04.08.

1578: Cardinal Becomes King

1578: Cardinal Becomes King
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons/St. Peter's Basilica at Early Morning

Story Highlights

  • Historical event
  • 4 August 1578
  • Cardinal Henry couldn’t afford to refuse the throne because he was the last surviving member of his dynasty. Once he became king, Henry asked to be defrocked so that he could marry and continue his dynasty. However, Pope Gregory XIII (Ugo Boncompagni – the modern Gregorian Calendar is named after him) refused to relieve him of his vows.

On this day a very rare situation occurred when a Catholic cardinal also became a king.

The person in question was Henry of Portugal, born 1512 to the Portuguese ruling dynasty.

His father was the King of Portugal, but Henry also had four older brothers. Thus he didn’t expect to inherit the throne and embarked on an ecclesiastical career.

He became Archbishop of Braga, then of Evora, and the Grand Inquisitor of Portugal. He was proclaimed Cardinal in 1545.

These events coincided with the rise of Portugal in the Age of Discovery, when it became a great naval power. Portuguese ships had a virtual monopoly on trade with Asia across the Indian Ocean and sailed from Brazil to Africa, India and China.

The Portuguese Colonial Empire spanned an area of around four million square kilometers. In 1453 Portuguese sailing ships even reached Japan, becoming the first European ships to visit that faraway land.

By chance, all four of the Cardinal’s older brothers died before him, as had all their male heirs. Thus the Cardinal became next in line to the throne.

He couldn’t afford to refuse it because he was the last surviving member of his dynasty. Once he became king, Henry asked to be defrocked so that he could marry and continue his dynasty.

But, Pope Gregory XIII (Ugo Boncompagni – the modern Gregorian Calendar is named after him) refused to relieve him of his vows.

Henry died after a reign of only two years and the dynasty of Aviz-Beja went extinct. Portugal came under the rule of foreign kings from the Hapsburg dynasty – more precisely the powerful Philip II, King of Spain.

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