grandson D. Dinis of Portugal. Thus when D. Dinis became king of Portugal in 1279 on the death of D. Afonso III, he was also king of the Algarve, and the two kingdoms henceforward were held by the same monarch. Alfonso of Castile conquered the rest of the Emirate of Niebla in 1262, and among their many titles, the kings of Castile and Spain continued also to call themselves Kings of the Algarves until 1833.

There was yet another difficulty, which was resolved at the Treaty of Alcanizes in 1297, between D. Dinis of Portugal (1279 – 1325) and Fernando IV of Léon and Castile (1295 – 1312). Alcanizes is a tiny village in the Province of Zamora, and close to the Portuguese border at Bragança in the north of Portugal. The difficulty was the construction of a mutually agreed border. The two monarchs traded a dozen places each in order to establish one of the ancient borders in Europe. One of the towns traded by Portugal in this Treaty was Ayamonte, which together with Valencia de Alcântara, was exchanged for eight castles on the River Côa. These castles included the fortress of Almeida, which played such a prominent role in Portugal’s war against Napoleon Bonaparte´s France.

It has always seemed to me that the respect and memory accorded to D. Afonso III for the conquest of the Second Kingdom is more than a little overdone. The Knights of the Order of Santiago first made inroads into the Algarve during the reign of D. Sancho II; D. Sancho made possible the completion of the conquest by the immense gains he made in the Alentejo; and D. Dinis completed the negotiations with Castile. The sole achievement of D. Afonso III was the final conquest of an already weakened Muslim territory. Therefore the credit for the annexation of the Second Kingdom belonged as much to D. Sancho II as it did to D. Afonso III.

By Lynne Booker
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Lynne Booker, along with her husband Peter, founded the Algarve History Association. [email protected]

Entrance to the Castle of Aljezur

The direction of the Christian Reconquest
The hilltop fortress of Aljezur
The walls of Niebla
Water-gate in town walls of Niebla