The House of Lancaster in Portugal: Dukes of Aveiro and Abrantes

Lancaster is a very English place name, and the name used by dynastic historians for one side of the epic struggle for the English throne known as the Wars of the Roses. Curiously, as ‘Lencastre’ it is also a surname used by one of the few Portuguese noble families to hold ducal rank. Aveiro was one of the only dukedoms created in Portugal in the 16th century, based on a town in the north of the Kingdom; a century later, another Portuguese town, Abrantes, also gave its name to a dukedom. But the story is more complex, as the dukedom of Abrantes was created by the king of Spain in his efforts to keep a hold over the Portuguese nobility; another dukedom of Aveiro was created in Spain for a similar reason (to little effect). The Spanish dukedom of Abrantes continued to be held by the Lencastre family (now spelled Láncaster in Spanish), though the estates were held by a different family, and the dukedom was re-created for them by the King of Portugal later in the 18th century. So there were two dukedoms of Aveiro and two dukedoms of Abrantes. Portuguese and Spanish. To add even more confusion, there is also a Napoleonic duchy of Abrantès, created for a French general in the early 19th century. Today the Casa de Lancastre e Távora continues to bear this very English-sounding surname in Portugal.

The Coat of Arms of the Lencastre family: Portugal with a bend for illegitimacy

How did the name Lancaster get to the Iberian Peninsula in the first place? In 1387, Philippa of Lancaster, eldest daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, married João I first king of the Avis dynasty that had re-asserted Portuguese independence from Castile only two years before at the Battle of Aljubarrota, with support from England. In 1386, England and Portugal signed the Treaty of Windsor, which created an alliance which is considered the oldest still extant alliance in the world. John of Gaunt soon arrived, but not just to help his new son-in-law: he also brought an army to try to assert his own claims to the Castilian throne, which he claimed in the name of his second wife, Constance of Castile, daughter and heir of King Pedro I. By the time of Philippa’s marriage in 1387, however, her father’s troops had been pushed out of Castile, and his wife had renounced her claims (in return for a sizable payoff) and her daughter Catherine of Lancaster married her rival’s son, the Infante Enrique (the future King Henry III of Castile). So by 1390, there were two Lancastrian women on the thrones of the Iberian kingdoms: Philippa in Portugal and Catherine in Castile. The Castilian descent from John of Gaunt in the House of Trastámara would, interestingly, return to England 100 years later in the person of Catherine of Aragon (or, more properly, Catherine of Castile and Aragon), whose claims to the English throne, it could be said, were better than those of her husband, Arthur, prince of Wales (and later his brother King Henry VIII), a descendant of John of Gaunt’s illegitimate children with Katherine Swynford.

The wedding of Philippa of Lancaster and João I of Portugal

John of Gaunt’s older daughter, known as Filipa de Lencastre in Portuguese, helped her husband King João launch Portugal’s golden age, in part by producing an army of royal children known to history as ‘The Illustrious Generation’ (most famously, Prince Henry the Navigator). When she died in 1415, her surname might have died with her, but for the tradition of extending maternal names, especially to daughters, that was prevalent in the Iberian kingdoms. Philippa’s daughters were fully royal, so they were never known by anything but ‘of Portugal’ as a surname. But in the next generation, the daughters of Philippa’s sons, this practice emerged. The two daughters of her second son, the Duke of Coimbra, both used this name: Isabel de Lencastre (or sometimes de Coimbra) was herself Queen of Portugal through marriage to her cousin Afonso V in 1450, but died soon after, leaving behind a son, King João II. Her younger sister, Filipa de Lencastre, never married and raised young João as her own. Like her namesake and grandmother, she was seen as a model of royal womanhood, pious and wise, and when João II had a son of his own, Jorge, in 1481, it is said he wished to honour these women by giving him the surname ‘de Lancastre’ (or sometimes ‘Alencastro’ to contemporaries)—though usage of this name didn’t really start until the next generation—as well as the title of his illustrious maternal grandfather, the Duke of Coimbra. I wonder, purely speculatively, whether King João had also taken note of events in England where, since 1471, the legitimate line of Lancaster had become extinct—maybe the use of this name was a subtle suggestion that his son could one day challenge the usurping House of York?

