Portugal History

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Portugal is one of the oldest states in Europe. It is also the most western country in Europe. Alfonso Henriques, the Count of Portugal, gained independence from the King of Leon-Castile of Spain, and became the country’s first king. He and his successors extended the kingdom southward, securing the present-day boundaries by 1249.

Inspired by Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460), Portuguese explorers ranged to Latin America, Africa, and Asia, opening up trade routes and establishing colonies in Brazil, along the African coast, and in the Indies. This empire lasted for several hundred years.

Dynastic disputes weakened the kingdom and, from 1580-1640, Portugal was controlled by Spain. Then, a revolt brought the House of Bragança to the throne. It ruled Portugal for nearly three hundred years.

During the Napoleonic era, Portugal was ruled from Brazil, where the court had fled. The British under the Duke of wellington,and a group of Portuguese guerillas expelled the French invaders from Portugal. Brazil itself gained independence from Portugal in 1821.

In 1910, Portugal became a republic but it was politically unstable and in 1932 a military government appointed Antonio Salazar as the prime minister. He and his successor, Marcelo Caetano (1968), ruled Portugal as an authoritarian “corporate” state for 42 years. The establishment of a republic saw the institution of civil registration.

In the 1960s, economic stagnation at home and wars of independence in Portugal’s African territories became a drain on the country’s prosperity. During 1974-75 most of the Portuguese overseas possessions gained independence Professional dissatisfaction within the military led to the formation of a clandestine movement to overthrow the state and establish a provisional military government. The new government was temporarily influenced by communist and leftist forces. However, votes cast in a popular election in 1975 went overwhelming to three democratic parties. The communists responded by attempting to minimize the role of political parties. In the end they failed and a new constitution took effect on April 25, 1976. The elected government was a democratic entity for the first time since the 1920s.[1]




  1. The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Portugal,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1986-1999.