Council of Portugal

With the Union of Crowns between Spain and Portugal in 1580, the Portuguese territory and its overseas possessions were inserted into the Castilian polisinodial system, a system of councils that made up the government of the Hispanic Monarchy and was the axis around which its administration revolved (Martínez Ruiz, 2007: 114). The creation of a Council of Portugal was possible thanks to the approval of Philip II, which ended up giving rise to an entity that would become the symbol of the Portuguese royal status within the Hapsburg dominions as a whole (Cardim, 2017: 48).

This idea of creating a Portuguese consultative body that would be permanently close to the monarch was conceived from the initial moments of the complex succession process (Bouza, 2008: 194). The Council of Portugal was founded in April 1581, following the Cortes held in Tomar, where the decision was taken to create a council that would deal with Portuguese affairs and would always work alongside the king, wherever he was (Schaub, 2001: 21). As early as April 1580, in point 15 of the Memorial of Almeirim, we find the origin of this Council of Portugal, defined as follows:

“15. Que estando su Md o sus sucesores fuera de Portugal, en qualquier parte que sea, traigan siempre consigo una persona eclesiastica y un veedor de la hazienda y un secretario y un Chanciller mayor y dos desembargadores de palacio, los quales se llamaran consejo de Portugal, para que por ellos y con ellos se despachen todos los negocios del mismo Reyno. Y tan bien andaran en la Corte dos escrivanos de hazienda y dos de Camara para lo que fuere necessario en sus officios, y todo será hecho en lenguaje portugues, y las dichas personas seran porthugesas y quando su magestad o sus descendientes vinieran a Portugal venga con ellos el mismo consejo y officiales y sirvan demas de los otros de los mismos officios q ha de haver en el Reyno para  gobierno [1].”

This same agreement appears in the pacts of Tomar[2], where it was established that Portugal would continue to be governed by its own laws, traditions and institutions. As a consequence, the government of the kingdom was to be exercised directly by the monarch himself from Lisbon, or in his absence, by a viceroy of royal blood or a board of governors, also from Portugal. In case of absence, the king would have to be assisted by this Council of Portugal wherever he went, a Council that was to be composed solely of Portuguese (Valladares, 2000:14).

This is an important point, since the fact that the Council was made up of Portuguese officials gave the Portuguese nobility guarantees from the Castilian Crown that its sphere of influence would be preserved. Furthermore, Philip II decided to maintain the separation between Portuguese and Castilian overseas possessions, which meant that Portuguese America retained its personality within the Hapsburg political framework (Cardim, 2017: 49). Therefore, this Council of Portugal was created at a time of integration of the Portuguese territory into the structure of the Hispanic Monarchy, and, for this very reason, it can be understood as proof that Portugal would not be subjugated by the Philippine Crown (Bouza, 2008: 195).

The Portuguese fidalgos played a fundamental role both in the Council of Portugal and in the viceroyalties and governorships during this period. The manorial networks that were woven around them made possible the transmission of orders and mandates to the different territories, which led to their efficient control (Bouza, 2010: 65). The powers attributed to the Council of Portugal were wide-ranging: the possibility of intervening in nominations for the most important posts in the kingdom and the Empire[3], distribution of grants, provision of bishoprics, members of courts, overseas governments, viceroys of India, captains-major of the fortresses, etc. (Bouza, 2008: 197).

From 1583, with Philip II’s departure from Portugal, the Council was installed in Madrid. Any decision by the monarch that affected Portugal and its overseas possessions had to be discussed there. This ambiguity of being the decision-maker regarding Portugal after the departure of the monarch from the Portuguese kingdom poisoned the life of the Council until the end of the Union of Crowns (Schaub, 2001: 25).

Between 1583 and 1598, the Council of Portugal was formed (see annex 1) by two councillors of State, an overseer of the Treasury and an ecclesiastical person to deal with matters concerning State, Treasury and Church, respectively (Luxán, 1988: 101). The functioning of the Council during this period was as follows: meetings were to be held in a room in the palace, and two timetables were set: one for spring-summer and the other for autumn-winter. The days of the week on which the meetings were to be held were also established: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for two hours, bearing in mind that in the event of a backlog of work, both the days and the hours of these meetings could be extended (Luxán, 1988: 108).

