In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Portugal

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies and General Reference
  • Economy and Society
  • Politics and Governance
  • Religion and Church History

Renaissance and Reformation Portugal
Rita Costa-Gomes
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 November 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0086


Resulting from the Iberian Reconquest, the kingdom of Portugal has maintained its independence since the 12th century, except for a brief period of incorporation into the Spanish Habsburg composite monarchy between 1580 and 1640. Portuguese, already spoken in the kingdom by the mid-12th century, became the language used in royal official documents in the late 13th century. Portuguese society and Culture have been marked since the medieval period by the geographical position of the country on the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Although the reconquest of the territory of Portugal was completed by 1250, the Portuguese maintained strong links with the various polities and cultures of the rest of Iberia. By means of Atlantic navigation, the relations with the Atlantic port cities of France, England, and Flanders as well as with the Mediterranean were also strengthened after the 13th century. Renaissance Portugal was shaped by the process of overseas expansion, beginning with the conquest of the North African city of Ceuta in 1415 and the colonization of the Atlantic islands of Madeira and the Azores in 1418–1420. After the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope by Bartolomeu Dias in 1487 and the voyage of Vasco da Gama, India became the point of departure for the establishment of a maritime empire in Asia. Brazil (first visited in 1500) gained importance with the arrival of the first governor in 1549 and the establishment of a network of sugar plantations on its coastal Atlantic regions. This article provides a guide to the scholarship on the history of Portugal between 1350 and 1600, the so-called “golden” or “classical” age of Portuguese culture epitomized by the poet Luís de Camões (d. 1580). The article focuses on peninsular Portugal. The reader should keep in mind, however, the profound influence of the imperial endeavor on the evolution of a kingdom that was home to between 1.5 million (1527–1532) and 2 million (1590s) inhabitants in Europe, but was also considered the homeland of as many as 350,000 Portuguese spread throughout the globe during the 15th and 16th centuries. The long duration of the Portuguese diasporas since the 1400s can be considered a defining trait of the history of the Portuguese nation.

General Overviews

The modern historiography of Portugal flourished after the fall of the authoritarian regime and the end of the colonial state in the 1970s, moving beyond the hitherto almost exclusive attention given to “the Portuguese discoveries.” The works of Godinho 2009 and Marques 1998 are good examples of a new critical approach, the latter becoming influential also for its identification of the many areas still awaiting modern research by the 1970s. These works established new scholarly standards for Portuguese historiography, for most of the 20th century often devoid of critical apparatus and characteristically isolated from the rest of Europe in terms of research agendas and methodologies. Marques 1998 remains the standard general synthesis in Portuguese, and Disney 2009 is the most useful and updated one in English. Livermore 1970 is a good introduction to the specific traditions of the English-speaking historiography of Portuguese Studies. Both Magalhães 1993 and Dias 1998 are composite volumes providing in-depth essays covering different aspects of the history of Renaissance Portugal.

  • Dias, João Alves, ed. Portugal: Do Renascimento à crise dinástica. Vol. 5 of Nova história de Portugal. Edited by António H. Oliveira Marques and Joel Serrão. Lisbon: Presença, 1998.

    Composite volume with fifteen different authors, essays of unequal coverage and depth. Separates factual narrative from structural analysis. Sound surveys about demography, institutional and financial history, social structure, and the coming of the printing press. Extensive bibliographies.

  • Disney, Anthony. A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire: From Beginnings to 1807. 2 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    Updated two-volume survey of the history of Portugal, providing coverage of the Portuguese “golden age” in both volumes. Volume 2, The Portuguese Empire, organized by geographical areas outside Europe, is also relevant to the study of cultural and social transformations of the kingdom of Portugal. Useful glossaries of Portuguese terms.

  • Godinho, Vitorino Magalhães. “A concepção da história de Portugal.” In Ensaios e estudos. Uma maneira de pensar. Vol. 1. By Vitorino Magalhães Godinho, 21–47. Lisbon: Sá da Costa, 2009.

    Critical analysis of the period divisions proposed since the 18th century for the history of Portugal. First published in 1963, it proposes influential alternatives to the traditional political/dynastic division by identifying structural changes in the socioeconomic history of Portugal and its empire at the end of the 14th century, around 1550, and in 1670–1680.

  • Livermore, Harold V., ed. Portugal and Brazil: An Introduction. Oxford: Clarendon, 1970.

    Collection of essays including useful bibliographies of writings by Aubrey Bell and Edgar Prestage, early-20th-century British pioneers of Portuguese Studies and major protagonists of a revival of interest in the country and its culture among English-speaking publics.

  • Magalhães, Joaquim Romero de, ed. No alvorecer da modernidade (1480–1620). Vol. 3 of História de Portugal. Edited by José Mattoso. Lisbon: Círculo de Leitores, 1993.

    Composite volume with eleven different authors, proposes “long 16th century” as distinctive period in Portuguese history. In-depth and balanced essays provide coverage of economy, society, and culture while discussing the impact of overseas expansion and processes of imperial construction on Portugal itself. Abundant and annotated visual documentation.

  • Marques, António H. de Oliveira. História de Portugal. Vol. 2, Do Renascimento às revoluções liberais. Rev. ed. Lisbon: Presença, 1998.

    Authoritative survey of Portuguese history first published in 1972 and successively updated, with abundant maps, chronological list of rulers, genealogical tables, comprehensive indexes, and rigorous establishment of factual narrative. Encompassing but succinct description of government and administration, as well as social, economic, and cultural evolution of Renaissance Portugal.

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