Isabel de Lencastre, Queen of Portugal

The trouble was, Jorge was illegitimate. His mother was Ana de Mendoza, a maid of honour of the King’s sister, Infanta Joana; she later became Commandress of the Monastery of Santos in Lisbon (a monastery we will encounter again later in this post). The King tried to legitimise him, but was blocked by the Pope (and by his own queen, Leonor), so instead he granted him two of the highest positions in Portugal, the grand masterships of both the Order of Avis and the Order of Santiago (the Portuguese branch). He agreed to not challenge the succession of his first cousin, Manuel, with the promise that the new king would give his illegitimate son the dukedom of Coimbra and marry him to a royal princess. King Manuel delayed as much as he could, not wishing to set up such a powerful rival, but did re-create the royal dukedom of Coimbra in 1500 (though not formally confirmed until 1509), and married him to a Bragança, so, not quite royal, but close enough.

a poor quality image of Jorge de Lencastre, Duke of Coimbra

As part of the dukedom of Coimbra, Jorge was also lord of Aveiro, a small port town on the northern coast. It oversaw the trade in and around the large Lagoon of Aveiro and its important salt pans. Young Jorge had been raised in a convent here, but was later taken to the town of Abrantes, in central Portugal, where he was looked after by the local commander of its castle (alcaide mor), Lopo de Almeida, 1st Count of Abrantes. Remember the name Almeida in the context of Abrantes, as we’ll encounter it again later. The castle of Abrantes had been conquered from the Moors by Afonso Henriques, first independent king of Portugal, in 1148 shortly after he had retaken Lisbon. Its name is thought to derive from the Latin aurantes, referring to gold found in this region.

the Castle of Abrantes

Another lordship he held was that of Torres Novas, in the centre of the Kingdom, where a huge fortress had been built overlooking the Tagus valley with its confluence with the river Zêzere, one of the most important rivers flowing down from the north. A tower has existed here since Roman times, and ‘new towers’ were built following the re-conquest of the 12th century. As an important crossroads for the Kingdom, Torres Novas had in the past served as a meeting place for the Portuguese Cortes, a space for royal weddings, and the proclamation of regency governments.

the Castle of Torres Novas

Jorge, Duke of Coimbra, Lord of Aveiro and Torres Novas, Master of the Orders of Santiago and Avis, lived peaceably with his royal cousin, Manuel, though he established a sort of loyal opposition court at his seat in Palmela, the headquarters of the Order of Santiago, the source of his political power and wealth. The Order, sometimes referred to as ‘Santiago of the Sword’ to distinguish it from the Spanish branch (they had been separated in 1288), had been based at the castle of Palmela since 1210. Located south of the Tagus estuary (across from Lisbon), the Castelo de Palmela was one of the most impressive castles in Portugal and the site of much of its military and political history in the Middle Ages. It dominated the Setúbal Peninsula, which was where most of the Order’s lordships (called commanderies) were located, being described by some as almost a state within a state.

the Castile of Palmela

As such, the Order of Santiago was a threat to royal power, and King Manuel wished to take it over, as the Spanish kings had already done to their branch—as a source of great wealth and influence—and continually chipped away at the Duke of Coimbra’s power (in part by luring away some of the most prominent knights, like Vasco da Gama and Dom Francisco de Almeida, the first viceroy of Portuguese India—one of the sons of Lopo de Almeida and thus an early contact from Coimbra’s childhood, and a painful loss to his clientele network). Finally, at Jorge de Lencastre’s death in 1550, Manuel’s son, João III, managed to get a bull from the Pope appointing him personally as Grand Master of the Order. He was also appointed Master of the Order of Avis, and was already Master of the Order of Christ, so from this point on, all of the formerly independent military orders in Portugal were united with the Crown.

The rivalry thus continued in the next generation. King João III and João de Lencastre challenged each other in both political and social spheres. The latter was created Marquês de Torres Novas in 1520 as a gesture of peace by King Manuel before he died, but was imprisoned shortly thereafter by King João and held for nine years, on dubious charges. Nevertheless, he was given tasks of great honour to undertake on behalf of the monarch: in 1539 he was sent to the court of Charles V to offer condolences on the death of Empress Isabel (the King’s sister); and in 1551, he was sent to Spain to formally escort the Infanta Juana to Portugal for her marriage to the Hereditary Prince, Dom João Manuel. But by 1551, Lencastre’s father had died and it was clear that his semi-royal title of Duke of Coimbra would not be continued. Instead his lordship of Aveiro was raised to a dukedom—exactly when is uncertain (and it is clear that the King delayed as long as possible); some sources say as early 1530 or 1535, but certainly by 1547, perhaps as a wedding gift from the King on the occasion of Dom João’s marriage to Juliana de Meneses. And although he was not allowed to succeed to his father’s post of Grand Master of Santiago, the 1st Duke of Aveiro was allowed to retain some of the Order’s more lucrative commanderies, notably Setúbal and Azeitão.

Arms of the Duke of Aveiro

In the 1520s-30s, Duke Jorge and his son built two summer residences in the town of Setúbal and its suburb Azeitão. This area south of the city of Lisbon, on the Atlantic coast at the mouth of the river Sado was becoming increasingly fashionable by the Portuguese aristocracy as a place to build homes to escape the summer heat of the capital.

an 18th-century map of Portugal showing the mouth of the Tagus and to the south the Sado Peninsula.

