Sebastião I o Desejado, rei de Portugal

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Sebastião 'o Desejado' de Portugal, rei de Portugal e dos Algarves

Also Known As: ""o Desejado"", ""the Desired" (in Portuguese", "Sebastião I", "pronounced [sɨbɐʃˈtiɐ̃ũ]", "o Desejado"
Birthdate: (24)
Birthplace: Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal
Death: August 04, 1578 (24)
Ksar el-Kebir, Larache, Tanger-Tétouan, Morocco
Place of Burial: Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal
Immediate Family:

Son of João Manuel de Portugal and Joana Hapsburg
Husband of Maria Ana de Austria

Occupation: King of Portugal and Algarves, Soldier
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Sebastião I o Desejado, rei de Portugal

Sebastian I, King of Portugal "the Desired" (in Portuguese, Sebastião I, o Desejado; born in Lisbon, January 20, 1554; presumed to have died at Alcazarquivir, August 4, 1578) was the sixteenth king of Portugal and the Algarves. He was the son of Prince John of Portugal and his wife, Joan of Spain. His paternal grandparents were John III of Portugal and Catherine of Habsburg; his maternal grandparents were the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Isabella of Portugal. He only had four great-grandparents (instead of the normal eight).

Sebastian was born shortly after 8 in the morning of Saint Sebastian's Day 1554 and he took his name from that fact. Shortly after his birth a doctor, Fernando Abarca Maldonado, who had come to Portugal in the entourage of his mother and who probably had helped deliver him, cast his horoscope. Among other things, Maldonado predicted that Sebastian would be very attracted to women, marry and have many children[citation needed], all of which proved to be utterly and completely wrong. He became heir to the throne on the death of his father in 1554, two weeks before his own birth, and succeeded to the throne three years later after the death of King John III, his paternal grandfather. Since Sebastian was still a child, the regency was handled first by his paternal grandmother, Catherine of Habsburg, and then by his great uncle, Cardinal Henry of Evora. This period saw continued Portuguese colonial expansion in Angola, Mozambique, and Malacca, as well as the annexation of Macau (in 1557).

Sebastian was a bright and lively boy. Reports say he was fearless due to having "so much strength". Tall, slim, and blond, he was brought up by his grandmother, Catherine, a domineering woman who exercised firm control over her weaker-willed grandson. Later in life, however, he became obstinate and impulsive.

The young king grew up under the guidance and heavy influence of the Jesuits. Aleixo de Meneses, a military man of solid reputation, and former tutor and guardian ("aio") of Prince John, was appointed ("aio") to Sebastian by boy's grandmother, Catherine. Another teacher was the priest Luís Gonçalves da Câmara and his assistant the priest Amador Rebelo. The priest Luís Gonçalves became Sebastian's confessor, having previously been the confessor of prince John in 1550.

His upbringing made Sebastian extremely devout. He carried a copy of Thomas Aquinas on a belt at his waist; he was also constantly accompanied by two monks of the Theatine Order, who were intent on preserving the King's innocence. Reportedly, as a child Sebastian would react to visitors by running off into hiding with the monks until the visitors had gone.

Marriage plans

Sebastian, who died young, did not marry. However, he was the subject of several proposed marriage alliances. In particular, the Queen dowager of France, Catherine de' Medici, nurtured for a long time a plan to marry her youngest daughter, Marguerite de Valois, to Sebastian, a plan which was on occasion supported by Sebastian's maternal uncle, King Philip II of Spain. Sebastian himself, however, put an end to that plan, declaring that he was unimpressed by the French suppression of the Huguenot Protestants in France, and that he would not bind himself to the House of Valois until he had seen how the situation would develop. Later, he agreed - being persuaded by emissaries of the Pope - to marry Marguerite, to prevent her from marrying the Huguenot Henry of Navarre; by that time, however, the French King and his mother were already intent on Marguerite marrying Henry. Marguerite married Henry in 1572, by then Sebastian was already 18 years old and his proposal was thus refuted.

