King Joao I (John I) of Portugal

King John I of Portugal (Joao I) was the first Portuguese king of the House of Aviz, who came to power after the Portuguese Interregnum of 1383 to 1385. King John’s rule of just under fifty years between 6 April 1385 to 14 August 1433 brought stability and economic prosperity to Portugal.

The reign is considered as one of the better periods of Portugal’s early history and with the marriage of King John I to Philippa of Lancaster formed the first political bonds between Portugal and England. The historical reference made to a king often reflects his abilities as a leader and in Portugal Joao is known as John the good or even the great. This title was in recognition of his management of Portugal which maintained peace and increased the living quality of his subjects. Unfortunately the remainder of Europe did not have the same elevated view of King John, who won decisive battles against Spain, here he is affectionately referred to as King John the Bastard. Joao I de Portugal was the tenth ruler of Portugal and the first king to use the title of Lord of Ceuta.

King Joao was born from only half a royal blood line, his father was king Pedro I de Portugal but his mother, Teresa Lourenço, was a mistress of the king. John’s birth was accepted by Pedro I and he was born on the 11 April 1358 in the royal Castelo De Sao Jorge in Lisbon. As a young adult Joao was given the title of Grand Master of the Order of Aviz but he was never in-line for the Portuguese throne. Joao was destined to become a minor lord in the Portuguese empire but things all changed with the death of his father and then later with the death of his half brother Ferdinand I of Portugal.

Ferdinand I died with no male heir to the throne but he had spent many years organising the succession of the Portuguese throne to his daughter, Princess Beatrice. To ensure the political and military stability of Portugal Beatrice married King John I of Castile. This union of northern Spain and Portugal caused great hostility within Portugal as it was considered that Portugal would become a subservient state to Castile. In retaliation the nobles (the Council of the Kingdom) declared, Joao, the only living descendant of Pedro I, the rightful king of Portugal. This act of defiance by Portugal was only going to be resolved by one method, war.

King John of Castile was forced to make the first move to suppress the growing popularity of the new and rival Portuguese King. The invasion force of the Castile King was supported by French cavalry and crossed into Portugal in 1385. The Portuguese king was supported by France’s bitter rival, England. The two forces meet during the summer of 1385, the first battle of the conflict (the Battle of Atoleiros) repelled the northern Spanish army from central Portugal. This triumph was followed up with a decisive victory for the Portuguese fought on the 14 August 1385 at Aljubarrota, were the Castile army was completely obliterated.

This definite conclusion prevented years of semi-civil war on the eastern side of the Iberian Peninsula and allowed the new king to strengthen his position and country. One of King John’s first tasks was to confirm the alignment of Portugal and England against the Castile / French threat. This union of countries was performed by the medieval custom of marriage; King Joao wed Philippa of Lancaster, the daughter of John of Gaunt a leading English noble.

The wedding was held in the cathedral of Porto on the 2nd February 1387 but due to a strange ancient Portuguese custom the wedding was conducted by proxy and Philippa did not even attend her own wedding. This strange proxy wedding continued through to the wedding night where Joao took the stand-in bridegroom and pretended to bed the bride. The festivities continued for a further 15 days until the arrival of Philippa where she rapidly adjusted to the Portuguese court life. By the standards of royal weddings of the middle ages theirs was a happy marriage which produced many healthy children.

Portugal’s survival and the prosperity of King Joao’s rule was greatly enhanced with the death of John I of Castile in 1390. It is a triumph of his rule that he managed to keep Portugal clear of the political fighting that ravaged Europe during the era but he was less fortunate when the plague known as the Black Death struck.

As a ruler King John was regarded as a learned and scholarly man having had an extensive religious education as a child. He was able to transform the corrupt Portuguese court into one of the most progressive of the era and instilled his passion for knowledge and culture into his children. His many children which Philippa bore became the driving force behind the Portuguese Golden Era, championed by his third son Prince Henry the Navigator.

At the death of Joao I de Portugal on the 14 August 1433 he had lead Portugal to become a prosperous country with strong military alliances and an educated linage of princes who would lead Portugal to prominence. In conclusion King John does deserve his title “of the great” because without his decisive and competent rule Portugal would not be the country it is today.

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