Daniel Halliday
Jan 24 · Last update 12 days ago.
What led to the fall of the Portuguese Empire?
The Portuguese Empire arose from a period of European exploration that started with the discovery of the island of Madeira in 1419 under the direction of Prince Henry the Navigator. Portuguese sailors and merchants went on to circumnavigate the globe and establish one of the longest lived and furthest reaching Empires in the history of the world. But how did one of the first global empires and one of the most dominant European colonial powers lose its overseas territories and end up, geographically, where it started in the 15th century?
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The British Ultimatum of 1890
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The Dutch destabilising Portuguese colonialism
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Napoleon’s invasion laying the foundation for Brazil’s independence
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The British Ultimatum of 1890

During the Scramble for Africa of the late 19th century Portugal attempted to connect its colonies of Angola and Mozambique to occupy a continuous corridor of territory in southern Africa. This soon led to territorial disputes with British interested operating in the region, leading to an Anglo-Portuguese crisis, and in 1890, the British Government issued the British Ultimatum, a claim of sovereignty over the territory Portugal had attempted to acquire. The British Ultimatum caused national outrage which eventually led to the Republican Revolution in Portugal and the end of the monarchy. However this also curtailed Portuguese colonial expansion something that continued around the First and Second World Wars and finally ended with the European decolonisation movement of the Cold War.

revolvy.com/topic/1890%20British%20Ultimatum

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The Dutch destabilising Portuguese colonialism

The decline of the Portugese Empire was a gradual process that accelerated rapidly due to the Dutch Portuguese War. Although this war is thought of as part of the bigger Eighty Years’ War between Spain and the Netherlands, it was largely fought in the interests of Dutch colonial ambitions in the Far-East, and had little to do with conflict in Europe, being more accurately nicknamed the ‘Spice Wars’. Portugal began losing colonial territories at the fastest rate in its history to the Dutch forces; Jakarta, Malacca, Ceylon, the Indian Malabar coast, trade with Japan, Olinda, Salvador, San Jorge-da-Mina were lost to Dutch influence throughout the 17th century. This weakened Portuguese influence internationally to such a degree that, although Portugal restored their own independence over the Spanish and their influence over Brazil by agreeing to the Hague Treaty with the Dutch, the Empire continued to decline following the loss of control over the global spice trade.

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Napoleon’s invasion laying the foundation for Brazil’s independence

In 1807 Napoleon invaded Portugal, marking the beginning of the Peninsular War for control over the Iberian Peninsula. This almost bloodless conquest of Portugal caused the Portuguese royal family to flee to Brazil, and establish all the institutions needed to rule their empire from this overseas territory. The royal family returned to Portugal following Napoleon’s defeat, leaving Prince Dom Pedro to govern Brazil in their absence, however following seven years of dissatisfaction with Portugal’s Constituent Assembly Dom Pedro declared independence from Portugal in 1822. This represented the largest loss of foreign territory in the history of the Portuguese Empire and marked the gradual decline of Portuguese colonial influence.

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