Manuel I, king

(1469-1521)
   King Manuel I, named "The Fortunate" in Portuguese tradition, ruled from 1495 to 1521, the zenith of Portugal's world power and imperial strength. Manuel was the 14th king of Portugal and the ninth son of Infante Dom Fernando and Dona Brites, as well as the adopted son of King João II (r. 1481-95). Manuel ascended the throne when the royal heir, Dom Afonso, the victim of a riding accident, suddenly died. Manuel's three marriages provide a map of the royal and international history of the era. His first marriage (1497) was to the widow of Dom Afonso, son of King João II, late heir to the throne. The second (1500) was to the Infanta Dona Maria of Castile, and the third marriage (1518) was to Dona Leonor, sister of King Carlos V (Hapsburg emperor and king of Spain).
   Manuel's reign featured several important developments in government, such as the centralization of state power and royal absolutism; overseas expansion, namely the decision in 1495 to continue on from Africa to Asia and the building of an Asian maritime trade empire; and innovation and creativity in culture, with the emergence of the Manueline architectural style and the writings of Gil Vicente and others. There was also an impact on population and demography with the expulsion or forcible conversion of the Jews. In 1496, King Manuel I approved a decree that forced all Jews who would not become baptized as Christians to leave the country within 10 months. The Jews had been expelled from Spain in 1492. The economic impact on Portugal in coming decades or even centuries is debatable, but it is clear that a significant number of Jews converted and remained in Portugal, becoming part of the Portuguese establishment.
   King Manuel's decision in 1495, backed by a royal council and by the Cortes called that year, to continue the quest for Asia by means of seeking an all-water route from Portugal around Africa to India was momentous. Sponsorship of Vasco da Gama's first great voyage (1497-99) to India was the beginning of an era of unprecedented imperial wealth, power, and excitement. It became the official goal to create a maritime monopoly of the Asian spice trade and keep it in Portugal's hands. When Pedro Álvares Cabral's voyage from Lisbon to India was dispatched in 1500, its route was deliberately planned to swing southwest into the Atlantic, thus sighting "The Land of the Holy Cross," or Brazil, which soon became a Portuguese colony. Under King Manuel, the foundations were laid for Portugal's Brazilian and Asian empire, from Calicut to the Moluccas. Described by France's King Francis I as the "Grocer King," with his command of the mighty spice trade, King Manuel approved of a fitting monument to the new empire: the building of the magnificent Jerónimos Monastery where, after his death in 1521, both Manuel and Vasco da Gama were laid to rest.
   See also New Christians.

Historical dictionary of Portugal 3rd ed.. . 2014.

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