Sebastian of Portugal
Sebastian "the Desired" (Sebastião I, sɨbɐʃˈti.ɐ̃w̃, o Desejado; Lisbon
Lisbon is the capital city and largest city of Portugal with a population of 545,245 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Lisbon extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of 3 million on an area of , making it the 9th most populous urban...

, 20 January 1554 – presumed to have died at Alcácer-Quibir
Ksar el Kebir is a city in northwest of Morocco with 110,000 inhabitants, about 160 km from Rabat, 32 km from Larache and 110 km from Tangier....

, 4 August 1578) was the 16th king of Portugal and the Algarves. He was the son of Prince John of Portugal and his wife, Joan of Spain. He was the grandson of John III of Portugal
John III of Portugal
John III , nicknamed o Piedoso , was the fifteenth King of Portugal and the Algarves. He was the son of King Manuel I and Maria of Aragon, the third daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile...

 and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Charles V was ruler of the Holy Roman Empire from 1519 and, as Charles I, of the Spanish Empire from 1516 until his voluntary retirement and abdication in favor of his younger brother Ferdinand I and his son Philip II in 1556.As...


Early life

Sebastian was born shortly after 8 in the morning of 20 January 1554 (the feast of Saint Sebastian), and he was given the saint's name in commemoration. The name Sebastian was highly unusual for members of any European royal family at the time. Shortly after his birth a doctor, Fernando Abarca Maldonado, who had come to Portugal in the entourage of his mother and probably had helped deliver him, cast his horoscope. Among other things, Maldonado predicted that Sebastian would be very attracted to women, marry and have many children, none of which came to pass.

Accession to the Throne as a Minor and Regency

Sebastian was born heir to the throne of Portugal, since his birth occurred two weeks after the death of his father. He succeeded to the throne at the age of three, on the death of King John III, his paternal grandfather. Soon after his birth, his mother Joan of Spain left her infant son to serve as Regent of Castile for her father, Emperor Charles V
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Charles V was ruler of the Holy Roman Empire from 1519 and, as Charles I, of the Spanish Empire from 1516 until his voluntary retirement and abdication in favor of his younger brother Ferdinand I and his son Philip II in 1556.As...

. After his abdication in 1556, she served in the same capacity for her brother Philip II of Spain
Philip II of Spain
Philip II was King of Spain, Portugal, Naples, Sicily, and, while married to Mary I, King of England and Ireland. He was lord of the Seventeen Provinces from 1556 until 1581, holding various titles for the individual territories such as duke or count....

. Joan remained in Spain until her death in 1573, never to see her son again. Since Sebastian was still a child, the regency
A regent, from the Latin regens "one who reigns", is a person selected to act as head of state because the ruler is a minor, not present, or debilitated. Currently there are only two ruling Regencies in the world, sovereign Liechtenstein and the Malaysian constitutive state of Terengganu...

 was handled first by his paternal grandmother, Catherine of Austria, and then by his great-uncle, Cardinal Henry of Évora. This period saw continued Portuguese colonial expansion
Portuguese Empire
The Portuguese Empire , also known as the Portuguese Overseas Empire or the Portuguese Colonial Empire , was the first global empire in history...

 in Angola
Angola, officially the Republic of Angola , is a country in south-central Africa bordered by Namibia on the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the north, and Zambia on the east; its west coast is on the Atlantic Ocean with Luanda as its capital city...

, Mozambique
Mozambique, officially the Republic of Mozambique , is a country in southeastern Africa bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the north, Malawi and Zambia to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west and Swaziland and South Africa to the southwest...

, and Malacca
Malacca , dubbed The Historic State or Negeri Bersejarah among locals) is the third smallest Malaysian state, after Perlis and Penang. It is located in the southern region of the Malay Peninsula, on the Straits of Malacca. It borders Negeri Sembilan to the north and the state of Johor to the south...

, as well as the annexation of Macau
Macau , also spelled Macao , is, along with Hong Kong, one of the two special administrative regions of the People's Republic of China...

 in 1557.