At first the favoured residence was close to the port of Setúbal, a town made rich on the trade of salt pulled from the marshy flats in the grand estuary of the Sado. The palace of the Duke, as Grand Master of Santiago, was next to the ancient church of São Julião, used as his private chapel (and Juliano/a would become an important name for the dynasty). The church was rebuilt in Manueline style in the 1510s, and although the palace was completely demolished in the 18th century, the main door of the church survives in this distinctively Portuguese style (while the rest was rebuilt in a more baroque fashion).

the main doorway of the church of São Julião, Setúbal

Across a small range of hills from the coast and the harbour of Setúbal, a monumental palace was built in Azeitão, with a grand central block and two wings, all in a Mannerist late Renaissance style. Soon known as the Palace of the Dukes of Aveiro, the building would become the main residence of the dynasty by the end of the century (a period when most of the aristocracy abandoned Lisbon for the countryside altogether), and the third duke embellished it with the now emblematic Portuguese blue and white tiles. In the 17th century, Azeitão would be the seat of the duke, while Setúbal would be used by the heir. Unlike the palace in Setúbal, this building alone would be spared the destruction of the family’s assets in 1759 (see below), though it was looted and never regained its former grandeur. Today it remains in private hands, but looks like it needs a bit of a makeover.

Palace of the Dukes of Aveiro at Azeitão

After 1550, the Lencastre family did not lose its hold over the military orders of Portugal entirely. The Duke of Coimbra / Grand Master of Santiago had several sons, and he had appointed the second and third to the office of Comendador-Mor (Grand Commander) of the orders of Santiago (for Afonso) and Avis (for Luis). Both of these posts became more or less hereditary (though formally always having to be reconfirmed by the monarch) for their descendants, whom we will meet again below. A fourth son, Jaime, became one of the first Inquisitors in Portugal and later bishop of Ceuta (with the accompanying very grand title ‘Primate of Africa’); while two of his daughters headed important convents, Helena at the Monastery of Santos, formerly held by her grandmother, and Filipa at São João in Setúbal.

The first Duke of Aveiro died in 1571, leaving this title to his son, Jorge II. Jorge and his younger brother, Pedro-Dinis, Lord of Porto-Seguro, were both avid companions of the new young king, Sebastião (Pedro-Dinis was appointed his Mordomo-mor, head of the household), and accompanied him in wars of conquest in North Africa, first in 1574, and then Jorge II alone (Pedro-Dinis having died young in 1575) in 1578. The King, the 2nd Duke of Aveiro, the Duke’s cousin Jorge de Lencastre (and Jorge’s sister’s betrothed), and much of the flower of the Portuguese nobility were all killed at the disastrous Battle of Alcácer Quibir (or al Quasr al-kibr), 4 August 1578.

a near contemporary engraving of the Battle of Alcácer Quibir

The 2nd Duke left behind an only child, a daughter, Juliana, who at 18 (approximately) wished to maintain her independence as 3rd Duchess of Aveiro, but was forced in 1588 by the new king of Portugal to marry her cousin, the male heir, Dom Álvaro. He was the son of Afonso the Comendador-Mor of the Order of Santiago (who passed this post on to the youngest son, Manuel (and his daughter became another Commandress of the Monastery of Santos), and had earned the favour of the new king by professing his loyalty soon after his accession in 1580. This was significant since the new king was none other than Philip II of Spain, whose hereditary rights to the throne of Portugal had not been so well embraced by other members of the Portuguese nobility. This loyalty to the Spanish Habsburgs would be an important feature of the history of the House of Lencastre-Aveiro for the next sixty years until the War of Restoration. The noble house that led that war, and was proclaimed the new Portuguese royal dynasty, were the dukes of Bragança, who, like the Aveiro, were descendants of illegitimate offspring of a previous Portuguese king. They became great rivals, and the Aveiro dynasty would suffer once the Braganças took power after 1640.

