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King Manuel I

Born in 1469, Manuel was the ninth child of the Infantes Fernando and Beatriz, the paternal grandson of King Duarte, maternal grandson of the Infante João and great grandson of João I through both lines. He ascended to the throne by acclamation on 27 October 1495, having been chosen in his will by his brother-in-law, João II, after the death of the latter's heir, Afonso.

Manuel I was to pursue the policy aimed at Iberian unification that was begun by Afonso V, through successive marriages with the daughters of the Catholic Monarchs (Isabel and Maria) and with Leonor, the sister of Carlos V. In the context of this plan, and also with the aim of consolidating absolute power, in December 1496 Manuel decreed the expulsion of Jews and Moors from Portugal if they did not convert to Christianity within a period of ten months. However, his real desire aim was for them to stay in the country in the context of an integrationist policy he endeavoured to apply throughout his reign. Parallel to this he undertook sweeping reforms of the legal/administrative, education and economic systems, transforming Portuguese expansion overseas into a vast undertaking controlled by the central powers. His reign was marked by Vasco da Gama's sea voyage to India in 1498, the discovery of Brazil by Pedro Álvares Cabral in 1500 and territorial gains in Morocco (Safi, Azemmour, Tite and Almedina).

Manuel I died in 1521.

Manuel I, founder of the Jerónimos Monastery, was laid to rest in the High Altar area of the church together with his second wife and queen, Maria.

Source: Maria de Fátima Coelho, Dicionário Enciclopédico da História de Portugal, Publicações Alfa, 1990

King João III

João III was born in Lisbon in 1502 and died in 1557. He was the son of Manuel I and his second wife, Maria, who was a daughter of Spain's Catholic Monarchs. It was to mark the birth of João that the Portuguese writer Gil Vicente presented, in the Queen's chambers, his play, Auto da Visitação ou Monólogo do Vaqueiro, thus giving birth to modern Portuguese theatre. João III was crowned king in 1521 and in 1525 he married Catarina (Catherine) of Austria. During his reign of more than three decades he presided of the country's destiny at the height of its overseas expansion in three continents before said expansion went into decline, above all at the end of his reign. João III consolidated Portuguese possessions in India and guaranteed monopoly over the spice trade by gaining control of the Maluku (or Moluccas) Islands (thanks to a voyage there by Ferdinand Magellan) for 350,000 gold ducats. He also established contacts with China and Japan. He preferred abandoning the Moroccan strongholds in Safi, Azemmour, Ksar es-Seghir [Alcácer Ceguer in Portuguese] and Asilah [Arzila] so that Portugal could maximise trade with the Orient and begin to exploit the potential of Brazil. He expanded Portuguese trade, establishing direct contacts with the regions along the Rhine and the Baltic nations. He introduced the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) to Portugal, which he entrusted with the evangelisation of the Orient (with Saint Francis Xavier), Brazil (with Manuel da Nóbrega) and Africa (through Ethiopia). He also donated the College of Arts in Coimbra to that order. He promoted culture through the granting of scholarships abroad, the founding of the College of Arts, the setting up and revitalisaton of the University of Coimbra and his aid to the establishment of colleges by the Jesuits. The final period of his reign was marked by the onset of economic and financial problems and the growing influence of the Counter-Reformation movement, which began in Trento, Italy and resulted in increased powers for the Inquisition and the institutionalisation of censorship for printed works.

During his reign important works were carried out in the Jerónimos Monastery, such as the completion of the vaulted ceiling in the transept, the upper choir and its pews, the lower choir and completion of the upper floor of the cloister and the dormitory.

Source: Dicionário de História de Portugal, Direcção Joel Serrão, Livraria Figueirinhas/Porto, 1990

Catherine (Catarina) of Austria

Catherine of Austria was a grand-daughter of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, daughter of Philip of Habsburg and Joanna of Castile and sister of Spanish king Carlos V. She was born in Torquemada in 1507. She married João III of Portugal in 1525 and bore him 9 children. Unfortunately, none of them survived their parents. Catherine was an influential and dynamic queen, having great influence over her husband. At his decision she took part in state council meetings. When João III died in 1557 she took on the role of regent for her grandson, King Sebastião, who was only three at the time. She turned over the regency in 1562 to Henrique (Cardinal-King Henrique of Portugal).

