John V died in 1750 after eight years of paralysis and imbecility, and his son Joseph I (José Manoel) began an eventful reign. He appointed to his cabinet, as minister for war and foreign affairs, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Mello, whom history knows as the Marquês de Pombal, the greatest and most terrible minister who ever governed Portugal.

He was already fifty-one years old when Joseph reached the throne. Educated by the Jesuits at the University of Coimbra, he won his first fame as an athletic and pugnacious leader of the “Mohocks” gang that infested the streets of Lisbon. In 1733 he persuaded the highborn Dona Teresa de Noronha to elope with him. Her family denounced him, then recognized his talent and promoted his political career. His wife brought him a small fortune; he inherited another from an uncle. He made his way by influence, persistence, and obvious ability. In 1739 he was appointed minister plenipotentiary to London. His wife retired to a convent, and died there in 1745. In his six years in England Pombal studied the English economy and government, noted the obedience of the Anglican Church to the state, and perhaps shed some of his Catholic faith. He returned to Lisbon (1744), was sent as envoy to Vienna (1745), and there married a niece of Marshal Daun, who was to earn immortality by defeating Frederick once. Pombal’s new bride remained devoted to him through all his triumphs and defeats.

John V had distrusted him as having “a hairy heart,”8 as “coming from a cruel and vindictive family,”9 and as capable of defying a king. Nevertheless Pombal was called home in 1749, and was raised to ministerial office with Jesuit support. Joseph I confirmed the appointment. Intelligence combined with industry soon gave Pombal dominance in the new cabinet. “Carvalho,” reported a French chargé d’affaires, “may be looked upon as the chief minister. He is indefatigable, active, and expeditious. He has won the confidence of the King his master, and in all political matters none has it more than he.”10

His superiority became evident in the great earthquake of November 1, 1755. At 9:40 A.M. on All Saints’ Day, when most of the population were worshiping in the churches, four convulsions of the earth laid half of Lisbon in ruins, killing over fifteen thousand people, destroying most of the churches, sparing most of the brothels,11 and Pombal’s home. Many inhabitants ran in terror to the shores of the Tagus, but a tidal wave fifteen feet high drowned thousands more, and wrecked the vessels that lay in the river. The fires that broke out in every quarter of the city claimed additional lives. In the resultant chaos the scum of the populace began to rob and kill with impunity. The King, who himself had narrowly escaped death, asked his ministers what should be done. Pombal is reported to have answered, “Bury the dead and relieve the living.” Joseph gave him full authority, and Pombal used it with characteristic energy and dispatch. He stationed troops to maintain order, set up tents and camps for the homeless, and decreed immediate hanging for anyone found robbing the dead. He fixed the prices of provisions at those that had prevailed before the earthquake, and compelled all incoming ships to unload their cargoes of food and sell them at those prices. Helped by an undiminished influx of Brazilian gold, he supervised the rapid rebuilding of Lisbon with wide boulevards and well-paved and well-lit streets. The central part of the city as it is today was the work of the architects and engineers who worked under Pombal.12

His success in this demoralizing catastrophe confirmed his power in the ministry. Now he undertook two far-reaching tasks: to free the government from domination by the Church, and to free the economy from domination by Britain. These enterprises required a man of steel, of patriotism, ruthless-ness, and pride.

If his anticlericalism struck especially at the Jesuits, it was primarily because he suspected them of fomenting the resistance to Portuguese appropriation of that Paraguayan territory where the Jesuits had since 1605 been organizing over 100,000 Indians into thirty-one reductiones, or settlements, on a semicommunistic basis in formal submission to Spain.13 Spanish and Portuguese explorers had heard of (quite legendary) gold in Paraguayan soil, and merchants complained that the Jesuit fathers were monopolizing the export trade of Paraguay and were adding the profits to the funds of their order. In 1750 Pombal negotiated a treaty by which Portugal surrendered to Spain the rich colony of San Sacramento (at the mouth of the Rio de la Plata) in exchange for seven of the Jesuit “reductions” adjacent to the Brazilian frontier. The treaty stipulated that the thirty thousand Indians in these communities should emigrate to other regions, and relinquish the land to the incoming Portuguese. Ferdinand VI of Spain ordered the Paraguayan Jesuits to leave the settlements, and to instruct their subjects to depart in peace. The Jesuits claimed to have obeyed these orders, but the Indians resisted with a passionate and violent tenacity, which it took a Portuguese army three years to overcome. Pombal accused the Society of Jesus of secretly encouraging this resistance. He resolved to end all Jesuit participation in Portuguese industry, commerce, and government. Perceiving his intention, the Jesuits of Portugal joined in efforts to overthrow him.

