Illustrious Generation

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The Ínclita Geração (often translated in English as "Illustrious Generation" or "Marvelous Generation") is a term commonly used by Portuguese historians to refer to a group of 15th-century infantes (princes) of the House of Aviz, specifically the sons of King John I of Portugal and his wife Philippa of Lancaster (daughter of John of Gaunt). The princes are the future king Edward of Portugal, future regent Peter of Coimbra, Henry the Navigator, the constable John of Reguengos and the martyr Ferdinand the Holy Prince.

Members[edit]

The illustrious generation is normally given as the five legitimate sons of John I and Philippa of Lancaster:

Some lists are expanded to include their sister:

and their older half-brother, the natural son of John I and Inês Peres

Origins of the label[edit]

The appellation Ínclita Geração was originally coined by Portuguese poet Luís de Camões in his 16th-century epic Os Lusíadas, (Canto IV, stanza 50) on the death of John I:

Original Portuguese Literal English Translation

Não consentiu a morte tantos anos
Que de Herói tão ditoso se lograsse
Portugal, mas os coros soberanos
Do Céu supremo quis que povoasse.
Mas, pera defensão dos Lusitanos,
Deixou Quem o levou, quem governasse
E aumentasse a terra mais que dantes:
Ínclita geração, altos Infantes.

Death did not consent that for so many years
Portugal could enjoy that felicitous Hero,
but the sovereign choirs
of the supreme Heaven wanted him among themselves,
But for the defense of the Lusitanians,
He who removed him, left behind those that would govern
and augment the land more than ever :
Illustrious generation, high Royal Princes.

[1]

Relationships[edit]

Panel of the famous polyptych of St. Vicent by painter Nuno Gonçalves, believed to represent the four younger sons of John I: Ferdinand the Holy (on top, in black), John of Reguengos (left, red), Peter of Coimbra (right, green), Henry the Navigator (bottom, purple)

According to the chronicler Gomes Eanes de Zurara, all the brothers participated in the 1415 Conquest of Ceuta and were knighted in the aftermath by their father, John I of Portugal with arming swords supplied by their dying mother, Philippa of Lancaster.[2] They began receiving their lordships in the aftermath - e.g. in 1416, Peter was made duke of Coimbra, Henry duke of Viseu, etc. John I also began to seize control of the main military orders of Portugal by securing from the pope the appointment of his sons as their grand masters - John taking the Order of Santiago in 1418, Henry the Order of Christ in 1420 and Ferdinand succeeding to his own Order of Aviz. John I appointed young John to succeed his loyal lieutenant Nuno Álvares Pereira as Constable of Portugal (high miitary chief) in 1431.

Despite the high titles, John I maintained his sons under a tight leash, deploying them as deputies of his will, and not allowing them too much room for independent maneouver, responsibility or authority. It is probably as a result of this that, through the 1420s, the princes dedicated themselves to individual pursuits - Edward to philosophy, Peter to celebrated tours of Renaissance Europe and Henry to his nautical charts. The 'illustrious' label of this generation refers in good part to the intellectual achievements of the princes during this period. It also justifies the inclusion of Isabella of Portugal in this list, as she helped transpose much of the Renaissance spirit and flair of the Burgundian court back to stuffy Medieval Lisbon.

It is really only after the death of their father in 1433 that the princes came into their own. Now king, Edward of Portugal ran his court almost jointly with his brothers, who were his intimate counsellors. Edward generously handed out lucrative benefices and monopolies to his brothers, giving them the means for independent action. Flush with new grants, Henry the Navigator's naval expeditions kicked into high gear after 1433.

Disagreements over policy soon produced fraternal fissures. In 1436, Edward assembled the Cortes of Evora to consider the ambitious scheme proposed by Henry the Navigator to conquer Tangiers from Morocco. Peter of Coimbra and John of Reguengos argued vigorously against the plan, urging Edward to focus of domestic priorities, but Ferdinand the Holy backed Henry's plan. Against Edward's misgivings, the plan went forward, with Henry personally leading the expeditionary force in 1437. It was a fiasco. The Portuguese army was quickly surrounded and starved into submission. The humiliation was complete when Henry agreed to deliver Ceuta back to the Marinids and left his youngest brother, Ferdinand as hostage for the fulfillment of the treaty. Despite Peter and John's entreaties, the Portuguese Cortes refused to ratify the treaty, and left Ferdinand in captivity in Fez, Morocco, where he eventually died in 1443.

The Tangiers debacle and the harrowing fate of young Ferdinand probably contributed to Edward's premature death in 1438. The country was surprised by Edward's will, which appointed his consort Eleanor of Aragon, rather than his brothers, as regent of the kingdom on behalf of his young son, the new king Afonso V of Portugal. Many commoners believed the foreign-born Eleanor would be a pliable puppet of the Portuguese high aristocracy, who were itching to claw back the authority they lost to the burghers since the revolution of the 1380s. The country seemed to be careening towards civil war, when John of Reguengos, in his capacity as constable, quickly seized control of the city of Lisbon, and assembled a burgher-packed Cortes who promptly elected his brother and ally Peter of Coimbra as regent. The Portuguese high nobility, now rallied around the half-brother Afonso of Barcelos, urged Eleanor to refuse to step down. The crisis was finally defused when Henry the Navigator offered to arbitrate between the parties, negotiating a tense power-sharing arrangement between Peter, Eleanor and Afonso. For many commoners, who were steadfast behind Peter and John and believed they had the upper hand, Henry's intervention was not welcome.

