/December 1st: Portugal’s Independence Bank Holiday

December 1st: Portugal’s Independence Bank Holiday

As we briefly mentioned before, December 1st is a bank holiday in Portugal. The country celebrates the “Restoration of the Independence”. In December 1st, 1640, a palace coup deposed the Spanish authorities in Lisbon and proclaimed prince John, 8th Duke of Braganza, as King John IV of Portugal. The new government was quickly acclaimed throughout the country, but Spain did not recognize it, and the subsequent war lasted for 28 years.

Iberian Union

The Portuguese breakaway can be classified as a move for independence in very much the same way Scottish prime-minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has been speaking. Portugal was born as an independent kingdom in the 12th century, fighting against other Iberian kingdoms in the North and against Islamic presence in the South. In 1580, there were three heirs to the Portuguese throne after the death of King Henry, and the strongest of them was Philip II, king of Spain.

The Iberian Union did not mean political erasure of Portugal nor Spanish settlement of Portuguese lands, like the Christian kingdoms had done previously after conquering the Southern Iberia to its Islamic rulers. Between 1580 and 1640, the Iberian Union was pretty much similar to the Acts of Union of 1707

Portugal and Spain shared interests. After dividing the world to discover into separate spheres of influence (through the Treaty of Tordesillas), their colonial empires did not face each other. Their enemies were the same: the new colonial powers, namely England, the Dutch Republic and France. It made sense to align their foreign policies. 

During this period, the much revered Anglo-Portuguese alliance was suspended and overturned. Hence the participation of Portugal in the Spanish Armada move intended to invade England in 1588. About half of the galleons (the top ships of the time) of the fleet were Portuguese. Hence, too, the several sacking of Portuguese coastal cities, namely of Santiago (Cape Verde) by Sir Francis Drake in 1585 and of Faro, Algarve’s capital, in 1596, by the Earl of Essex.

Towards the end of the Union

The depletion of silver mines in the Spanish Americas after 1620 and the continuing involvement of Spain in the Thirty Years War made the Iberian Union unsustainable for Portugal. Madrid demanded more taxes with no visible benefit for Portugal, which changed Portuguese minds regarding the usefulness of the Union. With no peaceful means to separate, the Portuguese resorted to a coup, which is celebrated currently on December 1st.