But for now, loyalty to the Habsburgs meant great benefits. Duke Álvaro was renewed in possession of the great estates of the Order of Santiago (Setúbal, Azeitão, etc), the dukedom of Aveiro was made fully hereditary, and he was given a promise by King Philip (II of Spain, I of Portugal) that he would create another dukedom for his son and heir at the time of his marriage. In 1606 his style of address was augmented by King Philip II (III of Spain) to that of ‘Excellency’, which thus matched that given to the Duke of Bragança. And in 1618 the King helped arrange a prestigious marriage that satisfied the Habsburg imperial strategy of uniting the high aristocracies across the empire through marriage. Álvaro and Juliana’s son and heir thus married Ana Doria, daughter of the Prince of Melfi. Melfi is a fief of the Kingdom of Naples (part of the Spanish Monarchy), but the Dorias’ real powerbase was Genoa, which, while not formally part of the Spanish dominions, was crucial for Spanish control of the Mediterranean for its large navy and formidable commanders. Indeed, Ana was escorted by a Genoese fleet of 11 galleys, joined by the Spanish and Portuguese fleets at they passed Gibraltar, to her marriage in Setúbal. This marriage was one of the largest and grandest seen in Portugal, will balls, fiestas, fireworks, bullfights and processions, and was done deliberately (nearly bankrupting the ducal couple) to emphasise their semi-royal status in Portugal. The ducal court was large: he was attended by a Guarda dos Todescos (German Guard) and she a full suite of ladies-in-waiting. These again emphasised their semi-royal status, and their loyalty to the Habsburgs, as it was they who introduced the custom of having a German guard into the Iberian peninsula. As grand noble patrons of the region, the Duke and Duchess of Aveiro built a hospital at Azeitão, and embellished the Convent of Arrábida, built by the 1st Duke in the hills west of the town of Setúbal in the 1540s, which would be their burial place.

the convent of Arrábida

After the wedding, King Philip himself visited both Azeitão and Setúbal, where he hunted with the ducal family and hosted the annual gathering of the knights of the Order of Avis. This was the first visit by a Habsburg monarch to Portugal since the 1580s. For their wedding gift, the King gave young Jorge and Ana the new title, as promised, raising the marquisate of Torres Novas into a dukedom, and extending possession of the Santiago commanderies to their family for another lifetime (meaning it wouldn’t need to be renewed when Álvaro died).

[the details on this wedding and the family’s subsequent favour from Spanish kings are derived from a fascinating article published last year in The Court Historian by Cristóvão Mata: ]

Sadly, Ana Doria died only a few months after her wedding. The Duke of Torres Novas remarried two years later a Castilian heiress: Ana María Manrique de Cárdenas, a potential heiress of two dukedoms: Maqueda from her father and Nájera from her mother. For now her importance was in court politics, as she was a lady-in-waiting to the Queen (Isabel de Bourbon); as was her sister-in-law, Ana de Sande, wife of Afonso de Lencastre, Grand Commander of the Order of Santiago, 2nd Marquis of Valdefuentes (in Extremadura, western Spain, which Ana de Sande brought to the marriage) and 1st of Porto-Seguro—a town on the southeast coast of the colony of Brazil, in Bahia, over which Afonso was also named Captain-General. He was named a member of the War Council and General of the Galleys of Portugal (1625). The three sisters who married (of six total, and a total of 13 surviving children), in contrast, all married Portuguese nobles, but noticeably those who were in support of the Habsburg regime. The second of these married in 1625 Manrique da Silva, 6th Count of Portalegre, created Marquês de Gouveia for this marriage, who was Mordomo-mor for the Spanish king at his court in Portugal—an important placeholder position for a court that mostly existed in name only.

Jorge III remained Duke of Torres Novas until he died in 1632, since his mother Juliana outlived him, and thus retained the title 3rd Duchess of Aveiro—finally getting her wish to rule the duchy in her own name, only 40 years later. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Raimundo, 2nd Duke of Torres Novas, then 4th Duke of Aveiro once his grandmother died in 1636. In 1657 he became heir to his mother’s claims to the duchy of Maqueda (based near Toledo)—it took litigation, but by 1660, he was awarded the duchy, the large marquisates of Montemayor (in Andalusia) and Elche (in Valencia), plus the honorific posts of Adelantado mayor of the Kingdom of Granada and Alcaide mayor of the fortress of Toledo. (He claimed Nájera too, but it was given to a cousin). Raimundo (Ramón in Spanish) was thus thoroughly Hispanised—though at first he had supported the Braganças and the proclamation of Portuguese independence in 1640. He sat at ducal rank at the Cortes of Portugal of 1642, though he was only 12 or 13 (so who knows what his real political convictions were!).

