Afonso V was born on January 15, 1432 in Sintra, Portugal. As the son of King Edward, Afonso descended from John I. In 1385, John had established the Aviz dynasty after repelling an invasion from Castile. Over the following decades, his children would play essential roles in developing Portugal into a powerful kingdom. After John’s death in August 1433, Afonso’s father succeeded to the throne.
King of Portugal
On September 9, 1438, King Edward died from the plague. Although his reign was short, the king managed to strengthen royal authority in Portugal with his reforms. As a result, the newly crowned Afonso V inherited a secure kingdom. Since Afonso was only 6-years-old, he couldn’t independently rule Portugal. In response, a regency would be established to govern on his behalf.
Initially, Afonso V’s mother, Queen Leonor, ruled for her son. However, her influence proved short-lived. By 1440, Leonor’s position would be challenged by Afonso’s uncle, Peter, Duke of Coimbra. After ousting the queen, Peter cemented his new power by having the young king marry his daughter, Isabella. However, Peter would later be overthrown after Afonso began ruling in 1446.
After losing his power, Peter sought to rally his remaining supporters. In early 1449, the former regent led an army towards Portugal’s capital of Lisbon. As the duke approached, Afonso V was pressured by the nobility to respond. In turn, the king began planning a counter-attack. On May 20, both armies clashed near Lisbon at the Battle of Alfarrobeira. During the battle, Peter would be killed after being struck in the heart by an arrow.
Conquest of North Africa
During the 1450s, Afonso V began taking an interest in North Africa. In 1458, the king launched the first of multiple military campaigns. The Portuguese would first capture Alcacer Cegeur. In 1463, Afonso failed to take Tangier. However, the king later succeeded in taking Arzila and later Tangier in 1471. As a result of his conquests, Afonso increased Portugal’s prestige by expanding its influence into Africa.
Conflict with Castile
During Afonso V’s reign, the king would involve himself in Castile’s politics. In 1455, the king’s younger sister married the Castilian king Henry IV. Through their marriage, the couple produced one child: a daughter named Joan. As Henry lay dying in 1474, the king made Joan his successor and asked Afonso to marry her. Since Queen Isabel had died, Afonso wanted to honor Henry’s wish and become the new king of Castile.
Despite Afonso V’s enthusiasm, the king faced resistance in Castile. Henry IV’s younger sister, Isabella, decided to press her claim to the throne. In response, Afonso invaded Castile in May 1475. After marrying Joan, it became clear that the majority of Castile preferred Isabel over Afonso. Ignoring this sentiment, Afonso stubbornly chose to continue pressing his claim. In 1476, Portuguese and Castilian forces fought at the Battle of Toro. After Castile won a decisive victory, Afonso retreated to Portugal.
Frustrated by his defeat, Afonso V traveled to France to request King Louis XI‘s aid. The French king had been worried about Castile’s union with Aragon. Therefore, Afonso believed that Louis would readily assist him. However, Louis proved disinterested in helping Afonso, and the king returned to Portugal. After admitting defeat, Afonso signed a treaty formally renouncing his claim to Castile’s throne.
During the last five years of his life, a disillusioned Afonso V considered abdicating his throne. Although he nearly went through with it, the king reconsidered. Afonso later retired to a monastery, where he eventually died on August 28, 1481. After his death, the king’s son, John II, succeeded to the throne.
Afonso V’s ambitious reign saw Portugal’s power increase by conquering North Africa. Although successful abroad, the king failed to press his claim to Castile. His failure to do so made Afonso lose credibility as a ruler. Upon his death, the king left behind a weakened monarchy and a powerful nobility. Despite these setbacks, John II would later restore Portugal’s prestige during his reign.
Disney, A. R. (2009). A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire: From Beginnings to 1807 (Vol. 1). New York City, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Afonso V. (2020, August 24). Retrieved October 10, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Afonso-V