Despite the strange regency agreement, Peter of Coimbra quickly seized the lion's share of power, buying off noble opponents one by one, with promises of new titles and benefices (which he was not quick to fulfill). The death of John of Reguengos, Peter's loyal brother and ally in 1442, was a setback. But he quickly began to cultivate the support of the ambivalent Henry the Navigator, renewing and expanding his benefices, most notably granting him a lucrative monopoly on trade in Africa south of Cape Bojador in 1443. To seal his position and influence, Peter persuaded his nephew, the young king Afonso V, to marry his own daughter, Isabella of Coimbra, in 1445. By 1446, Peter felt confident enough to unveil his Afonsine Ordinances, a new Portuguese legal code uniting Visigothic, Roman and common law. The Portuguese burghers applauded the move, the high nobility were appalled and turned to the half-brother Afonso of Barcelos for redress.

Afonso of Barcelos's tense relationship with Peter had turned decidedly for the worse after the death of John of Reguengos in 1442, when Peter decided to appoint John's son, Diogo of Portugal, as the successor to his father's important titles of Constable of Portugal and master of Santiago, titles which had been promised to Afonso of Barcelos and his sons. Things only got worse after Diogo's sudden death in 1443, when, once again, Peter overlooked Afonso and appointed his own son, Peter of Portugal, as Constable. To appease Afonso of Barcelos, Peter of Coimbra created him the first Duke of Braganza in 1443.

The Afonsine Ordinances of 1446 brought the bulk of the nobility to rally behind the discontented Afonso and urged him to do something about it. Afonso of Barcelos-Braganza set about ingragiating himself with the impressionable young king Afonso V of Portugal, and soon displaced Peter as his favorite uncle.

In June 1448, Afonso V finally came of age, and dismissed Peter of Coimbra as regent. The machinations of Afonso of Braganza soon bore fruit when, in September 1448, Afonso V nullified all of the edicts and laws passed under Peter's regency, and began rooting out Peter's appointees and passing their positions over to Braganza's men.

In 1449, Peter of Coimbra gathered his loyalists, knights and bureaucrats who had been dismissed by Afonso V's purge, and set out on what he claimed was a peaceful mass march on Lisbon, to protest the dismissals and petition the king to allow his men to defend themselves against the false accusations being lobbed at them in court. But Afonso of Braganza persuaded Afonso V that Peter intended to lay siege to the city and provoke a popular uprising by the overwhelmingly supportive burghers. The latter interpretation gained currency, and Afonso V declared Peter a rebel and outlaw, and led the royal army out to intercept his uncle's march. The armies met at the Battle of Alfarrobeira in May 1449. It was not much of a battle - Peter of Coimbra was killed by missile fire near the start, and his 'army' quickly laid down their arms.

Tombs of the high princes, Founder's Chapel, Batalha Monastery. From left to right, Ferdinand the Holy, John of Reguengos, Henry the Navigator and Peter of Coimbra

The victory of Afonso of Braganza and the rest of the nobility was now complete, and they remained high in the saddle through the rest of Afonso V's reign. In the aftermath, Henry the Navigator, the last surviving member of the illustrious generation, went into near-hermitical seclusion in Sagres. Having allowed his household knights to join field with the king's army against Peter, Henry reputation as dynastic traitor was cemented in the popular mindset, thoroughly hated by Peter's partisans and the burghers. To the new order of Braganza and the high nobility, Henry was a useless relic, a quirky old man who liked to play with ships. Henry spent his last remaining years launching a new set of naval expeditions, stretching Portuguese discoveries as far as the Gold Coast of west Africa. Henry died in 1460, a bachelor without heirs, largely unlamented, save perhaps by the Order of Christ, whose fortunes he had so enlarged.

References[edit]

  1. ^ In Mickle's (1776) translation: "But ah, how soon the blaze of glory dies!/Illustrious John ascends his native skies./His gallant offspring prove their genuine strain/And added lands increase the Lusian reign." The Lusiad, or the discovery of India, an epic poem. For alternative English translations, see R.F. Burton (trans.), 1880, The Lusiads 4.50, and J.J. Aubertin (trans.) 1878-84, The Lusiads of Camoens 4.50
  2. ^ Zurara (1450)

Sources[edit]

  • Gomes Eanes de Zurara (1453) Crónica dos feitos notáveis que se passaram na Conquista da Guiné por mandado do Infante D. Henrique or Chronica do descobrimento e conquista da Guiné. [Trans. 1896-99 by C.R. Beazley and E. Prestage, The Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea, London: Halyut, v.1, v.2
  • Diffie, Bailey W., and George D. Winius (1977) Foundations of the Portuguese empire, 1415-1580 Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press
  • Russell, P.E. (2001) Prince Henry 'the Navigator': a life New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press.