In 1494, Portugal and Castile (succeeded by Spain) divided all lands outside Europe, including the newly "on-discovering" Americas, between them signing the Treaty of Tordesillas.

What were the biggest and well-organized European powers at that moment? We know now that this Treaty was not followed by England (and Great Britain), The Netherlands, France, among others.

I would like to know what these or other powers said at the time of this deal. Did they send letters of reproval? Did their political/military/citizens make sarcastic remarks since Portugal and Spain were being too greedy?

  • 6
    Two interesting scholarly articles on the treaty follow: thehistoryreader.com/medieval-history/… and opil.ouplaw.com/view/10.1093/law:epil/9780199231690/… – Pieter Geerkens Jul 25 '15 at 4:24
  • Basically the reaction was first to ignore; second to flaunt violations of (ie Drake and Hawkins and Raleigh); and third to negotiate a more comprehensive document that began the process of laying out the doctrines of "freedom of the seas" and "international waters". – Pieter Geerkens Jul 25 '15 at 4:26
  • IIRC The English told the Spanish something to the effect that "the Pope had no authority to give or take away kingdoms." Neither England no France were willing to accept the treaty at all; Spain even tried to bribe France with Milan to no avail. – Semaphore Jul 25 '15 at 17:16
  • @PieterGeerkens Good material, thanks :-) As it is quite large I am still reviewing it. Anyway, we can know now that other powers eventually disrespected it. I would like to know if it was silently ignored at first. Diplomacy has evolved a lot since them, but a complete silence would mean that it was quite inexistent at that time, right? – curiouser Jul 25 '15 at 19:09
  • @Semaphore do you know when the English (and BTW which English precisely) said that? If it was said let's say before 1500, your comment fits as one of the respones to this question :-) – curiouser Jul 25 '15 at 19:09

The reactions to the Treaty by the other powers were far from swift. On one hand, communication was slow and untrustworthy, on the other hand the New World was much smaller (as mentioned in another answer).

England (still Catholic) suffered from the consequences of the Wars of the Roses (1455 - 1485) and had not yet the resources.

France was suffering from the Hundred Years' War and the war against Burgundy.

Aragon concentrated in the Mediterranean (Sicily, Naples) and Venice had eyes only for the Turk.

So, the reactions came later. For instance, the quote from Francis I is absolutely not contemporary as he was born in 1494. It's a very popular quote but a part that it seems to be a reaction to an ambassador of Charles V in 1520 or 1530, I couldn't find the source, even though I looked in the French National Library site and elsewhere.

Later reactions came from England with Cabot and France with Cartier but that's outside of the question.

Information on the countries , from: Bennassar, Bartolomé. « Tordesillas: el primer reparto del mundo. » Política Exterior, nᵒ 25 (1992). http://www.politicaexterior.com/articulos/politica-exterior/tordesillas-el-primer-reparto-del-mundo/.

  • What do you mean by "untrustworthy" comunication? – curiouser Jul 27 '15 at 20:07
  • Let's say that formal diplomatic communication between states would be slow but reliable. Other sources of information would be rumours and word of mouth. There were no mass media, no social communication. Information was scarce and travelled through a lot of individuals without multiple and different distortions (and probably the information was already wrong or incomplete at the source). I hope that I'm being clear. – Gil Oliveira Jul 28 '15 at 12:21
  • 1
    Not sure I can agree with the claim regarding England: By 1497 John Cabot had already discovered the Grand Banks and claimed what later becomes Newfoundland for Henry VII. It seems much more likely that England, at least, simply ignored the Treaty. – Pieter Geerkens Feb 8 '18 at 14:59
  • It’s not like the treaty was enforceable. Even though it had very wide claims, it was more of a Portuguese-Spanish affair. – Gil Oliveira Feb 9 '18 at 16:21

In 1494, there was no newspapers, no internet and no Netherlands. The "new world" at that time meant just a couple of islands about which population of England and France knew nothing. Neither they knew or cared about the treaty. So probably they did not react in any way on this treaty. Later, as more was discovered, and some countries expanded their overseas activity, and started to compete with Spain and Portugal, they did not recognize the treaty. Probably the most important consequence of this treaty was that Brasil (discovered only in 1500) became Portuguese.

