The Flight of the Eagle: an Island Tribute to the Universal Iberian Monarchy at the End of the Sixteenth Century
José Damião Rodrigues1
In the sixteenth century, Iberian expansion and, in particular, the power of the Habsburgs contributed to the centrality of the imperial paradigm in terms of political ideas, and to the debates on universal monarchy and the classical topic of translatio imperii, a theme that would continue to be present in many texts written in the following centuries.2 In that same century, one of the axial moments in the reflection about and production of utopias associated with the universal monarchy was the creation of the Iberian Union (1580–1640) when Portugal was integrated into the Spanish monarchy. Generally speaking, this process has not been sufficiently studied within the framework of the theory of empires, although Serge Gruzinski has more than once drawn attention to the “mixed worlds” of the Catholic Monarchy,3 and Sanjay Subrahmanyam has produced proposals for a comparative study of the connected histories and interdependence of the Iberian empires, considering even that the two political formations constituted “articulated entities.”4
Now, as we witness a renewal of the history of the empires, which includes comparative analyses and texts that seek to question the very object of the “empire,”5 it is nevertheless surprising that there has been no major study so far examining the long-term object of the “parallel Iberian empires,” both of which were born of the dynamics of the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century expansion, which peaked for the first time in the sixteenth century. The fact is that it was the Iberian empires with their shared cultural matrix that first combined the use of specific concepts inherited from Rome—dominium and imperium—with new practices and indicated the road to follow, giving rise to reactions from other European powers that disputed their coveted military and diplomatic supremacy.6
I consider it pertinent, then, to present a text that is little known outside its special area of production, the Azores, which compares both the competition and the articulation between the Portuguese and Castilian expansions. Following a brief synthesis of the ideological matrix of early modern empires and the consequences of the voyages of Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan, which are essential for contextualizing the analysis, I will focus my attention on the work of an Azorean chronicler, the São Miguel priest Gaspar Frutuoso. In the late sixteenth century, when Portugal had already been integrated into the Hispanic monarchy and the Marquis de Santa Cruz had conquered the island of Terceira in 1583, Frutuoso wrote a tribute to the universal monarchy of Philip II, which had finally united the Portuguese and Spanish empires under one master.
When we speak of an empire, we cannot forget that its existence implies an emperor, a single monarch, the guarantor of universal harmony. In the Middle Ages and in the Early Modern Age, the political and cultural matrix of the Roman Empire fused with Virgil’s messianic tradition—the Aeneid—and with Christianity.7 The sacred nature of the Roman Empire was established when God, through Jesus, chose its reign to manifest the Incarnation, and the imperial heirs of Rome reinforced that sacred mark.
While the political and cultural matrix of the Roman Empire was undoubtedly the basis of the imperial ideologies that we find in medieval and early modern times, the empire of Charlemagne (742–814) was key to the transmission of that model, although his coronation in 800 was associated with other concepts of empire (Frankish, Papal and Byzantine).8 The official language of the documents and Charlemagne’s later actions do not make clear what the emperor understood to be the meaning either of his coronation in 800 or of the empire. Several authors, however, have suggested that, although Charlemagne is acknowledged as the “Emperor of the Romans,” he did not see himself as a Roman emperor and his conception was mainly religious and Christian.
Setting aside the pure idea of rule, power or lordship, i.e., the so-called ius imperii, the idea of the “empire” in the Middle Ages referred to a political formation including various subunits, such as autonomous cities and small kingdoms connected to a rex regnum (in the mid-tenth century, for example, the English king Aethelstan gave himself the title of “imperator regnum et nationum”), and was also included in the line of the renovatio of the Western Roman Empire. In the first meaning, we refer to the imperium, which is the original concept, dating from republican Rome, that designated the power of the paterfamilias and the power of command over the army during the military campaigns, which the populus delegated in the proconsuls. Later, this power was also attributed to other magistrates, such as consuls, praetors and dictators, and, in addition to the power to command armies, it included the power to convene the Senates and the assemblies that undertook the administration of both the people and the justice system. This led to an imperium that was not a simple potestas, but also a mystical force embodying a Roman idea of dominating virility, and which was marked by the virtues of honor and fidelity. In the second meaning, we refer to an emperor who was considered “dominus et monarcha totius mundi,” leading to the conclusion that “sub Imperatore sunt omnes reges et principes mundi,” as explained by the jurist Bartolo da Sassoferrato (1314–1357).
