Anglo-Portuguese Alliance

   The world's oldest diplomatic connection and alliance, an enduring arrangement between two very different nations and peoples, with important practical consequences in the domestic and foreign affairs of both Great Britain (England before 1707) and Portugal. The history of this remarkable alliance, which has had commercial and trade, political, foreign policy, cultural, and imperial aspects, can be outlined in part with a list of the main alliance treaties after the first treaty of commerce and friendship signed between the monarchs of England and Portugal in 1373. This was followed in 1386 by the Treaty of Windsor; then in 1654, 1661, 1703, the Methuen Treaty; and in 1810 and 1899 another treaty also signed at Windsor.
   Common interests in the defense of the nation and its overseas empire (in the case of Portugal, after 1415; in the case of England, after 1650) were partly based on characteristics and common enemies both countries shared. Even in the late Middle Ages, England and Portugal faced common enemies: large continental countries that threatened the interests and sovereignty of both, especially France and Spain. In this sense, the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance has always been a defensive alliance in which each ally would assist the other when necessary against its enemies. In the case of Portugal, that enemy invariably was Spain (or component states thereof, such as Castile and Leon) and sometimes France (i.e., when Napoleon's armies invaded and conquered Portugal as of late 1807). In the case of England, that foe was often France and sometimes Spain as well.
   Beginning in the late 14th century, England and Portugal forged this unusual relationship, formalized with several treaties that came into direct use during a series of dynastic, imperial, naval, and commercial conflicts between 1373 and 1961, the historic period when the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance had its most practical political significance. The relative world power and importance of each ally has varied over the centuries. During the period 1373-1580, the allies were similar in respective ranking in European affairs, and during the period 1480-1550, if anything, Portugal was a greater world power with a more important navy than England. During 1580-1810, Portugal fell to the status of a third-rank European power and, during 1810-1914, England was perhaps the premier world power. During 1914-61, England's world position slipped while Portugal made a slow recovery but remained a third- or fourth-rank power.
   The commercial elements of the alliance have always involved an exchange of goods between two seafaring, maritime peoples with different religions and political systems but complementary economies. The 1703 Methuen Treaty establ ished a trade link that endured for centuries and bore greater advantages for England than for Portugal, although Portugal derived benefits: English woolens for Portuguese wines, especially port, other agricultural produce, and fish. Since the signing of the Methuen Treaty, there has been a vigorous debate both in politics and in historical scholarship as to how much each nation benefited economically from the arrangement in which Portugal eventually became dependent upon England and the extent to which Portugal became a kind of economic colony of Britain during the period from 1703 to 1910.
   There is a vast literature on the Alliance, much of it in Portuguese and by Portuguese writers, which is one expression of the development of modern Portuguese nationalism. During the most active phase of the alliance, from 1650 to 1945, there is no doubt but that the core of the mutual interests of the allies amounted to the proposition that Portugal's independence as a nation in Iberia and the integrity of its overseas empire, the third largest among the colonial powers as of 1914, were defended by England, who in turn benefited from the use by the Royal Navy of Portugal's home and colonial ports in times of war and peace. A curious impact on Portuguese and popular usage had also come about and endured through the impact of dealings with the English allies. The idiom in Portuguese, "é para inglês ver," means literally "it is for the Englishman to see," but figuratively it really means, "it is merely for show."
   The practical defense side of the alliance was effectively dead by the end of World War II, but perhaps the most definitive indication of the end of the political significance of an alliance that still continues in other spheres occurred in December 1961, when the army of the Indian Union invaded Portugal's colonial enclaves in western India, Goa, Damão, and Diu. While both nations were now North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, their interests clashed when it came to imperial and Commonwealth conflicts and policies. Portugal asked Britain for military assistance in the use of British bases against the army of Britain's largest former colony, India. But Portugal was, in effect, refused assistance by her oldest ally. If the alliance continues into the 21st century, its essence is historical, nostalgic, commercial, and cultural.
   See also Catherine of Braganza.

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

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