The death of Philip II ushered in a new era in the Council. A period of transition began until the new reform of the institution that took place in May 1602, when the Castilian Court had moved to the city of Valladolid (Luxán, 1988: 132). As the Portuguese Kingdom had the reputation of being rich and the general feeling was that it contributed little to the joint effort of the Hispanic Monarchy, Juan de Borja, a figure very close to Lerma and one of the most influential members of the Council of Portugal, suggested to the Valide that the King should obtain what he needed from Portugal (Cardim, 2017: 166).  The Council of Portugal, at this time, ruled out the possibility of appointing a Portuguese resident in Portuguese territory to the post of viceroy, and proposed, as the best alternative, Cristóvao de Moura. This proposal, devised by Juan de Borja himself, sought to give Lerma considerable political advantages, placing the powerful favourite of Philip II in an important position, for which he more than met the main requirements of nature, experience and prestige. In this way, the series of merits granted by the monarch to Moura at the behest of Lerma himself -among them the grandeur of Castile, after the conversion of his title of Count into that of Marquis of Castelrodrigo, and, of course, his seat on the Council of Portugal- was crowned with dignity. His absence would also allow the Council of Portugal to be reorganised in the most convenient way, leaving the way clear for Juan de Borja and other trusted men created by the Valide to control it (García, 1996: 244-245).

This reform of the Council, which took place between 1602 and 1606, therefore took place in a climate of obvious tension. Another of the causes that led to this was the fact that, in 1601, Diego de Silva, Count of Salinas, joined the Council of Portugal. His appointment caused a source of nervousness between the Portuguese and Castilian authorities, mainly due to the fact that he was not born in Portuguese territory, which violated the Tomar agreements of 1581. Due to the controversy with other members of the Council, Salinas delayed his entry into the Council of Portugal until October 1605 (Cardim, 2017: 168).

In this reform, it was also decided not to formally appoint a president of the Council, although it was considered that the leadership of the Council, which initially corresponded to the monarch, would be exercised by the most senior member, which was a “covert” presidency (Luxán, 1988: 160). At the same time, due to the increase in business, one secretary was replaced by four, and the number of councillors was increased from four to seven (see annex 2). Novelties were also introduced in their functioning, as they were to meet every day in the morning and two days in the afternoon (Luxán, 1988: 166). During these years in which the Castilian Court changed location, the Council of Portugal followed the same route: Madrid-Valladolid-Madrid, and the councillors received their respective expenses and relocation allowances[4] (Luxán, 1988: 181).

Finally, in 1607, a new regiment was granted, although in this case no major changes were enacted, except that, this time, the post of president of the Council was created.

In July 1612, the Council of Portugal closed its doors for a year and a half (Luxán, 1988: 228), due to the imminent trip that the monarch seemed to be about to make to Portugal, which led to the Council of Portugal being replaced by a restricted Junta. After much controversy, this trip did not take place. However, the Council of Portugal was not immediately reactivated, which provoked the anger of some Portuguese because without it, the status of the Kingdom of Portugal in the Hispanic Monarchy would be relegated (Cardim, 2017: 111).

The Council of Portugal was not reopened until January 1614, with Diego de Silva, Count of Salinas, as president. During this period, the Council continued to carry out its functions normally (Luxán, 1988: 258), although its composition changed considerably. This opening did not last long, as in mid-1615, with Portugal going through a complicated time, the Council of Portugal was again suspended and, in August 1616, the Count of Salinas himself was appointed as Viceroy of Portugal (Cardim, 2017: 189).

With the death of Philip III and the coming to power of his son Philip IV, a new period began. Until this time, as we have been able to notice, the Council of Portugal, lacking experts, was not of much use in terms of overseas affairs, even though decisions passed through it (Luxán, 1988: 324), such as everything related to the attempted discovery of Francisco de Sousa’s new mines in Portuguese America, which ended with the territorial division of the captaincies of São Vicente, Espíritu Santo and Rio de Janeiro, the Repartição Sul, from 1607 until the governor’s death. The Conselho da India, a body created by Philip III to resolve the problems of the conquests, which was in operation between 1604 and 1614, had already disappeared by this time.

