Afonso V of Portugal

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Afonso V
Afonso V.jpg
King of Portugal and the Algarves
(First time)
Reign 13 September 1438 – 11 November 1477
Acclamation 15 January 1846
Predecessor Edward
Successor John II
Regent Eleanor of Aragon (1438–1439)
Infante Peter (1439–1448)
King of Portugal and the Algarves
(Second time)
Reign 15 November 1477 – 28 August 1481
Predecessor John II
Successor John II
Consort Isabella of Coimbra
Joanna La Beltraneja
Issue John, Prince of Portugal
Joan, Princess of Portugal
John II of Portugal
House House of Aviz
Father Edward of Portugal
Mother Eleanor of Aragon
Born 15 January 1432
Sintra Palace, Portugal
Died 28 August 1481(1481-08-28) (aged 49)
Lisbon, Portugal
Burial Monastery of Batalha
Religion Roman Catholicism

Afonso V (Portuguese pronunciation: [ɐˈfõsu], originally Affonso) KG (15 January 1432 – 28 August 1481), called the African (Portuguese: o Africano), was King of Portugal and the Algarves. His sobriquet refers to his conquests in Northern Africa.

Early life[edit]

Afonse V of Portugal
Contemporary portrait of Afonso V of Portugal, as depicted in the Itinerarium of Georg von Ehingen (printed 1600, Augsburg, but based on earlier image c.1470)

Afonso was born in Sintra, the eldest son of King Edward of Portugal by his wife, Eleanor of Aragon. Afonso V was only six years old when he succeeded his father in 1438.

During his minority, Afonso V was placed under the regency of his mother in accordance with a will of his late father. As both a foreigner and a woman, the queen was not a popular choice for regent. Opposition rose and without any important ally among the Portuguese aristocracy other than Afonso, Count of Barcelos, the illegitimate half brother of King Edward and count of Barcelos, the queen's position was untenable. In 1439, the Portuguese Cortes (assembly of the kingdom) decided to replace the queen with Infante Peter, Duke of Coimbra, the young king's oldest uncle. His main policies were concerned with avoiding the development of great noble houses, kingdoms inside the kingdom, and concentrating power in the person of the king. The country prospered under his rule, but not peacefully, as his laws interfered with the ambition of powerful nobles. The count of Barcelos, a personal enemy of the Duke of Coimbra (despite being half-brothers) eventually became the king's favourite uncle and began a constant struggle for power. In 1442, the king made Afonso the first Duke of Braganza. With this title and its lands, he became the most powerful man in Portugal and one of the richest men in Europe. To secure his position as regent, Peter had Afonso marry his daughter, Isabella of Coimbra, in 1445.

But on 9 June 1448, when the king came of age, Peter had to surrender his power to Afonso V. The years of conspiracy by the Duke of Braganza finally came to a head. On 15 September of the same year, Afonso V nullified all the laws and edicts approved under the regency. The situation became unstable and, in the following year, being led by what he afterwards discovered to be false representations, Afonso declared Peter a rebel and defeated his army in the Battle of Alfarrobeira, in which his uncle (and father-in-law) was killed. After this battle and the loss of one of Portugal's most remarkable infantes, the Duke of Braganza became the de facto ruler of the country.

Invasion of Morocco[edit]

Further information: Morocco-Portugal relations

Afonso V then turned his attentions to North Africa. In the reign of his grandfather, John I, Ceuta had been conquered from the king of Morocco, and now the new king wanted to expand the conquests. The king's army conquered Alcácer Ceguer (1458), Tangiers (won and lost several times between 1460 and 1464) and Arzila (1471). These achievements granted the king the nickname of the African. The king also supported the exploration of the Atlantic Ocean led by prince Henry the Navigator but, after Henry's death in 1460, he did nothing to continue this course of action. Administratively, Afonso V was a passive king. He chose not to pursue the revision of laws or development of commerce, preferring instead to preserve the legacy of his father Edward and grandfather John I.

A copy of the Fra Mauro map was made under a commission by Afonso V in 1457. Finished on April 24, 1459, it was sent to Portugal with a letter to Prince Henry the Navigator, Afonso's uncle, encouraging further funding of exploration trips. Although the copy has been lost, the Andrea Bianco original is preserved at the Biblioteca Marciana (Venice).

