House of Braganza

House of Braganza
House of Braganza

The House of Braganza (Bragança) in Portugal began in 1640 when João IV, formerly duke of Braganza, took the throne. The country had been controlled by the Spanish, and João’s action set off the war for Portuguese independence.

The restoration dominated his reign and that of his sons, Afonso VI (1658–68) and Pedro II, princeregent (1668–83) and king (1683–1706). The end of the war with Spain in 1712 allowed João V (1706–50) to focus on the creation of an absolute monarchy.

In 1640 Portugal was under Spanish control. The last Portuguese king, Sebastião, had died in 1578 and the two crowns united under Philip II of Spain (Philip I of Portugal). After years of discontent with Spanish rule, a group of provincial nobles convinced the duke of Braganza to accept the renascent Portuguese throne in 1640.


The duke was the largest landowner in Portugal and overlord of some 80,000 people. He was crowned João IV on December 15, 1640. Philip IV of Spain, absorbed with mounting setbacks in the Thirty Years’ War and facing internal revolts such as the Catalan uprising, was unable to reconquer Portugal immediately.

The new Portuguese king was neither a brilliant nor a particularly charismatic figure. He was cautious and stubborn and had relatively modest ambitions. His position was not to be envied. The break with Spain created a host of political, economic, and religious problems.

Spanish influence with the Holy See and Pope Urban VIII ensured that Rome would not recognize the new dynasty. By 1668, 20 of the 28 dioceses in Portugal and overseas had no legal prelate. Militarily, João IV’s first task was to withstand the Spanish counterattack. The dismal state of Portugal’s defenses made this difficult.

Border fortifications had lapsed into disrepair during the Habsburg period, the army was virtually nonexistent, and the once vaunted navy was in disarray. As a result, João adopted a largely defensive stance. João died in early November 1656, with the work of securing the dynasty and what remained of the empire still very much in doubt. This task would fall to his wife and sons.

Luísa de Gusmão was the sister of the duke of Medina Sidonia. Intelligent, ambitious, and unafraid of the implications of the break with Spain, she had demonstrated more support for the plot against the Habsburgs in its initial stages than had her husband.

The revolution of 1649 had given her royal status and she was determined to maintain the future of her children and the dynasty. At home her main political problem related to the immediate succession.

She had borne the king three sons: Teodosio (b. 1634), Afonso (b. 1643), and Pedro (b. 1648). From 1640 Teodosio had been groomed to succeed his father but he died of illness in 1653. Therefore, upon João’s death, Afonso, a child of 10, was next in line to the throne.

One of the most enigmatic figures in Portuguese history, Afonso had evidently suffered some type of paralytic seizure early in life that left his right arm and leg partially paralyzed and may also have affected his thinking. He also displayed a profound lack of good judgment.

Although the Cortes of 1653 had proclaimed Afonso the legitimate heir upon his brother’s untimely death, there was considerable opposition to crowning him three years later. In the end, a compromise was reached. Afonso VI was proclaimed nine days after his father’s death, while Luisa ruled as regent.

Palace of the Dukes of Braganza
Palace of the Dukes of Braganza
During her regency, the queen shared power with a group of conservative nobles who dominated the Council of State. She pursued policies at home and abroad that largely followed the priorities established by her husband.

Unfortunately for her, the political, economic, and societal pressures engendered by the Spanish offensives of the years 1661–62 combined with increasing difficulties relating to the continuation of the regency to end her governance. In the spring of 1662, she was deposed by Afonso. She retired to a convent, where she died in 1666 without fully reconciling with her son.

The regency had done little to prepare Afonso for the demands of kingship. An impulsive and rebellious man, he spent most of his time riding, watching dog and cock fights, and carousing in the seamier districts of Lisbon.

By 1667, his more restrained brother Pedro wanted both power and Afonso’s wife, Maria-Francisca of France. On November 23, Afonso signed a document under pressure that surrendered royal authority to Pedro and his legitimate descendants.

The Cortes recognized Pedro II in January 1668. He served as prince regent in deference to his imprisoned elder brother until 1683 and then became king until 1706. Pedro established peace with Spain in 1669 and began the age of absolutism in Portugal by never summoning the Cortes after 1698.

João V (b. 1689), who took the throne in 1706 at the age of 17, was the son of Pedro and his second wife, Maria-Sophia-Elizabeth of Neuberg. An absolute monarch who saw Louis XIV as model, João spent considerable sums to glorify both Portugal and his reign.

In 1742, he suffered an illness of the chest that effectively stopped his days as an active ruler. The country slid into decay. When João died on July 31, 1750, he was succeeded by his son, José I.