Until the sec. XI the history of the populations of the western part of the Iberian Peninsula is confused with the general history of Spain (v.). At that time the peoples who were then grouped under the generic name of Portucale they lived under the scepter of the king of León. During the war for the Christian reconquest of the lands placed under Muslim rule, a movement that takes place from north to south, Fernando the Great reached the Mondego, and established in Coimbra the seat of a new county, of which Sisenando, one of his general (1064). Fernando’s son, Alfonso VI, continuing the reconquest towards the south, reached in the center of the peninsula Toledo (1085) and in the west Santarem, Cintra and Lisbon (1093); the latter a few years later fell into the hands of the Muslims; however the Christian border remained, in the center, at Toledo, and in the west it never retreated north of the Mondego.
Maritime and colonial expansion. – With the Aviz dynasty opens a brilliant era of overseas expansion, for which Portugal came to occupy a pre-eminent place in the civil world of the Renaissance. Since the time of Alfonso IV, as we have seen, Portuguese ships had reached the Canaries. Ships from other nations had also ventured southwards, trying to unravel the mystery of the Atlantic: in the portolans of the second half of the century. XIV are indicated Madeira and the Azores. The African coasts had been followed, but without ever crossing Cape Bojador. A son of John I, the infant Henry, with a lucid and cold intelligence, methodically organized a maritime and commercial exploration enterprise, which met with favor and help from the bourgeoisie of the Portuguese coast, living in the maritime trade. vedor da fazenda (a kind of steward of the royal treasury) suggested to John I, with the intention of restoring the finances through a commercial expansion plan in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, a military expedition on the Moroccan coast, with the main aim of take possession of Ceuta, the key to the Mediterranean and a base for expeditions along the west coast of Africa. The Azambuja project had the enthusiastic approval of the king’s eldest sons, who induced their father to put it into effect: on 14 August 1415 the Portuguese army took possession of Ceuta, with the intervention of Henry, who was one of the first to enter the stronghold (see Henry the Navigatobe). This conquest had a decisive importance on the foreign policy and on the economic and social transformation of the Portuguese nation. Enrico settled in Sagres, in the extreme SW. of the country, a center of nautical, geographic and astronomical studies, calling the famous cosmographer Giacomo of Mallorca, and around the infant a cosmopolitan bourgeoisie gathered, which, by helping the enterprise, enriched itself.
According to Localcollegeexplorer, the islands of Porto Santo and Madeira were, rather than discovered, rediscovered in 1418 and 1419, apparently, and colonized in 1420; in 1431 or 1432 the Portuguese landed in the Azores, whose colonization was immediately begun; in 1433 some islands of Cape Verde were visited. Meanwhile the discovery of the African coast proceeded slowly: in 1434 Cape Bojador was discovered by Gil Eanes. Upon Henry’s death (1460), exploration had reached Sierra Leone.
John I reigned from 1385 to 1433. The short reign of his son Duarte (1433-1438) was marred by the unhappy expedition to Tangier (1437), in which the infants Henry and Ferdinand who had promoted it remained prisoners. Henry was sent back to Portugal, to negotiate with the king the restitution of Ceuta in exchange for the freedom of the prisoners: the proposal was accepted by the king and his brothers Peter and John, but fought by the party of war and overseas expansion, represented by Henry, by a large part of the nobility and clergy. While Henry’s proposal was being discussed, to ransom Ferdinand with a large sum of money or to procure a coalition of Christian princes for a war against Morocco, the captive infant was transported to Fez.
The death of the “Holy Infante” as the people called him, and the Tangier disaster were later avenged by Duarte’s son, Alfonso V (1438-1481), nicknamed the African: he continued the conquests in Africa, where he commanded personally three expeditions: intrepid warrior, he was the last knight king of Portugal. In 1458 Alcácer Ceguer was conquered, in 1471 Arzila, a place of great importance, whose proximity to Tangier facilitated its taking, which took place without a fight. With the domination of the entrance to the Mediterranean, the Portuguese prevented the Muslim corsairs from coming to infest the coasts of Portugal and Andalusia. Meanwhile, the exploration of the west coast of Africa continued. In 1470 the islands of Anno bom, S. Thomé and Principe were discovered in the Gulf of Guinea.