So if you watched the US presidential debate last night, you would have heard one of the candidates make mention that the Iran arms deal is the “worst in history”. This got me thinking. No matter what your political persuasion, I think we can all agree this is hyperbole. All of history is a very, very long time and there have been some ridiculously bad deals signed. One that comes to mind is the Treaty of Tordesillas.
In the 15th century, both Spain and Portugal were two of the world’s superpowers. Both countries were sending out explorers and divvying up the New World (that’s another set of terrible treaties that we will address in subsequent posts). When Columbus returned from his voyage in 1493, the Catholic Kings of Spain, Isabella and Ferdinand, petitioned the Pope to support their claims in the New World. Luckily for them, the current pope was Spanish born as well as highly amenable to bribes. Alexander VI, nee Rodrigo Borgia, was quite happy to issue bulls setting up a line of demarcation from pole to pole about 230 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands. Spain got everything west of the line and Portugal got everything east of it. Sounds fair right? Not so much.
The line that was drawn gave all of Central America and the majority of South America to Spain. King John II of Portugal recognized this was a complete disaster for his country. The way the line was drawn, Portugal would not even have sufficient room at sea for their African voyages. The two parties met at Tordesillas, in northwest Spain, to try to hammer out a compromise. However, even the compromise was horrible for Portugal. The line moved to 1,185 miles west of the Cape Verde Island. This allowed Portugal to claim the coast of Brazil, but that was about it. This new version of the line was sanctioned by Pope Julius II in 1506. Another problem was this treaty omitted any other European powers. By this time both France and England were interested in grabbing a piece of the New World, especially after they saw the gold and silver flowing in from Central and South America. However, per the Treaty of Tordesillas no one but Spain and Portugal were allowed. Conveniently, everyone else simply ignored this treaty. England became Protestant anyway, so they got the doubly sweet deal of thumbing their nose at the Pope while exploring the New World.
The line was adjusted a few more times- once at the Treaty of Zaragoza in 1529 and again at the Treaty of San Ildefonzo in 1777. In the Treaty of San Ildefonzo, Spain ceded territories in Brazil, mainly in the Amazon Basin, to Portugal in return for Uruguay. However because of the original treaty, Portugal was limited to one colony- Brazil. Once Brazil gain its independence in 1820, Portugal rapidly lost its place on the world stage. A raw deal for the country who started the Age of Exploration.
Sources available on request