The Conquest of the Azores Islands

Antonio, Prior of Crato

Portugal's King Sebastian I died in 1578. It was a big problem. At 24 years of age, he had no sons and barely any family, which meant there was a big gap where an heir should have been.

The Portuguese Empire succumbed to a succession crisis which made it very desirable for the territory-hungry forces around it. England, France and Spain all eyed the progress (or rather, decline) of the situation with very hungry eyes.

That's when a man called Antonio, Prior of Crato comes in.

Royal Elections

As grandson of one of Portugal's previous kings, he thought he should have a go at reigning Portugal. So he made the right connections. As soon as the Spanish learned about him, he became an ally of King Philip II. He soon became the top candidate in a line of successors that included impostors and opportunists.

Philip decided to start a war with Portugal and put Antonio in command. Since he was quite apt at wars at this point, he conquered most of Portugal in two years, but not all of it. There was a small and belligerent bunch of islands who would rather not learn Spanish, be in Spain or lose their nationality at all: the Azores Islands.

The Conquest of the Azores Islands

King Philip tried to avoid as many costly battles as possible and decided to try the diplomatic way (16th century style): he sent a messenger to inform the people of the Azores Islands that if they surrendered, they would benefit from an amnesty. The messenger was promptly kicked out of the island.

The monarch tried again: one of his treasure fleets, called Pedro Valdés, was just going to pass by the area in its way from America and he sent it to the Azores Islands to offer a new form of pardon. As soon as the Pedro Valdés crew reached the island, its wild bulls were released upon him. In a few minutes, they tore him and his 600-men crew to pieces.

The situation had gotten out of control.

Thankfully, Antonio had the approval of England and Italy. England was too busy with its own business to wage a war against anybody. Italy had no interest in conquering a land so far away. They all conceded that some Spanish class was just what the Portuguese throne needed. With this, Antonio was sufficiently motivated to wage a war against his would-be subjects.

He parted to the area with a fleet. If Azores wanted a war, a war they would have.

Fighting for an Island

It was around that time and France decided it would be cool to have a piece of the Iberian Peninsula and hired a mercenary called Filipo Strozzi to fight in their name. Luckily, Antonio was near the Azores Islands when he learned that Strozzi had sailed. The Portuguese in Azores were alarmed. Two of Europe's most powerful armies were going against them.

Strozzi found it easy to conquer territories like Sao Miguel. The capital, Ponta Delgada, not so much. The Azores Islands took a bit of time to react initially, by when the battle reached the capital, there were ready to put on an all-out naval battle. The best Spanish men from Spain, the best Portuguese and the best from France wound up engaged in a fight to death. The uneven number of the factions at war prevented any kind of alliance to make the situation any better. Everyone was fighting everyone else.

At a point, it seemed like Spain might just lose the campaign, but the tables were turned once the Portuguese changed their mind and decided to attack Strozzi's ships. They managed to sink or capture about 10 of them and killing Strozzi himself. Portugal was left victorious.

A year later, a new fleet of about 16,000 men invaded the Azores and put an end to the whole dispute.