Also important within the framework of our essay is the reference to Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), the noble Florentine poet who supported the Guelphs and who, during the difficult times of the Avignon papacy and following a pessimistic and negative personal vision of his time,9 wrote the treatise De Monarchia in the 1420s, in which he theorized a universal monarchy or empire as a Christian temporal monarchy, the political instrument that would best ensure the union and happiness of the human species.10
It is important to underline here and now that Dante resorted to the concept of “monarchy” and not “empire.” In his formulation, which was influenced by his “master” Virgil, with quotations from the Aeneid and references to the history of Rome,11 the universal monarchy was seen as a necessity for the “good state of the world,”12 a principality above all others in the world, for, in the likeness of God, the prince of the universe, men should have one single politically independent monarch, the defender of the Christian faith and the guarantor of concord and universal peace. Within the framework of Dante’s Christian universalism, his idea of temporal monarchy—with the emperor at the apex of the Christian world—inverted the hierarchy devised by the Papacy and by medieval canonists (Dante considered that the power of the emperor preceded that of the Popes both through divine right and through natural right),13 and distinguished the Empire from the Church, to which he attributed a merely spiritual purpose with no type of temporal power: “Only the Monarch, among every mortal, can be the most sincere subject of justice.”14
In The Divine Comedy,15 Dante also considered the question of empire and of Rome in particular. In effect, in Paradise, Dante encounters the Emperor Justinian who tells him the story of the Roman Empire through the symbolism of the imperial eagle, a bird that also appears in other passages of the Comedy.16 As there is no single interpretation of the meaning of the eagle as a symbol, it is pointed out that, according to the exegetes of the Florentine poet’s text, as a bird of Jupiter and a bird of God, the eagle represented the Roman Empire, temporal justice and divine grace, and announced the Eagle of Divine Justice,17 aspects that Dante wished to highlight in the context of his conception of the relations between the Empire and the Papacy. I will merely add that the symbolism of the imperial eagle, and in particular of the two-headed eagle, retained its vigor in the following centuries. It was also used in Portugal until the eighteenth century as an emblem of the empire of Christendom and in the context of providential readings of history.18
In addition to the authors who wrote about the empire or the universal monarchy during the Middle Ages, we should recall here the fact that the imperial idea first appeared with varying degrees of intensity in central Europe, Burgundy, France and the Iberian Peninsula. In the Frankish region, people remembered the anointment of Clovis and the coronation of Charlemagne. Yet Charlemagne’s lineage was not restricted to the kingdom of France. The Dukes of Brabant also claimed that same origin, and furthermore said that they were descendants of Clovis and Aeneas. A chronicle dating from 1268 presents Duke John I as the heir to Charlemagne through primogeniture and consequently the legitimate heir to the French Empire. This genealogy reached its zenith in the following century with Charles IV (1316–1378), Duke of Brabant and the Holy Roman Emperor. In the fifteenth century, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy and of Brabant, claimed the imperial title on the death of Charles IV’s children, but with no success. In the meantime, the marriage of Mary of Burgundy, granddaughter of Philip the Good, to Maximilian I in 1477 placed Burgundy solidly in the middle of the dispute for the imperial crown and justified the ambitions of Charles of Ghent in the early sixteenth century.
Charlemagne, however, had also been rex Francorum, King of the Franks, and in Chanson de Roland he is referred to as the “Emperor of the Franks” and “Emperor of France. So, some chroniclers designated the kings of France as emperors, which was further enhanced by the title of Rex Christianissimus, derived from their being anointed with Holy Oils at the time of their coronation. Throughout the Middle Ages and the first Early Modern Age, ambition and the imperial idea were never far from the horizons of French essayists and monarchs, and a messianic idea of medieval origin, refreshed by Renaissance erudition, upheld some French kings’ claims to the imperial crown.19
At the turn of the fifteenth to the sixteenth century, the Papacy was willing to support the French candidacy to the Empire, and Alexander VI summoned Louis XII to Italy to receive the imperial crown. This was deemed an affront by Maximilian I, who replied in the most extraordinary form: he laid claim to the title of Emperor of Byzantium and considered seizing the papal tiara. In a letter which Maximilian wrote to the Bishop of Trent, dated 10 June 1507, he said he was willing to go to Rome and simultaneously take the titles of Emperor and Pope.20 This episode clearly reveals French ambitions regarding the empire and anticipated the last chapter of the Gallic claims in that regard, which were played out by the failed candidacy of Francis I in 1519, although in France monarchic propaganda had continued to feed the discourse of an imperial renovatio, whose themes would continue to be displayed on various festive occasions, such as royal entrances or processions, until well into the seventeenth century.21
In the Iberian Peninsula, an imperial ideology with a dual Christian and Jewish basis was adopted by the monarchs of Castile and Leon, from Alfonso V and Alfonso VI, crowned Emperor (Hispaniae Imperator) in 1135, to Alfonso X and Alfonso XI, one of the victors of the Battle of Salado in 1340. But it was at the end of the fifteenth century in Castile and in Aragon under the Catholic Monarchs, and in Portugal under Dom Manuel I, that the imperial dream glittered most brightly. As Alain Milhou recalled, the monarchy of the Catholic Monarchs projected a whole number of messianic prophecies onto Isabel and Ferdinand that presented the sovereigns as the restorers of Christianity.22 Ferdinand the Catholic was seen as a king predestined to unify the world under his command; the tribute produced after the victorious campaigns led by the Catholic Kings against the Muslims or in the context of their fight against the kings of France is proof of “official messianism,” as well as of an imperial discourse and symbolism.23 It should also be stressed that from the time of Ferdinand the Catholic to Philip III the messianic dream of regaining Jerusalem was always present.24 As for Dom Manuel I, the sixth male child of the Infante Dom Fernando, Lord of the House of Viseu–Beja, who became Duke of Beja and then King of Portugal on the death of all those who preceded him in the line of succession, he was educated in a mystical environment—his tutor, Diogo da Silva Meneses, was close to the Observant Franciscans—and he himself believed he was predestined. Some of the king’s men even suggested that Dom Manuel should take the title of emperor. As the king in 1499, he took the title of “Lord of the Conquest” and nourished the ideal of a messianic crusade, which, based on Portugal’s military expansion into the Maghreb and in the East and recovering previous projects of Latin Christianity, aspired to conquer Morocco and liberate Jerusalem.25
This crusading and messianic dream was not exclusive to the king of Portugal, for, at around the same time, Charles VIII, at the start of the Italian Wars, also espoused these aims, as noted by Fernand Braudel and Alexandre Y. Haran, bringing together representations and practices, ideals and policies, and lucidly stating that in France there was also an imperial dream.26 The imperial ambition of France or of some sectors of the French social and political elites remained active in the coming centuries. At the turn of the fifteenth to the sixteenth century, however, both the idea and the discourse can be identified with the matrix of universal vocation,27 developed in the Iberian kingdoms as a result of the dynamics of overseas expansions and conquest.
