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John II of Portugal

Joćo II of Portugal, "the Perfect Prince", fourteenth king of Portugal was born in Lisbon in March 3 1455 and died in Alvor in October 25 1495. He was the son of king Afonso V of Portugal by his wife, Isabel of Coimbra, princess of Portugal. Joćo II succeeded his father in 1477 when the king retired to a monastery and became king in 1481.

As a prince, Joćo II accompanied his father in the campaigns in northern Africa and was made a knight by him after the victory in Arzila in 1471. In 1473 he married Leonor of Viseu, Princess of Portugal and his first cousin.

Even at a young age, he was not popular among the peers of the kingdom since he was immune to external influence and appeared to despise intrigue. The nobles (including particularly Fernando II, the Duke of Braganza) were afraid of his future policies as king. Events proved them right.

After the official accession to the throne in 1481, Joćo II took a series of measures to curtail the overgrown power of his aristocracy and to concentrate power on himself. Immediately, the nobles start to conspire; Joćo II did nothing but observe. Letters of complaint and pleas to intervene were exchanged between the Duke of Braganza and Queen Isabella I of Castile. In 1483, this correspondence was intercepted by royal spies. The House of Braganza was outlawed, their lands confiscated and the duke executed in Évora.

In the following year, the Duke of Viseu, his cousin and brother-in-law was summoned to the palace and stabbed to death by the king himself for suspicion of a new conspiracy. Many other people were executed, murdered or exiled to Castile including the bishop of Evora who was poisoned in prison.

The king is reported to have said, concerning the rebellious nobles: I'm the lord of lords, not the server of servants. After these events, no one in the country dared to defy the king. Joćo II was free to govern as he pleased without any other conspiracies during his reign.

Joćo II then restored the policies of Atlantic exploration, reviving the work of his great uncle, Prince Henry the Navigator. The Portuguese explorationss were his main priority in government, pushing south the known coastal Africa with the purpose of discovering the maritime route to India. During his reign, the following was achieved:

The complete record of the Portuguese exploration voyages is unknown. Much was kept in secret due to competition with the neighbours of Castile. The archives of this period were destroyed in the fire after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Modern historians are still debating their true extent, suspecting that Portuguese sailors reached the continent of North America earlier then Christopher Columbus.

Arguments for this are the much more precise calculations on the diameter of the Earth that Portugal held. There was a 80 year old school of navigation and mathematics with the most pre-eminent scientists working in the country. While Columbus thought it would be possible to reach India through the West, Portuguese intelligence knew already the way to be much longer and possibly that was a continent in the middle. The travels of the mysterious captain Duarte Pacheco Pereira in the central Atlantic west of Cape Verde probably are more important than traditional history states.

When Columbus applied for Portuguese help, Joćo II refused him. According to the historical theory of Portugese preeminence, Columbus was an inexperienced Atlantic captain, chasing an idea the king knew was wrong, wanting to go to a place Joćo II already knew how to get: there was no reason to hire him. In 1492, in the service of the Castile and Aragon kingdoms, Columbus discovers the Americas, convinced until his death that he had reached India.

With this event, a series of disputes between Portugal and Castile about the ruling of the seas started. Maritime rivalry among them led to the famous Treaty of Tordesillas, signed in June 7 1494. This treaty, which defined the meridian of Tordesillas, stated that Portugal kept the eastern part of the world, and Castile and Aragon were responsible for the exploration of the western half.

But the dividing of the world was not the main issue between the Iberian kingdoms. Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon had several daughters, but only one feeble male heir - Juan. The oldest daughter, Isabella of Aragon, was married to prince Afonso of Portugal since childhood. Afonso was Joćo II's only son and beloved by the king. If Juan died without male heir, as was probable, Afonso would be heir not only of Portugal but also of Castile and Aragon. This threat to Castilian and Aragonese independence was very real and the catholic kings tried every diplomatic trick to dissolve the wedding. Finally, in 1491, Afonso died in mysterious circumstances - a fall from a horse during a ride in the margin of the Tagus river. The influence of the catholic kings in this accident was never proved but: a) the prince was an excellent rider; b) his Castilian valet fled never to be seen again and c) after this, Isabella, the heiress, was no longer married to the enemy. Joćo tried without success until the end of his life to legitimise George, his bastard son.

John II died without leaving male issue on October 25 1495. Due to the hatred the Portuguese nobility had for him, the hypothesis of poisoning was never ruled out. He was succeeded by his first cousin Manuel I.

The nickname the Perfect Prince is a late description and refers to Niccolo Machiavelli's work The Prince. Joćo II is considered to have lived his life exactly according to the writer's idea of a perfect prince. To his contemporaries, Joćo II was known as the Tyrant.

Joćo's descendants

See also: Kings of Portugal family tree

Preceded by:
D. Afonso V
List of Portuguese monarchs Succeeded by:
D. Manuel I