Their leader in this movement was Gabriel Malagrida. Born in Menaggio (on Lake Como) in 1689, he distinguished himself at school by biting his hands till the blood flowed; so, he said, he prepared himself to bear the pains of martyrdom. He joined the Society of Jesus, and sailed as a missionary to Brazil. From 1724 to 1735 he preached the Gospel to Indians in the jungle. Several times he escaped death—from cannibals, crocodiles, shipwreck, disease. His beard turned white in early middle age. He was credited with miraculous powers, and expectant crowds followed him whenever he appeared in the cities of Brazil. He built churches and convents, and founded seminaries. In 1747 he came to Lisbon to solicit funds from King John. He received them, sailed back to Brazil, and established more religious houses, often sharing in the manual labor of construction. In 1753 he was in Lisbon again, for he had promised to prepare the Queen Mother for death. He attributed the earthquake of 1755 to the sins of the people, called for a reform of morals, and, with others of his order, predicted further earthquakes if morals did not improve. His house of religious retreat became a focus of plots against Pombal.

Some noble families were involved in these plots. They protested that the son of an insignificant country squire had made himself master of Portugal, holding their lives and fortunes in his hands. One of these aristocratic factions was led by Dom José de Mascarenhas, Duke of Aveiro; another was headed by the Duke’s brother-in-law, Dom Francisco de Assiz, Marquis of Tavora. Tavora’s wife, the Marchioness Dona Leonor, a leader of Portuguese society, was a fervent disciple and frequent visitor of Father Malagrida. Her oldest son, Dom Luis Bernardo, the “younger Marquis” of Tavora, was married to his own aunt. When Luis went off to India as a soldier, this lovely and beautiful “younger Marchioness” became the mistress of Joseph I; this too the Aveiros and the Tavoras never forgave. They heartily agreed with the Jesuits that should Pombal be removed the situation would be eased.

Pombal struck back by persuading Joseph that the Society of Jesus was secretly encouraging further revolt in Paraguay, and was conspiring not only against the ministry but against the King as well. On September 19, 1757, a decree banished from the court the Jesuit confessors of the royal family. Pombal instructed his cousin, Francisco de Almada e Mendonça, Portuguese envoy to the Vatican, to leave no ducat unturned in promoting and financing the anti-Jesuit party in Rome. In October Almada presented to BenedictXIV a list of charges against the Jesuits: that they had “sacrificed all Christian, religious, natural, and political obligations in a blind wish … to make themselves masters of the government”; and that the Society was actuated by “an insatiable desire to acquire and accumulate foreign riches, and even to usurp the dominion of sovereigns.”14 On April 1, 1758, the Pope ordered Cardinal de Saldanha, patriarch of Lisbon, to investigate these charges. On May 15 Saldanha published a decree declaring that the Portuguese Jesuits carried on commerce “contrary to all laws divine and human,” and he bade them desist. On June 7, probably at Pombal’s urging, he ordered them to abstain from hearing confessions or preaching. In July the superior of the Lisbon Jesuits was banished sixty leagues from the court. Meanwhile (May 3, 1758) Benedict XIV died; his successor, Clement XIII, appointed another commission of inquiry; and this body reported that the Jesuits were innocent of the charges brought against them by Pombal.15

There was some doubt whether Joseph I would support his minister in attacking the Jesuits; but a dramatic turn of events drove the King completely to Pombal’s side. On the night of September 3, 1758, Joseph was returning to his palace near Belém from a secret rendezvous, probably with the young Marchioness of Tavora.16 Shortly before midnight three masked men emerged from the arch of an aqueduct and fired into the coach, without effect. The coachman put his horse to the gallop, but a moment later two shots came from another ambush; one shot wounded the coachman, the other wounded the King in his right shoulder and arm. According to a later court of inquiry a third ambush, by members of the Tavora family, awaited the coach farther on the highway to Belém. But Joseph ordered the coachman to leave the main road and drive to the house of the royal surgeon, who dressed the wounds. The resultant events, which made a noise throughout Europe, might have been very different if the third ambush had succeeded in the attempted assassination.

Pombal acted with subtle deliberation. Rumors of the attack were officially denied; the King’s temporary confinement was ascribed to a fall. For three months the secret agents of the minister gathered evidence. A man was found who testified that Antônio Ferreira had borrowed a musket from him on August 3 and had returned it on September 8. Another man was reported as saying that Ferreira had borrowed a pistol from him on September 3 and had returned it a few days later. Ferreira, said both these witnesses, was in the service of the Duke of Aveiro. Salvador Durão, a servant in Belém, testified that on the night of the attack, while he was keeping an assignation outside the Aveiro home, he had overheard some members of the Aveiro family returning from a nocturnal enterprise.

