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Book cover

3 The political apparatus
of Luanda and Lisbon
at the end of the Ancien Régime

José Subtil


This text does not intend to compare the town of Lisbon and Luanda, as this would be proper to a greater debate on the empire, with a comparative analysis of Brazilian cities. The objective of our analysis is only to evaluate the administrative resources of each câmara municipal and their jurisdictional scope to exercise power in their territories. This will reveal the enormous difference between the two towns, emphasizing the problems of disease and mortality that involved the royal service in Luanda. What we know about the administrative resources of Luanda is very little; it virtually boils down to the works of Maria Goretti Leal Soares referred to throughout the text. Therefore, we chose to make use of symbolic resources much worked on by Catarina Santos (see bibliography).

The second half of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century corresponded to a singular period of reforms in the Kingdom, with consequences in the overseas domains (Hespanha, 2001). Comparing the political apparatus of Lisbon, head of the Kingdom and the Empire (see Santos, 2008; Hespanha, 1998), with Luanda, capital of the Angola colony, allows us to unveil the signs of this reform and its weaknesses (Hespanha, 2001 and 2006).

By political apparatus we mean the central government instruments (bodies, bureaucracy, political decision-making, actors, and demography) and the peripheral mechanisms of power, such as city councils, courts, charities, prisons, missions and schools, as well as the security and military forces; in the case of Angola, especially, we also refer to symbolic powers.

After the 1755 earthquake, the plan to rebuild Lisbon changed the urban configuration. It defined a new political territory whose centrality became the new Terreiro do Paço, from which a political system illuminated by the Police State emerged (Monteiro, 2010; Subtil, 2020). The reform attempted in the African colony was ultimately unsuccessful, and Angola returned to the situation of abandonment and disorder it had been in at the beginning of the reign of King Joseph I (Cruz, 2015; 2014).

In a letter dated3 June, 1792, sent to the Secretário de Estado do Reino José de Seabra da Silva, his cousin Manuel de Almeida e Vasconcelos, governor of Angola, described the chaotic, ruinous state of the colony and asked for help: “Under such principles and circumstances, it is very difficult to achieve the successes which I tirelessly promote and desire, if His Majesty does not help me and Your Excellency should stop helping me with Your Protection and Wise Instructions” [1]. The same complaint was made four years later by the juiz de fora (external royal magistrate) of Luanda, Félix Correia de Araújo, who, in another letter to the Secretary of State, chose to resign for disagreeing with the disastrous governance. For his part, the most reformist of governors, Francisco Inocêncio de Sousa Coutinho, wrote to the Secretário de Estado dos Negócios da Marinha e Domínios Ultramarinos, Francisco Xavier de Mendonça Furtado, brother of the Conde (Count) of Oeiras, to tell him that he “deserved the Royal and innate Clemency of His Majesty, so that I can have my bones buried in a more benign and pious land, because this one has consumed the most of me”.[2]

The aim of this paper is to compare the development of the cities of Lisbon and Luanda at the end of the Ancien Régime, emphasizing the fact that Angola was unable to carry out reforms and obtain a strategic place in the pluri-continental system of the Portuguese Empire. We present a political analysis of the two cities, the reforms and their limitations, from the second half of the 18th century until the period of the last reformist governor (1802), Miguel António de Melo (Conde (Count) of Murça).[3]

I. Luanda, a city averse to change

At the end of the 18th century, in the aftermath of the Enlightenment reforms, the city of Luanda had a population of 1,200 soldiers and militarized citizens, a hundred bureaucrats, and another 5,712 individuals: 521 white, 1,022 pardos (mixed-race) and 4,169 blacks. From this group, 5,340 were single, 244 were married and 128 were widowed. The whites were less than 10%, black people stood close to 75%, and the pardos accounted for about 15%, with slaves representing about 35% of the population. This demographic picture shows us an indigenous, illiterate city, lacking in family nuclearization, with difficulties to assimilate the European cultural model, and weak capacities for development. The situation became more acute in the mid-18th century, although we do not have viable data for that period (Soares, 2003, 2004).