Duke Raimundo switched sides suddenly to support the Habsburgs in 1659—perhaps he was preparing to take over his mother’s Castilian inheritance? A letter he wrote to the Portuguese ambassador in France (to which he fled on his way to Spain) suggests that he had aspirations himself to one day be king of Portugal—why the Braganças and not him?—though it seems pretty unlikely that this was something the Spanish king would ever agree to. Philip IV instead granted him another dukedom, Ciudad Real, in 1661, based in La Mancha (and not to be confused with the older dukedom of Ciudad Real which was in fact based on a Neapolitan fief, Cittareale). He asked for a command in the war against Portugal, but was refused. Meanwhile, the Portuguese courts declared him a traitor and confiscated his properties—his mother and sister soon left to join him in Madrid. In 1664, Duke Ramón made a very good marriage, similar to his father’s first marriage along the lines of connecting together all the grand aristocracies of the multi-national Spanish Monarchy. Claire-Louise de Ligne was daughter of Claude-Lamoral, 3rd Prince de Ligne, Captain-General of the Spanish Cavalry in the Low Countries, and Claire-Marie of Nassau-Siegen. In 1665, he was given command of a fleet sent from Cadiz to attack Portugal (one of the targets being his own former home in Setúbal). He had minimal success and died the following year back in Cadiz. He left only an illegitimate son, who became a military commander in Spanish service in Sicily, and a sister, María de Guadalupe.

A recently discovered miniature thought to be of Maria de Gudalupe de Lencastre

Meanwhile, in Portugal, the confiscated duchies of Aveiro and Torres Novas had been awarded in 1663 to Raimundo’s uncle, Pedro de Lencastre, Archbishop of Braga—the primary archbishopric in Portugal (and indeed, claiming to be so in all of Iberia too, with the title ‘Primate of the Spains’, which was naturally contested by Toledo). Pedro was also Grand Inquisitor of Portugal and one of the royal counsellors of King João IV (ie, the Bragança king). Another male of the House of Lencastre, the Duke of Abrantes, was out of the question, as he was also in service of Spain (see below). Once peace was proclaimed in 1668, Maria de Guadalupe began to pursue her uncle’s possession of the family estates in the lawcourts. She was awarded her mother’s duchy of Maqueda right away, but had to pursue her uncle for another 10 years—the old man resigned his post as Archbishop (to another Lencestre cousin, Veríssimo), but held on to the Duchy of Aveiro until he died in 1673.

Veríssimo, Cardinal de Alencastro, Archbishop of Braga (as by now you can see, portraits of the main line of dukes of Aveiro were successfully destroyed by earthquake, then the destruction of properties of the mid-18th century)

Still the lawsuit went on, as Maria de Guadalupe was challenged by her cousin the Duke of Abrantes. Finally in 1679, she was confirmed as 6th Duchess of Aveiro, but only on condition that she return to Portugal. She had married the Castilian magnate, Manuel Ponce de León, 6th Duke of Arcos, in 1665, who opposed this agreement; so she began proceedings to legally separate from him. While the Spanish courts delayed, King Carlos II tried to lure her to stay in Spain, by creating her Duchess of ‘Aveyro’ (I don’t know if this was based on different estates), but it was no use. When she moved back to Portugal, she made a settlement with her husband: the elder son, Joaquín, would receive the dukedom of Arcos, while the younger, Gabriel, would assume the name ‘Lencastre’ and would be her primary heir. The 6th Duchess lived for another 30 years or so; contemporary sources say she was known as one of the most virtuous and knowledgeable women in Europe, with ability in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, plus nearly all living European languages, and knowledge of both sacred and profane history. She was a significant funder of Portuguese missions to Asia and Africa.

Maria de Guadalupe, 6th Duchess of Aveiro, Duchess of Maqueda

Maria de Guadalupe’s son Gabriel stayed in Spain while his mother re-established the family in Portugal. He served in the Spanish army, and was created Duke of Baños in 1699 to try to retain his loyalty (and is referred to as the 2nd Duke of Aveyro, though his mother was living). Eventually Gabriel did move to Portugal, where he was acknowledged as 7th Duke of Aveiro and Alcaide-mor of Setúbal. He died in 1745, once again throwing the family succession into disarray. Joaquín Ponce de León’s son, Antonio claimed the succession, but this was easily thrown out of the Portuguese courts. Another dismissed claimant was the Duke of Abrantes and Linares. So now we can turn finally to the dukedom of Abrantes.

the tomb of Gabriel, 7th Duke of Aveiro

As noted above, there was a county of Abrantes created for the Almeida family in the 1470s. This family became extinct in 1650, and the title disappeared for a time. Perhaps in anticipation of this extinction (?), King Philip IV in 1642, after the start of the Portuguese revolt, created a new title, a dukedom of Abrantes, and gave it to Alfonso de Láncaster. Afonso (in Portuguese) was the second son of the 3rd Duke and Duchess of Aveiro. As seen above, he assumed the family’s second title of Grand Commander of the Order of Santiago, and was given the title Marquês de Porto-Seguro (in Brazil) by King Philip in honour of his marriage in 1627 to a Spanish heiress. By 1639 he was Alcaide-mor of Abrantes (ie, captain of the fortress), which was then erected into a duchy as a reward for his loyalty to the Habsburgs. Needless to say, this dukedom was never recognised in the Kingdom of Portugal. After his wife died in 1650, he became a priest, and when he died in 1654, the new title passed to his son Agustín (Agostinho in Portuguese).