Sebastian was also offered his cousin, Elisabeth of Habsburg, the daughter of Emperor Maximilian II. Sebastian himself made a proposal in 1577, to his first cousin Isabella Clara Eugenia, daughter of Philip II of Spain.


During Sebastian's short reign, through diplomatic efforts, he strengthened ties with Austria, Germany, England and France. He also restructured much of the administrative, judicial and military life in his kingdom. Sebastian created scholarships (1568) to help financially the students who wished to take medicine or pharmacy in the University of Coimbra. In Brazil (1568) he favoured and rewarded the Indians who helped in the fight against the French. The chief of the Indians, Temimimós, was given lands near the Bay of Guanabara. Sebastian (1569) ordered Duarte Nunes de Leão to compile all the laws and legal documents of the kingdom in a collection of Leis Extravagantes known as Código Sebastiânico (Sebastian’s code). During the great plague of Lisbon, in 1569, he sent for doctors from Seville to help the Portuguese doctors fight the plague. He created two hospitals in Lisbon to take care of those afflicted with the plague. In his concern for the widows and orphans of those killed by the plague, he created several Recolhimentos (shelters) known as the Recolhimento de Santa Marta (shelter of Santa Marta) and the Recolhimento dos Meninos (shelter of the children) and provided wet nurses to take care of the babies. Sebastian created laws for the military, the Lei das Armas, that would become a military organization model. In 1570 Goa was attacked by the Indian army but the Portuguese were successful and the Indian army withdrew. Also in 1570 Sebastian ordered that the Brazilian Indians should not be used for slavery and ordered the release of those held in captivity. In 1572 the poet Luis de Camões presented his masterpiece Os Lusiadas and dedicated a poem to Sebastian that won him a royal pension. In 1575 with the Carta de Lei de Almeirim, the king established a system of measures for solid and liquid products, with this he also defined the role of public servants. The Celeiros Comuns (Communal Granaries) were inaugurated in 1576, ordered by Sebastian. These were institutions for lending help to poor farmers when farm production decreased, giving credit, lending seeds and commodities to the needy, allowing them to pay back with farm products when they recovered from losses. The Tratado da Província do Brasil by Pero de Magalhães de Gândavo is written and published in 1576. The mathematician and cosmographer Pedro Nunes was appointed by Sebastian as a cosmography teacher for sea pilots. It was during SebastiansÞ reign that Nunes wrote the Petri Nonii Salaciensis Opera. The number of ship wrecks decreased and almost every single ship arrived in port during the whole of Sebastian's reign. In 1577 Sebastian’s ordinance called Da nova ordem do juízo, sobre o abreviar das demandas, e execução dellas decreased the time for handling legal actions, regulated the action of lawyers, scribes and other court officials and created fines for delays.


Upon attaining his majority in 1568, and despite having no son and heir, Sebastian began plans for a great crusade against the kingdom of Morocco. taking advantage of an ongoing succession struggle there. His plans were backed by aMoroccan militia. After losing his throne Abu Abdallah Mohammed II Saadi fled to Portugal where he asked for the help of king Sebastian to aid him defeat his uncle and rival Abu Marwan Abd al-Malik I Saadi. Sebastian's uncle, Philip II of Spain, refused to be party to the plan (Philip's Holy League had already been defeated at the Battle of Djerba), though he promised to send an expeditionary force that never showed up. The Portuguese army, mostly consisting of badly prepared foreign mercenaries (hired from Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Italy), crossed into Morocco in 1578, and, against the advice of his commanders, Sebastian marched deep inland to join his allies a Moroccan militia. At the Battle of Alcácer Quibir (Field of the Three Kings) the Portuguese army was routed by Ahmed Mohammed of Fez, and Sebastian was almost certainly killed in battle. Despite the warnings and pleas of several of his subjects for him to flee and escape, he rode headlong into the enemy lines where he was last seen battling wildly. Whether his body was ever found is uncertain, but Philip II of Spain claimed to have buried his remains in the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém, outside Lisbon, after he ascended to the Portuguese throne in 1580.