Trade, diplomacy and conquest all helped to found the Portuguese formal and informal empire28 that was sung about in sixteenth–century Portuguese chronicles, histories, iconographies, and poetry.29 Despite the tensions and the differences in tone that one notes in the works published in Portugal during the first half and the middle of the sixteenth century, often reflecting opposing views of the processes that were being followed, it is possible from the Manueline reign onwards to identify the existence of a “literature of international propaganda,” in which the king of Portugal is presented as the lord of an imperium acquired through conquest and military might.30 Given the success of the Portuguese, it is hardly surprising that the humanist doctor of Coimbra University António Ferreira (1528–1569) should have written a letter in the form of a poem dedicated to Pêro de Andrade Caminha, stating in triumphant tones that “The Portuguese império that by sea masters so many people, teaches, conquers and tames many barbarians.”31
In the case of the Indian Ocean, Luís Filipe Thomaz considered that, in the main, the Portuguese crown afforded continuation to an imperial project rooted in the late fifteenth century and centered above all on controlling the maritime trade networks rather than controlling spaces and populations. So, the relationship established with the so called “neighboring kings” was more one of suzerainty than sovereignty, although, as this historian also defended, the “appropriation of the sea” corresponded “to an eminent right to the control of communications, which is imperial rather than real, for it pointed to a sort of universal monarchy.”32
Now, more recently, and I believe quite convincingly, Ângela Barreto Xavier suggested that in the mid–sixteenth century the Estado da Índia experienced an imperial re-foundation, amounting to a reconfiguration of the Portuguese Empire. While criticizing the application of the traditional concept of “crisis,” the author suggested that in addition to the imperial model that had prevailed thus far, based on thalassocratic power, a new model inspired on the imperial Roman model was established in the reign of Dom João III, mostly through the contacts and interchange of ideas and models between the courts of Dom João III and Charles V, who furthermore were bound by close family ties. Accordingly, the political and administrative reforms were carried out under an idea of empire.33
It is hardly surprising therefore that, despite the criticism of the expansionist process, the discourses of imperial ambition should have continued throughout the second half of the sixteenth century, keeping pace with the dynamics of the Portuguese Empire, which, in addition to the Asian spaces, now turned more decisively towards South America. The Portuguese monarchy under Dom Sebastião adopted the formal attributes of an empire: the king introduced into Portugal the use of the word “Majesty” as a form of treatment and also the use of the closed crown, which symbolized the empire and the eminent power over kings.34 It was also Dom Sebastião who recovered the ambition of territorial conquest in Morocco, which had peaked with Dom Manuel I, and who ended up perishing in the 1578 expedition, defined as the “last crusade of Mediterranean Christendom.”35
In any case, in sixteenth-century Christendom, the imperial paradigm was mainly defined by the House of Habsburg and its dream of a monarchia universalis, which brought together two imperial traditions and seized both the topic and the representations of the translatio imperii, reinforcing the identification between the House of Austria and the Empire.36 When Charles of Ghent became Charles I in 1516 and then Charles V in 1519, later being elected emperor on 28 June of that year and crowned King of the Romans in Aix-la-Chapelle on 23 October 1520, what remained of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation? A vague notion, a fiction, as Joseph Pérez37 wrote. Yet Charles V and various members of his circle (possibly even more so than the emperor himself) took the idea of empire extremely seriously and wished to breathe new life into it.38
Great prominence has been given to chancellor Mercurino Gattinara, one of the members of the imperial circle and an admirer and student of Dante and his De Monarchia, who had supposedly told Charles V about the universal monarchy in 1519. However, despite the studies produced so far, historians are not unanimous in their interpretation of Gattinara’s role or Dante’s possible influence on the birth of an imperial idea.39 In fact, the imperial political project found its inspiration in various sources. Nevertheless, the Holy Roman Empire as an entity lacked a doctrinal framework, an ideological and administrative backbone, while Charles V remained firmly anchored in old-fashioned principles, such as the ethics of medieval chivalry, which led him to don his armor and march at the head of his troops to fight in battles, and also to challenge Francis I to a duel, thus solving the dispute between them without shedding the blood of their peoples.