As we’ve seen, the 2nd Duke of Abrantes unsuccessfully challenged his cousin for the succession to the Aveiro lands and titles in the 1660s. He retained his father’s title of Grand Commander of the Order of Santiago, but was given no authority in this area in Portugal either. He did marry well, in about 1660, into one of the other grand Portuguese families who had stayed loyal to the Habsburgs: the Noronha de Linhares. This family and its dukedom (created in 1667, though like Abrantes never recognised in Portugal) will be the subject of a future blog post. They were yet another family descended illegitimately from royalty, though in this case, interestingly, they were descended from King Enrique II of Castile (d. 1379), not a Portuguese king. Nevertheless, they moved swiftly into Portuguese service and were given numerous titles (and two served as viceroy of India). The 2nd Duke of Linares (as it was spelled in Spanish, or sometimes Liñares) died in 1703, and his titles passed to his sister’s son Fernando de Alencastre Noroña (son of the 2nd Duke of Abrantes, who lived on into his 80s, dying in 1720). The 3rd Duke of Linares was one of the strong supporters of the new Bourbon regime in Spain, and was named Gentleman of the Chamber of the new king, Philip V (his sister Manuela served as dama de honor to both of Philip’s queens). In 1711 Fernando was given the great honour of an appointment as Viceroy of New Spain. In Mexico City he worked to improve working conditions for the poor, and opened the first public library and a museum of natural history. He also was a patron of the arts, and his court hosted the first opera in North America, La Parténope by Manuel de Sumaya. He founded colonies in the far north, in today’s Texas, New Mexico and California, including a town in Nueva León which is still called Linares. On the more negative side, he oversaw the implementation of one of the key clauses of the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, by which the British were given the monopoly to run the slave trade in the Spanish colonies, the Asiento, a source of unimaginable wealth for the English. He resigned his post due to ill health in 1716, but died in Mexico City in 1717 before he could make the voyage back to Europe.

Fernando de Alencastre Noroña, 3rd Duke of Linares, Viceroy of New Spain

The 3rd Duke of Linares was succeeded by his brother Juan Manuel, who also became the 3rd Duke of Abrantes on the death of their father. He was a cleric—nominated by the King to the bishopric of Malaga in 1717, but was rejected by the Pope; instead he was appointed to the see of Cuenca in 1721, and in 1733 to the highly honorific title ‘Patriarch of the Indies’, but died only a year later. Another grand succession case thus opened, for huge estates in Spain, yes, but also for two Portuguese dukedoms that were not recognised in Portugal. These passed to the Bishop-Duke’s sister’s son, Juan de Carvajal y Lencastre, 4th Duke of Abrantes and 5th Duke of Linares. The Carvajal family were old nobles from the region of Extremadura (on the borders with Portugal, so there are also representatives there with the spelling Carvalhal). The 4th Duke of Abrantes was outshone in politics by his brother José who served as a Minister of State (and head of the Junta of Commerce and Finance) in the reign of King Ferdinand VI of Spain (1740s-50s); while their youngest brother Isidoro was a prominent member of the conservative wing of the Church, succeeding their great-uncle as Bishop of Cuenca in 1760.

José de Carvajal y Lancáster, Secretary of State

The Carvajal y Láncaster family continued to hold the two dukedoms of Abrantes and Linares in direct male descent until the early 20th century, when they passed by marriage into the family Zuleta de Reales, which continues to the present. They are both considered dukedoms within the Spanish peerage and nothing to do with Portugal. The dukes of Abrantes acquired a palace in Madrid (originally built in the 1650s) in 1842, on the Calle Mayor (quite close to the Cathedral and the Royal Palace), but sold it to the Italian government in 1888—it served as the Italian Embassy until 1939, and today is the Institute of Italian Culture. From the end of the 19th century, their seat was the Palace of Abrantes in the southern city of Jerez.

the Palace of the Dukes of Abrantes, Madrid
the Palace of the Dukes of Abrantes, Jerez

