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The revolt of Portugal

Sunrise over an older part of Lisbon / the

Sunrise over an older part of Lisbon / the

The first king of this tiny country, washed by the Atlantic, and blessed with fine seamen, navigators and harbours, was Alfonso I, in 1139, but the Portuguese Empire as such began in the fifteenth century. Portuguese ships were making voyages of discovery right round the world. Perhaps her immediate neighbour, Spain, felt that Portugal should belong to her, and by 1580 she did. This situation, most unpopular with the Portuguese, lasted from the above mentioned date until 1668. The French invaded in 1807, and the monarchy was overthrown. Most of the Empire vanished with the loss of Brazil, Goa and Macao.

That union of crowns in 1640 brought nothing but unrest in Portugal, partly because the people quickly noted that Spain was not ready (or able) to defend and protect the vast Portuguese possessions overseas. When troubles started up (again) in Cataluña, powerful Portuguese were encouraged to gather round the standard of the Duke of Braganza. They proclaimed him King Joao IV during an uprising in the capital, Lisbon in December, 1640, which ended with the murder of the Spanish Viceroy Vasconcellos. This was a serious mistake, for Vasconcellos was a personal friend and confidant of the all-powerful Conde-Duque de Olivares, the Spanish minister who managed Spain for the King. No-one, perhaps not even the King, had more power than Olivares at that stage. (more…)

Queen Elizabeth I (the ‘Virgin Queen’)

The queen in 'the Armada Portrait', note the right hand resting comfortably on the globe /

The queen in ‘the Armada Portrait’, note the right hand resting comfortably on the globe /

The only half-decent member of the infamous Tudor dynasty was Elizabeth, born in 1533. She was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn. It is a matter for debate from whom Elizabeth inherited the worst genes, though it is admitted that Anne never went to bed with Henry until he was properly divorced from Catharine of Aragon and a marriage between them had taken place; the Catholic Church had meanwhile been assaulted and robbed, Thomas More and others had been shortened by a head etc. etc. (more…)

Second thoughts on General Franco

Franco & Doñe Carmen enjoying some Spanish football /

Franco & Doña Carmen enjoying some Spanish football /

I am not a revisionist. My views on the character and actions of Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell have not changed in fifty years. Any reader of this website will know my views on Richard III, Henry VIII and Stalin. I do not have a good opinion of that Prince of Wales who became Edward VIII. I have never been fond of press barons, except perhaps Kay Graham of The Washington Post. Along with almost everybody, I do not like dictators, because they dictate how you must think and make short work of you if you are disobedient. There are plenty still around, despite two horrible world wars to discourage them. (more…)

By | 2017-07-21T14:24:27+00:00 March 14th, 2015|Spanish History, World History|1 Comment

Some Alexander Popes

Alexander VI /

Alexander VI /

These four Italians and one Spaniard made a contribution to the history of the Catholic Church, positive or negative according to your view and that of historians. Each chose the name, Alexander, by which they wished to be addressed, or remembered by. The original family name of one of them has stayed firmly etched in our mind, not necessarily for the best of reasons.

Alexander II (Anselm of Lucca) has an unknown birth date, but we do know he became pope in 1061 and died fourteen years later. He was Bishop of Lucca from 1057 and was a known reformer, campaigning strongly against corruption and immorality in the Church. He was one of the founders of the Paterine Party, whose principal aim was the stop priests marrying. One thousand years later they are still not marrying, though originally Protestant clergy who convert to Catholicism while married are permitted by the Vatican to keep their wives and children if they have any. This may seem unfair to priests baptised in the Catholic faith, but at least it provides employment for Anglican vicars unhappy within the Church of England and anxious to convert. (more…)

The Compilation of the Laws of the Kings of the Indies

First volume of the Compilation /

First volume of the Compilation /

This was published in four volumes in 1681 in Madrid; the title in Spanish is Recopilación de las leyes de los Reinos de las Indias, rather a mouthful, but it was a worthy attempt to put together all the orders and laws pertaining to each section of the (royal) Spanish government, dealing with Spain’s overseas dominions. Given that the Spanish Empire (q.v.) was at this time the greatest in the world, another empire on which the sun never set, this was a courageous and painstaking enterprise. (more…)

By | 2014-12-04T09:50:30+00:00 December 4th, 2014|History of Portugal, Spanish History|0 Comments

The Spanish General Union of Workers



The UGT (Unión General de Trabajadores) is one the two really large Spanish trade unions, the other being CC.OO (Comisiones Obreras). It was founded in 1888, at a difficult time for all working men, because many had not attended school, did not know what a trade union was (or what it was intended to achieve); were afraid of their employers, powerful both industrially and agriculturally, and suspicious of any kind of government or authority set above them. Growing bigger took a long time, and UGT did not make its presence felt until the arrival of the Second Republic of 1931 – 36. (more…)

By | 2014-11-27T19:51:48+00:00 November 27th, 2014|Spanish History|1 Comment

A new head of the House of Alba

The Duchess starts her third marriage / nick

The Duchess starts her third marriage / nick

The best known duchess in Spain, probably Europe too, has died after a long life (1926 – 2014) and a short but fatal illness. She was Cayetana, made 18th Duchess of Alba in 1954 after the death of her father the Duke. At the beginning of the Spanish Civil War the Albas had left Spain to live in London, where the Duke was Ambassador until the Treaty of Lausanne.