In order to encourage and materialize the hegemonic projects associated with an imperial vision, Charles V’s circle developed an imperial propaganda policy and devised a complex strategy of conquests and diplomatic and matrimonial alliances. As far as ideology and propaganda were concerned, the identification between the empire and the expansion of the faith was consolidated, and Charles V came to be considered as the heir to Aeneas and the Roman Empire through Charlemagne, being presented as the knight-emperor of Christendom.40 Although, on several occasions, the emperor denied that ambition, and while not all Castilian essayists agreed that Charles V should present himself as the dominus mundi, many of his supporters defended that they were living a translatio imperii in favor of the Austrian monarchy, which confirmed the prophecies of the Book of Daniel, an interpretation that runs through the whole sixteenth-century Hispanic epic.41
Even before being elected and crowned emperor, Charles had assumed both his mythological lineage and heritage and his global ambition when he adopted the Pillars of Hercules as his emblem and “Ne Plus Ultra” as his motto. As a symbol, according to later readings, it both expressed and enhanced a dynamic expansionist policy that, when transposing the Mediterranean frontier of the ancient empires, gave a modern and overseas dimension to the empire, expressing the wish to bind the Old to the New World. However, some historians have recalled that, when Charles V went to Naples after the Battle of Algiers in 1542, he was honored as the monarcha mundi of only three continents, the three biblical continents, whereas the Castilian Indies merited no reference in the emperor’s will.42 The fact is that the iconic representation of the Pillars of Hercules was reproduced in buildings, books, engravings and other works of art and became “Europe’s most enduring symbol in the bid for universal theocratic monarchy.”43
Diplomatic and matrimonial alliances were promoted and realized at the service of a dynastic policy.44 Charles V’s son Philip played a central role in this construction, although the dynamics of history had the effect of stopping the Habsburgs’ plans for imperial hegemony from coming to fruition. The division of the Habsburg Empire into two branches after Charles V’s abdication did not constitute a moment of a “separation of destinies,”45 but the territorial complex of the Holy Roman Empire split into two political formations which had some similarities but also many contrasts. Wim Blockmans stresses that: “The big difference between Charles’ empire and that of his son was the Roman Empire.”46 Or, should we wish to invert the order of the factors, we could say that the major difference between Charles V’s empire and Philip II’s empire, which did not have the title of imperial, lay in the Castilian Indies, i.e. in the overseas empire and the need to carry out its administration, ensure its defense and justify the conquest and possession of new territories, an issue that was still very much to the fore after Portugal’s incorporation into the Hispanic Monarchy.
Despite the heraldic device of the Pillars of Hercules, the conquistadores, Ferdinand Magellan and the “question of the Moluccas,”47 Charles V’s attention was focused on the Holy Empire and the Mediterranean.48 So, it was only with Philip II and above all with the incorporation of Portugal and its empire into the Habsburg monarchy that the latter finally acquired a planetary dimension, which from a Hispanic perspective legitimized the dominium totius orbis and confirmed the imperium sine fine. As far as the new geography of the Americas was concerned, the definition of the boundaries between the areas of expansion of the Iberian monarchies in the antipodes, and even the competition between the French, English and Dutch, raised hitherto non-existent problems that jurists and diplomats sought to resolve.
This, in effect, was a central issue in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. American geography did not exist in the texts inherited from Antiquity or in the Bible, so that the intellectual, cartographic and ethnological construction and invention of the Americas was based on the voyages and explorations, as well as on direct observation, it is true, but also made use of the cultural repertoire available to the historic agents. In this context, although not always regularly, the classics and Roman imperial law, as well as medieval canonistic law,49 provided chroniclers, jurists and treatise writers with a topical tradition. These were the classical topics of rhetoric and the elements that fed encomiastic histories (often to celebrate the Romans being surpassed by the Iberians, but also to reassess the Roman model), ranging from the critical appreciation and debate taking place on the right (ius) to the conquest and possession of the lands of the New World. From the Castilian and Iberian viewpoint, this right, to which the concept of res nullius or terra nullius50 could not be applied, had been legitimized by Papal bulls.
Despite the vivid controversies that marked this discussion, the incorporation of the new territories into the political corpus of the Castilian monarchy did not take long.51 When the crowns of Castile and Portugal were united at the end of the sixteenth century, and once the resistance by the supporters of Dom António, Prior of Crato, on the island of Terceira in the Azores between 1581 and 1583 had been overcome, Philip II’s monarchy was truly the greatest empire in history, the first on which the sun never set. Although the constitutional organization ensuing from the Cortes in Tomar enshrined the separation between the Portuguese and Spanish overseas dominions, the union of the Iberian monarchies increased the number of references to the overseas territories and the dreams of the monarchia universalis recovered the force of the preceding decades, although only for a short while.52 While the annexation of the kingdom of Portugal could not be compared in meaning with the victory of Lepanto,53 in fact, various “universalist” pamphlets saw in Dom Sebastião’s disappearance a manifestation of Divine Providence and the Dominican preacher Brother Hernando del Castillo was even of the opinion that, with the union of the kingdoms of Portugal and Castile, Philip II would be “the most powerful lord and king in the world.”54
In the last few decades, our historiographic knowledge about the process of Portugal’s incorporation into the Hispanic Monarchy has deepened significantly, and, in this context, the initial resistance on the island of Terceira, its later conquest and what this represented to the parties involved, has been highlighted, although with some differences.55 After the death of Dom Henrique, the defeat of the armies of Dom António, Prior of Crato, and Philip II’s swearing in as king of Portugal at the Cortes in Tomar on 15 April 1581, the king lived in Lisbon from 25 July 1581 to 11 February 1583, during which period he was able to keep a close eye on the military efforts to conquer and pacify the Azores. As an important geographic landmark and an essential port of call on return voyages from the Orient, Africa and the Americas—after 1518 the Castilian ships also stopped off in the bay of Angra—the location of the Azores meant that the islands played a key role in supporting navigation in the Atlantic.