Pombal prepared his case with caution and audacity. He set aside the procedure required by law, which would have tried the suspected nobles by a court of their peers; such a court would never condemn them. Instead, as the first public revelation of the crime, the King issued on December 9 two decrees: one nominated Dr. Pedro Gonçalves Pereira as judge to preside over a Special Tribunal of High Treason; the other ordered him to discover, arrest, and execute those responsible for the attempt to kill the King. Gonçalves Pereira was empowered to disregard all customary forms of legal process, and the tribunal was told to execute its decrees on the day of their announcement. To these decrees Pombal added a manifesto, posted throughout the city, relating the events of September 3, and offering rewards to any person who would give evidence leading to the arrest of the assassins.17

On December 13 government officers arrested the Duke of Aveiro, his sixteen-year-old son the Marquis of Gouveia, his servitor Antônio Ferreira, the old and the younger Marquis of Tavora, the old Marchioness of Tavora, all servants of these two families, and five other nobles. All Jesuit colleges were on that day surrounded by soldiers; Malagrida and twelve other leading Jesuits were jailed. To accelerate matters, a royal decree of December 20 permitted (against Portuguese custom) the use of torture to elicit confessions. Under torture or threat of it fifty prisoners were examined. Several confessions implicated the Duke of Aveiro; he himself, under torture, admitted his guilt; Antônio Ferreira acknowledged that he had fired at the coach, but swore that he had not known that the prospective victim was the King. Under torture several servants of the Tavoras compromised that entire family; the younger Marquis confessed complicity; the older Marquis, tortured to the point of death, denied his guilt. Pombal himself assisted at the examination of witnesses and prisoners. He had had the mails examined; he claimed to have found in them twenty-four letters by the Duke of Aveiro, by several Tavoras, by Malagrida and other Jesuits, notifying their friends or relatives in Brazil of the abortive attempt, and promising renewed efforts to overturn the government. On January 4, 1759, the King nominated Dr. Eusebio Tavares de Sequeira to defend the accused. Sequeira argued that the confessions, elicited under torture, were worthless as evidence, and that all the accused nobles could prove alibis for the night of the crime. The defense was judged unconvincing; the intercepted letters were held to be genuine and to corroborate the confessions; and on January 12 the court declared all indicted persons guilty.

Nine of them were executed on January 13 in the public square of Belém. The first to die was the old Marchioness of Tavora. On the scaffold the executioner bent to tie her feet; she repelled him, saying, “Do not touch me except to kill me!”18 After being compelled to see the instruments—wheel, hammer, and faggots—by which her husband and her sons were to die, she was beheaded. Her two sons were broken on the wheel and strangled; their corpses lay on the scaffold when the Duke of Aveiro and the old Marquis of Tavora mounted it. They suffered the same shattering blows, and the Duke was allowed to linger in agony until the last of the executions—the burning alive of Antônio Ferreira—was complete. All the corpses were burned, and the ashes were thrown into the Tagus. Portugal still debates whether the nobles, though admittedly hostile to Pombal, had meant to kill the King.

Were the Jesuits involved in the attempt? There was no doubt that Malagrida, in his passionate fulminations, had predicted the fall of Pombal and the early death of the King;19 and no doubt that he and other Jesuits had held conferences with the minister’s titled foes. He had implied his awareness of a plot by writing to a lady of the court a letter begging her to put Joseph on his guard against an imminent danger. Asked, in jail, how he had learned of such a peril, he replied, In the confessional.20 Aside from this (according to an anti-Jesuit historian) “there is no positive evidence to connect the Jesuits with the outrage.”21 Pombal accused them, by their preaching and teaching, of having excited their allies to the point of murder. He persuaded the King that the situation offered the monarchy an opportunity to strengthen itself as against the Church. On January 19 Joseph issued edicts attaching all Jesuit property in the kingdom, and confining all Jesuits to their houses or colleges pending settlement, by the Pope, of the charges against them. Meanwhile Pombal used the government press to print—and his agents to distribute widely, at home and abroad—pamphlets stating the case against the nobles and the Jesuits; this was apparently the first time that a government had made use of the printing press to explain its actions to other nations. These publications may have had some influence in leading to the expulsion of the Jesuits from France and Spain.

In the summer of 1759 Pombal sought from Clement XIII permission to submit the arrested Jesuits to trial before the Tribunal of High Treason; moreover, he proposed that henceforth all ecclesiastics accused of crimes against the state should be tried in secular, not ecclesiastical, courts. A personal letter from Joseph to the Pope announced the King’s resolve to expel the Jesuits from Portugal, and expressed the hope that the Pope would approve the measure as warranted by their actions and as necessary for the protection of the monarchy. Clement was shocked by these messages, but he feared that if he directly opposed them Pombal would induce the King to sever all relations between the Portuguese Church and the papacy. He recalled the action of Henry VIII in England, and knew that France too was developing hostility against the Society of Jesus. On August 11 he sent his permission to try the Jesuits before the secular tribunal, but explicitly confined his consent to the present case. To the King he made a personal appeal for mercy to the accused priests; he reminded Joseph of the past achievements of the order, and trusted that all Portuguese Jesuits would not be punished for the mistakes of a few.

