The Treaty of Tordesillas, signed by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain and the King John II of Portugal on 7 June 1494, is perhaps the most significant treaty in human history. It put an end to the conflicts between Castile and Portugal in their Atlantic expansion, dividing the newly discovered lands between the two kingdoms along a meridian of demarcation in the Atlantic. The lands to the east of that line would belong to Portugal, and the lands to the west to Castile.
This manuscript document is a fundamental source for the history of the modern period, and its impact reaches even the present world. The Treaty of Tordesillas changed the world for the next six centuries.
The Most Important Official Document of the Early Modern Period
Although it is known as the Treaty of Tordesillas, there are in fact two treaties: the Spanish version and the Portuguese one. The copies are held in the National Archive of Torre do Tombo in Lisbon, under the shelfmark Gaveta 17, mç. 2, doc. 24, and in the National Archive of the Indies in Seville, under the shelfmark Patronato, 1, N.6, R.2.
Each of the treaties is formed by eight folios written on parchment, and their state of preservation is excellent. The cortesana-style script is homogeneous in the whole document, which was written by one single and very skilled hand.
The text is clean, since there are no notes in the margins and no corrections to the text were made. In fact, the only inscriptions outside the text are the signatures of the monarchs. The most elaborate script of the manuscript is the name of the Catholic Monarchs, “Don Fernando e Doña Ysabel”, at the beginning of the document.
The quality of the manuscript, as well as the elegance and the high accuracy of the script, indicate the high skills of the scribe, as well as the great importance of this document.
A Document That Changed the World
After the first voyages of Christopher Columbus to the New World, the Crowns of Portugal and Castile disputed the sovereignty of the newly founded lands. In 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued the bull Inter Caetera, which established an imaginary line of demarcation one hundred leagues west from the Azores and Cape Verde Islands. The bull granted the lands west of that line to the Kings of Castile, while those east of it were given to the King of Portugal.
The King of Portugal was not satisfied with that decision, arguing that too little land was granted to him. To solve this problem, both Crowns agreed to the Treaty of Tordesillas, signed in that city, near Valladolid, on 7 June 1494.
According to the treaty, the line of demarcation was moved 270 leagues west; thus, it was now located about 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands. The non-Christian lands which were located to the east of that line would be granted to Portugal, since Castile gained the lands to the west. This line would shape the modern world through the centuries, being the basis of several disputes between the two kingdoms and having a fundamental influence in the political development of the world.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Tordesillas Treaties": Acta de los tratados de Tordesillas I y II facsimile edition, published by Testimonio Compañía Editorial, 1990Request Info / Price