Portugal’s incorporation into the Hispanic Monarchy meant that the Azores could be an important operational base under Castilian control, representing a serious threat to the projects of England under Elizabeth I, but also to the French, who desired to conquer a position in South America.56 So, in May 1581, Elizabeth I decided to send Sir Francis Drake to the Azores, where he was to occupy Terceira, the island where there was a pocket of resistance to Philip II and support for Dom António, who had settled there. The English captain and seafarer met with Dom António in early July to prepare a plan known as the “first enterprise”57 and, although the Queen of England later withdrew from the project, support for Dom António and his supporters was not denied. Accordingly, we note the presence of Captain Henry Richards on the island of Terceira in 1581 and 1582, helping Dom António’s local supporters, while guns and munitions were sent from England to the Azores in the early days of 1582, together with permission for Dom António to charter English men of war.
Should there be any doubts remaining in the Elizabethan court concerning the central position occupied by the Azores, and Terceira in particular, in the system of navigational routes and within the framework of naval operations in the Atlantic, a letter dated 13 October 1581, addressed to Elizabeth I by Brother Simão de Barros, who supported the Prior of Crato, dispelled all hesitations:
Consequently, in the context of the imperial rivalries and the dispute over control of the sea, which extended to the territories outside Europe, the Azores’ geostrategic centrality transformed the archipelago into the privileged scenario for military and naval operations.59 An armada was sent to the Azores in 1581 under the command of Dom Pedro de Valdés, after which another Castilian soldier, Dom Lope de Figueroa, was also ordered to sail for the Azores to support the former’s armada. Dom Lope de Figueroa sailed at the head of a force of more than 4,500 men, with the aim of conquering Terceira. However, the defeat of Dom Pedro de Valdés at the Battle of Salga, a setback which the Spanish commanders had not expected, led the Castilian forces to return to Lisbon. The following year, however, the victory obtained at the important naval battle of Vila Franca do Campo on 26 July 1582, won by the Marquis de Santa Cruz, who defeated the French army commanded by Filippo Strozzi, helped to reverse the situation. Philip II’s subjects received news of this victory with great rejoicing, and in Madrid some even said with evident exaggeration that “not even Christ was safe in Paradise, for the Marquis would go there to get him and crucify him again.”60 These and other successes clearly show the strategic importance of the Azores and the contenders’ commitment to ensuring control of the islands, thereby guaranteeing control over the surrounding maritime spaces and, through them, of the Atlantic.61
The resistance of Dom António and his supporters on Terceira was finally overcome in 1583. The Battle of Vila Franca do Campo and the “Azores campaign,” as the Marquis de Santa Cruz’s expedition to conquer the island became known, were immortalized in the Battle Room in El Escorial, located in Philip II’s private quarters, and in contemporary texts,62 nurturing a utopian imagination that underlined the messianic nature of Philip II’s monarchy, the confirmation of Daniel’s prophecy and the installation of the centre of power in the Catholic monarchy. Voices were also raised in support of the universal monarchy in the territories of the Portuguese kingdom, although this issue has not been widely publicized and, generally speaking, is not included in the Iberian historiographic debate.63 It is highly pertinent, then, to present here one of the Portuguese texts, which, based on a common political culture, was written in praise of the empire, particularly if we consider the fact that, in the early modern period, the idea of a “universal empire” was similarly expressed in other, non-European spaces.64
The author on whom we will now concentrate our attention, Gaspar Frutuoso, was born in Ponta Delgada on the island of São Miguel in 1522, and died in Ribeira Grande on the same island in 1591.65 He studied at the University of Salamanca from 1546, the year when he was first enrolled, until 1558,66 the year when he obtained the degree of Bachelor of Arts and Theology and also that of Doctor, although we know not where. It is noteworthy that one of his teachers was Brother Domingo de Soto, a Dominican theologian who had taken part in the controversy of the Indies.67 Having returned to his native island in about 1560, Gaspar Frutuoso then set sail for the mainland and Bragança to serve Bishop Dom Julião de Alva, to whom he had been recommended by Brother Domingo de Soto. He later received a letter confirming his position as vicar of the parish church of the town of Ribeira Grande in São Miguel, dated 20 May 1565, where he was sworn in on 15 August of that same year. From that date onwards, he was a priest in Ribeira Grande, having also served as a “visitador” or inspector of the monastery of Santo André in Ponta Delgada. Having witnessed the remarkable events of 1580–1583, he began writing his magnum opus, Saudades da Terra, in the mid-1580s, and, almost until the time of his death, this priest and chronicler wrote and updated the six books that make up his narrative. His treatise was no doubt written for publication, but it remained unpublished until the nineteenth century, either because the author died before he had completed the final wording of his text or because of the events in Iberian history in the seventeenth century, which made a tribute to the Iberian universal monarchy under the Habsburgs an undesirable item of history and rhetoric in the Portuguese context, after the dynastic turnaround in 1640.68
The manuscript of Saudades da Terra has 571 pages. Let us take a brief look at the structure of the work. Book I, with 53 pages, begins with Truth in exile on the island of São Miguel. Following a dialogue between Truth and Fame, who flew to the island, Truth tells her companion the general history of Iberia and of the Atlantic, emphasizing the archipelagos of the Canaries and Cape Verde, the islands of Castile and, of greater interest to us here, the issues relating to the partition of the “conquest” between Portugal and Castile, a problem that worsened after Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage and would only be resolved when the kingdom of Portugal was incorporated into the Hispanic Monarchy. It is important in this respect to underline that these events are omitted in Book I, which he began writing quite soon after the facts that opposed Philip II’s supporters to those of Dom António. Attentive to the political reality of his time, Gaspar Frutuoso knew that the Portugal of the Habsburgs had been born of a difficult combination of negotiation and conquest. He was therefore aware that, despite sharing a common culture and despite the loyalties to the Hispanic Monarchy, there were elements of discord and pockets of resistance in Portugal to the Habsburgs, not to mention the activity of the Dom António and his supporters. Accordingly, he circumvented this difficulty of alluding to the question of the Portuguese succession after the deaths of Dom Sebastião and Dom Henrique in the opening book by opting for a temporal ellipsis in his exposition, which is consequently silent on this sensitive matter.
