What Happened to the Portuguese?

When it comes to the Spice Trade, the Portuguese were ground breakers. They used technology, both new and old, to find a way to become the premier traders of Europe, and were making money hand over fist, so much that they didn’t know what to do with all of it.

Yet their “empire’ barely lasted more than three generations. So the question is, “What happened?”

Some historians try to spin it as a tale of an empire that couldn’t sustain itself, but the truth is far more simplistic than that. In 1580, Portugal’s king, Sebastian I, died in battle at the age of 21, and left no heir. King Phillip II of Spain (a name you’ll see more of in the future), made claim for the throne, and because he was male, had huge military support, and had a fair bit of political backing from other monarchs on the European continent, his claim was eventually successful. Portugal was brought into the Spanish Empire under the Iberian Union, and soon Portugal’s issues with the spice trade became Spain’s.

That’s not to say Portugal didn’t have problems getting pepper, cinnamon, cloves, mace, and nutmeg into their ports. They did. But none of those difficulties led to their downfall. Simply put, a King died without an heir, and the Spaniards took advantage of this.

The fact that Spain was, at the time, having major difficulties with both the Dutch and the English would have a dramatic effect upon the trading landscape in less than a generation after Philip II took over the spice routes.