December 1st: A Celebration of Defenestration

Monument commemorating the 1st of December in Rossio Square, Lisboa

The Portuguese saying De Espanha, nem bom vento nem bom casamento (literally: from Spain, no good wind nor good marriage) comes to mind in light of today’s celebration of Portuguese Independence from Spain, particularly considering the recent visit of King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano. However, it’s worth noting that the wind that brought the Spanish royals was unseasonably warm — as was their welcome in Portugal. This time, anyway…

The Spanish king and queen flew to Porto on Monday for a three-day visit around Portugal. He was given the key to the city, breezed through countryman Joan Miró’s exhibit at Porto’s gorgeous Serralves Foundation with Queen Letizia , and dined at the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza in Guimarães.

The king and queen of Spain, courtesy of the Presidencia de la República Mexicana on Wikimedia Commons

In Guimarães, the Spanish king delivered a speech in both Spanish and Portuguese in which he called Portugal a “sister nation” and promised to honor the two neighbors’ “special and intense relationship…that respects each other, loves each other, and looks forward to the future with hope.” His speech didn’t seem like a lot of hot air, but maybe it’s because he made it in front of a window.

With all the pomp and circumstance of the royals’ visit, no one ever thought to discuss the elephant in the room. That elephant is the 60 years of Spanish rule over the Portuguese.

Charles I of Spain married Infanta Isabella of Portugal in 1526. Their son, Philip I, took the Spanish throne in 1556 with every intention of uniting the entire Iberian Peninsula under his rule. Remember what they say about marriages from Spain?


In 1578, the Portuguese King Dom Sebastião disappeared during his crusade against Morocco. His uncle D. Henrique took over the throne but died just two years later. With the crown up in the air, Philip I launched a military occupation of Portugal that defeated some serious opposition at the Battle of Alcântara. He became king of Portugal in 1581 but allowed the country to maintain autonomous law, currency, and government. That status quo was maintained by his son Philip II from 1598 – 1621.

Things went sour after Philip II’s son, Philip III, took control. Over the next 19 years he incrementally tightened the screws. He raised taxes on Portuguese merchants, limited Portuguese influence in the Spanish courts, and placed Spaniards in positions of power in the Portuguese courts. Once the Portuguese nobles had basically lost all but their titles, they decided that enough was enough and organized a revolution, as one does.

Antão Vaz de Almada, Miguel de Almeida, João Pinto Ribeiro and various associates collectively known as the Forty Conspirators (Os Conjurados) met at the Palácio da Almeida in Rossio (now called the Palacio da Independência, ha!), finalized a plan, and sprang to action. On December 1st, 1640, they launched their bid to reclaim sovereignty.

Azulejos depicting the Forty Conspirators at Palácio da Independência
Azulejos depicting the Forty Conspirators at Palácio da Independência

At 9 in the morning, the Forty Conspirators entered the palace of the Secretary of State Miguel Vasconcelos in Terreiro do Paço, thirsty for blood. Vasconcelos had hidden himself in a closet. It didn’t take long to find him. Vasconcelos was shot and thrown out of the window (or defenestrated), offering the angry mob outside an opportunity to get in a few post-mortem blows.

Next, the Conspirators surrounded the headquarters of Margarida of Savoy, Philip III’s cousin governing in his name. The benevolent revolutionaries allowed her to flee the country and return to Spain.

Immediately following these events, the Duque de Bragança was given the title Dom João IV due to his direct lineage to the throne. João wasn’t exactly the royal type, as he was quite modest in character and lacked a lust for the crown. Legend has it that his wife, Luisa of Guzman, begged him to accept the honor. She said, “I’d rather be queen for one day than duchess for a lifetime.” Some gals have all the luck. Then again, he wasn’t much of a catch otherwise.

Various portraits of Dom João IV

Every year on December 1st, memorial events take place both in the Palácio da Independência and at the Praça dos Restauradores. Unfortunately, Atlas is still in the dark about which window should be honored in Terreiro do Paço, but if we get wind of it, we’ll let you know.

This year’s great National Parade of Philharmonic Bands “1º de Dezembro” will be the biggest ever. At 15h, 35 marching bands from all over the country will parade down Avenida da Liberdade and finish at Restauradores Square where a gigantic orchestra of all 1,700 musicians will play together.

Want to see the meeting place of the defenestration masterminds? Check out Palácio da Independência at Largo de São Domingos (next door to Teatro Naçional). Its visiting hours are Mon – Fri, 10h to 13h and 14h30 to 18h30.

Livermore, H.V., A History of Portugal, Cambridge University Press, 1947


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