The 1620s saw the beginning of a period of conflict in the Portuguese overseas possessions. 1624 was a pivotal year because, after the fall of Salvador de Bahia and two years after the fall of Hormuz, the sensibilities of the Count Duke of Olivares, Philip IV’s favourite, were at their height, mainly because of his scepticism about the ability of the Council of Portugal to deal with colonial affairs.

In 1627, following the loss of the ships in India, Olivares proposed the creation of a Junta of State and War in Madrid, a possible predecessor of the Junta of Pernambuco, in order to achieve greater efficiency in these matters, but this new junta was obstructed by the Council of Portugal and the Board of Governors (Luxán, 1988: 325).

One of the main doubts was whether the Castilian treasury should contribute to the relief of the Portuguese overseas possessions. The arrival of the news of the capture of Salvador de Bahia by the Dutch in July 1624, together with the feeling that Castile had been supporting the military expenses of the Empire since the reign of Philip III, upset all the plans. It was necessary to think about the recovery of the capital of the Estado do Brasil, while at the same time it was necessary to prevent Portugal and its conquests from becoming a more costly problem than, for example, Flanders. The final decision was to help Portugal with moderation and not to admit the demands of the Governors and the Council of Portugal itself, who asked for 20 galleons and 500,000 crusaders to go to the overseas territories (Luxán, 1988: 353).

Among the means proposed to obtain funds with which the Portuguese could meet their defensive commitments, the collection of the debts accumulated with the royal treasury stood out.  As this was a rather uncertain system, hopes were placed in the contribution of the Church, in the condemnations of the Inquisition and in the money that the new Christians could give in exchange for their pardon. Finally, the solution was imposed from the Court in the form of a loan or donation from the three states of the kingdom (Luxán, 1988: 354). The plan was to send military aid for six consecutive years and to dislodge foreign enemies from the Portuguese conquests. For this policy designed from Madrid to be carried out, several members of the Portuguese cabinet were sent with executive powers, with Manuel de Moura, 2nd Marquis of Castelrodrigo, assuming the greatest responsibility, who would be in charge, as if he were another governor, of directing all operations (Luxán, 1988: 355).

Between 1628 and 1631, the Council of Portugal was practically paralysed due to the departure of several of its members to attend to other matters (Luxán, 1988: 355). Due to this situation, matters related to Portugal and its possessions were dealt with by Olivares’ junta de aposento, which included Diego Suárez, the Count Duke’s main collaborator, whom he placed at the head of the Council of Portugal in his attempt to place people he trusted at its head (Luxán, 1988: 374).

With the regiment of 1633, an attempt was made to revitalise the Council and its staff was completed (see annex 3). This regiment had the same structure as the three previous ones – 1586, 1602 and 1607 – although its articles were much more voluminous, with a total of 55 points. The main novelty was the suppression of the office of president, which had given rise to so many protests and controversies (Luxán, 1988: 378).

During the 1630s, the Monarchy began to face growing military, financial and economic difficulties, difficulties that also arose in Portugal and its overseas possessions. The Dutch had begun to challenge many of the Portuguese possessions in Asia, and from 1630 onwards much of Brazil had been conquered by the forces of the West India Company. This was a serious setback for Portugal, as Portuguese America had become the most prosperous overseas possession. The subsequent failures of the Spanish Monarchy to expel the Dutch from Brazil eroded the loyalty of many Portuguese to Philip IV (Cardim, 2017: 60). Because of these problems with overseas possessions, a separate secretariat on these matters was created in the Council of Portugal in 1633. With respect to the system that had operated up to that time, the main novelty introduced was the specific treatment of overseas matters, regulating that these matters would be dealt with in the months of December, January and February. This implied the provision of governments, prelacy, captaincy and all the important posts in the Administration (Luxán, 1988: 382). Matters related to the conquests would occupy four afternoons a week in the Council, with at least two hours of dispatch per day, a calendar that would be followed in the winter quarter (Luxán, 1988: 383).

These last years of the Union of Crowns were the beginning of the end for the Council of Portugal. It all began in the wake of the Évora disturbances of 1637, when what was initially thought to be a small-scale conflict did not turn out to be such, and Castilian troops were ordered to approach the frontier when it was realised that neither the viceregal government nor the nobility could take control of the situation (Luxán, 1988: 418).

