Sancho II of Portugal was born on September 8, 1207, in Coimbra, Portugal. The first-born son of King Afonso II and Queen Urraca, Prince Sancho was groomed as his father’s successor from a young age. During his father’s reign, Afonso II focused on increasing the monarchy’s authority. To this end, the king introduced a series of law reforms to centralize his political power. However, his reforms soon brought Afonso into conflict with the pope.
As Sancho grew, diplomatic relations between Portugal and the papacy soured. When the prince’s great-grandfather, Afonso I, established Portugal’s independence, the king made an arrangement with the papacy. In exchange for recognizing Portugal as a kingdom, the monarchy would allow the church to have many privileges. With Afonso II’s reforms ignoring this agreement, Pope Honorius III threatened to excommunicate the king. Believing Portugal’s independence to be secure, Afonso refused, and the pope excommunicated him.
King of Portugal
To return to the pope’s good graces, Afonso II offered to make amends. However, the king didn’t make any serious attempts at doing so. On March 25, 1223, Afonso died, and the 17-year-old prince became King Sancho II of Portugal. Since his father failed to appease Honorius III, Sancho inherited a Portugal at odds with the papacy. As a sign of peace, the king signed a treaty of 10 articles from the pope.
Despite promising to respect the church’s privileges, Sancho II followed his father’s example and ignored the treaty. Instead, the king focused on the Reconquista, a military campaign that aimed to take the southern Iberian Peninsula from the Moors (Muslims). In 1236, Sancho led a successful campaign against the Moors, capturing several cities and establishing a Portuguese position. Although successful militarily, the king began experiencing serious internal issues in his kingdom.
As a ruler, Sancho II didn’t take an active role in his administration. In turn, his subjects grew unhappy with Sancho’s government’s decisions. Portuguese merchants clashed with the clergy, and the king didn’t intervene. The nobility also resented the king’s poor leadership and began plotting his downfall. As Sancho’s support declined, the Archbishop of Porto complained to the pope about the king. Little did Sancho realize that the archbishop’s complaint would be the beginning of the king’s downfall.
Loss of the Throne
During Sancho II’s reign, the church had enormous amount political power in Europe. Having made a powerful enemy of the papacy, the pope issued a papal bull declaring Sancho’s throne forfeit. Therefore, the Portuguese had the papacy’s blessing in electing a new monarch. Seeing an opportunity to overthrow Sancho, the nobility offered the throne to the king’s younger brother, Afonso, in 1246. With the pope’s backing, Afonso readily accepted and left France to seize the throne.
By 1247, Sancho II lost control of Portugal and fled to Toledo. In his place, Afonso became King Afonso III and established his line as Portugal’s new legitimate rulers. The pope would excommunicate the deposed king as a final insult. Broken by his defeats, Sancho died in Toledo on January 4, 1248. Fortunately for Afonso, the former king left behind no legitimate children to challenge him or his heir.
Sancho II of Portugal failed to learn from his father’s mistakes. Instead of making peace with the papacy early in his reign, Sancho chose to worsen the situation. In turn, the king made a powerful enemy. As Sancho’s support declined in Portugal, the papacy took its revenge and declared his throne forfeit. His overthrow by Afonso ended the king’s reign, and Sancho died a disgraced exile the following year.
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.). Sancho II. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved January 23, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sancho-II-king-of-Portugal