Sebastian was succeeded as king by his great uncle Henry, brother of his grandfather, King John III.

The legend

After the defeat at Alcácer Quibir many diligences were made to ransom the imprisoned soldiers. Several soldiers returned to Portugal (and among them was D. António, Prior of Crato), which, added to the uncertainty over Sebastian's fate, led many Portuguese to believe Sebastian survived the battle and would return to claim his throne. This led to Sebastianism: the belief that Sebastian could return at any moment. Politically, there was the belief that Philip was not the rightful heir to the throne. Subsequently there was the appearance, in Portugal, of men fraudulently claiming to be the King. During the time of the Iberian Union, between 1580 and 1640, four different pretenders claimed to be the returned King Sebastian; the last of these pretenders, who was in fact an Italian, was hanged in 1619.

In the long term, it led to the development of myths and legends concerning Sebastian, the principle being that he was a great Portuguese patriot, the "sleeping king" who would return to help Portugal in its darkest hour (similar to the British King Arthur or the German Frederick Barbarossa). He would then be known by symbolic names: O Encoberto (The Hidden One) who would return on a foggy morning to save Portugal; or as O Desejado (The Desired). The legend was vigorously promoted through the massive circulation of popular rhymes (trovas) written by Bandarra. Even as late as the 19th century, Sebastianist peasants in the Brazilian sertão believed that the king would return to help them in their rebellion against the "godless" Brazilian republic.


Recent theories by Harold Johnson of the University of Virginia suggest that he contracted gonorrhea at age ten, and suffered from it for the rest of his short life. Johnson suggests it to have been contracted through sexual abuse by his teacher and confessor, the Jesuit priest Luís Gonçalves da Câmara. Other researchers, however, believe that Sebastian actually suffered from urethritis, that became chronic as the result of mistreatments by physicians (applying plasters, bleeding the patient and giving "syrup of endive" were some of the medical treatments given by the best royal physicians, in a time when antibiotics had not yet been invented).

Contemporary accounts (Johnson, Dois Estudos, passim) suggest Sebastian was homosexual, given to walking alone at night in the park and woods near his palace in Sintra. He was also seen going at night to the beach, along the river Tagus opposite Lisbon, in the company of his page boy, Dom Álvaro de Meneses, to meet other people, not letting anyone know what was the cause for such meetings. Johnson explains how he reaches this conclusion: “Clearly Sebastian was not wandering in the woods lost in philosophical thought or contemplating the starry heavens. He was not the "philosophical" type […]”. He also explains why there are no witnesses who might confirm his theory: “since "normal" people who might witness what was happening were not out wandering in the woods or on the beach in the middle of the night.”[clarify]

Contemporaries commented on his avoidance of women, whom he would not permit to touch him[citation needed], and on several occasions he intervened to prevent marriages arranged for him (most notably Marguerite of France, although later, and before he reached the age of 18, he agreed to marry her). Two other historic currents hold the Jesuits and Sebastian’s uncle, Philip responsible for Sebastian's failure to get married.

[edit] In popular culture

The tale of Sebastian's disappearance and alleged return is the basis for the popular song "A Lenda de El Rei D. Sebastião" ("The Legend of King Sebastian") by Portuguese band Quarteto 1111 in 1968.[1] He is also depicted in the latest Harry Potter game (Order of the Phoenix), as a portrait which leads to the transfiguration courtyard

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Sebastião I o Desejado, rei de Portugal's Timeline

January 20, 1554
Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal
August 4, 1578
Age 24
Ksar el-Kebir, Larache, Tanger-Tétouan, Morocco
August 7, 1578
Age 24
Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal