Manoel I, A New Monarch for Portugal

A few events occurred in Portugal while Christopher Columbus was away that we need to catch you up on. While Columbus was on his first voyage, King João II tried to place his illegitimate son, Jorge of Lencastre [Lancaster], in line for the throne instead of his twenty-four-year-old nephew, Manoel. Manoel was also the first cousin of Isabella, the Queen of Castile.

João successfully obtained authorization from Pope Innocent VIII to appoint Jorge to succeed him as Grand Master of the Order of São Tiago, as well as take the position of Administrator for the order. But as we mentioned, in July of 1492, Innocent died, and was replaced by Pope Alexander VI of Aragon. And remember that João and his wife Leonor were not on the best of terms. Jorge was the son of João’s mistress. And Leanor was Manoel’s sister.

In 1494 [while Christopher Columbus was on his second voyage], João sent an emissary to Pope Alexander to legitimize Jorge so he could inherit the throne. But Leanor sideswiped João, her own husband. She wrote to Alexander and told him to forbid the request. Not to be completely defeated, João added certain stipulations to his will:

  1. He wanted Manoel to appoint Jorge de Lencastre as Duke of Coimbra and Lord of Montemor-o-Velho.
  2. He wanted Manoel to betroth his daughter [Manoel did not yet have a daughter], or some other princess, in marriage to Jorge of Lencastre.
  3. He wanted Manoel to pass his titles and possessions, including the Mastership of the Order of Christ, and the island of Madeira, to Jorge. The last request was meant to make Jorge the most powerful man in Portugal.

King João died in 1495, one year after signing the Treaty of Tordesillas. The new King Manoel I followed some of his uncle’s requests, but only after a good deal of stalling and time. He kept the Mastership of the Order of Christ for himself. Just as King João feared, this caused a power shift from the Order of São Tiago back to the Order of Christ.

None of this affected Columbus in Española. But the politics needed to be considered by future explorers John Cabot and Gaspar vas Corte-Real when they went looking for islands in the northwest Atlantic.

Next Article: John Cabot