A Right Royal Affair

Vaughan Willmore looks at the fascinating relationship between the Portuguese and British royal families.

Have you been watching The Crown on Netflix?

If you have, you may well have seen an episode titled Lisbon. It tells of widely reported difficulties in Queen Elizabeth II’s marriage to the Duke of Edinburgh which cast a cloud over their state visit to Portugal in 1957.

We’ll never know the extent of those problems, but we do know it was Queen Elizabeth’s first visit to these shores and she was here for three days, mainly in the central region and Lisbon. The British royal family were hosted by President Lopes and stayed at the fabulous Palace of Queluz in the municipality of Sintra. The Portuguese government spared no expense, even buying a Rolls Royce especially for the occasion.

During Queen Elizabeth’s reign, there have been five state visits between the two countries involving three Presidents of the Republic – Lopes, Eanes and Soares. The last state visit was nearly 30 years ago in 1993, when President Soares visited London.

The bond between our two countries and our royal families dates back to the Middle Ages.

A pivotal moment was the signing of the Treaty of Windsor in 1386, an Anglo-Portuguese diplomatic alliance that still exists to this day and is reputed to be the oldest in the world. Another equally important event occurred a year later when King John I of Portugal married Philippa of Lancaster, the granddaughter of King Edward III.

Born in Leicester in 1360, Queen Philippa of Portugal was 26 years old when she married. She proved adept at promoting trade between two countries and at bearing children, having eight in total, including the Portuguese King Duarte and the legendary Prince Henry the Navigator. This helped create a royal bloodline that transcended both countries.

A second royal marriage was in 1662 when Charles II married Catherine of Braganza, the daughter of King John IV of Portugal. Again, trade and strategic alliances were considerations, with Catherine’s dowry giving England the territories of Tangiers and Bombay. In return, Charles II provided troops to aid Portugal’s war of independence.

Despite challenges over the years, the Anglo-Portuguese relationship has endured. Since its foundation in 1348, thirteen members of Portuguese Royal Houses have been awarded the prestigious Order of the Garter. When Napoleon’s troops attacked Lisbon, it was the British Royal Navy that protected the Portuguese royal family, safely escorting them to Brazil. Following the establishment of the First Portuguese Republic in 1910, it was to England that King Manuel II (the last king of Portugal) fled.

Modern-day diplomatic conventions dictate that should there be any other state visits, Queen Elizabeth would meet the President of the Republic. Nevertheless, it shouldn’t be overlooked that Portugal still has families with claims to the royal crown, one of which is the aforementioned Braganza family, headed by Duarte Pio, the 24th Duke of Braganza. Though not a head of state or official representative of Portugal, Duarte Pio has been received with such honours by certain heads of state and governments, albeit not that of the United Kingdom.

Whether it’s marriages of convenience aimed at securing trade and peace, or Netflix programmes alluding to problems in royal marriages, the crucial role played by our respective heads of state continues to transcend the centuries and underpin the oldest strategic alliance in the world.

I was helped with this article by Peter Booker, Presidente da Associação dos Historiadores do Algarve. Peter provides talks on the history of Portugal and other topics and can be contacted at peterbooker1347@gmail.com

© Photos courtesy of Hemeroteca Municipal de Lisboa, published in Revista municipal N.º 72, 1º trimestre de 1957


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