It is exactly 440 years since on 25 July 1581 on the Azorean islands of Terceira, the Battle of Salga took place, a historic episode in which the local population and cattle played a vital role in defending the island the archipelago, and even Portugal.
When King Sebastian died in 1578 in Ksar-el-Kebir, he was succeeded by his closest relative, his great uncle Cardinal Henry who already at an advanced age died in 1580 with no direct heir. Thus bringing about a succession crisis.
There were three main claimants to the throne, all of the grandchildren of King Manuel I: Catherine of Portugal, King Philip II of Spain, and Antonio, Prior of Crato. The last was proclaimed king in Santarém, against the wishes of the high nobility, who supported Philip II, for whom Portugal was a very important kingdom in his strategy for the Spanish Empire Philip II then sent his army which being better prepared defeated Antonio’s supporters. The Prior of Crato ended up seeking refuge on Terceira, the only part of the country still on his side. The noblewoman Violante do Canto who in 1577 had inherited a great fortune, supported Antonio’s cause, and financed the Anglo-French troops stationed on the island. Terceira thus came to the attention of the Spanish.
At this point, history and legend begin to merge, and the reliability of the facts is hard to ascertain. On 25 July 1581 a Spanish fleet commanded by Pedro de Valdes, composed of ten ships, eight of them large galleons, viewtopic.php?f=2&t=16224 attempted to conquer the Azorean Islands.
When the Spanish troops landed they began to set fire to the wheat fields and houses around Salga. They occupied Casa da Salga, where they raised their flag, contrary to the wishes of the Merens de Tavora family, who were prominent in the island’s politics, and most probably the home of Brianda Pereira as well imprisoning any men they found. Among the prisoners was Bartoloneu Lourenco, Brianda’ husband who had been wounded in a spirit of outrage and defense, and with fortitude and courage, she did her best to encourage the islanders to fight and taken what she had to hand joined the battle herself. The battle toughened and by nine o’clock in the morning, the fighting was intense, with the Spaniards sweeping the coastline with their artillery making defense of the island a difficult task. At around midday, with the battle still undecided the Augustine monk Friar Pedro, who was actively fighting had the idea of directing wild cattle towards the Spanish positions to overwhelm them. More than a thousand beasts were quickly gathered and spurred on by shouts and musket shots, they launched themselves at the enemy. This strategy led the Spaniards to withdraw, which allowed time for the islanders to regroup and prepare a new defense of the island. Hundreds of Spaniards died during the fighting or drowned trying to escape the wild cattle. It is said that no more than fifty Spaniards returned to their ships, whilst the locals counted only a few dozen deaths. It was a humiliating defeat for the troops of Philip II of Spain.
Brianda Pereira continued to rouse the men and women to fight until the very end of the Battle of Salga. She became the new heroine of the Portuguese against the Spanish much like the Baker of Aljubarrota in 1385. The Castilian flag was lowered and casa da Salga was once again controlled by its owners. Two famous Spanish writers took part in the battle, Miguel de Cervantes author of Don Quixote de la Mancha, and Lope de Vega both of whom survived.
The battle of Salga allowed the island’s troops to be reinvigorated and strengthened their position against the Spanish king. And so in the two years that followed the people of Terceira did not give up their fight, dating from this period more precisely from 13 February 1582, is the famous letter from Cipriao de Figueiredo, Corrgidor of the Azores, to King Philip II, in which he stated” rather die free“, now the motto of the Azores.
The islanders fought on as defenders of Portugal and it was only in 1583 that Terceira was conquered by the Spanish. Commanded by Alvaro de Bazan, in the famous Landing of Baia das Mos. The islanders were harshly punished, and some records suggest that 60% of the population was massacred. Despite this Angra was still regarded as a key location., at Bazin’s suggestion after analyzing the island’s line of forts, Philip II ordered the construction of a large castle at Monte Brazil. And so the greatest fortress in the world was built, at the time called Castelo de Sao Philipe, now Sao Joao Batista.
Violanta, at the order of Philip II left on 17 August 1583 with Alvaro de Bazan, for Madrid. When it was time for her departure, Violante went to Prainha, accompanied by two ladies-in-waiting, five maids and twenty-one servants as well as other valets, where the main authorities of Angra were waiting for her, on a carpeted platform specially built for the embarkation, When Violante set foot on the gangplank of the ship, a salvo rang out from the vessel, accompanied by all the ships in the fleet. In Spain Violanta was locked up in two monasteries, in Cadiz and Jaen, and later, on 1 April 1585, forced to marry Simao de Sousa de Tavora, at which point she returned to Portugal.
In 2021 as we commemorate 440 years since the Battle of Salga, it is important to remember this remarkable episode for the history of Ilha Terceira and Portugal. The collective memory of all of us is a precious asset for a country’s culture and it is therefore essential that we promote and share the stories of Portugal’s history.
Source: Francisco Miguel Nogueira
Portugal 2021 0.54/0.91 Euro sg?, Scott? And 2.50 Euro sgMS?, Scott?
Azores 1981 $8.50/33.50 sg 427/48, Scott?
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