Afonso VI, King of Portugal (Portuguese pron. IPA [ɐ'fõsu]; English Alphonzo or Alphonse), or Affonso (Old Portuguese), (August 21, 1643 – September 12, 1683) was the twenty-second (or twenty-third according to some historians) king of Portugal and the Algarves, the second of the House of Braganza, known as "the Victorious" (Portuguese o Vitorioso).
At the age of three, Afonso suffered an illness that left him paralyzed on the left side of his body, as well as leaving him mentally unstable. After the 1653 death of his eldest brother Teodosio, Prince of Brazil, Afonso became the heir-apparent to the throne of the kingdom. He received also the crown-princely title 2nd Prince of Brazil.
On the death of his father, João IV, in 1656 Afonso inherited the throne at the age of 13 years. The Courts were divided as to whether to confirm this succession due to his health and his behavior. Some hesitated but it was decided that, in those days of struggle against Spain, that a King must exist, and his mother became Queen Regent. Afonso exhibited little interest in ruling and through the Queen Regent, peaceful strategies (sealed by marriage) were increasingly being used to agree to boundaries and spheres of interest among the world powers at the time, rather than war.
The paralysis Alfonso VI suffered from was of his right arm and foot, and it has been suggested that this condition may have resulted from Traumatic hydrocele (a birth condition that usually clears up between the ages of one to four, otherwise needs a medical operation if it does not). Afonso could have also suffered from or in combination with Encephalitic Meningitis which can be either viral or bacterial. Both cause inflammation of the brain, and in the case of meningitis also the spinal cord. Both can have devastating effects on the brain and neurological systems, causing lasting damage, possible disfigurement of the limbs as well as retardation. In some cases this condition is possibly Syphilitic based and consequently causes Hemiplegia (paralysis of one side of the body). This often occurs on the side opposite the brain damaged side. Another consequence similar to hemiplegia is termed Hemiparesia, a weakness on one side of the body as opposed to paralysis. Both are forms of cerebral palsy and could be caused by an illness like meningitis.
Afonso could have had some issue at birth which persisted longer than it should have and needed to be operated on, or perhaps he had a bacterial/viral infection (encephalitic meningitis) about age three to four which, on one hand, could have damaged the pituitary gland causing a condition known to modern medicine as adisposogenitia dystrophy or underdeveloped genitals and feminine fat deposits, and on the other hand could have damaged his motor skills and mental facilities with a form of cerebral palsy causing him to be paralyzed or weakened on one side. This could account for his impotency and also his diminished motor skills, paralysis and reduced mental capacity, as more severe cases of cerebral palsy can cause mental retardation and seizures.
Ascension to the throne and reign
He succeeded his father (João IV) in 1656 at the age of thirteen. His mother, (Luisa of Medina-Sidonia) was named regent in his father's will. His mental instability and paralysis, plus his disinterest in government, left his mother as regent for six years, until 1662. Luisa oversaw military victories over the Spanish at Ameixial (June 8, 1663) and Montes Claros (June 17 1665), culminating in the final Spanish recognition of Portugal's independence on February 13 1668 in the Treaty of Lisbon. Colonial affairs saw the Dutch conquest of Jaffnapatam, Portugal's last colony in Sri Lanka (1658) and the cession of Bombay and Tangier to England (June 23, 1661) as dowry for Afonso's sister, Catherine of Braganza who had married King Charles II of England. English mediation in 1661 saw the Netherlands acknowledge Portuguese rule of Brazil in return for uncontested control of Sri Lanka.
According to the diarist Samuel Pepys, his entry on Wednesday May 25, 2005, 02:36am, "That the King of Portugal is a very fool almost, and his mother do all, and he is a very poor prince." Afonso VI was a man who was brought low by debilitating illnesses in childhood and was left with a withered body, a totally defective mind, and a tendency towards violence. Pepys notes that Thomas Carte, eighteenth century British historian wrote in his History of the Revolutions of Portugal describing Afonso VI in the lowest terms, reporting that if a man was brought before Afonso VI's court on charges of murder or rape then Afonso would welcome him to be one of his guards. In the initial years of his reign, he surrounded himself with a group where murder, rape, and such were normal activity.
Shortly after Afonso VI's coming-of-age in 1662, the Count of Castelo Melhor saw an opportunity to gain power at court by befriending the mentally unstable king. He managed to convince the king that his mother, Luisa of Medina-Sidonia, was out to steal his throne and exile him from Portugal. As a result, Afonso took control of the throne and his mother was sent to a convent.
Castelo Melhor was a Portuguese royal favorite who, effectively governor of Portugal from 1662 to 1667, was responsible for the successful prosecution of the war against Spain, which led, in 1668, to Spanish recognition of Portugal's independence. The Afonso VI appointed Castelo Melhor his secret notary (escrivão da puridade), a position in which Castelo Melhor was able to exercise the functions of first minister.
As de facto first minister, Castelo Melhor overcame the difficulties which had hindered Portugal in its war against Spain. He reorganized the Portuguese troops (now reinforced by an English contingent by virtue of the English king Charles II 's marriage to Catherine of Braganza) and entrusting their command to competent generals. Consequently the Portuguese Restoration War entered a victorious phase for Portugal (1663–65) and Spain began peace negotiations.
Agreement proved difficult to attain and meanwhile the internal political situation in Portugal deteriorated. Castelo Melhor and his Francophile party were losing ground to the Anglophile party. Afonso VI dismissed Castelo Melhor on September 9, 1667, in a palace coup organized by Afonso's wife Maria Francisca of Nemours and his brother Pedro. Shortly afterwards, Afonso himself was also deprived of power.
Castelo Melhor went into exile in Paris and then London, but in 1685 he was permitted to return to Portugal and, two years after that, to court. On the accession of John V (1706), Melhor was appointed a councilor of state and he continued to occupy a position of distinction until his death.
He was married to (Marie Françoise of Nemours), the daughter of the Duke of Nemours, in 1666, but this marriage would not last long. Marie Françoise, or Maria Francisca in Portuguese, filed for an annulment in 1667 based on the impotence of the king. The Roman Catholic Church granted her the annulment, and she married Afonso's brother, Pedro, Duke of Beja, (future (Peter II)). That same year, Pedro managed to gain enough support to force the king to relinquish control of the government and he became Prince Regent. Afonso was exiled to the island of Terceira in the Azores for seven years, returning to mainland Portugal shortly before he died at Sintra in 1683. His trial is the base for José Mário Grilo's 1990 film, The King's Trial (O Processo do Rei).
While Afonso's illness makes it difficult to credit him with responsibility for what occurred during his reign, nonetheless several significant events did take place. Afonso had no direct involvement in most if not in all of these developments, since he had to leave the responsibility of governing to others but since he was king, action was taken in his name. Portugal's independence from Spain was finally recognized following a series of military victories, and negotiation with England resulted in the satisfactory redrawing of various colonial boundaries, at least from the point of view of the imperial powers. This was a period when the Europeans happily divided the world up among themselves, with little regard to the rights of the people whose territory they were acquiring or transferring. By the end of Afonso's reign, the locus of Portugal's imperial sphere had been consolidated, as had that of the English. Significantly, peaceful strategies (sealed by marriage) were increasingly being used to agree boundaries and spheres of interest among the world powers at the time, rather than war.
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