The papal appeal failed. On September 3, 1759—the anniversary of the attempted assassination—the King issued an edict giving a long list of alleged offenses by the Jesuits, and decreeing that

these religious, being corrupt and deplorably fallen away from their holy institute [rule], and rendered manifestly incapable, by such abominable and inveterate vices, of returning to its observance, must be properly and effectually banished, … proscribed, and expelled from all his Majesty’s dominions, as notorious rebels, traitors, adversaries, and aggressors of his royal person and realm; … and it is ordered, under the irremissible pain of death, that no person, of whatever state or condition, is to admit them into any of his possessions, or hold any communication with them by word or writing.22

Those Jesuits who had not yet made their solemn profession, and who should petition to be released from their preliminary vows, were exempted from the decree. All Jesuit property was confiscated by the state; the exiles were forbidden to take anything with them but their personal clothing.23 From all sections of Portugal they were led in coaches or on foot to ships that took them to Italy. Similar deportations were carried out from Brazil and other Portuguese possessions. The first shipload of expatriates reached Civitavecchia on October 24, and even Pombal’s representative there was moved to pity by their condition. Some were weak with age, some were near starvation, some had died on the way. Lorenzo Ricci, general of the Society, arranged for the reception of the survivors into Jesuit houses in Italy, and the Dominican friars shared in extending hospitality. On June 17, 1760, the Portuguese government suspended diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

The victory of Pombal seemed complete, but he knew that it was unpopular with the nation. Feeling insecure, he expanded his power to full dictatorship, and began a reign of absolutism and terror that continued till 1777. His spies reported to him every detected expression of opposition to his policies or his methods; soon the jails of Lisbon were crowded with political prisoners. Many nobles and priests were arrested on charges of new plots against the King, or of implication in the old plot. The Junqueira fort, midway between Lisbon and Belém, became the special jail of aristocrats, many of whom were kept there till their death. Other prisons held—some for nineteen years—Jesuits brought from the colonies and charged with resisting the government.

Malagrida languished in prison for thirty-two months before being brought to trial. The old man solaced his confinement by writing The Heroic Life of St. Anne, the Mother of Mary, Dictated to the Reverend Father Malagrida by St. Anne Herself. Pombal had the manuscript seized, and found in it several absurdities that could be labeled heresies; St. Anne, said Malagrida, had been conceived, like Mary, without the stain of original sin, and she had spoken and wept in her mother’s womb.24 Having made his own brother, Paul de Carvalho, head of the Inquisition in Portugal, Pombal had Malagrida summoned before its tribunal, and drew up with his own hand an indictment charging the Jesuit with cupidity, hypocrisy, imposture, and sacrilege, and with having menaced the King with repeated predictions of death. Made half insane by his sufferings, Malagrida, now seventy-two years old, told the Inquisitors that he had spoken with St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Theresa.25 One judge, moved to pity, wished to stop the trial; Pombal had him removed. On January 12, 1761, the Holy Office pronounced Malagrida guilty of heresy, blasphemy, and impiety, and of having deceived the people by pretended divine revelations. He was allowed to live eight months more. On September 20 he was led to a scaffold in the Praça Rossio, was strangled, and was burned at the stake. Louis XV, hearing of the execution, remarked, “It is as if I burned the old lunatic in the Petites [Maisons] asylum, who says that he is God the Father.”26 Voltaire, recording the event, pronounced it “folly and absurdity joined to the most horrible wickedness.”27

The French philosophes, who in 1758 had looked upon Pombal as an “enlightened despot,” were not pleased with his development. They welcomed the overthrow of the Jesuits, but they deprecated the arbitrary methods of the dictator, the violent tone of his pamphlets, and the barbarity of his punishments. They were shocked by the treatment of the Jesuits during their deportation, by the wholesale execution of ancient families, and by the inhumane treatment of Malagrida. We have, however, no record of their protesting the eight-year imprisonment of the bishop of Coimbra for condemning Pombal’s Censorship Board, which had allowed the circulation of such radical works as Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary and Rousseau’s Social Contract.

Pombal himself preached no heresies, and went to Mass regularly. He-aimed not at the destruction of the Church but at its subjection to the King; and when, in 1770, Clement XIV agreed to let the government nominate to bishoprics, he made his peace with the Vatican. Joseph I, as he neared death, rejoiced in the thought that, after all, he might die with full benefit of clergy. The Pope sent a cardinal’s hat to Pombal’s brother Paul, and to Pombal himself a ring bearing the papal portrait, and a miniature framed in diamonds, and the entire cadavers of four saints.

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