Magistrate Francisco Xavier Peçanha characterized this situation as “Portuguese acculturation,” dominated by the use of the Ambundo language instead of Portuguese, even among the white people, who spoke “Portuguese as guests and Ambundo as Africans.” This assessment was corroborated by D. António Álvares da Cunha: “It comes as a surprise to see that this city, though full of ministers of God, temples, preachers, and European men, has forgotten the religion, language and customs of our nation; because none of this exists in these miserable people, their customs are barbaric, their language is Ambundo, and their Law is pagan”.[4]

Besides the problem of the emigration of whites, due to the travel’s high mortality rate and the disabling illnesses caused by the environment and the climate, there was the issue of the “Africanization” of the white population, which explained the social concern with the distinction between mulattos, pardos, fuscos and blacks, and the progressive admittance of mulattos and pardos into the government, the military forces and the administration. Miscegenation was, therefore, the only way to increase the population and make it subordinate to colonial political power; the missionaries, however, said that the majority did not want to be baptized and kept the indigenous language and customs. The demographic “program” of Governor Francisco Inocêncio de Sousa Coutinho, which did not achieve the expected success, included promoting marriage to undercut the high celibacy rate by granting farms and matrimonial dowries to overcome “the rejection of marriage due to the lack of means (…) and to produce a kind of nuptial enthusiasm” (Delgado, 1960).[5]

The lack of Portuguese natives was reflected, naturally, in the political and social characterization of the formation of local elites, despite the efforts to educate and prepare the locals. For example, in the premises left by the Jesuits after their expulsion, a school for boys was created as “the kindest way to bring barbarian peoples into civilization.” The school was divided into two classes: one for the poorest, whether blacks, mulattoes or whites, and another one for those in a better economic position. The same occurred with “poor girls who were daughters of white Christian parents or blacks, or rich coming from rich families, so that they could learn the Christian Doctrine, how to read and write Portuguese, and at least spin, cut, knit, cook, and learn home economics to manage the family, at least for those from Luanda and of Benguela.”

The political apparatus reflects this structural insufficiency that blocked the development of the Africans. Let’s start with the political and judicial institutions. The central government in Luanda was based on three fundamental pillars. The first was formed by the governor, his assistant for military affairs and the secretary of state. The second pillar was made up of government Juntas, the Junta de Justiça Criminal (including the governor, the ouvidor/geral and the juiz de fora, who heard appeals to the Casa da Suplicação), the Junta das Finanças (composed of the governor, the magistrate and the juiz de fora), the Junta do Comércio (the Trade Board with merchants and traders) and, most importantly, the Junta de Estado (comprising the governor, the ouvidor, the bishop, and the military commander). The third institutional axis was formed by an organic network that included the Casa dos Contos (1783), the Terreiro Público (1761) and the Customs House (1784).

The other nucleus of “central” power, the judicial, included the group of judges of law, the juiz de fora —who presided over the municipal Senate—,the court of first instance —which dealt with civil and criminal cases—, and the general magistrate—who also worked as royal magistrate and presided over the Ouvidoria.

These institutions were administratively supported by a small group of about eighty bureaucrats, including officers, clerks, writers, treasurers and notaries.

1. The executive power

The instructions given to governor Aires de Saldanha de Meneses e Sousa (1676) remained valid until the end of the Ancien Régime, with guidelines on catechization, provision of officials and religious persons, conservation of churches, discipline of the captains-general, control of “beatings.,” ,”There were specific commands for conflicts, such as “to bring to my obedience all the rulers through gentle means and without rigor” (Carvalho, 2013). Another aspect had to do with military matters and ordinances; for instance, decreeing that soldiers “should take their weapons and perform military exercises on Sundays and Holy Days, as you see fit.”

These procedural rules guided the governors’ terms of office, but some problems remained unresolved, such as the replacement issue: under normal circumstances, it took about six months until the arrival of a new governor. However, in cases of sudden deaths or permanently disabling accidents, the substitution process posed political problems that were resolved through the creation of triumvirates. This figure would eventually be enshrined in law by the Secretário de Estado da Marinha e Domínios Ultramarinos, Martinho de Melo e Castro (Licence of 12 December 1770). They consisted of the highest religious authority, the highest ranked military officer, and the highest ranked magistrate.

This actually occurred several times. Before Conde do Lavradio took office (1749), a triumvirate with a bishop, a sergeant-major and the ouvidor-geral (a magistrate with jurisdiction in a territory donated by the king) was formed. The same happened in the period between José Gonçalo da Câmara Coutinho’s death (December 19, 1782) the Baron of Moçâmedes acceptance of the office, when two triumvirates were formed: the first until May 23, 1783 (bishop, ouvidor-geral and colonel) and the second until September 8, 1784 due to the death of the colonel and the resignation of the ouvidor-geral.

Chart I shows the list of governors and their terms of office. No governor left the group of magistrates, except António Álvares da Cunha, future Count of Cunha, judge of the Court of Bahia and, later, of the Porto Appeal Court and the Casa da Suplicação, ending up as Presidente do Conselho Ultramarino (President of the Overseas Council). All the rest were military and Crown grantees, noblemen of the Casa Real (Royal House) (75%) who received various royal favors.