As for the other books, Book II concentrates on the history and geography of Madeira and is based on the narrative of Jerónimo Dias Leite, Dean of Funchal Cathedral, who wrote a text for Gaspar Frutuoso at the latter’s request.69 This book describes the islands of Madeira and Porto Santo and introduces the lives of the captains of the three Madeira captaincies (Funchal, Machico, and Porto Santo), and the genealogies of the main houses of the local elite. The book, namely Chapter XLII, also contains some interpolations, in the form of a tribute addressed to the Bishop of Funchal, Dom Luís de Figueiredo e Lemos, who supported Philip II.70 Book III follows the same pattern and describes the island of Santa Maria, the easternmost island and the first to be settled; Book IV, which covers the island of São Miguel, is the most elaborate of them all and the richest in detail; it contains considerable genealogical, social and economic information. Book V, known as the “Story of Two Friends on the Island of São Miguel,” is a fictional text, which makes a break in the previously developed historical narrative. Finally, Book VI concentrates on the central and western group of islands in the Azores, strongly emphasizing the episodes which occurred between 1580 and 1583 during the struggle for control of the island of Terceira.
Book I is what interests us here. The author demonstrates his erudite education and his knowledge of both classical authors (Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, Thucydides, Cicero, Virgil, Tacitus, Strabo and Fulgentius) and contemporary authors, such as João de Barros,71 Damião de Góis,72 António Galvão,73 the humanist historian Paulo Jóvio (1483–1552), the chronicler of the Indies of Castile, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo (1478–1557),74 Dom Alonso de Ercilla y Zuñiga (1533–1594), the “grave poet” and the author of La Araucana, a work that is explicitly quoted,75 the “universal, most learned and most diligent” Basque chronicler (“Cantabro”) Esteban de Garibay y Zamalloa (1533–1599),76 and Jerónimo Cardano. Appearing throughout his work, such references clearly place Gaspar Frutuoso among the Portuguese cultural elite of the time. Note that the repertoire of classical references is richer and more recurrent in Book I than in the following books and that, despite his respect for the authorities and his peers, Gaspar Frutuoso did not hesitate to criticize Plato about Atlantis or to introduce the corrections he considered necessary, as he did with regard to Damião de Góis.
Although he had studied in Salamanca and been a student of Domingo de Soto, it is interesting to note that the authors of the School of Salamanca are explicitly absent from this narrative. As I see it, this fact is due to the general objectives behind the drafting of Saudades da Terra. Book I, in fact, clearly shows that Gaspar Frutuoso’s intention77 was to write a tribute to the Iberian universal monarchy, beginning by explaining the origin of the controversies between the Portuguese and Spanish monarchies about the overseas lands and then, in providential form, describing how “God intervened in this dispute, uniting these kingdoms under one crown.”78 It was hardly the most appropriate moment to recall other discussions that questioned the Castilian monarchy’s right to the possession of new territories. Nevertheless, we shall see how the author’s Salamancan education, and in particular his neo-Thomist influences, crop up in some passages of the text.
Gaspar Frutuoso very clearly included the Azores in the overseas, Atlantic and insular worlds of the sixteenth century and applauded the universal monarchy of Philip II, stating that the monarch “is now the greatest lord in all the environs.”79 Just like other contemporary authors who wrote within the framework of the Catholic Monarchy, the object of the discourse is local but its horizon is global.80 Creating a narrative that was more a discursive geography of the islands81 than a “chorography” (in the Renaissance sense of the word), the Azorean priest had another aim in mind: to exalt the Azores and its people, particularly those of a higher level. Saudades da Terra was thus an instrument designed to promote the archipelago to the Catholic Monarchy, within the context of the new political and social organization, underlining the union between the Portuguese and the Spanish and minimizing the resistance in Terceira to the reigning monarch, in spite of the fact that the chronicler devoted a considerable portion of Book VI to describing the events relating to the resistance led by Dom António and the subsequent conquest of the island.82
Having made use of his intellectual training and his vast network of contacts, Gaspar Frutuoso produced a narrative through which the islands of Azores are fully integrated into the late sixteenth-century imperial context. Accordingly, we can only agree in part with Miguel Tremoço de Carvalho when he says that Frutuoso’s text “denotes a globalizing view of the Atlantic, on the one hand and, on the other hand, a knowledge of the existence of an insular world.”83 As we can mainly see in Book I (but also confirmed by the other books), although, in his genealogical digressions, the author presents us with the natives of the islands who took part in building the Portuguese Empire from Morocco to the Far East, his narrative is also a spatial and temporal perception of Portugal’s maritime experience within the context of universal history, recounted either through biblical stories, classical mythology or Iberian history.
