Filipeia (Capitania of Paraíba)

The Paraíba region was conquered in 1584 thanks to the actions of Diego Flores de Valdés’ fleet, with his Armada of the Strait of Magellan. The conquest of the territory was driven by a wider Habsburg policy in an attempt to articulate and improve their defences on the Atlantic frontiers. In a general sense, that endeavour was part of Spanish colonial policy towards the southern Atlantic. In a narrower sense, it was the continuation of the process of colonisation of the northern coast of Brazil, as a way of enforcing possession over former hereditary captaincies, whose occupation had not materialised.

Among the main initiatives engendered by the Habsburgs, from their military policy, was to reinforce the defense strategy for a better security of the circulation of goods in the Atlantic and also to legitimize the government of Felipe II in Portuguese America. The concern with the defense of Paraíba was on the agenda of the debates at Court, according to the reports of the formal authorities[1]. Besides its favourable geographical position, Paraíba had two good anchorages (Baía da Traição and Cabedelo). Felipe II had not yet formally assumed the Portuguese throne, in the year 1580, and the subject of the defence of the Paraíba region already appeared in his deliberations, due to the information that reached him about the constant presence of French corsairs on the coast of Paraíba, never effectively cohibited by Portugal.

The commercial exchange of the French on the Brazilian coast, in the first decades of the 16th century, was much more intense than that of the Portuguese themselves, owners of the so-called brazilwood contracts (Mota; Lopez, 2015: 67). For the case of Paraíba, in the second half of the 16th century, Potiguaras and French coexisted harmoniously and the gathering of wood was done in a distinct way to the Portuguese style. The system adopted by the Lusitanians was to load the cargo as quickly as possible, so as to avoid contact between the crew and the local people. When they arrived at the Brazilian coasts, the Portuguese already found the wood piled up in factories, ready for shipment, which made it difficult for the crew to have a closer relationship with the indigenous people (Metcalf, 2005: 59). The French made no attempt to establish fiefdoms, but traded directly from their ships, sending agents to live among the Indians, with whom they developed good relations (Johnson, 2012: 251).

The French presence on the coast of Paraíba was, therefore, intense and threatening and four expeditions (in the years 1574, 1575, 1580 and 1582) had already been organised by the Portuguese in an attempt to take control of the region – all of them unsuccessful. The conquest of Paraíba was a Portuguese idea that had existed for a long time, but only became possible with the arrival of Spanish troops in 1584. Diego Flores de Valdés’ fleet established this territory for the first time from the point of view of inserting that region into an imperial logic.

The coastal area of Paraíba, being in the easternmost position of the Americas, represented an important military vector of the Spanish defensive planning for the Atlantic. The debates, in the sphere of the royal administration, about the fortifications in the Paraíba region show a clear concern with the defence of the area, at that time of constant threats of “foreign” invasions. In contemporary documents of the time, the region often appeared in the documentation as “capitania da Paraíba”, “capitania do rio Paraíba”, “povoação do Paraíba” or even simply, “rio Paraíba”. This reinforces that all the effort put into the conquest of the territory had as its maximum purpose to occupy and garrison the region around the mouth of the Paraíba river, which was then dominated by the Potiguara and French corsairs who trafficked in the area.

The conquest of Paraíba was inserted in the political networks of wars and alliances between the Iberians and the Tabajara and Potiguara indigenous nations, the latter associated with the French who trafficked on the Paraíba coast. The conquest of Paraíba within the general framework of conflicts involving indigenous peoples and Europeans provided a new configuration of forces in the region, which enabled the advance of colonisation towards the north.

The creation of the Captaincy of Paraíba responded to two main demands: the need to protect the region against French attacks and, at the same time, to be an obstacle, the last frontier towards Peru. At this juncture, Paraíba occupied an important position in the Castilian imperial plan, acting as one of the shields in the construction of the line of defence to the Indies. It was in this context that the Luso-Castilian troops commanded by Diego Flores de Valdés conquered the region with the construction of a fort called San Phelipe y Sanctiago, located at the mouth of the Paraíba River. This was the first effective action to occupy the territory. Around a year later, when this first fortification no longer existed, a new expedition of conquest was made possible after a pact signed by the Iberians with the Tabajara nation, who had arrived in the region. This made it possible to build a new fort and in the vicinity of this fortification, the city of Filipeia de Nossa Senhora das Neves (today the city of João Pessoa) was established, a toponym that paid homage to the Habsburg monarch.

[1] AGS, Archivo General de Simancas, Guerra Antigua, Legajo 119, Doc. 41, 5/11/1581.


  • Brito, S. B. R. (2020). A conquista do rio ruim. A Paraíba na Monarquia Hispânica (1570-1630). Tese de Doutorado, Universidade de Salamanca, Salamanca.
  • Johnson, H. (2012). A colonização portuguesa no Brasil. En: Bethel, L. (Org.), História da América Latina: A América Latina Colonial, Vol. I. São Paulo: EDUSP.
  • Metcalf. A. C. (2005). Go-betweens and the colonization of Brazil, 1500-1600. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  • Mota, C. G.; Lopez, A. (2015). História do Brasil: uma interpretação. 4ª edição. São Paulo: Editora 34.


Sylvia Brito (Biblioteca Nacional do Brasil)

How to quote this entry:

Sylvia Brito. “Filipeia (Capitania of Paraíba)“. In: BRASILHIS Dictionary: Biographic and Thematic Dictionary of Brazil in the Spanish Monarch (1580-1640). Available in: Date of access: 13/04/2024.

Keep Reading