Sebastian was a bright and lively boy. Reports say he was fearless due to having "so much strength". Tall, slim, and blond, he was brought up by his grandmother, Catherine, a domineering woman who exercised firm control over her weaker-willed grandson. Later in life, however, he became obstinate and impulsive.


The young king grew up under the guidance and heavy influence of the Jesuits
Society of Jesus
The Society of Jesus is a Catholic male religious order that follows the teachings of the Catholic Church. The members are called Jesuits, and are also known colloquially as "God's Army" and as "The Company," these being references to founder Ignatius of Loyola's military background and a...

. Aleixo de Meneses, a military man of solid reputation and former tutor and guardian of Prince John, was appointed tutor to Sebastian by the boy's grandmother, Catherine. Other teachers included the priest Luís Gonçalves da Câmara and his assistant, the priest Amador Rebelo. Luís Gonçalves da Câmara became Sebastian's confessor, having previously been the confessor of prince John in 1550.

His upbringing made Sebastian extremely devout. He carried a copy of Thomas Aquinas on a belt at his waist and was constantly accompanied by two monks of the Theatine Order
The Theatines or the Congregation of Clerks Regular of the Divine Providence are a male religious order of the Catholic Church, with the post-nominal initials "C.R."-Foundation:...

, who were intent on preserving the King's innocence. As a child, Sebastian reportedly would react to visitors by running off into hiding with the monks until the visitors had gone.

Marriage plans

Sebastian died young and did not marry. However, he was the subject of several proposed marriage alliances, in spite of his well known misogyny
Misogyny is the hatred or dislike of women or girls. Philogyny, meaning fondness, love or admiration towards women, is the antonym of misogyny. The term misandry is the term for men that is parallel to misogyny...

. In particular, the Queen dowager of France, Catherine de' Medici
Catherine de' Medici
Catherine de' Medici was an Italian noblewoman who was Queen consort of France from 1547 until 1559, as the wife of King Henry II of France....

, nurtured for a long time a plan to marry her youngest daughter, Margaret of Valois, to Sebastian, a plan which was on occasion supported by Sebastian's maternal uncle, King Philip II of Spain
Philip II of Spain
Philip II was King of Spain, Portugal, Naples, Sicily, and, while married to Mary I, King of England and Ireland. He was lord of the Seventeen Provinces from 1556 until 1581, holding various titles for the individual territories such as duke or count....

. Sebastian himself, however, put an end to that plan, declaring that he was unimpressed by the mild suppression of the Huguenot Protestants
The Huguenots were members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France during the 16th and 17th centuries. Since the 17th century, people who formerly would have been called Huguenots have instead simply been called French Protestants, a title suggested by their German co-religionists, the...

 in France, and that he would not bind himself to the House of Valois until he had seen how the situation would develop. Later, he agreed - being persuaded by emissaries of the Pope - to marry Margaret in order to prevent her from marrying the Huguenot Henry of Navarre
Henry IV of France
Henry IV , Henri-Quatre, was King of France from 1589 to 1610 and King of Navarre from 1572 to 1610. He was the first monarch of the Bourbon branch of the Capetian dynasty in France....

; by that time, however, the French king and his mother were already intent on Margaret marrying Henry. Margaret married Henry in 1572. By then Sebastian was already 18 years old and his proposal was rejected.

Sebastian was also offered his cousin, Elisabeth of Habsburg
Elisabeth of Austria (1554-1592)
Elisabeth of Austria was a German princess member of the House of Habsburg, by birth Archduchess of Austria and by marriage Queen of France.She was the daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II and Maria of Spain....

, the daughter of Emperor Maximilian II
Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor
Maximilian II was king of Bohemia and king of the Romans from 1562, king of Hungary and Croatia from 1563, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation from 1564 until his death...

. Sebastian himself made a proposal in 1577 to his first cousin Isabella Clara Eugenia
Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain
Isabella Clara Eugenia of Austria was sovereign of the Spanish Netherlands in the Low Countries and the north of modern France, together with her husband Albert. In some sources, she is referred to as Clara Isabella Eugenia...