The new (19th) Duke of Alba /

The new (19th) Duke of Alba /

The new Duke of Alba is Carlos Fitzjames-Stuart, a prematurely white-haired, serious man, separated from his wife, is in his late fifties; he became Duke of Huescar when his mother was named duchess. The white hair might possibly have come about because Carlos’ mother led an extraordinary life, speaking several languages, being much loved by the ordinary people of Sevilla; at the slightest opportunity she would, even in her eighties, throw up her arms in flamenco movements and ululate on the pavement, observed with love by her third and last husband Alfonso Diez, and a certain gloom by her oldest son. Her first husband was another aristocrat, Luis Martínez de Irujo, with whom she had six children, all boys until the last. They are Carlos, Alfonso, Jacobo, Fernando, Cayetano and Eugenia. All have dukedoms. Cayetana had more titles than any other grand aristocratic family in Europe. This privileged position used to be held by another grand duchess, that of Medinaceli, who had more than ninety, but many were lost during the Second Republic, while others simply expired. (more…)

War at sea: (part II)

Cape St. Vincent by Donald Macleod /

Cape St. Vincent by Donald Macleod /

Spain’s royal champion don Juan of Austria was commander of the Christian fleet at the Battle of Lepanto (1571). This was a battle of galleys, luxuriously illustrated by many painters. Both the Turks and the Spanish sailors had the use of cannon mounted on the forecastle. It is said Turkey never truly recovered from defeat in this fight, though they did rebuild their galley fleet. It is interesting to scholars that Cervantes, author of Don Quixote fought at Lepanto in one of the galleys.

   In the seventeenth century rivalry for an eventual domination of the seas raged between Britain and the Dutch. Having cut off the king’s head, Oliver Cromwell as England’s Lord Protector continued the late Charles’ policy of building up a royal navy. Among other things, he introduced the idea of three decks carrying guns, giving enormous fire power from port and starboard. He also developed naval training so that broadsides could be fired more often during a battle. Ships’ crews began rivalling each other in the time taken to load, fire and re-load again, ready for use. Many a bloody scuffle occurred in the Portsmouth taverns as a result of murderous competition; bottles, stools and insults were thrown.

   It was during the reign of the unfortunate king’s son Charles II that his squadrons were first called ‘The Royal Navy’. Diarist Samuel Pepys in his role as a naval administrator also carried out many reforms. Royal Navy or not, they never really dominated the Dutch, but Holland’s economic decline brought naval re-building and reforms almost to a standstill.

   In the eighteenth century it was the French with their fast, elegant warships who put a brake on Britain’s slower-moving, older and heavier ships of the line. But the French ships were less strongly built and more expensive to maintain.By this time most navies’ vessels had copper bottoms for better protection, and occasionally a double hull which helped reduce damage by cannon balls. The epoch had arrived when European navies were composed of state-owned ships especially built to suit conditions.

   During the French Revolution (q.v.) and the Napoleonic wars that followed, the Royal Navy at last began to emerge as the most feared state-owned squadrons. Pressing by the naval press-gang, which was in effect legal kidnapping of able-bodied men from the poorer streets, provided the crews. Discipline was harsh, and depended on the character of the commander. Some used the lash or noose constantly, others did not believe in it, like Nelson, which explains why this little man was so popular. When he was killed at Trafalgar, half the crew of H.M.S Victory, not usually crybabies, were in tears.

   The Royal Navy won a series of spectacular victories against the French and the Spanish, both nations with a deserved reputation for magnificent seamanship: the Glorious First of June in the Atlantic in 1794, Cape St. Vincent in February, 1797, Camperdown in October of the same year, Aboukir Bay in 1798 and Trafalgar in 1805, a sea battle which deeply affected Napoleon’s war plans at least for while. Rear-Admiral Nelson suffered his only defeat in the silly and ill-planned assault on Santa Cruz, port and capital of Tenerife in the Canaries, when local militia and the townspeople fought off Nelson’s attempt at invasion and capture of treasure ships. But Great Britain’s Royal Navy was at last established as the planet’s premier sea power. This reputation lasted a very long time, and the people joyously sang Britannia rules the Waves! Bonaparte had to concentrate on land-based campaigning, for which he had developed great abilities, though his invasion of Russia, like all invasions of Russia, was unsuccessful.


/ from a painting by Angus McBride -

/ from a painting by Angus McBride –

These days the word strikes a sour note, arousing images of rough settlements, starving ‘piccaninies’, whips, shackles, thoughtless government from a distance of thousdands of miles etc. If there are any ‘colonies’ left after the post-war rush to be rid of them I think it is because the ‘colonists’ prefer it that way. 90% of colonies which achieved independence have suffered under bad or atrocious rule since being ‘freed’, with the possible exception of the United States, and even there half the settlers in the Thirteen Colonies claimed they did not wish for independence from British rule, and after 1776 sold up lock, stock and barrel and moved to Canada, where they were welcomed. (more…)

Conversos (the converted)


Religious poet Fray Luis de León

Religious poet Fray Luis de León

Jews in the Spain of the Middle Ages, though never popular, were permitted to convert from Judaism to Christianity; rigorous tests conducted by priests followed equally stern training. The ‘converts’ were called Conversos to define the essential difference between someone born and baptized Christian and a ‘convert’. In addition, they were sometimes called ‘New Christians’ to distinguish them from Old or Non-Semitic Christians. In popular speech they were often called Marranos which is vulgar Spanish for pigs. The correct term is Cerdo, but this word is also used by the Spanish to describe any male they happen to deprecate, probably with reason. (more…)

By | 2014-09-16T09:18:53+00:00 September 16th, 2014|Church history, Jewish History, Spanish History|0 Comments
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