Portuguese in South-East Africa, 1600-1700

By Eric Axelson | Go to book overview

1
SOUTH-EAST AFRICA AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY

"The year 1600 arrived," wrote a seventeenth-century Portuguese friar,1 "the year when our State began to decline." The decline had already started, but it is a convenient year at which to initiate this study. Portuguese fortresses and settlements still stretched half-way across the globe, from Brasil to China, but Portugal lacked the manpower2 to sustain this prodigious effort, especially after the coming of Filipe II of Spain to the Portuguese throne. Filipe had undertaken that the Viceroys and Governors of Portugal, if not members of his own family, would be Portuguese; he had promised to establish a Conselho dePortugal which would guide him in the conduct of Portuguese affairs when he was not in that kingdom; and he had undertaken to reserve the trade of India and other overseas possessions to Portuguese subjects.3 Certainly too Filipe and his successor4 had improved and centralized the administration of those overseas possessions, creating the Conselho da Fazenda in Lisbon for the control of financial matters,5 and the Conselho daÍndia for the formulation of policy and the direction of the Casa da Índia.6 But the succession of the Spanish King had dragged Portugal into the Spanish wars. English and Netherlands vessels had begun to penetrate into the Indian Ocean towards the end of the sixteenth century and to break the monopoly which had been Portugal's for a century. Commercial competition was inevitable. But now much of that competition was to be resolved by gunpowder; and among Portugal's possessions to be so forcibly challenged were her settlements in south-east Africa.

____________________
1
Manuel Godinho, Relação do Novo Caminho que fez por terra e mar, vinda da India para Portugal, no anno de 1663. Lisbon, 1842, p. 6.
2
Fortunato de Almeida estimated the population of Portugal to be about 1,122,000 in 1527 ( Histόria de Portugal, Coimbra, 1922-7, III, p. 247). In 1600 it probably did not exceed one- and-a-quarter million.
3
Clauses 3, 7 and 15 of the Capitulations of Tomar. It is not known when the Conselho was inaugurated, but it received a regimento in 1607 ( Almeida, IV, pp. 32-3, 69).
4
Filipe III of Spain, II of Portugal, 1598-1621.
5
The Conselho da Fazenda was established in 1591; it was given jurisdiction over the Casa da Índia, which organized the trade to the East, including the supply of ships, provisions and crews. The Council, which consisted of a Vedor da Fazenda as president and 4 councillors was extinguished in 1641, when the Bragança King reverted to the system of supervision of the Fazenda by 3 Vedors. ( F. P. Mendes da Luz, O Conselho da Índia. Lisbon, 1952, pp. 48-53, 81.)
6
The Conselho daÍndia was established in 1604; it comprised a president, who was normally a retired viceroy or governor of Portuguese India, and 4 councillors. Specifically excluded from its jurisdiction were matters connected with the organization of armadas for India and the management of the trade. Friction with the Conselho da Fazenda over financial and commercial matters became critical in 1613, and in 1614 the Conselho daÍndia was abolished. ( Luz, pp. 104-5, 178-91.) At the beginning of the 17th century there were two Secretaries of of State, one for Portugal and one for India. There were Councils or State and or War; the Desembargo do Paço dealt with justice and the Mesa da Consciêencia with religion in both Portugal and lands beyond the seas. ( Luz, pp. 73-4, 91, 172.)

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