Returning to the 18th century, the contested succession of the last Duke of Aveiro still needs to be settled. The next heir to press his claims was a descendant of Maria de Lencastre, daughter of the 3rd Duke and Duchess. Her husband, Manrique da Silva, Marquês de Gouveia, was head of the Portuguese household (Mordomo-mor); unlike most noblemen we’ve encountered so far he backed the Braganças in 1640 and even managed to keep his office as Mordomo-mor for the new king. His daughter Juliana took the name Lencastre, and became heir of her brother in 1686. She married into yet another grand Portuguese aristocratic clan, the Mascarenhas, counts of Santa Cruz. It was her grandson, José de Mascarenhas da Silva e Lencastre, 5th Marquês de Gouveia, who pressed his claims to the Duchy of Aveiro in 1745. He was a favourite of King João V, and his case was approved in 1749, making him the 8th Duke. He was also Mordomo-mor, a position of great power and prestige. Things started to go badly very quickly when the King died in 1750, and his successor, King José, began to suspect the powerful Duke of overly dangerous political ambitions—egged on by his powerful First Minister, the Marquês de Pombal (a member of the House of Carvalhal, by the way) who wanted to modernise the state by decreasing the independent power of the old aristocracy. In 1739 Mascarenhas had married the sister of another powerful nobleman, the Marquês de Tavora, and together their families’ power seemed quite daunting to the monarchy. When it was rumoured they were planning a marital alliance with the other great Portuguese ducal house, Cadaval, in 1758, the King acted, vigorously, and put both men, Tavora and Aveiro, on trial (the ‘Processo dos Távoras’), accusing them of trying to assassinate him. In January 1759, the last Duke of Aveiro was stripped of all his lands and titles, and executed with great brutality (beaten, then burned alive), outside the Palace of the Dukes of Aveiro in Belém.

beating the Duke of Aveiro
burning the Tavora family and the Duke of Aveiro

[you can see a colour version of this gruesome image at the Museum of Lisbon: ]

This palace, a truly grand edifice next to the River Tagus a few steps away from the famous Jerónimos Monastery, was completely destroyed—as were most of the former Lencastre properties in Portugal—and the ground was salted so that nothing could flourish there ever again. A column was placed there to remind Lisbon residents of the treachery of the House of Aveiro, and the location was renamed the Beco do Chão Salgado (‘the alley of salted ground’).

the Column of Shame in Belém

The Duke’s widow, Leonor da Távora, was imprisoned in a nearby convent and soon died; their son, Martinho was imprisoned until 1777, and lived on, impoverished, until 1804. But this is not the end of the story, either of the Lencastres in Portugal or their link with the town of Abrantes.

One final branch remained of the children of Jorge de Lencastre, Duke of Coimbra. We’ve seen how his second son, Afonso, continued the tradition of bearing the title of Grand Commander of the Order of Santiago; a third son, Luis, was given a similar title of Grand Commander of the Order of Avis. He married, quite interestingly, Magdalena de Granada, the daughter of Juan, ‘Infante de Granada’, who was the son of Abu al-Ḥasan Ali, one of the last emirs of Granada (the Nasrids). Their descendants retained the title of Avis, married into all the grand Portuguese families with names we’ve so far encountered (Távora, Noronha, Silva, Mascarenhas…), and very much supported Habsburg rule in Portugal. Luis II was the intendant of the affairs of the King in Portugal, and his son, Francisco Luis, the Grand Master of the Household of Queen Mariana of Austria.

Luis de Lencastre, Grand Commander of the Order of Avis (whose cross can be seen on his sleeve and behind the coat of arms)

Francisco Luis de Lencastre acquired a grand palace on a hill between Lisbon and Belém, the Palace of Santos. This was built on a site where the Visigothic king Reccared I was supposedly converted to Christianity in 589. After the re-conquest of Lisbon in 1147, a church was built here for the monks of the Order of Santiago, and it later became site of a large monastery for women—several of whom we’ve already encountered above. The palace on this hill had been built as a royal residence in 1497, and was acquired in 1629 by the Lencastre family. It later was known as the Palace of Abrantes, and miraculously survived the earthquake of 1755. It was restored in the early 19th century (when it housed some minor royals and dowagers), and today serves as the Embassy of France.

The Palace of Santos, now the French Embassy in Portugal

How did the name Abrantes get re-attached to this line? Once Portuguese independence was restored in the mid-17th century, they avidly supported the Braganças, and several were appointed to prominent colonial positions, governors notably of Angola and Brazil. Two branches continue even today, the Counts of Lousão and the Counts of Lancastre (a title created in the mid-19th century). But the senior line passed through a daughter to the House of Távora in 1752. Isabel de Lencastre, Countess of Vila Nova de Portimão, was also heiress of her very interesting female cousins (see below), and ultimately heiress of Abrantes.