During her regency Catherine ordered the reform of the religious orders and supported social works, such as the College of Orphans in Alfama and the Trading Stores in Belém. She founded the College of Pastoral Theology of Our Lady of the Stairs at the São Domingos Monastery and built the Hieronymite monastery at Vale Benfeito, the Monastery at Pedrógão and the St. Francis Monastery in Faro. She protected missions to the Orient and Brazil and tenaciously defended the overseas empires through the correct choices for governors. Due to major differences with King Sebastião she withdrew to the Palace at Xabregas, where she died in 1578.

During her regency, Catherine commissioned important works in the Jerónimos Monastery, such as the construction of the High Altar and improvements to the side chapels, with their respective tombs. She also donated to the Monastery a large collection of vestments designed by Franciso de Holanda and embroidered by the queen herself and her ladies in waiting, reliquaries, devotion images and gold and silversmith work.

Source: Dicionário de História de Portugal, Direcção Joel Serrão, Livraria Figueirinhas/Porto, 1990

Cardinal Dom Henrique

The Cardinal-King Dom Henrique was the son of Manuel I and his queen Maria of Castile. He was born in 1512 and died at Almeirim in 1580. He was the 17th Portuguese monarch and the last from the House of Avis.

He began his ecclesiastic career at the age of fourteen when he was took his first Holy Orders. As a man of the Church he held several high offices. Amongst others, he was Grand Inquisitor to the Court of Inquisition (appointed in 1539 by João III) and Archbishop of Lisbon from 1564 to 1574. Throughout his life he was an austere cleric dedicated to combatting heresy and with a very conservative reading of the ideals of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, while Archbishop of Évora (1540-1562), he established a small court of literary figures, musicians and singers at his episcopal seat, which he paid from the income from his estate. His protection of the arts gives him the status of a prince with renaissance ideals; as a patron he dreamed of making Évora a centre of the arts. He also played a role in founding the University of Évora.During his regency from 1562 to 1568 he gave a rounded education to his nephew and future king, Sebastião, going some way to contradict the pro-Spanish policies of Catherine of Austria. He was in Alcobaça when the tragic battle of Ksar El Kebir [Alcácer-Quibir in Portuguese] took place. While Portugal waited for confirmation of the death of Sebastião, Henrique assumed the regency. He rose to the throne in 1578 and his reign was preoccupied with two main problems: freeing the prisoners in Morocco and guaranteeing succession. He failed in both endeavours and in his reign of one year and a half the people witnessed the eclipse of "Portugal's ancient freedoms".

The Cloister interior was completed during the reign of the Cardinal-King Henrique.

Source: Dicionário de História de Portugal, Direcção Joel Serrão, Livraria Figueirinhas/Porto, 1990

King Sebastião

The sixteenth king of Portugal, Sebastião was born in Lisbon in 1554 and died at the Battle of Alcácer-Quibir in 1578. He was the grandson of João III and the posthumous son of the former's heir, Prince João. His mother was Joana, daughter of Carlos V of Spain, who returned to Spain, leaving her son of four months in the care of his grandmother and the Regent, Catherine of Austria. Sebastião was educated by the greatest masters and scientists at the court. In 1562, the prince's education became the responsibility of his uncle, Cardinal Dom Henrique, until he was crowned king in 1568. In 1574 he spent one month in the Portuguese strongholds of Tangier and Ceuta, where he informed himself on the situation of Portuguese power in the region and developed plans to expand it. He was to encounter vigorous resistance to these plans, amongst other reasons because he was still a young man and had not yet produced an heir. The influence of his uncle, Philip II of Spain, who opposed the marriage of his nephew outside the Iberian context, contributed to the fact that he had not yet taken a wife. Nevertheless, the need to increase security in the Portuguese possessions in Morocco and free the Algarve of attacks from Berber pirates was an urgent one. An intervention to this end appeared all the more important when Turkey threatened to intervene in the internal strife in the Maghreb. However, the undertaking more than exhausted the country's resources and was ill-prepared and managed and Sebastião was defeated and killed at the Battle of i Ksar El Kebir.

Portugal, facing the imminent threat of the crown being inherited by a Spanish prince, anxiously awaited the return of its king. Sebastião gained the nickname "The Desired", a name that lived on after his death, as a myth was generated that he had not died at the battle but was imprisoned in Morocco and would return to re-establish the legitimate Portuguese monarchy and expel the Spanish Philips from the Portuguese throne. The Portuguese monarch was only reinstated when João IV was crowned king in 1640.

Sebastian's tomb is in one of the side chapels of the Monastery's church.

Source: Dicionário de História de Portugal, Direcção Joel Serrão, Livraria Figueirinhas/Porto, 1990