, daughter of Philip II of Spain.

Personal reign

During Sebastian's short personal reign, through diplomatic efforts, he strengthened ties with Germany
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

, England
Kingdom of England
The Kingdom of England was, from 927 to 1707, a sovereign state to the northwest of continental Europe. At its height, the Kingdom of England spanned the southern two-thirds of the island of Great Britain and several smaller outlying islands; what today comprises the legal jurisdiction of England...

 and France
Kingdom of France
The Kingdom of France was one of the most powerful states to exist in Europe during the second millennium.It originated from the Western portion of the Frankish empire, and consolidated significant power and influence over the next thousand years. Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King, developed a...

. He also restructured much of the administrative, judicial and military life in his kingdom. In 1568, Sebastian created scholarships to help financially the students who wished to take medicine or pharmacy in the University of Coimbra. The same he rewarded Indians in [Brazil]] who helped in the fight against the French. The chief of the Temiminós Indians, Araribóia, was given lands near the Bay of Guanabara. In 1569, Sebastian ordered Duarte Nunes de Leão to compile all the laws and legal documents of the kingdom in a collection of Leis Extravagantes known as Código Sebastiânico (Sebastian’s code).

During the great plague of Lisbon
Lisbon is the capital city and largest city of Portugal with a population of 545,245 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Lisbon extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of 3 million on an area of , making it the 9th most populous urban...

 in 1569, Sebastian sent for doctors from Seville
Seville is the artistic, historic, cultural, and financial capital of southern Spain. It is the capital of the autonomous community of Andalusia and of the province of Seville. It is situated on the plain of the River Guadalquivir, with an average elevation of above sea level...

 to help the Portuguese doctors fight the plague. He created two hospitals in Lisbon to take care of those afflicted with the plague. In his concern for the widows and orphans of those killed by the plague, he created several Recolhimentos (shelters) known as the Recolhimento de Santa Marta (shelter of Santa Marta) and the Recolhimento dos Meninos (shelter of the children) and provided wet nurses to take care of the babies. Sebastian created laws for the military, the Lei das Armas, that would become a military organization model. In 1570 Goa
Goa , a former Portuguese colony, is India's smallest state by area and the fourth smallest by population. Located in South West India in the region known as the Konkan, it is bounded by the state of Maharashtra to the north, and by Karnataka to the east and south, while the Arabian Sea forms its...

 was attacked by the Indian army, but the Portuguese were successful in repulsing the assault. Also in 1570, Sebastian ordered that the Brazilian Indians should not be used as slaves and ordered the release of those held in captivity.

In 1572 the poet Luís de Camões
Luís de Camões
Luís Vaz de Camões is considered Portugal's and the Portuguese language's greatest poet. His mastery of verse has been compared to that of Shakespeare, Vondel, Homer, Virgil and Dante. He wrote a considerable amount of lyrical poetry and drama but is best remembered for his epic work Os Lusíadas...

 presented his masterpiece Os Lusiadas
Os Lusíadas
Os Lusíadas , usually translated as The Lusiads, is a Portuguese epic poem by Luís Vaz de Camões ....

 and dedicated a poem to Sebastian that won him a royal pension. In 1573, he commissioned the construction of the Basilica Royal in Castro Verde as a tribute to the Battle of Ourique
Battle of Ourique
The Battle of Ourique saw the forces of Portuguese Prince Afonso Henriques defeat the Almoravid Moors led by Ali ibn Yusuf.-Background:...

. In 1575 with the Carta de Lei de Almeirim, the king established a system of measures for solid and liquid products and also defined the role of public servants. The Celeiros Comuns (Communal Granaries) were inaugurated in 1576 on Sebastian's orders. These were lending institutions intended to help to poor farmers when farm production decreased, giving credit, lending seeds and commodities to the needy, allowing them to pay back with farm products when they recovered from losses.

