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Sebastião de Melo, Marquis of Pombal

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Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, Marquis of Pombal (in Portuguese, Marquês de Pombal), (13 May 169915 May 1782) was a Portuguese statesman. He was the Prime Minister to King Joseph I of Portugal throughout his reign. Pombal is notable for his swift and competent leadership in the aftermath of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. In addition, he implemented sweeping economic policy in Portugal to regulate commercial activity and standartization in quality throughout the country.

Sebastião de Melo was born in Lisbon, the son of Manuel de Carvalho e Ataíde, a country squire, with properties in the Leiria region. During his youthful years, he studied at the University of Coimbra and then served briefly in the army. Afterward, he moved to Lisbon, and eloped with Teresa de Mendonça e Almada (1689-1737) the niece of the Count of Arcos Sebastião. The marriage was a turbulent one, as his wife had married de Melo against her family's wishes. The in-laws made life unbearable for the young couple; and so the newlyweds retired to de Melo's properties near Pombal.

In 1738, Sebastião de Melo received his first public appointment as the Portuguese Ambassador in London. In 1745 de Melo served as the Portuguese Ambassador in Vienna. The Consort Queen of Portugal, Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria , was fond of de Melo; and after his first wife died, she arranged the widowed de Melo's second marriage to the daughter of the Austrian Field Marshal Leopold Josef, Count von Daun. King John V of Portugal, however, was not pleased and recalled de Melo to Portugal in 1749. John V died the following year and his son, Joseph I of Portugal was crowned. In contrast to his father, Joseph I was fond of de Melo, and with the Queen Mother's approval, he appointed de Melo as Minister of Foreign Affairs. As the King's confidence in de Melo increased, the King entrusted him with more control of the state.

By 1755, Sebastião de Melo was made Prime Minister. Impressed by English economic success he had witnessed while Ambassador, he successfully implemented similar economic policies in Portugal. He abolished slavery in the Portuguese colonies in India; reorganized the army and the navy; restructured the University of Coimbra, and ended discrimination against different Christian sects in Portugal.

But Sebastião de Melo's greatest reforms were economic and financial, with the creation of several companies and guilds to regulate every commercial activity. He demarcated the region for production of Port to insure the wine's quality, and his was the first attempt to control wine quality and production in Europe. He ruled with a strong hand by imposing strict law upon all classes of Portugese society from the high nobility to the poorest working class, along with a widespread review of the country's tax system. These reforms gained him enemies in the upper classes, especially among the high nobility, who despised him as a social upstart.

Disaster fell upon Portugal in the morning of November 1, 1755, when Lisbon was struck by a violent earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 9 on the Richter scale (see 1755 Lisbon earthquake). The city was razed to the ground by the earthquake and the ensuing tsunami and fires. Sebastião de Melo survived by a stroke of luck and then immediately embarked on rebuilding the city, with his famous quote: What now? we bury the dead and feed the living. Despite the calamity, Lisbon suffered no epidemics and within less than one year was already being rebuilt. The new downtown of Lisbon was designed to resist subsequent earthquakes. Architectural models were built for tests, and the effects of an earthquake was simulated by marching troops around the models. The buildings and big squares of the Pombaline Downtown of Lisbon still remain as one of Lisbon's tourist attractions: They represent the world's first quake-proof buildings. Sebastião de Melo also made an important contribution to the study of seismology by designing an inquiry that was sent to every parish in the country. The questionnaire asked whether dogs or other animals behave strangely prior to the earthquake? Was there a noticable difference in the rise or fall of the water level rise in wells? How many buildings were destroyed and what kind of destruction occurred? With these answers modern Portuguese scientists have been able to reconstruct the event with precision.

Following the earthquake, Joseph I gave his Prime Minister even more power, and Sebastião de Melo became a powerful, progressive dictator. As his power grew, his enemies increased in number, and bitter disputes with the high nobility became frequent. In 1758 Joseph I was wounded in an attempted assassination. The Tavora family and the Duke of Aveiro were implicated and executed after a quick trial. The Jesuits were expelled from the country and their assets confiscated by the crown. Sebastião de Melo showed no mercy and prosecuted every person involved, even women and children. This was the final stroke that broke the power of the aristocracy and ensured the victory of the Minister against his enemies. Based upon his swift resolve, Joseph I made his loyal minister Count of Oeiras in 1759.

Following the Tavora affair, the new Count of Oeiras knew no opposition. Made Marquis of Pombal in 1770, he effectively ruled Portugal until Joseph I's death in 1779. His successor, Queen Maria I of Portugal, disliked the Marquis. Maria I never forgave him the ruthlessness showed against the Tavora family and redrew all his political offices. The queen also issued one of the world's first restraining orders and ordered that the Marquis should not be closer than 20 miles from her presence. If she would travel near his estates, he was compelled to remove himself from his house to fulfil the royal decree. Maria I is reported to have had tantrums at the slightest reference to her father's former Prime Minister.

The Marquis of Pombal built a palatial villa at Oeiras, with formal Frenchgardens enlivened with traditional Portuguese glazed tile walls. There were waterfalls and waterworks set within vineyards. He died peacefully on his estate at Pombal in 1782. Today, Lisbon's most important square and busiest underground station is named Marquês de Pombal in his honor. There is an imposing statue of the Marquês de Pombal in the square, as well.

External links

Further reading

  • Cheke, Marcus Dictator of Portugal: A Life of the Marquis of Pombal, 1699–1782 (1938, reprinted 1969) is the standard biography in English.
  • Alden, Dauril, Royal Government in Colonial Brazil with Special Reference to the Administration of the Marquis of Lavradio, Viceroy, 1769-1779,

University of California Press, 1968; Pombal's colonial policy.

Last updated: 05-16-2005 14:51:48