Tordesillas Treaty: focus, consequences, summary

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THE Treaty of Tordesillas was a document signed by Portugal and Castile (Spain), in June 1494, and determined the division of lands that could be found during oceanic navigations. This treaty determined the creation of a meridian 370 leagues from Cape Verde; yet, he encouraged that the lands west of this meridian would be Castile and the lands east of Portugal.

read more: Discovery of Brazil — how we know the arrival of the Portuguese in Brazil on April 22, 1500

Summary of the Treaty of Tordesillas

  • The Treaty of Tordesillas was an offshoot of the Great Navigations.

  • The exploration of the Atlantic Ocean made Portugal take precautions to guarantee the return on its investments.

  • A series of papal bulls and agreements were issued on behalf of Portuguese interests.

  • With the arrival of Europeans to America, the pope issued the bull Intercoetera, in 1493.

  • Portugal's dissatisfaction with the bull of 1493 led to the Treaty of Tordesillas being signed with Castile in 1494.

Background on the Treaty of Tordesillas

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The Treaty of Tordesillas was one of the developments of the Grandes Navegações, the expeditions to explore the Atlantic Ocean carried out from the 15th century onwards. The pioneer country of this process was Portugal, who carried out a series of expeditions throughout that century. The Portuguese expeditions focused on exploring the African coast.

These expeditions had as their main objective to discover a new route that would allow the Portuguese to reach the India. That's because it was in India that the valuable spice trade, goods that helped in the preservation of food and its seasoning and that were very valuable in Europe.

The exploration of the Atlantic contributed to a series of places, hitherto unknown to Europeans, were found, such as the Azores islands, wood and CableGreen. The “discoveries” made by Portugal were significant, and, therefore, the Portuguese Crown sought to protect the investments made in these trips.

For this, Portugal sought to obtain papal support in order to guarantee the recognition of all discoveries that were made in the name of the Portuguese kings. Thus, Portuguese diplomacy obtained some papal bulls that gave Portugal the rights to some lands. The bulls were issued by Pope Nicolas V and became known as Dumseveral and RomanusPontifex. The great threat, from the Portuguese point of view, was the Kingdom of Castile, which gave rise to Spain.

The two countries had waged war in the second half of the 15th century, and, in order to resolve this conflict, in 1479, the Alcaçovas Treaty, in which Portugal obtained recognition from Castile that this kingdom would not sail south of Cape Bojador. In exchange, Spain had its right to be recognized over the Canary Islands. In addition, this treaty divided the world into two hemispheres (North and South) and determined that Castile's ships could sail in the north, while the Portuguese could sail in the south.

  • Arrival of Europeans in America

We can see that this moment, in the context of the second half of the 15th century, was agitated, as Portugal became moved diplomatically to ensure control of the lands the country discovered and the new markets it reached. The strengthening of Castile during Elizabeth's reign made this matter even more delicate.

Finally, Castile decided to take a risk in ocean exploration and invest in the expedition of christophercolombo, a Genoese navigator who had been “rejected” by Portugal. This is because Columbus wanted to carry out an expedition to India from the west, but Portugal was interested in sailing from the south and east.

So Columbus went after others interested in his expedition and found the funding he needed in Castile. After seven years of waiting, he received funding for his expedition, managing to prepare three vessels for this. Columbus left Castile in August 1492, and in October arrivedorà America.

The news that Columbus' expedition had reached unknown lands in the west made the diplomatic tension between the Portuguese and Spaniards rise again, and new negotiations began. Tensions increased because measurements carried out by the Portuguese concluded that the lands reached by Columbus, according to the Treaty of Alcáçovas, would be Portuguese.

  • Maritime expansion: imaginary and treaties

Treaty of Tordesillas

The Portuguese used their influence with the Holy See and triggered the Pope Alexander VI for him to arbitrate a new agreement between the countries. Through the pope, in 1493, the package insert Intercoetera, which determined the marking of a 100 league meridian west of the Cape Verde Islands. The lands west of this meridian would belong to Spain.

The Portuguese did not keep the terms of the bull and began a direct negotiation with Spain for the division of land that could be found to the west. The king of Portugal at the time was d. John II, while the kings of Castile and Aragon were Isabel and Fernando (The kingdoms were united with the marriage of the two).

Negotiations were held in Tordesillas, and in them an agreement was reached that a new meridian would be drawn. The starting point would be the ilha of Santo Antao, one of the islands that formed Cape Verde. This meridian would be drawn at 370 leagues west of that island and would determine that the lands west of it would be Castile and the lands east of Portugal.

Finally, the signing of the treaty took place on the day June 7, 1494, being ratified in Castile, on the 2nd of July, and in Portugal, on the 5th of September. The treaty resolved disagreements between the two kingdoms and gave Portugal a perspective on the possibility of new lands to the west. As we know, these lands were Brazil.

View of the city of Tordesillas, Spain.
Tordesillas, Spanish city where the Treaty of Tordesillas was signed in 1494.

Consequences of the Treaty of Tordesillas

Among the consequences that we can highlight with the signing of the Treaty of Tordesillas, we can highlight:

  • The consolidation of the exploration process of America by Portugal and Spain.

  • The partial ending of disagreements between the two nations over control of the new lands.

  • Portugal's investment in exploring the African coast, with the aim of finding a route to India; only after that did the country decide to check out its possibilities in the west.

  • The dissatisfaction of other European nations that the agreement included only Castile (Spain) and Portugal.

It is considered that the Treaty of Tordesillas remained in force until the end of the 17th century. This is because, in 1680, the Iberian Union, that is, the unification of the thrones of Portugal and Spain. This unification made the established borders a dead letter and allowed the Portuguese settlers to expand into “Spanish lands” freely.

  • Video lesson on Iberian Union

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