The mathematician and cosmographer Pedro Nunes
Pedro Nunes
Pedro Nunes , was a Portuguese mathematician, cosmographer, and professor, from a New Christian family. Nunes, considered to be one of the greatest mathematicians of his time , is best known for his contributions in the technical field of navigation, which was crucial to the Portuguese period of...

 was appointed by Sebastian as a cosmography teacher for sea pilots. It was during Sebastian's reign that Nunes wrote the Petri Nonii Salaciensis Opera. The number of shipwrecks decreased and almost every single ship arrived in port during the whole of Sebastian's reign.
In 1577 Sebastian’s ordinance Da nova ordem do juízo, sobre o abreviar das demandas, e execução dellas decreased the time for handling legal actions, regulated the action of lawyers, scribes and other court officials, and created fines for delays.


After attaining his majority in 1568, Sebastian dreamed of a great crusade against the kingdom of Morocco
Saadi Dynasty
The Saadi dynasty of Morocco , began with the reign of Sultan Mohammed ash-Sheikh in 1554, when he vanquished the last Wattasids at the Battle of Tadla....

, where over the preceding generation several Portuguese way stations on the route to India had been lost. A Moroccan succession struggle gave him the opportunity, when Abu Abdallah Mohammed II Saadi
Abu Abdallah Mohammed II Saadi
Abu Abdallah Mohammed II, Al-Mutawakkil, often simply Abdallah Mohammed was the oldest son of Abdallah al-Ghalib and became the sultan of Morocco after his father's death....

 lost his throne in 1576 and fled to Portugal, where he asked for King Sebastian's help in defeating his Turkish-backed uncle and rival, Abu Marwan Abd al-Malik I Saadi
Abu Marwan Abd al-Malik I Saadi
Abu Marwan Abd al-Malik I , often simply Abd al-Malik or Mulay Abdelmalek, was the Saadi Sultan of Morocco from 1576 until his death right after the Battle of Ksar El Kebir against Portugal in 1578.-Saadi Prince:...

. Sebastian met during the Christmastide of 1577 with his uncle, Philip II of Spain
Philip II of Spain
Philip II was King of Spain, Portugal, Naples, Sicily, and, while married to Mary I, King of England and Ireland. He was lord of the Seventeen Provinces from 1556 until 1581, holding various titles for the individual territories such as duke or count....

, at Guadalupe in Castile. Philip refused to be party to the crusade as he was negotiating a truce with the Turks, though he promised a contingent of Spanish volunteers.

Despite having no son and heir, King Sebastian in 1578 embarked on his crusade. The Portuguese army of 17,000 men, including a significant number of foreign mercenaries (hired from Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Italy), and almost all of the country's nobility, sailed at the beginning of June from Lisbon, visited Cadiz
Cadiz is a city and port in southwestern Spain. It is the capital of the homonymous province, one of eight which make up the autonomous community of Andalusia....

, where they expected to find the Spanish volunteers, who failed to appear, then crossed into Morocco. At Arzila, Sebastian joined his ally Abu Abdullah Mohammed II, who had around 6,000 Moorish soldiers and, against the advice of his commanders, marched into the interior. At the Battle of Alcácer Quibir
Battle of Alcácer Quibir
The Battle of Ksar El Kebir, also known as Battle of Three Kings, or "Battle of Oued El Makhazeen" in Morocco, and Battle of Alcácer Quibir in Portugal , was fought in northern Morocco, near the town of Ksar-el-Kebir and Larache, on 4 August 1578...

 (Battle of the Three Kings), the Portuguese army was routed by Abd Al-Malik at the head of some 50,000 men. Sebastian was almost certainly killed in battle. He was last seen riding headlong into the enemy lines. Whether his body was ever found is uncertain, but Philip II of Spain claimed to have received his remains from Morocco and buried them in the Jerónimos Monastery
Jerónimos Monastery
The Hieronymites Monastery is located near the shore of the parish of Belém, in the municipality of Lisbon, Portugal...

 in Belém
Santa Maria de Belém
Santa Maria de Belém, or just Belém , whose name is derived from the Portuguese word for Bethlehem, is a civil parish of the municipality of Lisbon, in central Portugal...

