The Marquis of Pombal was an 18th century Portuguese statesman. He was the Secretary of the State of the Kingdom of Portugal and the Algarves (the equivalent to a today's Prime Minister) to Joseph I of Portugal from 1750 to 1777. He distinguished himself by his swift action following the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and policies to improve Portugal’s economy. He weakened the grip of the Inquisition and had the Jesuits expelled.
The term Pombaline is used to describe not only his tenure, but also the architectural style which formed after the great earthquake.
David Birmingham in ‘A Concise History of Portugal’, (Cambridge University Press, 1996) describes his role as follows:
“Pombal’s social reforms designed to open the way to new economic prosperity went beyond the field of education. He recognised that one burden which held Portugal back was still the institutionalised persecution of all Portuguese of Jewish descent. He therefore outlawed racial discrimination and determined that New Christians should be given genuine legal equality with Old Christians. In order to carry out such a radical change he had to confront the Inquisition. This he did by virtually abolishing its church role and turning it into a state tribunal.”
The classic true or apocryphal story about him was that
King José I was considering a proposal by the Portuguese Inquisition which required New Christians (descendants of Jews) to wear yellow hats so they could be identified in public. The Marquis of Pombal objecting to discriminatory measures, arrived in court carrying three yellow hats. The King asked who they were for and Pombal replied: “One for me, one for you and one for the Chief Inquisitor”. And there the matter rested. He broke the power of the Inquisition in the late eighteenth century, though it wasn’t abolished until 1821.
´I know their interests better than they do themselves, and the interests of the whole kingdom´
´I KNOW THEIR INTERESTS BETTER THAN THEY DO THEMSELVES, AND THE INTERESTS OF THE WHOLE KINGDOM The Marquis of Pombal, Algarve History Association Lynne Booker
In his determination to control the commerce of the kingdom and its colonies, Pombal created chartered companies in Brazil and Asia, in tobacco, fishing and whaling, and port wine. When the Lisbon Chamber of Commerce protested about the founding of the Brazilian company, Pombal had the Chamber dissolved and several members imprisoned or exiled. When Oporto innkeepers protested against the privileges of the new Douro wine company, Pombal ensured that 17 of them were hanged, and another 160 were either sent to the galleys, imprisoned, fined or deported. At the same time, Pombal knew that one of the greatest obstacles to his economic reforms was the conservative nobility who had tolerated heretical British merchants but opposed the emergence of a Portuguese merchant class. He decided to ´divide and rule´. Some aristocrats were given preferment and favours - making them loyal dependents of his system, while others were singled out for persecution ´of a barbarity almost unequalled until the executions of the French Revolution ...´ (D. Birmingham). Following one of D José´s amorous adventures with the marquesa de Távora, someone took a pot shot at the king. Pombal siezed his chance to humble his aristocratic opponents. Blaming the Távoras for the assault on the monarch, Pombal succeeded in extinguishing the whole family. The marquês deTávora himself was broken on the wheel while his wife was forced to watch the execution of their children. A thousand more alleged enemies of the king were imprisoned. Pombal had no more opposition from the old aristocracy.
In a second step towards establishing a climate in which to introduce ´enlightened´reforms, Pombal determined to rid his country of one of the most influential forces in Catholic Europe and the Iberian Empires - the Society of Jesus. He drove them from their traditional place of influence as confessors of the royal family and threatened to establish an autonomous national church if the Vatican opposed him. He closed monasteries and Jesuit schools; he confiscated the Jesuits´colonial possessions and eventually all their priests were expelled from Portuguese territory. In his book ´Deducção Chronológica´ Pombal showed that all Portugal´s economic, social, political and religious ills were directly or indirectly due to the Jesuits working in accordance to a secret masterplan drawn up in 1540. A Portuguese equivalent of ´The Thoughts of Chairman Mão´and “The da Vinci Code”, this book and other anti-Jesuit propaganda were required reading for all state officials. It was Pombal´s ambition to have the Society of Jesus internationally suppressed, and indeed it was suppressed in Western Europe until 1814.