Chart 1 – Duration of terms of office of Governors and Captains-General (1750-1802)




Duration of term of office

Count of Lavradio b)

12 January 174923 July 175353

António Álvares da Cunha c)

31 July 1753? October 175863

António de Vasconcelos

14 October 1758? June 176468

Francisco Inocêncio de Sousa Coutinho

6 June 1764? November 1772101

António de Lencastre

21 November 1772? December 177985

José Gonçalo da Câmara Coutinho

5 December 177919 December 178236 (died)


20 December 17828 September 178421

Baron of Moçâmedes a)

8 September 1784? September 179072

Manuel de Almeida e Vasconcelos d)

6 October 1790? August 179781

Miguel António de Melo e)

1 August 179724 August 1802 a)60

Average duration of terms of office

73 (one sexennium)

Source: Soares, 2003 e 2004. Notes: a) José de Almeida Vasconcelos Soveral e Carvalho; b) António de Almeida Soares de Portugal; c) Count of Cunha; d) Count of Lapa; e) Count of Murça.

The average duration for a term of office was around six consecutive years. Francisco Inocêncio de Sousa Coutinho had the largest commission (almost nine years). Only José Gonçalo da Câmara Coutinho did not complete his term of office, owing to his death.

Most of the governors’ deputies did not return to the Kingdom, and those who left Angola went to Brazil: Felisberto Caldeira Brandão Pontes went to the Bahia Regiment; José Correia de Castro was sent to the Rio de Janeiro Cavalry Regiment; José Joaquim da Silva went to the Regiment of Militias of Grão-Pará; and José da Silva Costa became Secretary of the Government of Madeira. Domingos da Fonseca Negrão, the deputy who worked along with secretary António de Campo Rego as the main supporters of Governor Francisco Inocêncio de Sousa Coutinho, never left Luanda until the end of his life.

The office of secretary of State (see Chart 2), who was responsible for government books,archives, and everyday work, was instituted in 1 April 1688. The royal appointments were for three-year periods and implied a residence permit at the end of the term of office.[6]

Chart 2 – Secretaries of State of the Kingdom of Angola (1750-1800)


Secretary of State

Service time (years)


João José de Lima



António de Campos Rego



João José Pinto de Vasconcelos



José Hilário Valadares



Francisco António Pires de Morais



Joaquim José da Silva



António de Melo Varajão


The most important of the secretaries, António de Campos Rego, had been a controversial juiz de fora in Luanda for 15 years (1748-1765) and played a crucial role in Francisco Inocêncio de Sousa Coutinho’s team. Another secretary, José Hilário de Valladares, had held various positions in Brazil and, upon ending his term in Luanda, he became Secretary of the Government of Minas Gerais.

2. Administration and justice

In 1721, the position of juiz de fora in Luanda was created. It was both a judicial and an administrative role, insofar as the post holder was the mayor of Luanda and, as a graduate judge, presided over the civil and criminal courts. As a rule, these judges held the post of magistrates for the estates of the deceased and absent. Due to their far-reaching jurisdiction, they had frequent conflicts with the ouvidor and the governor, especially on account of the captains-general who acted as first instance judges in the prisons.

Chart 3 – Juízes de fora of Luanda (1750-1800)



Years in Office


António de Campos Rego



João Delgado Xavier



Luís Ferreira de Araújo e Azeredo



António Pereira Bastos Lima Varela



Anacleto José da Mota



José Francisco de Oliveira



Jerónimo Caetano de Barros Araújo e Bessa



Félix Correia de Araújo


Chart 3 lists those who held the position. Although the average term of office was around six years, António de Campos Rego was juiz de fora for 15 years and Félix Correia de Araújo was in office for 10 years. Out of the eight office-holders, only one returned to the Kingdom and two accepted positions in Brazil: Jerónimo Caetano de Barros Araújo e Bessa was appointed magistrate of Elvas (1800) and subsequently became judge of the Relação of Porto (1806), of the Casa da Suplicação (1823), and Advisor to the Council of Finance (1827). José Francisco de Oliveira became judge of the Relaçãos of Bahia (1794) and Porto (1803). Luís Ferreira de Araújo e Azevedo was an ouvidor in Brazil (1779), ending up as judge of the Relação of Bahia (1791). All of these juízes de fora had held no offices prior to their appointment, which means that they were unexperienced judges looking for an opportunity and a professional “adventure.”