In 1452, Pope Nicholas V issued the papal bull Dum Diversas, granting Afonso V the right to reduce "Saracens, pagans and any other unbelievers" to hereditary slavery. This approval of slavery was reaffirmed and extended in the Romanus Pontifex bull of 1455 (also by Nicholas V). These papal bulls came to serve as a justification for the subsequent era of slave trade and European colonialism.

When the campaigns in Africa were over, Afonso V found new grounds for battle in the Iberian Peninsula. In neighbouring Castile, a huge scandal with political and dynastic implications had arisen. In 1474, King Henry IV of Castile died without a male heir. From his two marriages, only a daughter, Joanna of Castile, had been born. But her paternity was questioned, as rumour said the king was impotent and the queen, Joan of Portugal, had an amorous affair with a nobleman named Beltrán de La Cueva. The birth of princess Joanna in 1462, openly called La Beltraneja, caused the separation of her parents. She was never considered legitimate and, when the king was dying, no one took her as a serious contender for the crown. Her half-aunt, the future Queen Isabella I of Castile, was due to inherit the crown, but Afonso V was keen to interfere with the succession in Castile. In 1475 he married his niece Joanna, La Beltraneja, whom he considered the legitimate heir to the crown. Since her adulteress mother was his own sister, Afonso V had not only ambition, but the family honour to protect. He proclaimed himself King of Castile and León and prepared to defend his wife's rights. After the indecisive[1] Battle of Toro in 1476 against King Ferdinand II of Aragon, the husband of Isabella I of Castile, he went to France to obtain the assistance of Louis XI, but finding himself deceived by the French monarch, he returned to Portugal in 1477 in very low spirits. Disillusioned and depressed, he fell into a deep melancholy and abdicated in favour of his son, John II. After this, he retired to a monastery in Sintra where he died in 1481. His death was mourned in the country, by the people who loved the king[citation needed], and by the nobles who were starting to fear his successor.

Marriages and descendants[edit]

Afonso was first married to his cousin Isabella of Coimbra in 1447. Isabella died in 1455 and Afonso married again (although not recognized by the Papacy) in 1475, this time to Joanna of Castile (known as "La Beltraneja"), daughter of Henry IV of Castile and Joan of Portugal. This marriage was an attempt to inherit the throne of Castile as Joan was the sole daughter of Henry IV. Afonso's attempts to take over the throne of Castile were not successful after he lost a short war with Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon.


  1. ^ British historian Townsend Miller: “But, if the outcome of [the battle of] Toro, militarily, is debatable, there is no doubt whatsoever as to its enormous psychological and political effects” in The battle of Toro, 1476, in History Today, volume 14, 1964, p.270



Name Birth Death Notes
By Isabel of Coimbra (1432 – 2 December 1455; married on 6 May 1447)
Infante João (John) 29 January 1451 1451 Prince of Portugal (1451).
Infanta Joana (Joan) 6 February 1452 12 May 1490 Princess of Portugal (1452–1455). Known as Saint Joan of Portugal or Saint Joan Princess. Beatified in 1693 by Pope Innocent XII
Infante João (John) 3 March 1455 25 October 1495 Who succeeded him as John, 13th King of Portugal.
Joanna of Castile (1462–1530; married on 30 May 1475)
By Maria Soares da Cunha (before 1446–?) Daughter of Fernão de Sá Alcoforado, major valet to King Duarte and King Afonso V, and Filipa da Cunha
Álvaro Soares da Cunha c. 1466 1557 Natural son. Guarda-Mor de Peste (Major Guard of Pestilence) within the City of Porto, Lord of the House of Quintas, São Vicente de Pinheiro, Penafiel, Porto, Portugal, and Gentleman of the Royal House. First Married Maria Machado and second to Inês da Mota, with offspring.


Afonso V of Portugal
Cadet branch of the House of Burgundy
Born: 15 January 1432 Died: 28 August 1481
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Portugal and the Algarves
Succeeded by
John II
Preceded by
John II
King of Portugal and the Algarves
Portuguese royalty
New title Prince of Portugal
Succeeded by
Infante Ferdinand
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Henry the Impotent
 King of Castile
with Joanna La Beltraneja

Reason for succession failure:
Joanna's aunt and uncle,
Isabella I and Ferdinand V,
were proclaimed co-monarchs.
Succeeded by
Joanna La Beltraneja