1383-1385 Crisis

From Academic Kids

The 1383–1385 crisis is a period of civil war and anarchy in the Portuguese history, also known as the Interregnum, since there was no crowned king. It started with the death of king Fernando of Portugal without male heirs and finished with the accession to the throne of king Joćo I in 1385, following the battle of Aljubarrota.



In 1383, king Fernando of Portugal was dying. From his marriage with Leonor Telles de Menezes, a Castilian lady, only a girl, princess Beatrice of Portugal, survived. Her marriage was the political issue of the day, since it would determine the future of the kingdom.

Several political factions lobbied for possible husbands, which include English and French princes. Finally the king settled for his wife's first choice: king John I of Castile. The marriage was celebrated in May 1383 but was not a widely accepted solution. This dynastic union meant that Portugal would lose independence to Castile and there were plenty of personalities fiercely against this possibility. But they were not united under a common pretender to the crown. Candidates, both illegitimate half-brothers of Fernando, were:

On October 22, king Fernando died. According to the marriage contract, dowager queen Leonor assumed regency in the name of her daughter Beatrice and son-in-law, John I of Castile. Since diplomatic opposition was no longer possible, the party for independence took more drastic measures, starting the 1383–1385 crisis.


The first act of hostilities was taken by the faction of the Master of Aviz in December, 1383. John, the count of Andeiro and lover of the dowager queen was murdered by a group of conspirators, led by Joćo of Aviz. Following this act of war, Joćo was now the leader of the opposition. With the help of Nuno Įlvares Pereira, a talented general, he took the cities of Lisbon, Beja, Portalegre, Estremoz and Évora. As a response, king John I of Castile entered Portugal and occupied the city of Santarém. In his effort to normalize the situation and secure his wife's crown, he forced queen Leonor to abdicate from the regency and took control of the country.

The armed resistance and the Castilian army met in April 6, 1384, in the battle of Atoleiros. General Įlvares Pereira won the battle for the Aviz party, but victory was not decisive. John I then retreated to Lisbon in May and besieged the capital, with an auxiliary fleet blocking the city's port in the river Tagus, in a severe drawback to the independence cause. Without the capital and her riches and commerce, little could be done to free the country from the Castilian king. On his side, John I of Castile needed Lisbon, not only for financial reasons, but also for political ones: neither he nor Beatrice had been crowned, and without a coronation in the capital he was only a designated king.

Meanwhile, Joćo of Aviz had surrendered the military command of the resistance to Įlvares Pereira. The general continued to attack cities loyal to the Castilians and to harass the invading army. The Master of Aviz was now focused on diplomatic offensives. International politics played an important role in this internal Portuguese affair. In 1384, the Hundred Years' War was at its peak, opposing English and French forces in a struggle for the crown of France. The conflict's influence surpassed the French borders, and influenced, for instance, the papal disputes of Avignon. Castile was a traditional ally of France, so looking for assistance in England was the natural option for Joćo of Aviz. In May, already with Lisbon besieged, an embassy was sent to the court of Richard II of England to make a case for independence. In 1384 the king was seventeen years old, but the power lay on John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, his uncle and regent. Despite being at first reluctant to concede men, John of Gaunt finally agreed to levy troops to reinforce the Portuguese army. These proved to be decisive.

Lisbon was struggling with famine and fear to sustain the Castilian siege. Blocked by land and by the river, the city had no hope to be relieved by the Aviz army, which was too small to risk an intervention and occupied in subduing other cities. An attempt was made by a Portuguese fleet to relieve the siege by the Castilian ships. In July 18, a group of ships led by captain Rui Pereira managed to break the blockade and deliver precious supplies of food to Lisbon. The cost was high, since all the boats were lost and Rui Pereira himself died in the naval combat. Despite this minor success, the siege held on and the city of Almada, in the south bank of the Tagus, surrendered to Castile. But the siege was hard not only to the inhabitants of Lisbon. The army of Castile was also dealing with a shortage of food supplies, due to the harassment of Nuno Įlvares Pereira, and the plague. It was the outbreak of an epidemic in his ranks that forced John I to retreat to Castile on September 3. Weeks later, the Castilian fleet also abandoned the Tagus, and Lisbon could breathe a sigh of relief.