The case of the ouvidor-geral’s position (see Chart 4) was different, as these were magistrates with ample professional experience. This explains and justifies why they were granted favors and promotions. Due to the lack of magistrates, the ouvidores always assumed their functions.

The first ouvidor-geral was appointed in February 2, 1609. The order of June 23, 1751 prevailed until the Liberal Revolution (1820).

Chart 4 – Ouvidores-Gerais (1750-1800)



Years in Office


Manuel da Silva Leal



João Baptista de Oliveira Baena



Manuel Pinto da Cunha e Sousa



Joaquim José Coutinho Mascarenhas



Joaquim Manuel Garcia de Castro Barbosa



Francisco Xavier de Lobão Machado Pessanha



João Álvares de Melo



António Rodrigues da Cunha


Just like the juízes de fora, the average terms of office of the ouvidores lasted six consecutive years, although João Baptista de Oliveira Baena, Manuel Pinto da Cunha e Sousa and João Álvares de Melo far surpassed it, with three trienniums in office.

All ouvidores-gerais were magistrates and played a very important role in the control and audit of the royal accounts, ensuring the good collection of revenues, and preventing corruption and money thefts. Regarding administrative resources, there were close to eight hundred employees, including royal officials, secretaries, deputies, magistrates, different types of clerks, treasurers, and notaries. To address the situation of documentary chaos, the governor-judge of appeal D. António Alvares da Cunha started a major reform (1753-1758). He ordered the magistrate to carry out an inventory of the registry and assigned a house next to his palace to store the archive. He gave instructions to collect all documents in the custody of cavalry captains, later extending these measures to other branches of the administration.

His reform was continued by Francisco Inocêncio de Sousa Coutinho, who created the office of bookkeeper and drew up a document classification plan. He informed the Count of Oeiras that “I found the Secretariat of this Government with many papers (…). I now have a clear index (…) so that nothing will be said about my time that cannot be accounted for” (Soares, 2003, p.50).

3. The government of the periphery

The model adopted for the government of indigenous communities had no precedent, which is why the development of Angola was unique. This singularity had to do with two uncontrollable realities: first, the independence of indigenous communities, and second, the fragile resources of domination and the poor geographic knowledge of the territory.

The captains-general formed the base structure of the government on the periphery (Couto, 1972), and in their fortified presídios (prisons), occupied by troops (Santos, 2012, pp. 127-148), they exercised ordinary jurisdiction beyond the administration of the territory. As they were, for the most part, illiterate, they worked with an assistant appointed by the governor-general. Their judgments also had to be confirmed by the Junta das Missões, where indigenous representatives sat. At the beginning of the 19th century, there were six prisons and eight unfortified districts.

On February 24, 1765, Francisco Inocêncio de Sousa Coutinho changed the rules of the captains-general to force compliance with royal orders and satisfy new political needs, since the excesses practiced by these officers caused discomfort among the African chiefs. In the same vein, on August 12, 1782, the Secretário de Estado da Marinha e dos Domínios Ultamarinos, Martinho de Melo e Castro, ordered the governor of Angola to act against the captains-general “due to their evil behavior, and to expel those appointed by that government (…) and suspend those appointed by His Majesty.” At the same time, he changed the formula used in the residency records, notably attributing a supervisory function to new captains-general perform a true audit of the outgoing office-holders.

However, any effective control strategy was conditioned by the fact that most of these officers were born in Angola, came from the military ranks, and were appointed by the governor-general, coupled with the unappealing character of the position. This contributed to the fragility of the royal power in the periphery.

4. The military

With the African colony permanently at war over the capture of slaves and the need to control indigenous communities, the military and the militia proved to be the main force in maintaining peace and security for the governors, magistrates and administrative staff.

These military forces were divided into three groups. The first group was largely formed by whites and Portuguese commandos, including the Luanda Cavalry and Artillery Regiment and the personnel of the city’s forts (Santo Amaro, São Miguel, Nossa Senhora da Guia and São Filipe do Penedo). The second group, which assisted the first-line troops, was made up of blacks and was commanded by indigenous chiefs. Finally, there were the ordenanças, groups of civilians with military training that enforced security in the city through patrols and police surveillance.

Following Francisco Inocêncio de Sousa Coutinho’s major military reforms, the general framework comprised: i) four companies of ordenanças, totaling about two hundred men; ii) seven hundred first-line troops, combining artillery and cavalry; iii) the militias, with about three hundred troops. The total number of these soldiers was close to 1,200, counting the military and militarized civilians, which represented a quarter of Luanda’s population. For every four inhabitants, one was either military or militarized (Soares, 2003, p. 47).

