Portugal, Morocco, and the Price of Glory

TALIM Battle of the Three Kings 3 Thanks to a kind member of the TALIM board, I've been alerted to an exhibit in Washington's National Gallery of Art, "The Invention of Glory."  Subtitled "Alfonso V and the Pastrana Tapestries," the exhibit features "The Conquest of Tangier."  The exhibit is open through January 8, 2012.

Today's Washington Post, in an article by culture critic Philip Kennicot, provides excellent background on the ancient Pastrana Tapestries, including this description of The Conquest of Tangier:

[t]he last of the four panels, “The Conquest of Tangier,” feels very different, more orderly and restrained. Horrified by the fate of Asilah, and offered no hope of relief by local leaders, the people of Tangier abandoned their city to the Portuguese. The desolate Tangerines can be seen on the far side of the panel, making an orderly exit to the right, with babies slung over the backs of women and carefully tied bundles of possessions carried by the men. Over the ramparts of Tangier, a lone Portuguese soldier raises the victor’s flag. Otherwise, the city is empty and almost eerily calm.

The year was 1471, and Portuguese (or later Spanish, during the Iberian Union) rule was to last in Tangier for another 190 years.  A glorious time for Portugal.  Or was it?  Kenneth Maxwell, writing in the New Year's 1985 Wilson Quarterly, described the Portuguese in their colonial heyday as "Prisoners of Glory."

A century later, in 1578, the thirst for glory in Morocco was to be the downfall not only of TALIM Battle of the Three Kings 1 Portugal's young king Sebastian but also of his dynasty, leading to Spanish dominion over Portugal.  The disaster was the Battle of the Three Kings, or Alcácer Quivir (the Spanish rendition of the Moroccan locality of Ksar el Kebir).

According to Comer Plummer in Military History Online, the Battle of the Three Kings was "Apocalypse Then" for Portugal:

For Portugal, the consequences of the defeat were immediate and far-reaching. Not only was her era as a great power abruptly ended, but her very survival was imperiled.

Between "The Conquest of Tangier" and the Battle of the Three Kings (the other two kings died there too), glorious Portugal suffered the fate of many a conquering power.

The Invention of Glory… I'm definitely going to see it when I'm next in Washington.

(Photos of the Battle of the Three Kings, from the Forbes collection of lead soldiers at the Tangier American Legation museum)

Gerald Loftus

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