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State visit remembered

IT WAS, from today’s perspective, an odd visit for the head of state of one of the world’s most important democracies to be making, but in 1957 that was exactly what the British government allowed Queen Elizabeth II to do. For the first time since the reign of Edward VII, a British monarch visited Portugal.

At that time Portugal was a semi-fascist dictatorship, under the firm grip of Antonio Oliveira Salazar, whose secret police tortured and imprisoned political opponents in Peniche Fortress and had murdered and overthrown its own monarchy.

However, Portugal did have a symbiotic political relationship, stretching back some 600 years to the Treaty of Windsor (1387).

For a variety of strategic, geo-political and commercial reasons that relationship had been maintained ever since, with notable landmarks including the 1895 state visit of King Dom Carlos to London, the 1899 Ancient Treaties Reaffirmation, 1903 state visit by King Edward VII, the 1943 Azores Agreement and the 1940 visit of the Duke of Kent representing Britain at the 800th anniversary celebrations of the Foundation of the Portuguese State and 300th anniversary ‘Restoration’ celebrations to mark Portuguese Independence from Spain.

In 1957, between February 18 and 20, Queen Elizabeth II made her first visit to Portugal, disembarking from the Royal Yacht moored in the Tagus.

The Portuguese state spared no expense, buying a carriage and Rolls Royce especially for the occasion. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were accomodated at Queluz National Palace, entertained at a banquet at the Palácio Nacional de Ajuda, and visited the Monasteries of Santa Maria, Alcobaça and Santa Maria da Vitória in Batalha.

Ultimately the visit reinforced important strategic ties between the two countries when Britain and the US needed Portugal and the Azores as part of NATO, following the success of the Russians in World War Two, as well as strategic support over Gibraltar, which Franco’s Spain wanted back.

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