Edward of Portugal was born on October 30, 1391, to King John I and Queen Philippa of Lancaster. The couple’s second son, Prince Edward, became heir after the death of his elder brother, Afonso, in 1400. As a second-generation member of the fledgling Aviz dynasty, an emphasis was placed on educating Edward and preparing him to become king. To this end, the prince became well-versed in legal matters as he attended to state affairs with his father. As Edward grew, he became known as a scholarly man with high morals and an interest in poetry.
King of Portugal
On August 14, 1433, John I died from old age at 76. Having been groomed by his father since 1411, the newly crowned Edward of Portugal readily stepped into his new role as king. By 1433, King Edward was married and had an heir of his own, Prince Afonso. Having already secured the succession, Edward could instead focus on strengthening the Aviz dynasty. The king needed to check the Portuguese nobility’s power to accomplish his goal.
In 1434, Edward issued the Lei Mental, an important set of laws defining the inheritance of lands amongst sons and grandsons. During John I’s reign, the king granted many territories to nobles. Edward sought to define how these lands would be inherited, stipulating that they would return to the crown if the noble had no heir. This framework would continue to be followed in Portugal for the next 400 years.
Although the Lei Mental was intended to be followed by both the royal family and the nobility, nobles used loopholes to get around it. The most common legal loophole was the use of exceptions. If a noble was granted an exemption, they could disregard the law. The most powerful landowning noble, Afonso, Count of Barcelos, received an exemption, exposing the weakness of Lei Mental. Despite Edward’s intentions, the disagreement between the monarchy and nobility over land rights remained unresolved.
During Edward of Portugal’s reign, the king continued most of his father’s policies. Like John I, Edward maintained a strong relationship with England. The king ratified the treaty of Windsor, and the English made him a Knight of the Garter. Edward also supported his younger brother, Henry, and his expeditions. The prince had a keen interest in exploring Africa, and the king funded his brother’s adventures.
Influenced by his religious younger brother, Ferdinand, Edward foolishly supported a crusade to Tangier instead of the more strategic Cueta. Arriving on the coast of Africa in 1437, the king and his men were quickly cut off from their fleet by the Moors. After being nearly wiped out, Edward and his remaining soldiers were able to broker a treaty with the Moors. In exchange for Ferdinand, the Portuguese could return to Lisbon. A guilt-ridden Edward would never forgive himself for leaving his favorite brother behind.
During the last year of his life, the guilt of leaving Ferdinand behind impacted Edward greatly. To make matters worse, the Moors treated Ferdinand terribly, and the prince endured a cruel imprisonment. Worn down by his failure, Edward became infected by plague. On September 9, 1438, the king succumbed to the disease, cutting short his promising reign. Edward would be succeeded by his young son, Afonso V.
Edward of Portugal reigned for a short yet impactful five years. As king, Edward implemented the highly influential Lei Mental laws that dictated inheritance until the 19th century. Through his brother Henry, Edward encouraged the exploration of Africa, gaining new footholds in the continent. However, his reign would be overshadowed by his failure in Tangier. The loss of Ferdinand ruined Edward’s health and ultimately brought about his death in 1438. With the loss of such a promising leader, Portugal’s future was placed into the hands of Edward’s six-year-old son, Afonso V.
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.
Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Edward. Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Edward-king-of-Portugal