Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies
Pedro II was succeeded by João V (r.1706-50), a youth of seventeen. He was an energetic king who introduced absolutist rule into Portugal, copying the style of the royal court of Louis XIV of France. Brazilian gold allowed João V to spend lavishly on major architectural works, the greatest being the royal palace at Mafra, begun in 1717, which sought to rival the Escorial in Spain. He also endowed the University of Coimbra with an elegantly decorated library, and built the Aqueduct of Free Waters (Aqueduto das Águas Livres) that brought water to Lisbon. João encouraged the development of decorative arts such as furniture design, clockmaking, and tapestry weaving. He pursued mercantilist policies to protect indigenous industries, including papermaking at Lousã, glassmaking at Marinha Grande, and textile weaving at Covilhã . He subsidized the publication of notable works such as Caetano de Sousa's História Geneológica da Casa Real. All in all, João V animated what has been called Portugal's second renaissance.
João V died in 1750 and was succeeded by his son José I (r.1750-77) who was indolent and placed the reins of government into the hands of Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, later the Marquês de Pombal. A petty noble who managed to surmount Portugal's rigid class system by a combination of energy, intelligence, good looks, and a shrewd marriage, Pombal became the veritable dictator of Portugal. Once Portugal's ambassador to Britain and Austria, Pombal had been influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment. Realizing how backward Portugal was, he sought through a ruthless despotism to reform it and create a middle class.
On the morning of November 1, 1755, a violent earthquake shook Lisbon and demolished most of the city. Thousands were killed in the subsequent fire and tidal wave. Pombal, who was at Belém at the time, energetically took appropriate measures. He improvised hospitals for the injured, controlled prices for various services, requisitioned food from the countryside, and organized public security. He decided to rebuild the city after a survey of the ruins. Under the direction of the architect Eugénio dos Santos and the engineer Manuel da Maia, a master plan for a new city was drawn up. The old city center was cleared of rubble and divided into squares of long avenues and cross streets. New buildings conforming to a standard architectural style were quickly erected using the latest construction techniques. Lisbon thus emerged from the earthquake as Europe's first planned city. Flanked by the Praça do Rossio at one end, and the Praça do Comêrcio at the other, this quarter of the city is known today as the Baixa Pombalina.
For his prompt and efficient action, Pombal was elevated to chief minister, which allowed him to consolidate his power. Desiring to destroy all forces within the society that could oppose his plans for modernizing Portugal, he began to systematically annihilate them, beginning with the nobility. An attempt on the life of the king on September 3, 1758 provided Pombal with a pretext to take action against the nobility. He accused many nobles of responsibility for the attempt and arrested about 1,000 individuals. Many confessed under brutal torture and were executed.
Pombal also attempted to rid Portugal of the Jesuits, whom he accused of taking part in the attempt on the king's life. He searched the houses belonging to the Jesuits, confiscated their belongings, closed their schools, and, in 1759, expelled them from the kingdom and its overseas possessions. In an effort to restrain the church, Pombal broke diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1760 and imprisoned the bishop of Coimbra.
Pombal's economic policies were inspired by the protectionist doctrines of Colbert, which gave royal companies monopolies in certain fields. Following the initiatives in this regard established by the count of Ericeira, Pombal prohibited the export of gold and silver. In order to increase cereal cultivation, he prohibited the growing of grape vines in certain areas of the country. He protected the winemaking industry by founding, in 1756, a company with a monopoly on exporting port wine. Pombal created other companies with exclusive rights to commercial activities in various regions of Brazil, as well as a fishing and processing company for sardines and tuna in Portuguese waters. He transformed the silk industry into a textile industry and turned over the operation of the glassmaking factory at Marinha Grande to a British manager, who introduced new manufacturing techniques.
Pombal also made notable changes in the area of education. After expelling the Jesuits and confiscating their schools, he took the first steps toward establishing a system of public instruction. He founded a commercial school and established schools, paid for with a special tax, in the major cities. In addition, Pombal instituted numerous reforms of the university, whose decline he blamed on the Jesuits. He created two new departments--mathematics and philosophy--and increased the number of professors in the already existing departments. He put forward new methods of instruction based on the writings of Luís António Verney and António Nunes that stressed observation and experience, and set up laboratories, a natural history museum, a botanical garden, and an observatory.
José I died in 1777 and was succeeded on the throne by his daughter Maria I (r.1777-92), who dismissed Pombal and banished him to the village of Pombal. She immediately freed hundreds of prisoners, restored the old nobility to it former status, reestablished relations with the Holy See, revoked laws against the clergy, abolished many of the state companies, and generally dismantled Pombal's dictatorship. The strong, secular society that Pombal hoped to create did not materialize, and the old social and economic order quickly restored itself.
Data as of January 1993
NOTE: The information regarding Portugal on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Portugal Absolutism information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Portugal Absolutism should be addressed to the Library of Congress.