, Lisbon
Lisbon is the capital city and largest city of Portugal with a population of 545,245 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Lisbon extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of 3 million on an area of , making it the 9th most populous urban...

, after he ascended to the Portuguese throne in 1580. Sebastian was succeeded as king by his great-uncle Henry, brother of his grandfather, King John III.

The legend

After the defeat at Alcácer Quibir many diligences were made to ransom the imprisoned soldiers. Several soldiers returned to Portugal, which, added to uncertainty over Sebastian's fate, led many Portuguese to believe Sebastian survived the battle and would return to claim his throne. This led to Sebastianism
Sebastianism, one aspect of the sleeping king folk-motif, is part of the Portuguese and Brazilian mythology and culture. It means waiting for a hero that will save Portugal and lead it to the Fifth Empire, and known as Eu nacional...

: the belief that Sebastian could return at any moment. Politically, there was the belief that Philip was not the rightful heir to the throne. Subsequently there was the appearance, in Portugal, of men fraudulently claiming to be the king. During the time of the Iberian Union
Iberian Union
The Iberian union was a political unit that governed all of the Iberian Peninsula south of the Pyrenees from 1580–1640, through a dynastic union between the monarchies of Portugal and Spain after the War of the Portuguese Succession...

, between 1580 and 1640, four different pretenders claimed to be the returned King Sebastian; the last of these pretenders, who was in fact an Italian, was hanged in 1619.

In the long term, it led to the development of myths and legends concerning Sebastian, the principal one being that he was a great Portuguese patriot, the "sleeping king" who would return to help Portugal in its darkest hour (similar to the British King Arthur
King Arthur
King Arthur is a legendary British leader of the late 5th and early 6th centuries, who, according to Medieval histories and romances, led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century. The details of Arthur's story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention, and...

, the German
The Germans are a Germanic ethnic group native to Central Europe. The English term Germans has referred to the German-speaking population of the Holy Roman Empire since the Late Middle Ages....

 Frederick Barbarossa
Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor
Frederick I Barbarossa was a German Holy Roman Emperor. He was elected King of Germany at Frankfurt on 4 March 1152 and crowned in Aachen on 9 March, crowned King of Italy in Pavia in 1155, and finally crowned Roman Emperor by Pope Adrian IV, on 18 June 1155, and two years later in 1157 the term...

 or the Byzantine
The Greeks, also known as the Hellenes , are a nation and ethnic group native to Greece, Cyprus and neighboring regions. They also form a significant diaspora, with Greek communities established around the world....

 Constantine XI Palaeologus). He would then be known by symbolic names: O Encoberto (The Hidden One) who would return on a foggy morning to save Portugal; or as O Desejado (The Desired One). The legend was vigorously promoted through the massive circulation of popular rhymes (trovas) written by António Gonçalves de Bandarra
António Gonçalves de Bandarra
António Gonçalves Annes Bandarra or Gonçalo Anes Bandarra was a Portuguese writer and prophet.- Life and work :...

. Even as late as the 19th century, Sebastianist peasants in the Brazilian sertão
In Portuguese, the word sertão first referred to the vast hinterlands of Asia that Lusitanian explorers encountered. In Brazil, the geographical term referred to backlands away from the Atlantic coastal regions where the Portuguese first settled in South America in the early sixteenth century...

 believed that the king would return to help them in their rebellion
Canudos was a town founded in the racially diverse Bahia state of northeastern Brazil in 1893 by Antônio Vicente Mendes Maciel. Antonio was an itinerant preacher from Ceara who had been wandering through the backroads and lesser-inhabited areas of the country from the 1870s onwards, followed by a...

 against the "godless" Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

ian republic.

In culture

  • The life of the king was dramatised in 1843 in the 5-act opera Dom Sébastien
    Dom Sébastien
    Dom Sébastien, Roi de Portugal is a French grand opera in five acts by Gaetano Donizetti. The libretto was written by Eugène Scribe, based on Paul Foucher's play Don Sébastien de Portugal , a historic-fiction about King Sebastian of Portugal and his ill-fated 1578 expedition to Morocco...

     by the Italian composer Donizetti.

