The Life of ‘Good’ King João

Grand Master of the Order of Avis, King João I was king of Portugal from the 6th of April 1385 until his death on the 14th of August 1433 aged 76.

Under him, Portugal first began to look across the seas for solutions to its internal and economic problems and through the development of trade and exploration he managed to both occupy the nobility and boost commerce.

He was a straightforward man and considered very lucky in his friends, wife and children, but his main achievement was to set the seal on his country’s long struggle for independence.

During his many years on the throne (he reigned for more than 48 years) he oversaw the start of Portuguese imperialism through a series of early maritime expeditions (including the discovery of Madeira and the Azores), culminating with the occupation of Ceuta as a means to gaining a foothold on Morocco and by doing so control shipping through the Strait of Gibraltar.

Immediately after his accession to the Portuguese throne, he wed an English princess – Philippa of Lancaster (daughter of John of Gaunt) – which marked the beginning of a long alliance (the 1386 Treaty of Windsor) between the two countries that has remained unbroken until this day.

Their marriage produced an admirable line of princes and princesses that became known as the ‘illustrious generation’, but the greatest of them all was Henrique (aka Prince Henry the Navigator), conqueror of the dark seas and the driving force behind Portugal’s golden Age of Discovery.

He led the first popular revolt in Europe when the people of Lisbon appealed to him to become defender of the realm against the Castilians, which came to pass with his famous victory at the Battle of Aljubarrota on the 14th of August 1385.

The history of Portugal

Heavily outnumbered by more than 30,000 Castilians to his depleted army of just 6,600 men, the newly-crowned King João I ensured Portugal almost 200 years of hard-fought independence with the help of the great warrior Nuno Álvaro Pereira and a group of highly-trained English archers.

King João I and his wife spent much of their time in Sintra at the Paço Real which today ranks as one of the most visited tourist attractions in the whole of the Lisbon region.

Much of Sintra Palace dates from his time, most notably the buildings set around the central courtyard called the Ala Joanina (João’s Wing) and the huge kitchen complete with two enormous conical chimneys, now one of Sintra’s most iconic landmarks.

The story goes that the king was once caught in the act of kissing a lady-in-waiting by Queen Philippa and to put a stop to all the ensuing gossip he had the room decorated with as many magpies as there were women at the court (136) with the immortal words por bem (for honour) written over their beaks!

Despite his fondness for Sintra Palace, King João I died within the walls of the Castle of São Jorge in Lisbon and his body now rests alongside his beloved wife under the star vault of the octagon at the magnificent Monastery of Batalha (indicated on the Google map below) in central Portugal, close to Henry the Navigator.

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