In 1940 Portugal commemorated perhaps the two most important events in the story of her national development. These events were the foundation of the independent monarchy by the warrior-king Afonso Henriques eight centuries ago, and the recovery of independence by dint of the national rising of 1640, which put an end to two generations of submission to the Spanish crown. The anniversary of these events was kept with befitting solemnity: the spirit of rejoicing was damped by the fall of France, which seemed to expose not only Portugal, but all the nations of Europe, to the militant rapacity of the Germans, yet in those dark days the emphasis given to the commemorations was a useful reminder that the main theme of Portuguese history has been the establishment and preservation of national independence.
To the rest of the world the Portuguese are best known for the enterprise of the Discoveries, in the course of which they explored or made available to Europe much of the Atlantic, the West African coast, India and the Indian Ocean, the Far East, Oceania and Brazil, and in peopling the Atlantic Islands, led the revival of the art of colonization. These achievements are the more worthy of attention because at the time of the expansion the Portuguese race numbered a bare million persons, whose territory, standing at the remote edge of Europe, was poor in commerce and not rich in agriculture. The story of the Discoverers is one of the greatest and strangest episodes in history, and it is not surprising that their deeds should have supplied the material for one of the few great epic poems of modern times. But without in any way detracting from the just fame of these pioneers, it is perhaps necessary to point out that their exploits form a part of the course of Portuguese history, and it is a mistake to regard them as an isolated phenomenon.
To England Portugal is of special concern as the partner in a community of interest conveniently known as the Anglo-Portuguese, or simply the Ancient, Alliance. This Alliance may be said to have been foreshadowed as early as 1147 by the participation of English crusaders in Afonso Henriques' reconquest of Lisbon from the Moslems: the story of this feat of arms is preserved in the De Expugnatione Lyxbonensi, written by one of the crusaders, probably a native of Suffolk, who thus becomes the earliest and one of the best of foreign historians of Portugal. It was, however, nearly two and a half centuries later, in 1373, that Dom Fernando of Portugal made a treaty with the English against Castile, which was more strongly taken up by his successor, John of Avis