War of the Portuguese Independence

Since King Phillip II, in theory, Spain and Portugal were as good as one, it was called the Iberian Union. But it wasn't exactly fair for the Portuguese, since Phillip IV had raised Portugal's taxes, the Portuguese influence on the Spanish "cortes" had been effectively diminished and Spanish were occupying Portuguese posts, which made Portugal bitter about Spain. The feather that broke the camel's back was when King Phillip III pretty much had it in mind to turn Portugal into a Spanish province, which would mean that the Portuguese nobility would lose all their power and what little influence they had.

Portuguese independence

On the other hand, it was not a summer camp for the Spanish either. Part of the reason why the 17th century was so tough for Spain was that wars had gotten too complex, too costly for their dwindling economy to be solved in a strike like, say, Lepanto. They became small, skirmish-based enterprises that would go on and on decades, overlapping with other wars and consuming much of the army's capacity and it was not so convenient for the Spanish to be involved in such scenarios anymore.

This context is precisely what inspired and defined the Portuguese war of independence, also known as the Acclamation War. In 1640, Spain was in such a bad state, what with long-standing conflicts against the France or Dutch sucking all of their military muscle. Portugal saw this as an opportunity to gain back the independence that Philip II had taken away from them and his grandson Philip IV had turned into a calvary of excessive taxes.

Three Portuguese nobles, Antão Vaz de Almada, Miguel de Almeida, and João Pinto Ribeiro, organized a coup d'etat that marked the official start of a war without leaders, strategy or coordination, but with a strong desire to be independent again. The results of the coup was the murder of Miguel de Vasconcelos (secretary of state) and imprisonment of the governor Margaret of Savoy, who happened to be a cousin of the Spanish king, which put an end to the so called Iberian Union.

The time for this rebellion was carefully picked, as then the Spaniards were engaged in the Thirty Years War and trying to extinguish a revolution in Catalonia.

The Portuguese gave their immediate support and only a few hours later a duke of the family of Braganza was acclaimed as King John IV.

Of course the bad news spread quickly and Spain heard about it very shortly after but by then the new king had begun to take charge of the nation. The Spaniards, or what was left of them, tried to suppress this rebellion by isolating the Portuguese troops in their territory (how that differs from actual independence is something for historians to decide).

But John IV knew he must strengthen his position if he was to win the imminent war with Spain. First of all he created the "Council of War", in the next year he improved the fortresses and garrisons which he financed with regional taxes.

John IV also reestablished Portugal's diplomatic relationship with England. A war, 17th-century style, broke out. It was a war of clashes between Portuguese locals and some of the 20,000 Spanish soldiers covering the border with Portugal (this has led many a Spanish historian to claim that there never was an actual war, but "a few farmers pointing their forks at other farmers and calling it a battle"), but it was still economically and militarily taxing (if you should pardon the pun).

The first skirmishes.

It is commonly known that the best kind of war is the one that's never fought. The battle of Montijo must then be the second-best type: the one where both sides claim they have been victorious. It all began with a Portuguese general, Matías de Albuquerque, who was raiding Spanish villages as part of the skirmish war, he had even conquered a small town called Montijo.

Battle of Valencia Alcántara

This gave the Spaniards a very palpable objective to aim for and sent the Marquis of Torrecusa along with 6,000 soldiers to retaliate and crush the ambition for Portuguese independence. This was followed by the Battle of Valencia Alcántara, which was successfully conquered by Portugal in 1664 and then the Siege of Elvas, where Torrecusa suffered big losses after besieging the city for nine days.

All these battles proved that it wasn't so easy to get Portugal back, the Spanish learned.

As we have mentioned before, wars are expensive, and this was not the only war Spain was waging. They had a similar number of men destined to fighting Portugal (20,000) as the troops in Flanders (27,000). The sums that Spain dedicated to fighting its neighbours was high even for the standards at the time (more than six million ducats), but during the 1660's they skyrocketed. So much for the Iberian Union!

Portugal on the other hand financed it's side of the war by taxing the spice and sugar trade that anchored in their ports on their way to other countries, thanks to John IV's diplomacy it also received help from Spain's enemies, mainly England, France and Holland. The 1650's were not military conclusive, however Portugal's position was strengthened when they signed the treaty with England (1954) and when they expelled the Dutch from Brazil (same year).

The Last Stage

John of Austria the Younger

John IV died in 1656 and his wife succeeded him as queen regent (there would be a succession crisis, as most countries have had), but the king would always be remembered as the engine behind the Portuguese independence. By 1662 Spain was fed up with the Portuguese and wanted to put an effective end to what they still though of as a rebellion. They a force of 14,000 men led by John of Austria the Younger (actually Phillip IV's illegitimate son) into Alentejo and they took Évora. The Portuguese under the command of Antonio Luis de Meneses along with foreign officers and an English troop of some 2,000 men defeated the Spanish in the battle of Ameixial and force them to abandon Evora and retreat over to Spain.

The Spanish didn't attempt to occupy any Portuguese territory until the marquis of Caracena campaigned to take over Vila Viçosa, with over 20,000 men and some German and Italian mercenaries. However the victory would be rather short lived, as the relief column, lead by Luis de Meneses encountered the Spaniards in broke the Spanish cavalry and won. The Spaniards lost thousands of men and, of course, Vila Viçosa.

After this there were no more major campaigns, only skirmishes. Only after Portugal signed a treaty with France in 1667 did Spain recognize the Portuguese independence, effectively putting an end to the Iberian Union