Thursday, May 3, 2007

Glenn J. Ames, Rensacent Empire? The House of Braganza and the Quest for stability in Portuguese Monsoon Asia, c. 1640-1683

In 2000, Glenn Ames’s work, Renascent Empire? The House of Braganza and the Quest for stability in Portuguese Monsoon Asia, c. 1640-1683 concentrates “on detailing the motivations, underlying assumptions, specific policies, and results of this reformation campaign in Portugese Monsoon Asia” during the years of 1640 to 1683 under the House of Braganza.[1] In addition, “it will also seek to examine the structural limits imposed on this campaign by the internal political, cultural, and economic structures of early modern Portuguese society.”[2] The book is organized into an introduction, seven chapters, and a conclusion; each chapter examines a different aspect of Portuguese Asian history.

The first chapter discusses the consolidation of power of the Portuguese throne under the Braganza dynasty from the Spanish Hapsburgs from Joao IV in 1640 to Pedro’s regency in 1668 when Portugal was recognized as an independent nation in the peace talks with Spain and England at St. Eloi in 1668. Ames states that during this time that the Portuguese “learned to adapt to changing technologies, business practices, administrative reforms, and geo-political and religious realities in the Indian Ocean trade.”[3] Chapter two looks at the politics and policies of Portuguese Asia under the various Viceroys and Governors from 1661 to 1681 in governing Portuguese Asia. The viceroys and governors came from noble families. Ames argues that both sides (the crown and nobility) benefited in the fact that it “…served the needs of an Asian empire badly in need of assistance after long decades of neglect.”[4] Chapter three looks at the role Christianity in Portuguese Asia from 1640 to 1683. This chapter also examines history from below in the fact that it examines the Orphan laws from that time. The fourth chapter is an economic history of Portuguese Asia, especially the impact that the spice trade had on Portugal. In this chapter, Ames demonstrates how Pedro “…was willing to break with centuries-old practices, traditions, and supporters in an effort to salvage what remained of the Estado.”[5] Chapter five focuses on the administration and resiliency of indigenous structures. The sixth chapter looks at how Portugal’s foreign policy maneuvers helped to stabilize Portuguese Asia. The final chapter is a look at how the Portuguese expansion into Mozambique allowed Portuguese Asia to survive.

Ames examined a variety of sources for his work on the Renascent Empire. Archives were consulted in Lisbon, Evora, Panjim, Paris, London, and Bombay in order to tell the story of how the House of Braganza was able to hang onto Asia and make it profitable for Portugal again. Non-archival sources came from a variety of memoirs and other accounts of the period of the Estado. Numerous secondary sources from the experts in European Expansion were consulted such as Boxer, Braudel, Parry, and Prestage.
Overall, the work is an excellent source of information on the House of Braganza and the Estado. A student will find the bibliography to be the most helpful in their perusal of the sources that are available for their research interests in European expansion, especially the Portuguese in Asia. The author did indeed “examine the process by which the Portuguese Crown, in the span of less than two decades, was able to turn the pitiful lamentations of Mello de Castro into the respectful, even envious, descriptions of Aungier and other competitors in the trade.”[6]

[1] Glenn J. Ames, Renascent Empire? The House of Braganza and the Quest for stability in Portuguese Monsoon Asia, c. 1640-1683. (Amsterdam: Amterdam University Press, 2000), 14.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 38.
[4] Ibid., 47.
[5] Ibid., 113.
[6] Ibid., 16.