The Council of Portugal was consulted in the first part of this crisis and its members were divided between two alternatives: those in favour of adopting a tough attitude towards the rebels, including Suárez, and those in favour of conciliation, advocated from the scene by the elderly Diego de Castro, Count of Basto. In the end, Olivares opted for the second of the two formulas, attempting to pacify the rebels by means of dialogue (Luxán, 1988: 421). In 1638, a year after the conflict in southern Portugal, Philip IV decided to take measures to strengthen royal authority. Olivares convened an extraordinary junta in Madrid with the aim of replacing the Portuguese representative assembly and, shortly afterwards, dissolved the Council of Portugal (Cardim, 2017: 63), the main obstacle to his policy in Portuguese lands (Cardim, 2017: 111). In March 1639, due to the situation that was created in Brazil after the Dutch attack, the problems in the administration of justice and the difficulties in the treasury, led King Philip IV to eliminate the Council of Portugal (Luxán, 1987: 63). It was not completely suppressed, since it was replaced by a Council of Portugal, with changes in its functions, since from this moment onwards this Council would be the superior body that would deal with matters related to the Portuguese who were against the Braganza family, and therefore favourable to the Habsburgs, and in short, it would be an argument for not recognising the status of Portugal (Luxán, 1987: 61), which did not happen until 1668, although the Council of Portugal regained its rank in 1658, under totally different political circumstances.

Therefore, we can conclude that the Council of Portugal was the main body that the Portuguese bureaucracy had to deal with its affairs during the period in which Portugal belonged to the Spanish Monarchy, between 1580 and 1640. This Council was the main Portuguese organ within the broad Hapsburg administrative framework, becoming the institution that symbolised the full incorporation of Portugal and its overseas colonies, and therefore also of Portuguese America, into the Philippine structure.

[1] Archivo General de Simancas, Estado, Legajo 415. Memorial de las gras y mds que el Rey nro Sºr concederá a estos Reynos quenado fuere jurado Rey y sºr dellos.

[2] Archivo General de Simancas, Estado, Legajo 427. Patente das das merçes, graças e privlegios de que el rei dom philippe nosso senhor fez merce a estes seus Regnos […]

[3] There are many examples of this in the documentation. In a consultation of the Council of Portugal to provide for what was necessary in the State of Brazil and other conquests of the Crown of Portugal, dated 9 April 1607, the following is stated: “[…] Parecio q’ se escriva al ViRey, ordene al consº de hazienda avise donde se podrá aver lo necessario para las cosas apuntadas en la dha consulta, q se le diga ordene que los quatro governadores del Brasil, Angola, Sant Thome y Mina partan luego, y para que se embarquen haga todo lo conveniente y necessario, como VMagd le tiene escrito por otras cartas […]”. Archivo General de Simancas, Secretarías Provinciales, Libro 1466, 193-196v.

[4] These payments are also noted in different documentation. We can give as an example a payment on rooms and houses of ministers, officials and other persons which reads as follows: “[…] Tratose en esta junta del medio que avria para los menistros y oficiales y mas personas que aquí sirvem a V.Magd, en el consejo de Portugal, seren pagados con puntualidad de lo que V.Magd tiene mandado que se les de para casas de aposento. […]”. Archivo General de Simancas, Secretarías Provinciales, Libro 1466, fl. 42-44v.

Annex 1. Members of the Council of Portugal during the reign of Philip II.

Annex 2. Members of the Council of Portugal during the reign of Philip III

Annex 3. Members of the Council of Portugal during the reign of Philip IV


Archivo General de Simancas, Estado, Legajo 415. Memorial de las gras y mds que el Rey nro Sºr concederá a estos Reynos quenado fuere jurado Rey y sºr dellos.

Archivo General de Simancas, Estado, Legajo 427. Patente das das merçes, graças e privlegios de que el rei dom philippe nosso senhor fez merce a estes seus Regnos […]

Archivo General de Simancas, Secretarías Provinciales, Libro 1466, 193-196v.

Archivo General de Simancas, Secretarías Provinciales, Libro 1466, fl. 42-44v.


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Sergio Moreta Pedraz (Universidad de Salamanca)

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