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On This Day… The Treaty Of Tordesillas

Written by: George Chittenden : 21 Jul 2019

It was on this day, 7th June back in 1494 when Spain and Portugal divided the New World with a document known as the Treaty of Tordesillas. At some stage you’ve probably wondered why some South American countries speak Portuguese and some speak Spanish, well this is the reason why. Following the return of Christopher Columbus and his crew from their voyage of discovery in 1492, a dispute arose regarding ownership of the lands he’d discovered. His voyage had been funded by the Crown of Castile, the Spanish, but Columbus stopped off in Lisbon before returning to Spain and during his visit he informed the Portuguese King, John II of his discovery. King John wasn’t too happy as he believed that according to another treaty, the Treaty of Alcáçovas signed in 1479, all of the lands Columbus had discovered actually belonged to Portugal.

So, King John threatened to sail an armada to the new lands in order to take possession of them. At the time the Spanish held no military power in the Atlantic that could match the Portuguese, so they decided on a deal. It has to be said that at the time both parties knew little of the actual geography of the New World. Decades late yet another treaty, the Treaty of Zaragoza, would more accurately carve up South America. However, the Treaty of Tordesillas divided the newly discovered lands outside of Europe between the Portuguese Empire and the Crown of Castile, along a meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands. The treaty had a huge effect on shaping the world we all live in. Without the treaty, both nations would have spent resources fighting each other, and would have never been as successful in their overseas operations.

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