Treaty of Madrid (13 January 1750)

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The Spanish–Portuguese treaty of 1750 or Treaty of Madrid was a document signed in the Spanish capital by Ferdinand VI of Spain and John V of Portugal on 13 January 1750, to end armed conflict over a border dispute between the Spanish and Portuguese empires in South America in the vicinity of the Uruguay River, an area known as the Banda Oriental (now comprising parts of Uruguay, Argentina and the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil). The treaty established borders between the Spanish and Portuguese empires, ceding much of what is today's country of Brazil to the Portuguese.[1]


See also Spanish–Portuguese War (1735–37)
1534 Brazil according to the Treaty of Tordesillas
  • Political: Treaties of Tordesillas and Zaragoza

Earlier treaties such as the Treaty of Tordesillas and the Treaty of Zaragoza authored by both countries, and as mediated by Pope Alexander VI, stipulated that the Portuguese empire in South America could extend no farther west than 370 leagues west of Cape Verde Islands (called the Tordesillas meridian, approx. the 46th meridian). Had these treaties remained unchanged, the Spanish would have held both what is today the city of São Paulo and all land to the west and south. Thus, Brazil would be only a fraction of its present-day size.

  • Territorial: discovery of gold in Mato Grosso in 1695; Portuguese gains in the lower Amazon

Starting in the 17th century, Portuguese explorers, traders, and missionaries from the state of Maranhao in the north, and gold-seekers and slave-hunters, the famous bandeirantes of São Paulo, in the south, had penetrated far to the west and far to the south of the old imaginary treaty-line.

    • New captaincies (administrative divisions) created by the Portuguese beyond Brazil's previously-established boundaries: Minas Gerais, Goias, Mato Grosso, Santa Catarina

National motivations[edit]


  • To strike a balance between the boundary claims of Spain and Portugal by allotting the greater part of the Amazon basin to the latter country and that of the Rio de la Plata to the former
  • To secure the undisputed sovereignty of the gold and diamond districts of Goias and Mato Grosso for the Portuguese Crown
  • To secure Brazil's frontier by the retention of the Rio Grande do Sul and the acquisition of the Spanish Jesuit missions ("Seven Peoples") on the left bank of the river Uruguay
  • To secure the western frontier of Brazil and river communication with Maranhao-Para by ensuring that navigation on the rivers Tocantins, Tapajos and Madeira remain in Portuguese hands


  • To stop the westward advance of the Portuguese, who had already encroached on much of what was theoretically Spanish territory even though it consisted mostly of virgin jungle
  • To transfer to Spain the Portuguese colony of Sacramento, which had functioned as a backdoor for the illegal Anglo-Portuguese trade with the Viceroyalty of Peru and which rendered the Spanish city of Buenos Aires dangerously exposed to foreign invasion
  • To undermine the Anglo-Portuguese alliance, and thus eventually to facilitate a union between the two Iberian powers in South America against English aggression and ambition

Cartographic issues[edit]

  • 1722 map of French cartographer Guillaume de Lisle
  • 1749 map of Alexandre de Gusmão: Mappa das Cortes, or Mapa de las Cortes

International context[edit]

  • Philippines & Moluccas under Spanish sovereignty

Structure of the Treaty[edit]

The original was in both Portuguese and Spanish. The treaty consists of a lengthy preamble, and 26 articles.

Terms of the Treaty[edit]

The Treaty of Madrid was based on the principles of Uti possidetis, ita possideatis from Roman law (who owns by fact owns by right) and “natural boundaries”, stating respectively in the preamble: “each party must stay with what it now holds” and “the boundaries of the two Domains... are the sources and courses of the most notable rivers and mountains”, and thereby authorizing the Portuguese to retain the lands they had occupied at the expense of the Empire of Spain. The treaty also stipulated that Spain would receive the Sacramento Colony and Portugal the Misiones Orientales. These were seven independent Jesuit missions of the upper Uruguay River.

  • Treaty of Tordesillas specifically abrogated
  • Definition of the boundary

The treaty sensibly sought to follow geographic features in fixing the boundary: it moved westward from a point on the Atlantic coast south of Rio Grande do Sul, then northward irregularly following parts of the Uruguay, Iguaçu, Paraná, Paraguay, Guapore, Madeira, and Javari Rivers, and north of the Amazon, ran from the middle Negro to the watershed between the Amazon and Orinoco basins and along the Guiana watershed to the Atlantic.[2][3]

  • Mapping

Soon after signing it, two commissions for demarcation were created. The Northern, chaired by the State Governor of Grão-Pará and Maranhão, in the South headed on the Portuguese side by the Governor of Rio de Janeiro.


The Treaty of Madrid was significant because it substantially defined the modern boundaries of Brazil. However, the resistance of the Jesuits to surrendering their missions and the refusal of the Guarani to be forcibly relocated led to the nullification of the treaty by the subsequent Treaty of El Pardo, signed by both countries in 1761. The opposition by the Guarani led to the Guarani War of 1756. The terms of the Treaty of Madrid, with a few exceptions, were re-established in the First Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1777, and that treaty was again negated in 1801.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Waisberg, Tatiana, "The Treaty of Tordesillas and the (Re)Invention of International Law in the Age of Discovery" Journal of Global Studies, No. 47 (2017), p. 9.
  2. ^ Bethell, ed., Leslie (1987). Colonial Brazil. Cambridge University Press. p. 186. ISBN 978-0521349253.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Savelle, Max (1974). Empires to Nations: Expansion in America, 1713-1824. Univ Of Minnesota Press. pp. 132–33. ISBN 978-0816607815.

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