In addition, there were approximately two hundred soldiers housed in the prison fortresses under the command of the captains-general, though lacking in resources and with very poor discipline, according to the information given by the governors general.

5. Symbolic domination

All of the aforementioned shows us a colony implanted in the city of Luanda, with weak demographic resources and regulation, control and repression mechanisms. These weaknesses were counteracted by practices of political and cultural inculcation, using the violence of symbolic power that proved essential for colonial domination (Santos, 2005).

This included the intellectual appropriation of space through inventories and cartographic representations, and the imposition of writing as a way to legitimize political communication, especially in markets, missions and prisons. The markets inculcated the knowledge of accounting skills through clerks. The missions (Capuchins, Jesuits and Carmelites) Christianized through the use of the Portuguese language, even if rudimentary, to promote songs, biblical readings and catechism (Santos, 2009, pp. 767-795). And the prisons signed agreements and contracts with the indigenous people, emphasizing the formalization of written documents.

In general, the quantification and systematization of information, cartography and the archives constituted symbolic resources to expand the areas under the influence of military prisons, stimulating economic development and bureaucratization, which led the indigenous peoples to abandon their “so-called barbarous lifestyles” (Santos, 2010, p. 3).

The intellectual appropriation was effected through the mapping of the territory and the production of a new colonial space based on statistics, information quantification, bureaucratic organization and technology standardization. The cartography and bureaucracy on which this process was based exhibited, at times, an unusual quality level for a colony.

The most relevant aspect, the development of cartography, began with governor D. Antonio Álvares da Cunha (1753-1758) and culminated a few years later with a collection of maps known as the Atlas de Angola, a fundamental step for political action (Santos, 2014). The map made in 1790 by engineer Luís Cândido Pinheiro Furtado is a paramount example of the intellectual appropriation of this territory (Coutinho, 2010; Madureira, 1992).

As for the bureaucratic system, Secretário de Estado (Secretary of State) Francisco Xavier de Mendonça Furtado reformed the administrative communication system between the Kingdom and the colony in 1766, based on three types of workflows: i) political communication; ii) military affairs; iii) financial issues. This classification of circuits forced each administrative report to be organized by subject and produced according to forms and tables (for instance, population composition, baptisms, marriages, deaths and causes of death, state of agriculture and mineral resources). These practices are well reflected in the discovery of archives kept by indigenous communities, which demonstrate the willingness of the sobas to validate their agreements and seek the political recognition of the government of Luanda.

However, the most emblematic symbolic power was undoubtedly the undamento (Couto, 1972)[7], an act of vassalage that took place after the elections for indigenous chiefs. This procedure was intended, on the one hand, to confirm the choices of the sobas and, on the other hand, to seal an act of fidelity and obedience from the indigenous rulers to the Portuguese Crown. The soba was invested in the vassalage by the captain-general of the respective prison, thereafter enjoying political and military protection, and the offer of social peace with the authorities of Luanda and with the sobados. This unilateral recognition caused discomfort within the indigenous communities towards the undado (Santos, 2006) as, in most cases, the captains-general imposed the sobas themselves on the indigenous peoples or rigged the elections to favor some factions of the sobados, although they were always warned that “elections should be carried out according to custom and to their formality and will”.[8]

In conclusion, it can be said that contact with written language and forms of symbolic domination became binding expressions of colonial power, an “ideologically manipulable technology” insofar as it implied learning, practice and dissemination among indigenous rulers. It enabled their submission as vassals of the King of Portugal, avoiding war and to the use of military and financial means that the Crown did not have (Santos, 2006). The mapping of the territory also allowed the design of a political area imagined as an appropriated and represented colonial space. The acts of vassalage culminated, therefore, in the peaceful submission of the indigenous communities and functioned as links to the Crown.

II. Lisbon, a city in transformation

1. Demographic and political centrality

The city of Lisbon, head of the Kingdom and, hence, of the Empire, represented a different urban reality. With a population that had been increasing since the 16th century and a marked expansion of the urban perimeter, it had between 110 and 120 thousand inhabitants (including greater Lisbon) at the beginning of the 18th century. After the 1755 earthquake, it experienced a profound housing and political change (Subtil, 2007a and 2007b).