Isabel de Lencastre

Way back towards the start of this blog post, we learned that the House of Almeida were the counts of Abrantes (having been captains of its ancient fortress long before that). They died out in 1650, and their heiress married into the Rodrigues de Sá family, from the northern regions of Portugal. In 1718, they exchanged their marquisate of Fontes for a new marquisate erected on Abrantes. In 1727, the 1st Marquis of Abrantes was sent to Spain to negotiate for a bride for the Crown Prince. His daughter, Ana Maria Catarina, a widow already at age 22, became a member of her suite, and eventually her Camareira-Mor (First Lady of the Bedchamber) once she became Queen in 1750. In 1753, her position as premier woman of the court was recognised by the King who named her Duchess of Abrantes (for life only). This meant that for a time, there were two duchesses of Abrantes, one in Portugal and one in Spain (the consort of the Carvajal duke, though they probably used the title Linares). The Portuguese Duchess was known as a patron of the arts, and was depicted in a contemporary illustration as Athena, protector of painters.

allegory of Athena, protectress of painters

The Duchess of Abrantes gave up her post to her daughter, Maria Margarida, as well as her curious surname: de Lorena. As this blog began with curious Iberian borrowings of northern surnames, it is apt to conclude with a reference to the name ‘Lorraine’ (which is what drew my attention to these ladies in the first place when I was doing my doctoral studies on the House of Lorraine). Ana Maria Caterina took this name from her maternal grandmother, Princess Marie-Angélique de Lorraine-Harcourt, rather than the expected surname Rodrigues de Sá (or possibly Almeida). Her own daughter did the same, and when she took on the role as Camareira-Mor, was rewarded like her mother with the life title (in 1757) of Duchess of Abrantes. By then she too was a widow, her husband—who was also her mother’s brother—having died in 1756. Then it starts to get a bit crazy, so stay with me: her mother inherited her brother’s title and became 3rd Marquesa of Abrantes while her daughter became the 2nd Duchess. Then when the mother died, in 1761, the daughter became the 4th Marquesa as well. She remarried João da Bemposta, a natural son of the Infante Francisco of Portugal (a son of King Pedro II), which allowed him to be given the rank and privileges of a duke. They lived at Bemposta Palace in Lisbon, which had originally been built for Queen Catherine, widow of Charles II of Great Britain, when she returned to live in Lisbon. He was the Mordomo-mor of the King’s household, so together they dominated the male and female sides of the royal household. When they both died in 1780, the Dukedom of Abrantes (the Portuguese one) became extinct.

Bemposta Palace in Lisbon

The marquisate however, passed to her cousin, grandson of her aunt, Maria Sofia de Lorena, who had married … a Lencastre! Pedro de Lencastre, 5th Conde de Vila Nova de Portimão, was a descendant of the cadet branch, the commanders of the Order of Avis (as above). Their daughter, Isabel de Lencastre married Manuel Rafael de Távora, and generated the House of Lancastre e Távora, in the person of their son Pedro, who became 5th Marquês de Abrantes.

amrs of Lencastre e Tavora, marquises of Abrantes

A short while later, in 1807, Napoleon Bonaparte sent his general, Jean-Andoche Junot, to Portugal to punish it for not adhering to his Continental Blockade of Great Britain (thanks, Treaty of Windsor, 1386!). Junot landed his army on the coast and first established his headquarters at Abrantes before taking the city of Lisbon in early 1808. He was rewarded with one of the French Empire’s ‘victory titles’ as Duc d’Abrantès, but was chased out of Portugal by the end of the year. So much for victory. Nevertheless, his heirs bore the ducal title in France until the extinction of the male line in 1982.

the French press celebrating Junot’s victories in Portugal

Today therefore we have a Duke of Abrantes in Spain—the 15th, José Manuel de Zuleta y Alejandro, who works as head of the secretariat of the Queen of Spain—and a Marquis of Abrantes in Portugal—the 11th, José de Lancastre e Távora, son of a well-known author of books on genealogy and heraldry. In 1939, the pretender to the Portuguese throne, the Duke of Bragança, offered to revive the title of Duke of Aveiro, to a cousin of the Marquis of Abrantes, but he declined. The Spanish dukedom of Aveyro was revived in 1917 by King Alfonso XIII for Luis María de Carvajal y Melgarejo, Marqués de Puerto Seguro (a Spanish rendering of the Lencastre family’s ancient title of Porto-Seguro), one of his gentlemen of the chamber and a commander of the Spanish cavalry. He died in 1937, and was succeeded by his son and grandson as dukes of Aveyro, bearers of the name Lancaster in Madrid.

the Duke of Aveyro (1917)

–with special thanks for assistance from my generous Portuguese academic specialists, Dr Hélder Carvalhal and Dr Cristóvão Mata!!

(Images from Wikimedia Commons)

Published by Jonathan Spangler

I am a historian of monarchy and the high aristocracy of Europe. I focus primarily as an academic on the early modern period and France, but my interests range from early medieval Ireland to 20th-century Russia. I teach history at Manchester Metropolitan University in Manchester, England, and am the senior editor of The Court Historian, the journal of the Society for Court Studies. I am also a musician and an avid traveler. I love heraldry and genealogy. My ancestors came from Germany to the American colonies in the 18th century and I am a proud Virginian.

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