Denis of Portugal

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Denis
Dinis-P.jpg
17th-century painting of King Denis
King of Portugal and the Algarve
Reign 6 February 1279 – 7 January 1325
Predecessor Afonso III
Successor Afonso IV
Spouse Saint Elizabeth of Aragon
Issue
Constança, Queen of Castile
Afonso IV
House House of Burgundy
Father Afonso III
Mother Beatrice of Castile
Born 9 October 1261
Lisbon, Kingdom of Portugal
Died 7 January 1325 (aged 63)
Santarém, Kingdom of Portugal
Burial St. Denis Convent, Odivelas, Portugal
Religion Roman Catholicism

Denis (Portuguese: Dinis or Diniz, IPA: [diˈniʃ]; Lisbon, 9 October 1261 – Santarém, 7 January 1325), called the Farmer King (Rei Lavrador) and the Poet King (Rei Poeta), was King of Portugal and the Algarve. The eldest son of Afonso III of Portugal by his second wife, Beatrice of Castile and grandson of king Alfonso X of Castile (known as the Wise), Denis succeeded his father in 1279.

Reign[edit]

The royal couple

As heir-apparent to the throne, Infante (Prince) Denis was summoned by his father (Afonso III) to share governmental responsibilities. At the time of his accession to the throne, Portugal was again in diplomatic conflict with the Catholic Church. Denis signed a favouring agreement with the pope and swore to protect the Church's interests in Portugal. He granted asylum to Templar knights persecuted in France and created the Order of Christ, designed to be a continuation of the Order of the Temple.

With the Reconquista completed and the Portuguese territory freed from Moorish occupation, Denis was essentially an administrative king, not a military one. However, a short war between Castile and Portugal broke out during his reign, for the possession of the towns of Serpa and Moura. After this, Denis avoided war: he was a notably peace-loving monarch during a tempestuous time in European history. With Portugal finally recognized as an independent country by his neighbours, Denis signed a border pact with Ferdinand IV of Castile (1297) which has endured to the present day.

Denis' main priority of government was the organization of the country. He pursued his father's policies on legislation and centralization of power. Denis promulgated the nucleus of a Portuguese civil and criminal law code, protecting the lower classes from abuse and extortion. As king, he travelled around the country to resolve various problems. He ordered the construction of numerous castles, created new towns, and granted privileges due cities to several others. He declared in 1290 that ‘the language of the people’ was to become the language of the state, and officially known as Portuguese. Denis also made Portuguese the language of the law courts in his kingdom. With his wife, Elizabeth of Aragon (future saint), Denis worked to improve the life of the poor and founded several social institutions.

Always concerned with the country's infrastructure, Denis ordered the exploration of mines of copper, silver, tin and iron and organized the export of excess production to other European countries. The first Portuguese commercial agreement was signed with England in 1308. Denis effectively founded the Portuguese navy under command of a Genoese admiral, Manuel Pessanha (Portuguese form of the Italian "Pezagno"] and ordered the construction of several docks.

His main concern was the redevelopment and promotion of rural infrastructure, hence the nickname of "the Farmer". Denis redistributed the land, promoted agriculture, organized communities of farmers and took personal interest in the development of exports. He instituted regular markets in a number of towns and regulated their activities. One of his main achievements was the protection of agricultural lands from advancing coastal sands, by ordering the planting of a pine forest near Leiria. This forest still exists as one of the most important of Portugal and is known as the Pinhal de Leiria (Leiria Pinewood).

Culture was another interest of King Denis. He had a troubador with a fondness for literature and wrote several books himself, with topics ranging from administration to hunting, science and poetry. His best known is the Cantigas de Amigo which are a collection of songs on love and satire, which helped contribute to the troubador poetry of the Iberian Peninsula. All told, 137 of his songs (more than any other poet), in the three principal genres of Galician-Portuguese lyric, are preserved in the two early 16th-century manuscripts, the Cancioneiro da Biblioteca Nacional, the Cancioneiro da Vaticana. A spectacular find in 1990 by American scholar Harvey Sharrer brought to light the Pergaminho Sharrer, which contains, albeit in fragmentary form, seven cantigas d'amor by King Denis with musical notation. The same poems are found in the same order in the two previously known codices. In his day, Lisbon was one of Europe's centers of culture and knowledge. The University of Lisbon (today's University of Coimbra) was founded by his decree Magna Charta Privilegiorum, the first Portuguese University. He was also a troubadour.

King Denis statue at the University of Coimbra

The later part of his peaceful reign was nevertheless marked by internal conflicts. The contenders were his two sons: Afonso the legitimate heir, and Afonso Sanches his natural son, who quarreled frequently among themselves for royal favor. At the time of Denis' death in 1325 he had placed Portugal on an equal footing with the other Iberian Kingdoms.

Denis is buried in the Monastery of Saint Denis of Odivelas, a Cistercian monastery founded by him in 1295.

Physical Description[edit]

King Dinis's physical description is not that well known. The sources of the era, as well as later authors, fail to provide any physical description of the monarch. The information we have today comes from an accidental opening of the tomb of King Dinis during a restoration process in 1938. We learned that the historical figure of the towering D. Dinis height was not accurate as he was only about 1.65 metres (5 feet 5 inches) tall. The monarch died at the ripe age of 63, a remarkable achievement for the time and apparently enjoyed excellent health throughout his life: He made his will at 61 years of age, always traveled, he was involved in wars from an early age and at age 60 still hunted. He died with complete dentition, a rarity for the time, something that even today continues to be extraordinary. A distinctive feature of the physiognomy of the tomb opening has been that his hair and beard were auburn. A curious fact as he was the first of the Portuguese royal family up to that time to have the hair color. One can speculate that the origin of this genetic trait could come from the maternal side because his uncle Ferdinand de la Cerda had red hair (his uncle also had the epithet "La Cerda", or bristly). He may have also inherited the trait from Henry II of England who is his ancestor on both his paternal and maternal side. Or, from his maternal great grandmother Elisabeth of Hohenstaufen, granddaughter of the famous Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (Red Beard).

Marriage and descendants[edit]

Denis' only wife was Isabel or Elizabeth of Aragon, daughter of Peter III of Aragon. They married in 1288 and she bore him a son and a daughter. Like other monarchs of the time, he had several illegitimate children as well.

Name Birth Death Notes
By Elizabeth of Aragon (1271–1336; married in 1282)
Infanta Constança (Constance) 3 January 1290 18 November 1313 Queen of Castile by marriage to Ferdinand IV of Castile.
Infante Afonso 8 February 1291 28 May 1357 Succeeded him as Afonso IV, 7th King of Portugal.
By Maria Pires (?-?)
João Afonso c. 1280 1325 Lord of Lousã
By Marinha Gomes (c. 1260-?)
Maria Afonso c. 1290 a. 1340  
Maria Afonso (nun) ? 1320 Religious at the Monastery of Odivelas
By Grácia Froes (c. 1265-?)
Pedro Afonso 1287 1354 3rd Count of Barcelos
By Aldonça Rodrigues Talha (c. 1260-?)
Afonso Sanches b. 1289 1329 Lord of Albuquerque and rival of his half-brother Afonso IV
Other natural offspring
Fernão Sanches c. 1280 1329  
Pedro Afonso c. 1280 ?  

Ancestry[edit]

See also[edit]

Denis of Portugal
Cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty
Born: 9 October 1261 Died: 7 January 1325
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Afonso III
King of Portugal and the Algarve
1279–1325
Succeeded by
Afonso IV