Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

The death of King Sebastian of Portugal

Today is the 435th anniversary of the battle of Alcazarquivir in northern Morocco, and the, presumed, death of King Sebastian of Portugal, who had led the invasion force in 1578. I say presumed because his body was never identified with certainty, and thus was begun the tradition of Sebastianism - looking for the return of the missing King.

Dom Sebastian of Portugal

King Sebastian of Portugal- a portrait from the year before his death


There is an online account of King Sebastian here.

For Portugal the consequences were significant. King Sebastian was 24, unmarried and childless. His closest relative and successor was his great uncle, Cardinal Henry, who reigned for the next two years, and died in 1580 without determining the succession. There is an account of the Cardinal King here. The various claimants at that point and the ensuing conflict are outlined in these online articles Struggle for the throne of Portugal , War of the Portuguese Succession and The Descendants of Manuel I of Portugal.

The successful claimant was to be King Philip II of Spain, whose mother was a Portuguese Infanta and was also uncle to King Sebastian, and who also had asizeavle army to hand. He therefore became King Philip I of Portugal, His son and grandson succeeded him in ruling apersonal union of the two crowns until 1640 when the revolt led by the Duke of Braganza, descended from Duchess Catherine, another claimant in 1580-81, together with her husband who had a claim of his own. The success of the rising led to the Duke becoming King John IV and thereby restoring Portuguese independence.

In the years following Alcazarquivir various claimants presented themselves as King Sebastian, only to be despatched, but the idea of his return persisted in the Portuguese territory Brazil until the eighteenth century.

The idea of the return of a lost national leader whose death is not well attested or occurred in a remote place is well known - there are the stories of King Arthur and the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa sleeping until summoned in the nation's hour of need. Similarly imposters and claimants turn up as with the Princes in the Tower, King Louis XVII or the mysteries surrounding the death of the Emperor Alexander I in 1825 and the fate of the Grand Duchess Anastasia in Russia.

Whilst looking on the internet for background on the events King Sebastian's life I found a very interesting, and indeed thought provoking article - it is an academic study, if not actually a dissertation, by an American historian. I am not sufficiently knowlegeable on the topic to express acritical opinion, but the author makes a good case for their argument and how one might understand the King's reign and his motivation for the invasion that ended in his death. It can be read at

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