Afonso V of Portugal

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Afonso V (Portuguese pronunciation: [ɐˈfõsu], originally Affonso) (15 January 1432 – 28 August 1481), called the African (Portuguese: o Africano), was the twelfth King of Portugal and the Algarves. His sobriquet refers to his conquests in Northern Africa.


Early life

He was born in Sintra, the eldest son of King Edward of Portugal by his wife, Infanta Eleanor of Aragon. Afonso V was only six years old when he succeeded his father in 1438.

During his minority, Afonso V was placed under the regency of his mother, according to a late will of his father. As both a foreigner and a woman, the queen was not a popular choice for regent. Opposition rose and the queen's only ally was Afonso, Count of Barcelos, the illegitimate half brother of King Edward and count of Barcelos. In the following year, the Cortes (assembly of the kingdom) decided to replace the queen with Infante Peter, Duke of Coimbra, the young king's oldest uncle. His main policies were concerned with avoiding the development of great noble houses, kingdoms inside the kingdom, and concentrating power in the person of the king. The country prospered under his rule, but not peacefully, as his laws interfered with the ambition of powerful nobles. The count of Barcelos, a personal enemy of the Duke of Coimbra (despite being half-brothers) eventually became the king's favourite uncle and began a constant struggle for power. In 1442, the king made Afonso the first Duke of Braganza. With this title and its lands, he became the most powerful man in Portugal and one of the richest men in Europe. To secure his position as regent, in 1445 Peter had Afonso marry his daughter, Isabella of Coimbra.

But in 9 June 1448, when the king came of age, Peter had to surrender his power to Afonso V. The years of conspiracy by the Duke of Braganza finally came to a head. On 15 September of the same year, Afonso V nullified all the laws and edicts approved under the regency. The situation became unstable and, in the following year, being led by what he afterwards discovered to be false representations, Afonso declared Peter a rebel and defeated his army in the Battle of Alfarrobeira, in which both his uncle and father in law was killed. After this battle and the loss of one of Portugal's most remarkable infantes, the Duke of Braganza became the de facto ruler of the country.

Invasion of Morocco

Afonso V then turned his attentions to the North of Africa. In his grandfather's reign, Ceuta had been conquered from the king of Morocco, now the new king wanted to expand the conquests. The king's army conquered Alcácer Ceguer (1458), Tangiers (won and lost several times between 1460 and 1464) and Arzila (1471). This achievements granted the king the nickname of the African. The king also supported the exploration of the Atlantic Ocean led by prince Henry the Navigator but, after Henry's death in 1460 he did nothing to pursue this course of action. Administratively, Afonso V was an absent king, since he did not pursue development of laws or commerce, preferring to stand with the legacy of his father and grandfather.

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