Economy and Society in Baroque Portugal, 1668-1703
by Carl A. Hanson
University of Minnesota Press, 1981
Paper: 978-0-8166-5782-7


Economy and Society in Baroque Portugal, 1668–1703 was first published in 1981. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.

The late seventeenth century in Portugal was a period of apparent calm, and few historians have given it much attention. Portugal's Golden Age of worldwide expansion had made sixteenth-century Lisbon a great commercial center, but other European nations with more advanced economies surpassed Portugal's achievement, and during the seventeenth century agricultural, economic, and political problems all contributed to Portugal's decline. In 1668, at the conclusion of a long war with Spain to restore Portuguese sovereignty, Pedro II began a reign of 38 years, first as regent for a feckless brother ad after 1683 as king. The history of Portugal during his reign is the subject of this book.

Carl A. Hanson looks at this relatively unexamined era and finds, behind the facade of baroque calm, subtle but dramatic shifts in the socio-economic foundations of the age. In an effort to cope with economic depression Pedro's government hearkened to enthusiastic reports of Colbert's mercantile policies in France, and tried to encourage the expansion of domestic manufacturing. Linked to these efforts were attempts to curb the inquisitorial persecution of New Christian merchants. Hanson explores the motives of anti-Semitism, greed and class warfare that underlay the persecution and describes the efforts of an eloquent Jesuit, Father Antonio Vieira, to protect the New Christians from the worst excesses of the Inquisition.

The triumph of the Inquisition, and thus of the established social order, and the failure of Portugal's experiment in mercantilism coincided with a new wave of commodity-borne prosperity. After 1690, increased exports of Brazilian gold, tobacco, hides, and sugar, and of Port wine changed Portugal's economic status. With the signing of the Anglo- Portuguese treaty of Methuen in 1703, Portugal entered a gilded—if not golden—age. Yet, as Hanson makes clear, the new prosperity was deceptive, for Portugal was to slip into increasingly dependent relationships with the more advanced economies — especially England's—which absorbed great quantities of Luso-Atlantic commodities in exchange for its own manufactures. And, at home, the victorious social order, no longer threatened by a mercantile class, was to find security under an increasingly absolutist government. The reign of Pedro II is significant, then, as a period of transition when, for the first time, the foundations of the old order were threatened. The baroque facade survived but the edifice itself had begun to crumble.

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