King Manuel I (1469 - 1521)
The fourteenth King of Portugal, Manuel I was the ninth child of the Infante Fernando and Dona Brites. He was born on 31 May 1469 in Alcochete.
After the death of his brother Diogo, Manuel was made Duke of Beja, Lord of Viseu, Covilhã and Vila Viçosa, Governor of the Order of Christ and Constable of the Realm.
Due to the death of Crown Prince Afonso, Manuel was proclaimed king in Alcácer do Sal on 27 October 1495.
In 1497 he married Afonso's widow, Isabel. Three years later he married the Infanta Maria of Castile. In 1518 he took his third wife, Leonor (Eleanor), the sister of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor.
As a politician, he protected the interests of Portugal in an approach based on affirmation of national prestige. His reign of 26 years began at a time when Portugal was preparing to reach the high point of its history - the period of the Discoveries. Manuel benefited much from the work of his predecessor, João II, who sowed the seeds for the great expeditions of Vasco da Gama, in 1498 and 1500 respectively.
With Manuel I's reign we see the beginnings of a modern state, with great diplomatic activity at the interior and foreign policy level. The splendour of his embassy to Pope Leo X in 1513 has been recorded for history.
Manuel favoured strong and centralised governance. He immediately convened the Cortes or national assembly in Montemor-o-Novo when he ascended to the throne. He did so again in 1498, 1499 and 1502 in Lisbon.
At the assembly in Montemor-o-Novo, Manuel adopted measures aimed at greater centralisation of the whole state administration; he had privileges, freedoms and writs of grace and favour confirmed by the kingdom's leading men of letters. He reformed the higher courts and adopted a policy of tolerance in relation to noblemen who emigrated for political reasons. In 1496 he expelled from Portugal all Jews who refused to be baptised.
As far as cultural matters are concerned, he implemented university education, reforming the university and establishing, between 1500 and 1504, new study plans and a new school administration system.
He promoted the construction of important monuments that celebrated the magnificence of his reign; these include the intervention he sponsored at the Convent of Christ.
It was during Manuel's reign that the Convent, which was the seat of the Order of Christ, of which Manuel was governor, underwent one of its largest works campaigns. The campaign included the transformation of the Templar Charola into the church's high altar.
A new entrance to the church was also created - the South Portal - and work on the original Main Cloister was begun.
Manuel I brought in some of the greatest artists and craftsmen of the period to work at the Convent of Christ. Of these, for their importance in terms of history of the Convent's architecture, one should highlight João de Castilho and Diogo de Arruda.
Manuel I died in Lisbon on 13 December 1521. He was laid to rest in the Jerónimos Monastery there.