How did Portugal and Spain Plan to “Conquer” the World?

When you have as many expansionist powers
as the European continent did during the early modern and colonial eras, it can become difficult
to maintain a peaceful, easy-flowing system. With limited land available and everyone wanting
a piece of all of it, how were these ambitious nations meant to split it all up without going
to war? Negotiation was always an option, but of course,
it was much easier said than done. Still, two nations in particular actually
did broker a deal, peacefully, for the division of unconquered land. And this was no small deal either – it was
not simply a distribution of one or two territories. Instead, these nations, Portugal and Spain,
planned to rule the New World – together… The start of Iberian land disputes can be
traced back to Christopher Columbus’s expedition to the New World. Before he had left, Columbus had failed to
receive sponsorship for the trip from the Portuguese king, John II. But, upon his return to Europe, having already
sailed to the West Indies under the Spanish flag, Columbus decided to stop at the port
in Lisbon. When King John met with the explorer and heard
of his successful adventure and new discoveries, the monarch insisted that these newly found
lands should belong to Portugal, and not Spain.

Unexpectedly, King John actually had somewhat
of a valid argument, despite having refused to sponsor the trip that brought about the
discovery of this new land. Back in 1479, the Treaty of Alcáçovas was
signed between Portugal and the Monarchs of Castile and Aragon to wrap up the War of Castilian
Succession. One part of this agreement had been focused
on who could lay claim to which areas throughout the Atlantic Ocean. Firstly, aside from the Canary Islands, every
territory that had been fought over by the Iberian powers would be incorporated under
the Portuguese crown. This included Madeira, the Azores, Guinea,
Cape Verde, and the right of conquering the Kingdom of Fez. Going even further in favor of Portugal, hegemony
over the entire Atlantic Ocean south of the Canary Islands was granted to the Portuguese. Exploring, trading, conquering – all of this
was allowed only for Portugal within the south of the Atlantic. Due to this specific portion of the prior
treaty, it was actually a fair claim for King John to declare that all of the territories
discovered by Christopher Columbus should belong to his own crown.

Since the West Indies were, in fact, south
of the Canary Islands, it would appear that there was no alternative… Nonetheless, the Spaniards were far from keen
on giving up all of the opportunities the North and South American territories had to
offer. The current monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella,
protested this request and argued that it was Spain who should possess authority over
the lands found by Columbus. Neither side wanted to go to war over this
matter, despite both passionately insisting upon their own claims, so all three leaders
decided to come to an agreement. It would be Pope Alexander VI who would bring
about a resolution. With the pope having been Spanish-born, Ferdinand
and Isabella likely believed that he would support their argument and favor them in whatever
agreement he settled on. For King John, he may have ended up feeling
this way as well. When the Papal Bull was declared, it could
surely be argued that Pope Alexander had given some preferential treatment to Spain. The solution that he had come up with was
to draw a line across the map from north to south, 100 leagues off the Cape Verde Islands
to the west.

The Portuguese were meant to remain to the
east of this line, and the Spanish could stay westward. The problem with this Papal Bull though was
that it truly did show preference to Spain. It stripped the Portuguese of their hopes
to seize the fresh land in the New World, and it extended so far to Portugal’s side
that it would likely interfere with their other expeditions as well. Furthermore, it didn’t even mention Portugal
in particular, so there was no actual agreement concerning what the Portuguese were allowed
to do. Seeing this clear favor to Spain, King John
requested to meet with the Spanish monarchs as opposed to accepting the Pope’s decision. Given the fact that, at this point in time,
Portugal was the more powerful militarily of the two – and especially at sea – Spain
agreed to discuss a new solution to avoid any potential conflict.

King John made his wants immediately clear
– Portugal was to be given explicit rights to more land and sea. The line, he suggested, should be moved 270
leagues toward the west, and the Portuguese should have the right to whatever activity
they please in any area to the east of this new divider. This would allow Portugal to enter Brazil,
as well as giving them more room to adventure wherever they wished around Africa. The Spanish, who possibly felt as though they
were still being given the upper hand due to the difficulty in enforcing such a line,
agreed to these changes. Additionally, even if the divider would be
strictly enforced, the new treaty still gave the vast majority of the New World Spain,
so there was not much to be given up on their end.

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