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Uncertain Power: Representing the king in the Portuguese empire (1640-1750)

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - UNCERTAINPOWER (Uncertain Power: Representing the king in the Portuguese empire (1640-1750))

Reporting period: 2017-09-01 to 2019-08-31

UNCERTAINPOWER addressed the authority of the viceroys and governors-general, the highest representatives of the Portuguese kings, in the States of India and Brazil between 1640 and 1750, and as such, it deals with the relevance of different forms of expression of power and authority. The territories under analysis were places where the physical presence of the monarchs was impossible to happen.
In dialogue with this historiography, the objectives of this project are:
1.To identify the activities and policies of the Portuguese governors-general and viceroys in the context of the Portuguese crown’s priorities and policy in the State of India and State of Brazil, in an intraimperial connected and comparative perspective.
2. To discuss the agency of local societies, local political cultures and “local” empires (like the Mughal, for example, in the case of State of India) in the shaping of symbolic forms of authority used by the Portuguese officers.
3. To consider the reception of these symbolic forms of authority by the very diverse societies these officers were engaged with. What was the level of efficiency of these representations of power in societies with such different cultural codes?
4. To identify the existence of a circulation of models between different empires, namely to compare the results of this project with the vice-regal experiences of the Hispanic Monarchy, in first place, but also in relation to the British, Dutch, Mughal and Ottoman empires, placing them in the context of the first globalization.
My main conclusions are:
1. The appointed viceroys and governors-general were men of the close circle of the kings. This did not mean their authority was recognized as such during their offices.
2. The communication system was slow, granting the viceroy/governor-general a high degree of autonomy, especially in Goa.
3. The local elites – mainly in the State of India – were powerful enough to undermine the instructions brought by the viceroys. They had their networks and their own agenda, which often collided with the growing efforts of centralization.
4. The capacity Portuguese had to negotiate with its neighbors in the State of India was reduced. The reinos vizinhos (neighboring kingdoms) considered the Portuguese to be inferior, rather impolite and pauper and not always would receive them with the due honors.
5. There was a learning capacity in these offices. The few men who take office in both Brazil and India show how their experiences in one place affect their jobs in the other territory.
My research showed that from 1640 onwards there is a change in the policies of the crown. Traditional historiography have accentuated the emphasis on the increased weigh of Brazil within the Crown’s priorities, while the State of India enters a period of so-called decadence. Although this shift is clear, the correspondence between the kings and the viceroys shows that the viceroy of India was still the most prestigious office in the monarchy, the most lucrative one, and efforts were made to reinstate its former glory.

Considering the extension of the Portuguese empire, geographically speaking under analysis – the States of Brazil and India - and the multiplicity of societies with which it interacted between 1640 and 1750, I picked key-figures that could be representative for this period. Amongst the chosen profiles, I decided to pay particular attention to those who had occupied both offices in Brazil and India, Vasco de Mascarenhas, count of Óbidos, and Pedro Noronha de Albuquerque, marquis of Angeja.
The experience of the count of Óbidos and the marquis of Angeja shows the differences between the two territorial contexts. The local elites in Goa had a large tradition unlike in the American territory. In Brazil, the nobility was restricted to governors-general, having as such a very limited participation in the colonial society. Even the mercies and rewards given by the king were usually for military services in the North Africa and India. While this shaped an incipient nobility in Brazil, it made life harder for viceroys in India. Decades of tradition supported generations of noble families who considered the viceroy to be a primus inter pares. Negotiations were often hard, as the count of Óbidos had the opportunity to learn – and learning is a key aspect to take into account.
The autonomy to act was another important factor. The slow communications between Goa and Lisbon gave the viceroys a degree of independence in Salvador they could only dream of. In fact, the royal agents in Goa more than asking the king for suggestions, support or help in the decision making, they usually sent reports of concluded business. The correspondence often shows the king’s answers to arrive when matters were already resolved or the viceroy was no longer in office. This favored corruption and it created increased difficulties to the introduction of changes.
Another aspect to take into account is the relationship with the neighbors, the “reinos vizinhos”. The borders in the Americas were faintly defined lines, and Portuguese and Spanish people coexisted with their own interests at heart, rather than the Crown’s. However, in India the situation was quite different. The State of India shared its borders with powerful empires in expansion, such as the Mughal and the Ottoman ones.

As a result of my research, I have published 3 articles that discuss the issues here presented. Although it will be published after the end of the fellowship, thanks again to this funding opportunity, I am currently preparing a chapter of a book and a co-edited book for publication.
The research highlighted the importance of ceremonies in conveying and transmitting the royal power. This is a line of research that I have been following since the end of the fellowship. Another possibility – and maybe even more relevant for the current historiography – is a reflection on the transmission of the messages, and more importantly, on the reception of these. The reception of the royal instructions and the communication of power on the local societies is especially interesting for the State of India, where different complex societies operated when the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century. Forms of resistance, cultural translation and adaptation are just a few of the phenomenon I will be pursuing in the near future. The comparative approach will add valuable material for this discussion: in the State of Brazil, the governors-general had to deal with the colonists, not with the colonized. This is a major difference that changes the way the royal power is perceived, appropriated and received. Also, the role that slavery played in the Brazilian territory adds complexity to this discussion, converting it in an attractive topic of research.
These lines of research deal with the strategies of power enforcement, circulation of models, incorporation of local politics (especially non-European) and questions regarding the limits imposed by the existing communication systems. The conclusions I am drawing and – hopefully that I will continue to draw – from the analysis of my sources add material to the discussion of the legacies of these processes in contemporary politics. A diachronic perspective is critical to discuss, understand and analyse the present, and my findings can be an added value to the discussions within and outside the academia.