Before the earthquake, we can distinguish three geographic circles with their own political-administrative specificities. The first circle corresponded to a river front between Belém and Xabregas, with a northern boundary in S. Sebastião da Pedreira. The central nucleus of the city was corresponded to a rectangle formed between Ribeira das Naus, Sé, Portas de Santo Antão, and Mouraria. Although this territory was ruled by the city council, the entire apparatus of the royal administration was based on this perimeter. The second circle corresponded to the Court, which was “where the King is, and five leagues around it,” a diameter between 30 and 35 km with its center in Paço da Ribeira. The third circle covered the space between five and ten leagues around the Court, which corresponded to a vast territory surrounding the city, both to the north and to the south, with great mobility difficulties. This periphery, with an area of about 60 km, encompassed several municipalities around the capital and a very heterogeneous population. Both the civil and criminal magistrates of the Court had increased jurisdictional powers within this space.

After the earthquake, the city lost around 12% of its population. One of the several reports on this tragedy, Portugal Afflicted and Troubled by the earthquake of 1755, provides a detailed account of the situation in the city, particularly at the administrative and political levels, making it unique in terms of the information it provides.[9]

The reconstruction of the city transformed its urban architecture, changed political and social actors, as well as sociability practices, and gave rise to a new space of administrative centrality (Rossa, 1998). However, the city had been showing signs of urban transformation since the beginning of the 18th century, by virtue of both royal initiative and the municipal senate. This process particularly favored opening new roads, widening streets, improving circulation, and introducing codes of conduct in the Court area, beset by frequent conflicts between sedan chair and coach riders (Carreira, 2014).

As a result, from 1780 onwards, the average rate of population growth was 1.2% per year and, by the end of the century, the city had between 175 and 200 thousand inhabitants, accentuating the population imbalance with the other cities of the Kingdom (Serrão, 1993 and 1996; Pinto, 1993). The first itineraries, created at the beginning of the 19th century, show the city’s urban and demographic growth (Coutinho, 2007); they came in portable format and aimed to guide visitors and even Lisbon residents within the city. The emergence of cartographic maps and itineraries is explained by the difficulty to walk around the streets and identify places (Vidal, 2007; Lousada, 1995). These effects of urban territory growth, personalized the relationship between residents and the city.

At the administrative level, Lisbon was governed by a council with a president and six areas of responsibility: health, sanitation, construction, meat provision, wheat provision, and almotaçaria (inspection of weights and measures, and control over taxation for food prices) (Ferreira, 2014). The latter played an important role in the regulation and inspection of foodstuff, city cleanliness, prices, hoarding, and smuggling. This councilor was responsible for appointing the almotacés (officials) who exercised police authority and acted as public health agents, ensuring compliance with the council’s policies and dispositions(Fernandes, 1996 and 1999). A total of six almotacés, one for each neighborhood (Alfama, Bairro Alto, Mouraria, Ribeira, Rossio and Rua Nova), formed a network with ample effective powers within the city’s government; their appointment thus required great care and good judgment.

With regard to maritime connections, the port of Belém was supervised by a magistrate and five officials who oversaw the cargo and its state of conservation, certifying passports and, if necessary, diverting and quarantining vessels in the Trafaria lazaretto to avoid contagions and epidemics.

One of the most unique aspects of the city was that the entire political and administrative apparatus of the monarchy, including councils, courts, boards and secretaries of state (Hespanha, 2019), was housed there. This also included the headquarters of the new emerging bodies of the State Police (Subtil, 2013 and 2020). At the beginning of the 19th century, this institutional complex had around three thousand employees within specialized and stratified levels. Therefore, a large part of the city’s territory was dedicated to three jurisdictional spheres: the municipal, the Court’s territory, and the royal administration. This led to conflicts of power and the imposition of royal jurisdiction, with the monarch resolving according to circumstances and opportunities.

During the Pombal, Queen Maria and King John periods, the main overseas government office was the Secretário de Estado da Marinha e dos Domínios Ultramarinos. Chart 5 lists its successive holders, highlighting the terms of Francisco Xavier de Mendonça Furtado —who took office after returning from Brazil as governor of Maranhão and remained as Secretary until his premature death (1760-1769)— and his successor, Martinho de Melo e Castro (1770-1796). For nearly four decades, they were the architects of a reform program for Angola, relegating the Concelho Ultramarino to a diminished political position of routine bureaucratic practices, in contrast with its formerly central role in the government of the colonies, together with the Tribunal Mesa da Consciência e Ordens.