  • The Belgian writer Paul Dresse dedicated to the king his play Sébastien de Portugal ou le Capitaine de Dieu, a 5-act drama with epilogue. Bruxelles: Pierre de Méyère (1975). Portuguese translation by Luísa Neto Jorge: D. Sebastião de Portugal ou o Capitão de Deus. Lisboa: Edições Antígona, 1988.

  • Dom Sebastian is the title of a poem dedicated to the king by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa
    Fernando Pessoa
    Fernando Pessoa, born Fernando António Nogueira de Seabra Pessoa , was a Portuguese poet, writer, literary critic and translator described as one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century and one of the greatest poets in the Portuguese language.-Early years in Durban:On 13 July...

     in his book Mensagem.

  • The tale of Sebastian's disappearance and alleged return is the basis for the popular song "A Lenda de El Rei D. Sebastião" ("The Legend of King Sebastian") by Portuguese band Quarteto 1111
    Quarteto 1111
    Quarteto 1111 was founded in 1967 in Estoril and is one of the most influential progressive rock and psychedelic rock bands in Portugal. Originally formed by Miguel Artur da Silveira , José Cid , António Moniz Pereira and Jorge Moniz Pereira...

     in 1968.


Further reading

  • Antas, Miguel Martins de (1988). Os Falsos Dom Sebastião, 2a. Edição, tr. Maria de Fátima Boavida, coment. Francisco Sales de Mascarenhas Loureiro. Lisboa: Europress.
  • Baños-Garcia, António Villacorta (2001). Don Sebastián, Rey de Portugal. Barcelona.
  • Eborense, André Rodrigues (1984). Sentenças para a Ensinança e Doutrina do Príncipe D. Sebastião, facsimile do manuscrito inédito da Casa Cadaval, intr. Luís de Matos, anot. Aristides Pinheiro e Abílio Rita. Lisboa: Banco Pinto & Sotto Mayor,
  • Fernandes, Maria de Lurdes Correia (1991). «Francisco de Monzón, capelão e pregador de D. João III e de D. Sebastião» in separata da revista Lusitana Sacra, no. 3.
  • Leite, Carlos (1948). «As Doenças de Dom Sebastião o Desejado», in separata do Jornal Médico. Porto: Costa Carregal.
  • Lobato, Manoel Pereira (1874). Os Fidalgos do Coração de Ouro: chronica do reinado de D. Sebastião, nova edição. Lisboa: Typ. Lucas e Filho.
  • Loureiro, Francisco de Sales de Mascarenhas (1973). «O padre Luís Gonçalves da Câmara e Dom Sebastiäo» in separata da revista O Instituto, no. 136. Coimbra.
  • Loureiro, Francisco de Sales de Mascarenhas (1978). «Relação de Vida d'Elrey D. Sebastião do Pe. Amador Rebelo» in separata da Revista da Faculdade de Letras', 4a. série, no. 2. Lisboa: Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa.
  • Loureiro, Francisco de Sales de Mascarenhas (intr. e notas) (1987). Crónica do Xarife Mulei Mahamet e d'El-Rei D. Sebastião 1573- 1578. Lisboa: Europress.
  • Loureiro, Francisco de Sales de Mascarenhas (1989). Dom Sebastião e Alcácer Quibir. Lisboa: Alfa.
  • Machado, José Timótio Montalvão (1964). «As Doenças do Rei Dom Sebastiäo», in separata da revista Arqueologia e História, no. 11. Lisboa, Associação dos Arqueólogos Portugueses.
  • Saraiva, José Hermano et all. (1993). Dicionário Ilustrado da História de Portugal. Lisboa.
  • Saraiva, Mário (1994). D. Sebastião na História e na Lenda, pref. Joaquim Veríssimo Serrão. Lisboa: Universitária Editora
  • Saraiva, José Hermano (1998). Diário da História de Portugal. Lisboa (compilation of contemporaneous chronicles).

External links

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