Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Arts


This thesis investigates the survival of the Portuguese Empire in the East against the backdrop of the rise of the British Empire in India in the first half of the eighteenth century. The topic is investigated from the perspective of metropolitan Portugal through the central institution of the Overseas Council, based in Lisbon. In a nascent field such as this, the methodology is part hypothesis-testing and part exploratory using empirical data from the archives of Lisbon and published primary sources. The register of the Council’s deliberations and other original documents provide empirical evidence about the role of leadership in the survival of the eastern Empire. With so much focus on the decline studies of the Estado da India (Portuguese State of India) as well as Portuguese private and informal enterprise east of India, this thesis sets out to prove that, despite a series of severe defeats, the Estado was, in a livelier sense of the word, “alive and kicking”. It shows how the survival and prolongation of the Estado was dependent upon the centre and on direct representatives from that centre. It also reveals how this balance of interests was likely to tilt towards the latter the further away this periphery was from the centre. In the centre,this thesis tries to show how the personal style of the leadership of King João V also affected the administration dealing with the Estado, as well as the number and quality of leadership sent to India. More concretely, on the ground in India, it shows how survival was dependent on the day-to-day instruments of the early modern state, that is, diplomacy, war, trade and revenue extraction. In the context of the early modern international environment, the study shows how treaties were forged to bring the Portuguese respite from hostility, even though they were not followed to the full letter of the agreement. In terms of war, this thesis reveals that, despite their severe limitations, Portuguese arms were able to hold their own, despite suffering periodic defeats. In terms of revenue extraction, it shows how revenue collection became less reliant on trade and more dependent on rent. In exploring the attempt to revive commerce at Mozambique, this study shows how the endeavour was foiled by self-interests and by an attitude that was not conducive to business transactions. It also explores areas of ‘soft’ factors like religion and culture, where the results of state investment proved uncertain, although they would translate into factors of colonization in the long term. At the far end of the Eastern Empire in Timor, the study examines the role of religious establishments and state intervention in installing a permanent presence in the first half of the eighteenth century. Back in India, in examining the much touted revival in the 1740s, it reveals that it largely consisted of territorial stabilization and had little to do with later New Conquests. Finally, this study bridges the gap between what is relatively known about one of the “less successful” players in a period when the British power was on the rise.

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