Chart 5 – Secretários de Estado da Marinha e dos Domínios Ultramarinos (1756-1801)


Secretary of State


Diogo Mendonça Corte Real (son)


Luís da Cunha Manuel


Thomé Joaquim da Costa Corte Real


Francisco Xavier de Mendonça Furtado


Martinho de Mello e Castro


Luís Pinto de Sousa Coutinho


Rodrigo de Sousa Coutinho


Visconde de Anadia

This fading out of the Concelho Ultramarino in relation to the Secretário de Estado da Marinha e dos Domínios Ultramarinos represents the most important political and institutional aspect of the reformist Enlightenment period at the end of the Ancien Régime.

2. Organization of the army and the urban police

It was in the context of the Fantastic War (1762), when Portugal declared war on Spain and France over border issues, that the Count of Lippe reorganized the army, imposing discipline and training until 1768. According to his proposal, the army should have 25 infantry regiments, one regiment of volunteers and another of the navy, 10 cavalry and 4 artillery regiments. It was only in 1796 that a war scenario (the Roussillon campaign) came up again, a harbinger of what would become the military test of the French invasions (1807). Other measures included reducing military service, increasing salaries, and reorganizing the artillery, infantry and cavalry regiments. In 1800, the military organization plan indicated that the army had 24 infantry regiments —38,400 men—, 12 cavalry regiments —5,544 men—, and five artillery regiments —6,000 men—.

Overall, the first-line troops added up to a little more than 50,000 soldiers. However, in reality, roughly half of them were enlisted (between 25 and 30 thousand). In addition, there were militias as second-line troops, comprising 34,400 paramilitaries divided into 43 regiments. The fleet had 65 high-board ships (14 ships, 23 frigates, 3 corvettes, 17 brigs, and 8 three-mast boats) with 12,560 sailors and officers, although not all posts were filled (Borges, 2008, pp. 47-60). In each municipality, the ordinances acted as one of the supporters of the local government by ensuring security.

A large part of this military potential was concentrated in Lisbon, which turned the city into a depot for arms, ammunition and troops. The capital was the seat of the military power of the Kingdom and, accordingly, suffered many organizational problems and deficiencies, mainly related to recruitment. Mobilization was weak and had serious social implications. For this reason, the waves of recruitment triggered desertion and, consequently, the growth of banditry and armed groups dispersed throughout the city’s urban areas. The reports of this instability illustrate a split between the armed forces and society that resulted in the inoperability of the army (Costa, 1995). This military environment’s influence on Lisbon at the end of the 18th century was became palpable in terms of security, the violent spectacle of the recruits, the imprisonment of deserters, growing criminality, and conflicts involving the various authorities.

The creation of the position of General Intendant of the Court and Kingdom Police (Intendente-Geral da Polícia da Corte e do Reino) through the Permit of June 25, 1760 offered a new control over crime ministers and security strategy, with the purpose of ensuring the population’s social regulation and welfare. The support services for the new intendant extended police supervision beyond the capital. This new and broad jurisdiction ended up creating serious authority conflicts with the Senate of the Lisbon City Council, the neighborhood ministers, the courts of Desembargo do Paço and Casa da Suplicação, and, outside of the city, with the various city council and royal magistrates (juízes de fora, and senior magistrates).

On December 10, 1801, the Guarda Real da Polícia de Lisboa (Royal Guard of the Lisbon Police) was created by decree, on the initiative of minister D. Rodrigo de Sousa Coutinho. It was the first professional police body, and its command was given to the Count of Novion. The headquarters were set up in the Largo do Carmo barracks, ever after at the service of the new “guards”. This police force included 638 soldiers: 424 in the eight infantry companies, 204 in the four cavalry companies, and 10 in the General Staff, with an intervention force of 227 horses. The number of military troops soon grew to 1,241 (1805) and 1,326 (1810). In addition to providing security and fighting crime, these forces played an important role in controlling smuggling, and tax and customs evasion, monitoring the flow of goods to the capital (Andrade, 2018).

After the French invasions (1807) and the liberal wars, the growth and development of the city stagnated, only to recover after the Regeneration (1851).


In the second half of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, there was a great mismatch between the urban dynamics of the towns of Lisbon and Luanda, differing in terms of structures, political apparatus, demography, elite composition, economic dimensions, and cultural models. Whereas this difference between the capital of the Empire and the African colony was somehow to be expected, its enormous dimension represents a devaluation of the city of Luanda. This was mainly for two reasons: demography and the political peripheralization caused by the slave trade.

After the earthquake, Lisbon experienced the reconstruction of an old city. This gave rise to a modern urbanity, the expansion of borders, demographic growth, and an increase of traders and merchants driven by the political program of the reformist elite. As for the town of Luanda, after experiencing the contagion of this Enlightened administration for a few years, the end of the 18th century saw its return to the decay in which it had always been immersed.