In late 1384 and the early months of 1385, Nuno Įlvares Pereira managed to subdue the majority of the Portuguese cities until then in favour of the Castilian cause. Answering the call for help, English troops landed in Portugal on Easter. They were not a big contingent, around 600 men, but they were mainly veterans of the Hundred Years' War battles, enlightened in the successful English military tactics. Among them were a division of longbowmen who already demonstrated their value against cavalry charges (see battle of Crecy, for instance).

With everything apparently on his side, Joćo of Aviz organized a meeting of the Cortes, the Portuguese assembly of the kingdom, in Coimbra. There, on April 6, he was acclaimed the tenth king of Portugal: a clear act of war against the Castilian pretensions. Joćo I of Portugal nominated Įlvares Pereira protector of the kingdom and went to subdue the resistance still surviving in the North.

In Castile, John I was not pleased. His first move was to send an punitive expedition, but they were heavily defeated in the battle of Trancoso in May. Realizing that he had to use force to solve the problem definitively, an enormous Castilian army led by the king himself, invaded Portugal in the second week of June through the central north. With them travelled a contingent of allied French heavy cavalry. The power of numbers was on their side, with about 30,000 men to fight the 6,000 rebellious Portuguese. They immediately headed to the region of Lisbon and Santarém, the country's major cities.

Meanwhile, the armies of Joćo I and Įlvares Pereira met in the city of Tomar. After some debate, a decision is made: the Castilians can not be allowed to siege Lisbon once again, since the city would fall with no doubt. They decided to intercept the enemy in the vicinity of Leiria, near the village of Aljubarrota. On August 14, the Castilian army, very slow due to its huge numbers, finally met the Portuguese troops, reinforced with the English detachment. The result is the battle of Aljubarrota, fought in the style of the battles of Crecy and Poitiers. These tactics allowed a reduced infantry army to defeat cavalrymen with the use of longbowmen in the flanks and defensive structures (like caltrops) in the front. The Castilian army was not only defeated but decimated. Their losses were so great that they prevented John I of Castile from attempting another invasion in the following years.

With this victory, Joćo I of Aviz was recognized as the undisputed king of Portugal, putting an end to the interregnum and anarchy of the 1383–1385 crisis. Recognition from Castile would arrive only in 1411, with the signature of the Treaty of Ayton-Segovia. The English–Portuguese alliance would be renewed in 1386 with the Treaty of Windsor and the marriage of Joćo I with Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt. The treaty, still valid at the present time, established a pact of mutual support between the countries. Portugal used it again against its neighbours in 1640, to expel the Spanish kings again from the country.


  • 1383
  • 1384
    • January – John I of Castile invades Portugal
    • April – The Aviz party wins the battle of Atoleiros, but not decisively
    • May – Lisbon is besieged by the Castilians; an embassy is sent to England
    • July – A Portuguese fleet breaks the siege
    • September 3 – John I and his army retreat to Castile
    • Winter – Alvares Pereira and Joćo of Aviz subdue pro-Castilian cities
  • 1385
    • Easter – The English allied troops arrive
    • April 6 – Joćo of Aviz is acclaimed king Joćo I
    • June – John I of Castile invades Portugal once again and in force, after the defeat of a punitive expedition in Trancoso
    • August 14 – Battle of Aljubarrota: decisive Portuguese victory – end of the crisis


Aljubarrota — a Batalha Real, by Joćo Gouveia Monteiro (in portuguese)
História de Portugal, by A.H. de Oliveira Marques (in Portuguese)de:Portugiesische Revolution von 1383 fr:Crise portugaise de 1383-1385 pt:Crise de 1383-1385

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