Acclamation of D. João IV

How does a nation extract itself from an unwanted union?

On May 23, 1618 in Prague, the chief Protestants of Bohemia threw out of the window three Catholic regents of the Holy Roman Emperor. And on December 1, 1640, The Forty Conspirators, dissatisfied with the Iberian Union, defenestrated the Portuguese secretary of the Spanish vicereine. These events make the Brexit process seem relatively civilised.

The public holiday celebrated on December 1 marks the resumption of independence of Portugal in 1640 after 60 years of rule by the Crown of Spain. This holiday is the oldest civil holiday in the Portuguese calendar, and the most important.

The Restauração da Independência was first celebrated in 1823 by D João VI, who had returned to Portugal only three years earlier, after spending almost 12 years in Brazil as a refugee from the invading French armies.

The celebration of independence was important for three reasons: first, Portugal was again home to her own monarch; second, Brazil had just declared her independence from Portugal (September 7, 1822) and Portugal was asserting her own independence; and lastly, Portugal had recently emerged from 11 years of military domination by the British.

Unexplained difficulties that year caused the celebration to be held on December 3 in the Picadeiro Real (the riding school – nowadays the National Coach Museum) of the Palácio de Belém.

Lots of important people were invited, from foreign ambassadors to navy and army officers – “As pessoas mais conspícuas da Capital, de todas as jerarquias” (the most notable people in the Capital, from all social orders). There was a sumptuous supper, followed by a ball which lasted until dawn.

The day commemorates the seizure of the crown of Portugal by the Duke of Bragança, after a coup d’état of Os Quarenta Conjurados (The Forty Conspirators).

The Iberian Union had been founded in 1580 following the deaths of the Portuguese kings D Sebastião (1578) and his uncle D Henrique (1580). The heir to the throne was Felipe II of Spain, later followed by his son and grandson of the Habsburg dynasty.

Why did the Portuguese want to break up the Iberian Union? Felipe II had promised to the Portuguese Cortes that he would respect Portuguese institutions and appoint Portuguese to offices of state in Portugal, and that the Portuguese Cortes would determine the rate of taxation in Portugal. But Felipe’s grandson, Felipe IV of Spain, influenced by his minister the Count-Duke of Olivares, was determined to centralise the administration of the combined monarchy.

By the 1630s, Olivares was replacing Portuguese with Spaniards in the government of Portugal; Portuguese nobles lost places at the Spanish court; Olivares demanded Portuguese financial help for his war policy, in spite of the apparent Spanish unconcern at the Dutch occupation of Brazil.

The last straw concerned the Revolt of Catalonia which broke out in 1640. Portuguese notables refused the summons to support the Spanish Crown against Catalan rebels, and seized the opportunity themselves to rebel.

Egged on by Cardinal Richelieu of France, The Forty Conspirators took advantage of the fact that half of the Spanish army was in Catalonia on the other side of the peninsula, and the other half was in Northern Europe participating in the Thirty Years War.

On December 1, The Conspirators stormed the palace of the Vicereine Margaret of Savoy, Duchess of Mantua, and took her prisoner (she was the cousin of Felipe IV, and grand-daughter of Felipe II).

The Conspirators searched the palace for her hated Minister, the Portuguese Miguel de Vasconcelos, and eventually discovered him hiding in a cupboard. First, they shot him and then defenestrated him from an upstairs window. The eighth Duke of Bragança was acclaimed D João IV, and he immediately assumed his regal powers.

The whole of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire approved the change of regime with one exception, the original overseas conquest of the Portuguese in 1415. The city of Ceuta chose to remain with Spain, but its municipal flag is illustrative of Portugal’s role in its history.

The annual celebration of December 1 as a public holiday dates from the second half of the 19th century, and it has survived the First Republic, the Estado Novo and the aftermath of the Carnation Revolution.

Less than a week after the Implantation of the Republic on October 5, 1910, the Provisional Government abolished all religious holidays and permitted only five national public holidays.

December 1 was one of them, and it was the only civil holiday which originated under the monarchy, and which was carried over into the new Republic, and which survives today.

It is traditional to celebrate this holiday in the Praça dos Restauradores in Lisbon, in common with the Dia da Bandeira (Day of the Flag). The new National Flag was presented to the nation at the same ceremony which celebrated the Restoration of Independence on December 1, 1910.

Following the Implantation, the only years in which December 1 was not a week-day holiday were 2013-2015, when as a part of the austerity programme in Portugal under the Passos Coelho government, the holiday was transferred to a weekend. It was re-established on December 1 by the Socialist government headed by António Costa.

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

Acclamation of D. João IV
Arrest of the Duchess of Mantua
Defenestration of Vasconcelos
Flag of Ceuta