1345 – The Black Death

During the period of Pedro and Inêz’ saga, a plague known as the Black Death ravaged all of Europe. It started in 1345 in the area around Constantinople and spread like a wild fire west and north to encompass the British Isles and finally Scandinavia(1) – ending in 1353. 70 to 200 million people died, from 20 percent to 60 percent of Europe’s population. It would take 150 years for the population to recover.

People needed something to blame. They turned to religion, particularly the Bible’s book of Revelations with its stories of fiery hell and damnation. More than ever, Christians interpreted the Bible literally, along with the insinuations that the earth was flat. Scientists like Galileo would later be condemned to death for believing otherwise.

By the time Prince Pedro inherited the throne of Portugal [1357], the Black Plague had been over for four years. It had been two years since his father, King Afonso, killed his beloved Inêz.

1357 King Pedro I

As king, Pedro I acquired two nicknames: Pedro the Just and Pedro the Cruel. His reign was a boost for the middle class merchants and artisans, many of whom were of Celtic-Lusitanian descent(2). Pedro encouraged trade, especially with England, and welcomed the Jews – particularly those who fled from France and Navarre to the north, where they were being massacred. In opposition, the aristocratic nobles – many of them Pedro’s cousins, aunts, and uncles – tended to side with the Castilians and with France.

1367 King Fernando I

Power swung back to the lords and other noblemen when Pedro died in 1367 and his legitimate son, Fernando I, took his place on the throne. Fernando’s first bad move was to marry Leonor Telles de Meneses, who sided with the Castilian lords. The Lusitanian populace were so upset, they stormed the palace in protest.

Things got really strange when Leonor took on a lover named João Fernandes Andeiro from Galicia. Historians wonder if Fernando, nicknamed Fernando the Handsome, was a homosexual or perhaps impotent. Not only did he invite Andeiro into his household, but he allowed the foreigner to manage courtly affairs. Fernando even set Andeiro up as a nobleman by granting him a county.

Andeiro’s intrusion into the royal court outraged the populace more than Fernando’s marriage to Leonor. The Lusitanians nicknamed him the Adulterer and Leonor the Adulteress. Everyone assumed Andeiro fathered the three royal children – two sons and one daughter named Beatrice. [In the long run, Beatrice’s parentage will be overlooked. She will marry the king of Castile and became the Castilian queen.]

Thriving Lisbon

In spite of all the drama in the courts of Portugal and Castile during King Ferdinand’s reign, Portugal’s maritime activities thrived. As you can see by the map above, Lisbon was well located at the mouth of the River Tagus where it emptied into the Atlantic. By the 1370s, the port was one of the busiest markets in Europe. 500 to 600 ships from England, Flanders, Lombard, Genoa, Milan, Catalan, Majorca, and Aragon loaded there each year. The annual Venetian flotilla stopped by on its way to England carrying goods from the Far East. The flotilla stopped again on its way back to Venice carrying leather and wool from the British Isles.

Detail of a map drawn in c1500 showing Lisbon’s port at the mouth of the Tagus River with all the connecting rivers. [Map has been turned counter-clockwise 90° from its original orientation.]

Trade in ivory, gold dust, and spices between Lisbon and the North African coast was also thriving, mostly from Genoese shipping. Lisbon’s merchants collected a huge percentage in port taxes. The only trouble was that sea-faring life became so popular that men preferred it to working on Portugal’s farms. The food shortage worsened.


  1. A current theory is that it was gerbils brought by ships from Asia that spread the Plague, not rats.
  2. Europeans often referred to the Portuguese as Lusitanians.

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