by Carolina Maia 10th August 2022
The alliance between Britain and Portugal was built on tea and troops

Until recently the village of Tagilde had forgotten its role in the treaty, which was signed in its church on July 10, 1372.


A little-known treaty that laid foundation for the world’s oldest alliance was celebrated with pomp and circumstance this weekend in an obscure village in Portugal.


A small stone memorial and a sign for Treaty of the Alliance Street are the only indications that 650 years ago the northern village of Tagilde was the site of a historic part with England.


But on Sunday [10th July] the signing of the Treaty of Tagilde was re-enacted; in the nearby Braga and Vizela, the Choir of the Queen’s College, Oxford, and the Coldstream Guards Brass Quintet perfomed to mark the anniversary.


Until recently the village of Tagilde had forgotten its role in the treaty, which was signed in its church on July 10, 1372. So had most historians. But its effects were momentous: it began the oldest diplomatic alliance between two nations still in force.

A letter from Dom Fernando, King of Portugal, and Queen Eleanor to John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, requiring the confirmation of the Treaty of Tagilde, in November 1372.


Its importance was underscored last month when Antonio Costa, the Portuguese prime minister, met Boris Johnson to sign an agreement on areas such as foreign policy, security and trade. They inspected an original version of the 1372 treaty, which had been moved to Downing Street for the occasion by the National Archives.


Portugal and Britain have revived the treaty’s significance in its anniversary year, commemorating an alliance that has endured wars, dictatorship and diplomatic spats – and promoted fine things such as port and tea. To celebrate the treaty, plays, wine tastings and seminars have been staged. The English National Ballet and the Barbican centre are among dozen of organisations putting on events.


Churchill described the alliance as without parallel in world history, but how did it begin? It started with an English quest for the throne of Castile, Portugal’s old foe. “The claim was made by John of Gaunt, which is not as absurd as it sounds as England had large possessions in the southwest of France that bordered Castile”, Thomas Earle, professor of Portuguese studies at Oxford University, said. “It was based on his marriage to Constance, the daughter of Spain’s King Pedro the Cruel.”


The treaty agreed that England and Portugal would both wage war against Castile. It was signed by Roger Hore, John of Gaunt’s squire, and King Ferdinand I of Portugal. Tagilde may have been chosen, Earle suggested, because it was a royal possession and lies halfway between Porto, where Hore disembarked, and Braga, where Ferdinand was resident. The treaty’s rationale for unity against Castile was undermined by a Portuguese-Spanish peace agreement, but it led to the Treaty of London the following year, the second of a series of Anglo-Portuguese agreements, which pledged “perpetual friendships, unions, alliances and deeds of sincere affection”. Early signs of the bond were seen when English archers took part in a Portuguese victory over the Spanish in 1985, a year before relations were consolidated in the fuller Treaty of Windsor. Since then successive treaties have perpetuated the alliance.


Few can have such links to the alliance as Duarte Pio, who is claimant to the abolished Portuguese throne and styles himself the Duke of Braganza. One of his dynasty’s members, Catherine of Braganza, married Charles II in 1662, helped to popularise tea in England and supported the Methuen Treaty in 1703, which bolstered the port trade. “She is said also to have made popular orange marmalade and the use of fork,” Pio said. “But more seriously the alliance has played an important role, for example, during the Second World War, when Britain was given facilities in the Azores to help in the Battle of the Atlantic against German submarines.”


The alliance has survived difficult times, he added. The Portuguese have not forgotten incidents such as the 1890 British Ultimatum which forced the retreat of its forces from areas in Africa that had been claimed by Portugal but occupied by Britain. “It was one of the reasons for the republican revolution which ended the monarchy in Portugal 20 years later,” Pio, 77, said.

On the plus sideis the support given during the Peninsular War (1807-14) by the Duke of Wellington, who defended Lisbon and Porto from Napoleon’s troops.


Despite the challenges of Brexit and Covid, Chris Sainty, the Ambassador to Portugal, said the alliance was still strong. “Our new agreement maintains the spirit of the ancient treaties,” he said.


Article from The Times