Journalist and writer Isabel Stilwell invites you to rediscover the present on a journey to Portugal’s past.
Philippa of Lancaster is the only English princess who ever reigned as Queen of Portugal. She entered Portugal from Galiza, crossed the Minho to reach Porto, where she married D. João I, in the city’s great cathedral, six hundred years ago. She had been used as the exchange in an alliance that guaranteed military support to a kingdom that was fighting tooth and nail to maintain its independence from Castile. Philippa was 28 years old, a spinster by the standards of her time, and we can barely imagine what she would have felt and thought of her husband, his friends, and life in a court where women were so visibly ignored. Portugal, twenty years later, and largely thanks to her, had become a better country. However, she had also changed, and become the mother of 6 children, the Illustrious Generation, who instigated Portugal’s pioneering role in the Age of Discovery.
Three hundred years later in 1661, Catarina de Bragança was the pawn that sealed once more the relationship with England, in a marriage destined to strengthen Portugal’s recently regained freedom from neighbouring Spain. The only Portuguese princess who reigned as Queen in England, took her country with her, in her heart, and chests filled with tea, the warm beverage that calmed her “saudades”, a word she had to bring with her as well, as no other translates how much she missed home. Years later she returned, a widow, as nothing was the same, because she herself had changed…
D. Maria II was 14 years old when, from over the gunwale of a ship, she saw, for the first time, the capital of a country of which she had been Queen for half her life but only knew from stories told by her father. From the Tejo she could see Lisbon, the Praça do Comércio, the castle and the houses that dropped down to the water front, all so different from Rio de Janeiro, where she was born and raised, where she was Maria da Glória, the sweet girl of her mamãe, who died so tragically.
She could not imagine then that 50 years later her grandson Carlos would wait close by at the Santa Apolónia Station, for his fiancée Amélie d’Orleans, arriving from Paris by train, and that Amélie would be the last Portuguese Queen.
I was with them on each of these arrivals, with Phillipa, Catarina, Maria and Amélie, trying to see Portugal through their eyes, joining the pieces of the puzzle, bringing them back into the light, where they can help us understand our past and our future. If I were to step out of this plane with you today, I am sure I would be amazed by the Pena palace, set on the top of the serra de Sintra, cut against the sky or surrounded by mist, so magical it will take my breath away, and laugh, amused by the conical chimneys of the Vila Palace, that have always seemed inspired by the hats of medieval ladies, but noticing details I had never noticed before. And I would look at the Jerónimos monastery, and learn anew the history of this country that, against all odds, has been its own master for nine centuries. So please excuse my selfishness, but we need your eyes, to help us remember.