It was on this day 329 years ago, 22 October 1689, that the future John V, King of Portugal and the Algarves, was born in Lisbon.
John was the eldest surviving son of Peter II and Maria Sofia of Neuburg; their first-born son had died in the cradle. Maria Sofia died when John was only 10, plunging him into an extended period of melancholy. He revived only when his paternal aunt, Catherine of Braganza, the widow of Charles II, returned to Portugal from England and took charge of his upbringing. He experienced great grief again when Catherine died in 1705.
John V succeeded his father in 1706, aged only 17. It was his good fortune to come to the throne just as the great river of recently discovered Brazilian gold began to flow across the Atlantic into the royal coffers. John spent it lavishly, mostly on the church. Voltaire said of him that when he wanted to build, he built a convent, and when he wanted a mistress, he took a nun. The great philosophe did not exaggerate. John built the giant convent-palace of Mafra outside of Lisbon, and he fathered 3 illegitimate children by 3 different nuns. His great preoccupation was to increase Portugal’s standing as a Catholic power. To that end, he lobbied long, hard, and successfully, for Lisbon’s archbishopric to be raised to a patriarchate, and also for his own title to be changed, by papal decree, to “His Most Faithful Majesty, the King of Portugal and the Algarves.”
To his great credit, John V also built the Lisbon aqueduct, the largest one built since Roman times. It has assured Lisbon’s water supply ever since.
Among John V’s legitimate children by his wife, Maria Anna of Austria, sister of the emperors Joseph I and Charles VI, were the future kings Joseph I and Peter III, as well as Barbara, queen consort of Spain.
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