When I was little, one of my favorite times in history class every year was when we studied the Spanish occupation.
From 1560 to 1640 and due to some truly gifted stupid actions of Portuguese kings, the throne of Portugal was occupied by the Philips. The first Philip was the famous Philip of the Armada.
Now the throne of Portugal was acquired as legitimately as any other succession at the time and more legitimately than most. Technically Philip was the late King Sebastian’s nephew. (And possibly first cousin, uncle and grandfather. There is no word on whether the royal lines of Portugal and Spain could play the banjo really well, but if they didn’t it was only because they didn’t have banjos.)
However by the time I studied the occupation or “usurpation” EVERY year of elementary school, great indignation was built towards the Philips. One of the reasons I really liked that lesson is that our prim and elderly school marm would instruct us to bring out our crayons and deface our pictures of Philip of Portugal and Spain. (And for those cringing about destruction of school property, in Portugal you buy your school books. You can sometimes buy them used or inherit them from a sibling — not me, my brother was much older than I and books had changed — but in general everyone from the richest to the poorest bought the school books. I rather suspect, now I think about it, that this keeps the Portuguese publishing system working.)
The reason they were hated, the reason we were instructed to deface the pictures was that while occupying the Portuguese throne, perhaps because they were sure it wouldn’t last, or perhaps because they wanted to reduce the proud and independent spirit of the Portuguese (from their perspective the last of the small kingdoms in the peninsula to be swallowed by the Spanish leviathan) the Philips seemed to go out of their way to destroy all Portuguese interests, possessions and wealth, as well as the Portuguese standing with their allies and the world.
It’s been a long time, and mostly I spent my time studying how to deface a picture, but I remember the Spaniards broke the Portuguese alliance with the English which had lasted almost since before there was England, and save for that interruption has lasted to present day. This meant Portuguese ships could fall prey to the British privateers. They also failed to adequately defend Portuguese colonies and gave some of them away as dowry to Spanish Princesses or perhaps party favors.
There were other things, and the rule must have been felt even at the time as disastrous because particularly in the North a cult of the “King who will return” (in this case King Sebastian, young and possibly nuts or at least a really good banjo player, since his mother was the upteenth Spanish princess the Portuguese kings had married in a row.) He died in a futile attack on the North of Africa (there’s taking the fight to the enemy and then there’s nuts) which left the kingdom without a king. Save the Spaniards.
For years, and then centuries, adding an element of fantasy, the legend grew that he had not died and would return “one foggy morning.”
I must have had a fantastical or romantic bend from early on, because one of my favorite songs was by a group called 1111 (Ah ah) which sang about King Sebastian and how they’d found his horse and pieces of his doublet, his sword and his heart, notwithstanding which he’d come back in a foggy morning to lead the half mad seers and witches of the foggy Northern lands. (Represent, I say, represent.)
However, no matter how bad the Spanish occupation was, in that morality tale it became the inflection point at which Portugal stopped being amazing and became beaten down and down and out. At that moment (even though colonies and empire remained) Portugal was broken in the eyes of the world and in its own eyes.
Yesterday I was talking to my mom and she said the news from the States and the things “your funny critters” (pretty much how mom refers to governments in general!) are doing remind her of the Spanish occupation of Portugal. (She asked if perhaps one of Obama’s names, never mentioned, might not be Philip. As in “perhaps when he was adopted his name was Barry Philip Soetoro.”) And she said “May G-d help you and preserve as only He can.
Needless to say I have nothing against her last sentiment, but I want to say something about it.
Yeah, I too have the feeling of a government trying to reduce a proud nation, either because they hate it (no, don’t bother arguing, they do. Our intelligentsia consider themselves citizens of the world. Mostly because they know NOTHING about the world and think it’s a giant vacation resort and we the only political actors in it, while everyone is our hapless victim.) or simply because they fancy themselves as our perpetual rulers, and a proud and self-sufficient people are hard to rule. I suspect they’re doing what they’re doing in the happy notion it will make us “governable” and since THEY know exactly how to govern us, it’s for our own good in the end. We’ll be prosperous and happy just like France (rolls eyes.) Magically we’ll acquire hundreds of years old buildings which we can contemplate from our coffee shops while drinking ridiculously tiny coffees in our 385 nationally mandated days off a year while the government automagically makes sure no one starves.
However let’s not fall into the Portuguese trap. It makes a certain sense for Portugal, I guess, since it was a monarchy and therefore the king was supposed to embody the country.
But we’re not a monarchy. The president is just the president, and if you think this one is the worst… you might be right, but good Lord not by much. A cursory read of our history will tell you that while we’d never before managed to elect someone who actively hates us (I maintain because he blames us for his father abandoning him) but we elected people who were bound by ideas that would have destroyed us, anyway if they had had time and enough sway.
We are a republic of ideas and of people who believe in that idea. We’re down but we’re not out. I’m not going to lie to you, this one is going to hurt like a b*tch. Our grandkids are still going to be recovering from this clustercongress (congress, you understand in the Kama Sutra Sense.)
But it takes more than a Philip to beat us. We might catch a nuke, we might even lose one or two generations of prosperity, but Philip is just Philip. We’re the USA. Takes more than one man to keep us down as Fat George (the one who didn’t write GOT) found out.
Long after he’s gone we’ll be here and the ideas of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness will be resurgent.
Because this whole government by the people for the people thing? It’s an idea so spectacularly crazy and yet so gloriously daring that it has been lighting the world ever since it was first conceived.
And so it will continue, world without end.
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