Note that his concern with the events involving European expansion runs through the entire text, with particular incidence in Book I. Thus, the chronicler also resorted to “living memory,” consulting older people who were contemporary or direct witnesses of certain episodes so as to correctly record the actions of the “modern people of today.”84 For example, we can cite the case of Manuel Martins Soares, “a rich and wholesale merchant and a man of delicate understanding,”85 born in São Miguel and who was living in London in 1582, whose testimony Gaspar Frutuoso used to describe the long voyage of circumnavigation of the globe (1577–1580) undertaken by Sir Francis Drake, and also the house that the seafarer bought in Plymouth on his return to England.86
In Book I, the pretext for the exposition explaining how the Iberian empires were united is a question asked by Fame about the existence in the “great Ocean Sea” of islands peopled with Portuguese and others with Castilians, as Fame states that “I do not understand this mixture, how this sea had two different masters.”87 Truth—Gaspar Frutuoso—begins by answering that “the kings of Portugal for some years controlled the sea of the West until the time of King Dom João, the second of his name, when there was a change which I will tell you about later;” he presents two reasons for possession of the islands and other territories, which are the principle of “primo occupanti conceditur locus,” established in Roman law88 and in the Papal bulls;89 and then, pursuing a chronological line and anchoring his narrative in various “languages”90 (chronicles, “chorographies,” Renaissance emblems), he presents the geography and history of the Canaries, Cape Verde and the Antilles, finally exposing the chronological landmarks that opposed Portugal and Castile in the demarcation of their conquests before their union under Philip II, and concluding with the Azores and the legend of Atlantis.91
The initial year of that tour was 1344, starting with the conquest of the Canaries, and the author also refers to the years of 1393, 1417 and 1424 when talking about those same islands, the process of their conquest and the beginning of the partition of the lands.92 Having explained how the Canaries had fallen into the hands of the kings of Castile, he provides information about the language of the islands and presents a description of every part of the islands, relating the more significant events of recent history. The core of Frutuoso’s narrative can be found in the chapters dedicated to Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan, for amongst other things the consequences of their voyages implied protracted and complicated negotiations between the Iberian monarchies; these culminated in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 and in the Treaty of Saragossa in 1529, which in theory at least (and as was understood by the Iberian monarchs) established the division of the globe between two separate spheres of action.93
It was precisely Magellan’s voyage of circumnavigation that caused more disagreements between the crowns of Portugal and Castile about the so-called “Moluccas issue” and the definition of the line dividing the Portuguese and Spanish spheres of influence in the antipodes. Speaking through the voice of Truth, the author considered that Portugal was fully entitled to possession of the Moluccas, “acquired and sustained with so much work of the Portuguese.” However, given the doubts and the reasons presented by both parties regarding the “partition of these conquests,” in the end it was divine will that decisively settled the dispute. In a brief summary of historic events, Gaspar Frutuoso renews his praise for Philip II, presenting him as a protégé of God, who “in His hidden wisdom” handed the kingdom of Portugal to the “most Catholic, high and powerful King Dom Philip, so that he not only became king of all Spain, but of the East Indies, where the Moluccas are, and of the West Indies,” so that he was “now the greatest lord in all the environs.”94 In this passage, note how the author took care to emphasize the providential dimension of the union of the two monarchies, which guaranteed the true universal nature of the Catholic Monarchy through its new geographical dimension, bringing him into line with the Spanish jurists who theorized about the universal empire of the Spanish monarchy.95
Following the discoveries of Columbus and Magellan, and on the subject of the Habsburg’s imperial heraldry, the chronicler spoke of the inclusion of the Pillars of Hercules in the arms of Charles V to underline that the Emperor’s enterprise had exceeded those of every single one of the other kings and princes of the past and present and acquired a new overseas dimension with the conquest of the West Indies.96 This is when the priest begins to develop some thoughts on the symbolism of the imperial eagle. In our view, this passage is a core moment in the narrative. Gaspar Frutuoso, in fact, intertwines his description of the symbolism of the eagle with the question of translatio imperii, going back as far as Aeneas, and, in doing so, anchoring the explanation for the present in the past, thus giving readers the interpretive key that places Philip II at the apex of the mythical and historical lineage of the emperors.97
Basing himself on Virgil and on the “Book of the Aeneids” which he quotes explicitly, Gaspar Frutuoso states that, ever since the time of Julius Caesar, emperors had used the eagle in their arms, and that they had taken it from Aeneas, from whom they were descended. For that reason, Charles V had taken the eagle and, in particular, the divided or two-headed eagle:
This is clearly a statement of the superiority of the empire; the aim of the explanations given about the symbolism of the eagle, starting with Virgil, passing through Pindar, Fulgentius, Aeneas Vico and Alessandro d’Alessandro (1461–1523), the author of Geniales Dies, quoted by Gaspar Frutuoso, and ending with Emperor Constantine, is merely to place Charles V—and after him Philip II—in the direct lineage of a mythical genealogy that, following the logic of translatio imperii, began in Aeneas and went via Rome, Constantinople and the Empire of Charlemagne.99 Because the emperor was the temporal head of Christianity, the reference to the division of the Roman Empire into East and West merits some attention, for “the Emperor’s arms were two eagles in one body, or one eagle with two heads, which means the Empire of Christianity, which had the two heads of the Church, the Roman and the Greek, situated in two cities, namely Rome and Constantinople.”100
Following this digression and having already presented the episode recounted by Pindar about Jupiter sending two eagles to discover where the middle of the world was,101 Gaspar Frutuoso wrote that Emperor Charles V had removed the Pillars of Hercules and placed them on his coat of arms, thus symbolizing the definitive expansion of the geographic limits of the ancient empires confined to the west by the Ocean Sea, and also noted that the emperor had settled the pillars in the sea, for the Spanish had sailed to the Antilles, to Peru and to the Moluccas. Accordingly, Charles V’s imperial eagle flew much further than its predecessors. And, as the Iberian monarchies were at odds with one another, the imperial eagle flew towards the west and found Portugal in the East, in the Moluccas, “flying like eagles, not of Jupiter, a deceiving god, but of Christ, the true God.”102 So, the two eagles, the symbol of the two kingdoms that would later become united, met:
The wish formulated by the São Miguel chronicler and priest, uniting the Iberian empires in concord, in virtuous harmony through royal and divine love104 and the will of God, was plainly in agreement with the Habsburgs’ project to found their empire, their monarchia universalis, on truth and the image of the Cross.105 Similarly, it coincided with the Salamancan neo-Thomist thinking that defended the empire as a means to attain concordia hominum, the basis of any community, and considered charity, “Christian charity,” as the basic political bond.106 Finally, Gaspar Frutuoso also aligns himself with the same tradition of the Castilian epic of the sixteenth century, which presented the universal monarchy as a guarantee of concord and peace among men, and with contemporary texts such as the Diálogo llamado Philippino by the Licentiate Lorenzo de San Pedro, who, through iconography, also defended concord among the kingdoms of Castile and Portugal, presenting Philip II as the Defensor Fidei.107 Both works are part of a larger corpus fed by a utopian imagination that underlined the messianic nature of Philip II’s Catholic monarchy, presented by Gaspar Frutuoso as the “pillar and upholder of the Catholic faith and of all Christian republics that have flourished and still flourish with marvelous triumphs,” conquering infidels, heretics and schismatics.108 In fact, this was the claim that the providential monarchy would ensure the expansion not of Christianity, but of the Catholic faith, under the command of Philip II, the protector and defender of the faith, the Fidei Protector ac Propugnator, conceived by Domingo de Soto, and it seems to find an echo here.109
So, following the reasoning developed in his narrative, Gaspar Frutuoso concludes Book I by recalling that, according to some,
The political message is quite clear. The author goes beyond the identities of the communities, the “nations” of the Portuguese and the Castilians, by placing both under a broader and more aggregating identity, the Spanish, coinciding with Hispania and the Iberian territories of Philip II’s monarchy. Just as the eagles had flown away and met in the East, so he asserts that the Portuguese and the Castilians would also sail to dominate the seas and confirm the supremacy of the universal Hispanic monarchy. What he defended, in fact, was Iberian mobilization and, through this example of unity, the expansionist and regenerating capacity of the Catholic Monarchy.111
From the above, it is quite clear that when we raise the issue of identities and loyalties within the context of the Catholic Monarchy, we can place Gaspar Frutuoso amongst those Portuguese who were favorable to the “Hispanic solution” embodied by Philip II.112 So, Gaspar Frutuoso’s Saudades da Terra was “a text in context” and as such the writing of it was an illocutionary act.113 In his work, the author praises the monarchy of Philip II which had united the two Iberian empires in one “composite empire,”114 i.e., a plural, transcontinental body politic. However, his faith in its possible perlocutionary effect was lost, for, after the death of the São Miguel priest, the manuscript was entrusted to the College of the Society of Jesus in Ponta Delgada, where it remained until the expulsion of the Order in the eighteenth century. Thus Frutuoso’s narrative cannot be considered as the work of propaganda that it possibly set out to be. Although the manuscript was often consulted by members of the local elites, they did so in order to seek out the genealogical information it contained and, after 1640, it was no longer wise to remember that the “father” of Azorean historiography had praised the glory of the universal Hispanic monarchy.
The example of Saudades da Terra reminds us that, during the initial period of the Iberian Union and despite some resistance, many Portuguese wrote laudatory speeches in praise of the Catholic Monarchy, contemporary with more famous examples. We believe the time has come to recover the knowledge of those and other texts without which we will be unable to write a comparative and interconnected history of the empires of Castile and Portugal.
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1 University of the Azores/ Centre for Overseas History (CHAM). E-mail: email@example.com
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