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Afonso V of Portugal

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Afonso V
Contemporary portrait in the Itinerarium of Georg von Ehingen, c. 1470
King of Portugal
Reign13 September 1438 – 11 November 1477
Acclamation15 January 1446
SuccessorJohn II
Reign15 November 1477 – 28 August 1481
PredecessorJohn II
SuccessorJohn II
See list
Born15 January 1432
Sintra Palace, Portugal
Died28 August 1481(1481-08-28) (aged 49)
Lisbon, Portugal
(m. 1447; died 1455)
(m. 1475)
FatherEdward, King of Portugal
MotherEleanor of Aragon
SignatureAfonso V's signature

Afonso V[1] (Portuguese pronunciation: [ɐˈfõsu]) (15 January 1432 – 28 August 1481), known by the sobriquet the African (Portuguese: o Africano), was king of Portugal from 1438 until his death in 1481, with a brief interruption in 1477. His sobriquet refers to his military conquests in Northern Africa.

Early life[edit]

Gold cruzado of Afonso V of Portugal

Afonso was born in Sintra, the second son of King Edward of Portugal by his wife Eleanor of Aragon. Following the death of his older brother, Infante João (1429–1433), Afonso acceded to the position of heir apparent and was made the first Prince of Portugal by his father, who sought to emulate the English Court's custom of a dynastic title that distinguished the heir apparent from the other children of the monarch. He was only six years old when he succeeded his father in 1438.[2]

During his minority, Afonso was placed under the regency of his mother, Eleanor, in accordance with the will left by his late father. As both a foreigner and a woman, the queen was not a popular choice for regent. When the cortes met in late 1438, a law was passed requiring a joint regency consisting of Eleanor and Pedro, Duke of Coimbra, the younger brother of the late king. The dual regency was a failure and in 1439, the cortes named Pedro "protector and guardian" of the king and "ruler and defender" of the kingdom. Eleanor attempted to resist, but without support in Portugal she fled to Castile.[2][3]

Pedro's main policies were concerned with restricting the political power of the great noble houses and expanding the powers of the crown. 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 the count his uncle 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, Pedro had Afonso marry his daughter, Isabella of Coimbra, in 1445.[2]

But on 9 June 1448, when the king came of age, Pedro 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. In the following year, led by what were later discovered to be false accusations, Afonso declared Pedro a rebel and defeated his army in the Battle of Alfarrobeira, in which his uncle (and father-in-law) was killed.[2]

Invasion of Morocco[edit]

Conquest of Arzila in 1471

Afonso V then turned his attentions to North Africa. In the reign of his grandfather John I, Ceuta had been conquered and taken over from the king of Morocco, and now the new king wanted to expand the conquests. The king's army conquered Alcácer Ceguer in 1458 and Arzila in 1471. Tangiers, on the other hand, was won and lost several times between 1460 and 1464. These achievements granted the king the nickname of the African or Africano.[4]

After the capture of Alcácer Ceguer in 1458, Afonso gave himself the title "king of Portugal and the Algarves", where the plural form of Algarve was meant to refer to both the original Kingdom of the Algarve in southern Portuguese as well as the new territories in Africa.[5]

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 Henry's work. 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. In 1469, King Afonso V of Portugal granted Fernão Gomes the monopoly of trade in the Gulf of Guinea.[6]

In 1452, Pope Nicholas V issued the papal bull Dum Diversas, which granted Afonso V the right to reduce "Saracens, pagans and any other unbelievers" to hereditary slavery. This was reaffirmed and extended in the Romanus Pontifex bull of 1455 (also by Nicholas V). These papal bulls came to be seen by some as a justification for the subsequent era of slave trade and European colonialism.[7]


A copy of the Fra Mauro map was made under a commission by Afonso V in 1457. Finished on 24 April 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).

When the campaigns in Africa were over, Afonso V found new grounds for battle in neighboring Castile. On 11 December 1474 King Henry IV of Castile died without a male heir, leaving just one daughter, Joanna. However, her paternity was questioned; it was rumored that his wife, Queen Joan of Portugal (Afonso's sister) had an affair with a nobleman named Beltrán de La Cueva. The death of Henry ignited a war of succession with one faction supporting Joanna and the other supporting Isabella, Henry's half-sister. Afonso V was persuaded to intervene on behalf of Joanna, his niece. He betrothed himself to her, proclaimed himself king of Castile and led troops into the kingdom. Because of their close blood-relationship, a formal marriage had to wait for papal dispensation.[8]

On 12 May 1475 Afonso entered Castile with an army of 5,600 cavalry and 14,000 foot soldiers. In March 1476, after several skirmishes and much maneuvering, the 8, 000 men of Afonso and Prince João, faced a Castilian force of similar size in the battle of Toro. The Castilians were led by Isabella's husband, Prince Ferdinand II of Aragon, Cardinal Mendoza and the Duke of Alba. The fight was fierce and confusing but the result was a stalemate:[9] While the forces of Cardinal Mendoza and the Duke of Alba won over their opponents led by the Portuguese King – who left the battlefield to take refuge in Castronuño, the troops commanded by Prince Joao defeated and persecuted the troops of the Castilian right wing, recovered the Portuguese royal standard, remaining ordered in the battlefield where they collected the fugitives of Afonso.[9] Both sides claimed victory but Afonso's prospects for obtaining the Castilian crown were severely damaged.[8]

