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A lasting allegiance

Ties that last  - Portugal and Britain - a very abridged history!


The alliance  between England and Portugal is the oldest alliance in the world that is still in force – which originated with the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1373

English aid to Portugal went back to 1147 when English crusaders – en route to the Holy Land to participate in the Second Crusade helped Portuguese King Afonso Henriques to take Lisbon from the Moors.

In 1386, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and son of King Edward II of England came to Portugal on his way to reclaim Spain. To further seal the Anglo-Portuguese alliance he left behind his daughter, Philippa, to marry King John I of Portugal. She provided royal patronage for English interests that resulted in trade in codfish, cloth, wine, cork, salt and olive oil.

The alliance was disrupted when a 60-year dynastic union between Portugal and Spain interrupted the alliance when Portuguese foreign policy became tied to Spanish hostility to England.  After the breakup of the Iberian Union the alliance was reconfirmed because of England and Portugal’s rivalries with Spain, the Netherlands, and France.

The Seven Years War (1754-1763) was sparked by the colonial disputes of England and France in America. British victory in colonial America remarked the decline of France, eventually leading to Napoleon’s ascendance. Napoleon restored France’s position as a dominant power and the series of wars that became known as the Napoleonic Wars.

Portugal’s alliance the England irritated Napoleon. Britain was finding new opportunities for trade with Portugal's colony in Brazil, the Royal Navy used Lisbon’s port in its operations against France, and he wanted to deny the British the use of the Portuguese fleet. His irritation resulted in the  Peninsular War[c] (1807–14) was a conflict between Napoleon’s empire and the allied powers of Spain, Britain and Portugal for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars.

The war started when French and Spanish armies invaded and occupied Portugal in 1807. Emperor Napoleon sent orders on 19 July 1807 to his Foreign Minister, to order Portugal to declare war on Britain, close its ports to British ships, detain British subjects and sequester their goods. The Portuguese resisted and Napoleon was told that Portugal would not go beyond its original agreements. In 1808 France turned on its former ally Spain escalating the conflict, initiating what became known as the Peninsula War. The war lasted until Napoleon was the defeated in 1815.

The conflict pitted two of Britains most famous commanders Wellsley and Wellington against Napoleon and his Marshal Nicolas Soult. Battles raged from Andalusia to Salamanca. Portugal’s Targa and Douro Rivers became highways as the French, British, and Portuguese forces fought through Portugal and into Spain. British and Portuguese forces eventually secured Portugal, using it to launch campaigns against the French army in Spain. Spanish armies and guerrillas tied down vast numbers of Napoleon's troops. Attacks and counter attacks continued through years of stalemate.

In Spain and Portugal, the populace endured great hardships, becoming suspicious of foreigners and skilled in banditry and smuggling. Conditions during this time are starkly illustrated by the comments of a British Major General - “ "We paint the conduct of the French in this country in very harsh colors, but be assured we injure the people much more than they do ... wherever we move devastation marks our steps”. Desertion was common in the armies and the guerrilla forces.  Hardships and bleak conditions lead commanders to fear that at any time soldiers might turn on the populace with the utmost savagery. The Peninsular War is regarded as one of the first people's wars, significant for the emergence of large-scale guerrilla warfare. Politicians and publicists exaggerated the activities of the guerrillas and elevated them to the status of national heroes, fueling nationalist sentiment.

Napoleon said of the conflict, "It was [the Spanish war] that overthrew me. All my disasters can be traced back to this fatal knot”. By intervening in Spain and Portugal, Napoleon involved himself in a struggle that would have been difficult to win at the best of times: so intense was the national spirit of these two countries, the French armies were confronted by a veritable people's war.

Portugal successfully navigated the First and Second World Wars as a neutral country. The neutrality was tinged with support for the Allied forces as the Azores served as naval and air bases for English and American forces.

It is a calm country. The 1974 change in government was called “The Carnation Revolution” because carnations adorned the rifles of soldiers and police in a wholly peaceful governmental transition.

Like many European countries the ensuing governments have been highly socialist resulting in the country requesting a bailout from the EU/IMF. Austerity measures have been working, and today the country is experiencing significantly better economic conditions.

Today Portugal has a more European view than Britain. It hasn’t experienced the waves of immigrants that have upset social order and is more bound to its European neighbors for trade and financing than England. The centuries old influence of good relations with Britian pervades Portugal like a second language. So while contemporary politics may influence who your friends are the Portuguese and British are highly unlikely to do anything to upset an alliance which has been in place for 944 years!