The Tavora Affair

Gov. J. talk’d of some tepid Baths in Portugal, as particularly convenient & magnificent. Les Caldas is the Name they go by. – He went so far against Pombal, as to think the Tavora’s & Aveiro’s innocent of the famous Conspiracy, & that Pombal (then D’Oeyras) had hir’d a Man to wound the King without killing him, that he might throw the Odium on his Enemies. – He said it had been well-known for some years before that the young Tavora was the King’s Mistress & that she was endeavouring to disgrace Oeyras, & bring her Brother D’Aveiro (afterwards executed,) into Favour.

While checking the transcription work of one of our volunteers I came across this fascinating passage from the fifth diary of Lady Amabel Yorke, written at the end of August in 1777. Amabel was an English Lady who wrote extensive diaries from the age of 18 about her day to day activities and political affairs that occurred in England and abroad. The Tavora Affair is an intriguing political scandal in Portuguese history that took place in the court of King Joseph I (1714-1777). It all started with the attempted assassination of the King in September 1758 and the response from his Chief Minister the Marquis de Pombal.

A special court was set up to investigate the attempted assassination and who was responsible, the court were given special powers and were permitted to use torture to ensure they got this information. The court concluded that the Tavora family had schemed to assassinate Joseph I and replace him with the Duke de Aveiro, a relative of theirs and the closest male relative to the King. Aveiro admitted this under torture and implicated the Tavora family: the Marquess Tavora, his wife and two sons. Seven members of the nobility, including the four Tavora’s, and three servants were found guilty and brutally executed. The court also found that the Jesuits had collaborated in this plot and they were expelled from Portugal in 1759, while the personal confessor of the Marquise Tavora was executed.

The original execution order included other members of their families, including women and children, but Queen Mariana and Maria Fransisca, heir to the throne, intervened and managed to save most of them. The Tavora family were one of the most powerful families in Portugal and their execution along with their names being erased from the peerage caused shock throughout the Portuguese nobility.

As Amabel mentions in her diary entry, not everyone thought the Tavora family were guilty. Whether they were involved in the assassination attempt or not it would have been very convenient for Pombal to get rid of so many of his enemies, not only the Tavora family but also the Jesuits, in one go. When Joseph I died and his daughter Maria I ascended the throne, she reopened the case. Pombal was found guilty of unjudicial acts, but due to his age his punishment was banishment from Lisbon rather than execution.


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