It is important to stress that Luanda’s growth impossibility was linked to the slave trade, demographic composition, climate conditions, and tropical diseases. In a different way, the interruption of the city of Lisbon’s development was caused by an external factor: the impact of the French invasions (1807). When we refer to Luanda’s reformist novelty, we want to emphasize the project of political autonomy, meant to transform Angola into a “settlement colony,” and not a mere slave trade entrepot. This project had four essential goals: a) increasing the population —especially white people— and forming a Portuguese-African elite capable of leading the modernization; b) expanding urban and rural areas in order to extend jurisdiction over the territory covered by the captains-general, who showed little interest in abdicating their prerogatives and links to the indigenous world; c) bureaucratizing the government and, at the same time, reinforcing central mechanisms; and d) making the colony economically autonomous through trade, industrialization and agriculture as an alternative to the slave trade.

However, there were many difficulties and setbacks. Demand for royal jobs was very low because of the dangers of travel, the mortality caused by disease and the weather, and, above all, the meagre financial benefits. The same reasons explained the scarce migration of white couples to reinforce the European component of the city’s urban population, making the circulation of a literate culture adapted to the royal model impossible. Therefore, there was a population of mulattos or blacks who held a variety of command and decision positions, except for the few offices of central government occupied by the white population (governor, deputy, secretary, ouvidor, juiz de fora, and magistrate). This systemic situation justified the distancing of the Crown from Luanda’s interests.

The effects on justice inequality between white and indigenous people, the violence conducted during the “civilization” process, the disagreements, oppositions and jurisdictional conflicts between the higher authorities: all of this created an unstable chart social and political environment. Replacing the power of the captains-general and transferring it to new actors to extend Luanda’s power to the most remote areas of the city was nothing but an illusion. The disciplinary mechanisms were never adequate to respond to the lack of compliance with the governor-general’s or the Luandan authorities’ decisions.

In any case, it is true that both cities shared a reformist wave that infected political and social communication between Lisbon and Luanda, attested by the transformation effort promoted by reformist governors and the Secretários de Estado da Marinha e dos Domínios Ultramarinos: Francisco Xavier de Mendonça Furtado, Martinho de Melo e Sousa, and D. Rodrigo de Sousa Coutinho. Particularly under Francisco Inocêncio de Sousa Coutinho, the Crown invested on a radical transformation to alter the stalemate of the administration, starting with changes in military command posts and dismissals of some capitães-gerais (captains-general). The same happened in the Luandan government and in the relationship between the various jurisdictional, religious and mercantile authorities. However, as this process was effected by the same groups who were involved in mutual agreements and complicity, resistance to change ended up overcoming political and administrative dynamics.


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  1. Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo, Ministério do Reino, box 708, b. 606.
  2. Idem, (16 May 1769).
  3. Studies on the colony of Angola are few and, therefore, I want to highlight two unfortunately unpublished works. The first one is the doctoral thesis by Catarina Madeira Santos (Santos, 2005), which is very far-reaching in its systematization of Pombal’s reforms and, above all, in its original use of symbolic devices. Throughout our text, we also refer to many other works by her. The second, which is an inventory of the political resources (structures and actors) of Luanda in the 18th century, is the master’s degree thesis by Maria Goretti Leal Soares (Soares, 2003 and 2004).
  4. Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino, Angola, Box 26.
  5. Letter by Francisco Inocêncio de Sousa Coutinho (16 May 1769), ANTT, Ministério do Reino, Box 708, b. 606.
  6. The archives were organized by the governor-judge, D. António Alvares da Cunha (1753-1758), who ordered the inventory of the secretariat and the notary’s documentation, creating the archive and defining the documentary series. These guidelines were reinforced in the government of Francisco Inocêncio de Sousa Coutinho, who ordered the collection and inventory of all royal documentation since 1654.
  7. The term means the “ceremony by which a vassal chief was generally confirmed in the government of the tribe by the first magistracy of the province, at the time of his election or succession” (Couto, 1972, p. 253).
  8. Letter from D. Manuel de Almeida and Vasconcelos to Lieutenant Joaquim Xavier, regent of the Pedras prison (1797), Couto, 1972: 256.
  9. See, for example, the edition of Portugal Aflito e Conturbado pelo terramoto de 1755, a project undertaken by Inês Viegas and Sara Loureiro, with scientific coordination by José Subtil and the participation of Sara Loureiro, Adelaide Brochado, and Cecília Cameiro, Lisbon, Lisbon City Council, 2005, p. 520.

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