  • 1
    If I am not mistaken there was Netherlands but they belonged to Spain (and thus, were part of Spain) – Bregalad Jul 25 '15 at 10:08
  • Rectification, they were gained by Spain in 1549, so yeah, they belonged to the Habsbourgs before that, so there was Netherlands in 1494. – Bregalad Jul 25 '15 at 10:15
  • Independently of Netherlands status at 1494 I would like to know what they or other powers at that time said about the Treaty. We can say a lot of other things beyond the question (like "There was not UN..").. but I hardly see how it helps to answer this question. – curiouser Jul 27 '15 at 0:18
  • The Netherlands were not part of Spain but ruled in personal union by the same monarch. – JTM May 26 '18 at 18:41

In 1497 John Cabot (aka Giovanni Caboto) claimed the Grand Banks off Newfoundland for England in the name of Henry VII.

In 1524 I of France commissioned Giovanni da Verrazzano to explore the coast of North America from Florida to the St. Lawrence. Ten years later, in 1534, Francis commissioned Jacques Cartier to explore the coast of Newfoundland and the St. Lawrence River further.

  • Did John Cabot (or Henry VII, or Francis I, or anyone...) reference the Treaty of Tordesillas? Of course this expeditions and claims implies disrespect to the Treaty. I am interested to know how evolved were Diplomacy or let's say International Public Relations at that time :-) – curiouser Jul 27 '15 at 0:10
  • 1
    @curiouser: For much of the last 1000 years European monarchies have treated the world as a giant "boys only" playground. When one or two of the bigger boys are playing at one end and claim the whole field for themselves as "private territory", the point of the game for everyone else doesn't have to actually be spoken - it is simply to see who can flaunt the claim most boisterously without getting beat up. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 27 '15 at 0:14
  • Interesting. If it is true it raises another question: what were the point of a public Treaty like this at first place? If we move time let's say 460 years forward (1954), if USA and URSS (or maybe the big 5 of the UN Security Council) divided Antartica and the rest of the not yet human-dominated Universe between them, a lot of complains(and sarcastic remarks) would be heard. Not only of emerging powers but of little countries too, I guess. My point of doubt: if international law or international public relations were so weak at that time why bother to try to legitimate it with a Treaty? – curiouser Jul 27 '15 at 0:33
  • @curiouser: At its core the treaty was an agreement between Spain and Portugal, mediated by the Pope. Both Spain and Portugal abided by it for considerable time forward, because the good will from doing so was greater than what could e gained from violations. However the absurdity of locking everyone else out by fiat was just that. Additionally, there was no mass media 5oo years ago. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 27 '15 at 1:19
  • 2
    If you are dividing up the world by fiat, it is supposed that you could survive some sarcastic remarks in the mass media. – Oldcat Jul 27 '15 at 23:05

There is a famous quote attributed to Francis I of France: "The sun shines on me just as on the other: and I should like to see the clause in Adam's will that cuts me out of my share in the New World." See, e.g., Arciniega, Caribbean Sea of the New World.

  • 1
    Precisely when did Francis I say that? – curiouser Jul 27 '15 at 0:01
  • 2
    Francis I was born in 1494, the same year that the treaty is signed. I'm sure if he did say that, it would be much later when he was adult. – user69715 Nov 3 '15 at 17:16
  • 2
    He is reputed to have said it in the 1520s, around the time he sent Verrazano to the Americas. – JTM May 26 '18 at 18:45

At that time, the "known" world was smaller than it is today (Columbus thought Cuba was part of "India," which is why he (mis-named) the native Americans "Indians.")

No one had any real idea of the "Americas" in 1494. They thought that "unknown" world was just a few islands, and the Treaty of Tordeseilles drew a line that gave Portugal the "islands" (Brazil!) east of the line, and Spain the islands west of it. They thought that everything else was "spoken for," which is why people didn't complain until they found out "differently," decades later.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.