“It was 1 March 1476. Eight thousand men for each side, the chronicles tell. With Afonso of Portugal were his son João and the bishops of Evora and Toledo. With Fernando of Aragón, Cardinal Mendoza and the Duke of Alba, as well as the militias of Zamora, Ciudad Rodrigo and Valladolid. The battle was long, but not especially bloody: it is estimated that the casualties of each side did not reach a thousand. Who won? In reality, no one: Alfonso's wing of Portugal fell under the thrust of Fernando, but Prince Juan's troops crushed their Castilian rivals. However, victory in this battle was not going to be military, but ... political. In fact, Ferdinand of Aragon, seeing that the clash concluded without winners or losers, hastened to give his own version of the facts. He sent letters to all the cities of Castile and Aragon and to several European courts.” [10]

— In ¡Santiago y cierra, España! , José Esparza

After the battle, Afonso sailed to France hoping to obtain the assistance of King Louis XI in his fight against Castile. But finding himself deceived by the French monarch, he returned to Portugal in 1477. Disillusioned, he abdicated for a few days in November 1477 in favor of his son John II, then after returning to the throne, he retired to a monastery in Sintra, where he died in 1481.[4]

Marriages and descendants[edit]

Afonso married firstly, in 1447, Isabella of Coimbra, with whom he had three children:

After the death of his wife in 1455, he had at least one child out of wedlock with Maria Soares da Cunha, daughter of Afonso's major valet, Fernao de Sa Alcoforado:

  • Alvaro Soares da Cunha (1466-1557), Noble of the Royal House, Lord of the House of Quintas in Sao Vicente de Pinheiro, Porto and Chief Guard of Pestilence in Porto.



  1. ^ Rendered as Affonso in Archaic Portuguese
  2. ^ a b c d Livermore, H.V., "Afonso V", Medieval Iberia, E. Michael Gerli, and Samuel G. Armistead ed., Taylor & Francis, 2003. p 37 ISBN 9780415939188
  3. ^ Sousa 1998, p. 639
  4. ^ a b Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Alphonso" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  5. ^ Sousa 1998, p. 641.
  6. ^ Scafidi, Oscar (2015). Equatorial Guinea. Bradt Travel Guides. p. 14. ISBN 978-1-84162-925-4.
  7. ^ "Nicholas V | Vatican Library & Dum Diversas | Britannica". www.britannica.com. Retrieved 2022-01-21.
  8. ^ a b Rubin, Nancy (1991). Isabella of Castile: The First Renaissance Queen. St. Martin's Press.
  9. ^ a b “The two sides finally and climactically clashed, in the major confrontation known as the Battle of Toro, on 1 March 1476. he Portuguese army, led by King Afonso, his twenty-one-year-old son Prince João, and the rebellious Archbishop Carrillo of Toledo opposed Ferdinand, the Duke of Alba, Cardinal Mendoza, and other Castilian nobles leading the Isabelline forces. Foggy and rainy, it was bloody chaos on the battlefield. (...) Hundreds of people – perhaps as many as one thousand – died that day. (...). Troops led by Prince João won in their part of the battle; some troops led by King Ferdinand won in another part. But the most telling fact was that King Afonso had fled the battlefield with his troops in disarray; the Castilians seized his battle flag, the royal standard of Portugal, despite the valiant efforts of a Portuguese soldier, Duarte de Almeida, to retain it. (...). The Portuguese, however, later managed to recover the banner. The battle ended in an inconclusive outcome, but Isabella employed a masterstroke of political theater by recasting events as a stupendous victory for Castile. Each side had won some skirmishes and lost others, but Ferdinand was presented in Castile as the winner and Afonso as a craven failure. (...)..” In Downey, Kirstin. "Isabella: the Warrior Queen", Anchor Books, New York, 2014, p. 145
  10. ^ Esparza, José J. (Spanish). ¡Santiago y cierra, España!, La Esfera de los Libros, 2013 (electronic version without page numbering).
  11. ^ a b Stephens, Henry Morse (1903). The Story of Portugal. G.P. Putnam's Sons. p. 139. ISBN 9780722224731. Retrieved 17 September 2018.
  12. ^ a b c d e f de Sousa, Antonio Caetano (1735). Historia genealogica da casa real portugueza [Genealogical History of the Royal House of Portugal] (in Portuguese). Vol. 2. Lisboa Occidental. p. 497.
  13. ^ a b John I, King of Portugal at the Encyclopædia Britannica
  14. ^ a b Armitage-Smith, Sydney (1905). John of Gaunt: King of Castile and Leon, Duke of Aquitaine and Lancaster, Earl of Derby, Lincoln, and Leicester, Seneschal of England. Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 21. Retrieved 17 July 2018.




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
Succeeded by
Preceded by King of Portugal
Portuguese royalty
New title Prince of Portugal
Succeeded by