Book Review: “A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire: Volume One” by A.R. Disney

I’m just going to get straight to the point here. I’ve been doing in depth research into the history of Portugal and I love this book. The first of two volumes of Disney’s work covers the history of Portugal from pre-Roman times to the French invasion of 1807. The country of Portugal has no geographical reason to exist. As the country exists today, it has no political roots in its Roman, Germanic or Islamic past. Then in the fifteenth century, this tiny country on the Iberian Peninsula began an unlikely expansion into an economic empire which spanned the entire globe.

The first chapter covers ancient Portugal which included hunter-gatherers and Iron Age farmers. Disney explains the economy of Portugal during this period with its strong emphasis on the mining of natural resources. This era was followed by the Celts and then the Romans. Next, Portugal was invaded by the barbarians including the Visigoths and the Suevi. Finally, the Peninsula was conquered by the Muslims from Africa.

Medieval Portugal sees the Reconquest, the expulsion of the Muslims and rise of the Kingdom with the Burgundian dynasty and later the Avis kings. Although there is conflict and war with neighboring Castile, the time period witnessed the Golden Age as described by Disney. After this there was an era of decline which was followed by the taking of the throne by the Hapsburgs. This lasted from 1580-1640 when the House of Braganza restored the monarchy.

Disney covers the Restoration of the monarchy, the Baroque age, the years of the dictatorship of Pombal, the late eighteenth century and the invasion by Napoleonic France. All of this is told in brilliant and economical detail. Disney’s writing flows and is a joy to read. This is the first history of Portugal to be written in English in a generation and takes into account all the new scholarship since the Portuguese Revolution of 1974. Disney’s research is meticulous with copious footnotes and a long bibliography. He includes all interpretations of the latest historians. Volume Two of this history covers the Portuguese Empire and review of this work is up next. If you are interested in an exact, precise and accurate history of Portugal, this is your book.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: “A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire: Volume One” by A.R. Disney

  1. Pingback: Book Review: “A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire: Volume Two” by A.R. Disney | The Freelance History Writer Notes and Reviews

  2. Hello.
    Lately, I’ve been very curious to know more about the history of Portugal. However one of the main points I’m interested in is Portugal’s relationship with England and Spain. Particularly, leading up to and following the treaty of Windsor of 1386. But also Portugal’s role in some of the major European conflicts in which one can trace this curious pattern of Anglo-Portuguese alliance often opposing the alliance of France and Spain.
    So, I wanted to ask, how deeply if at all does the author touches on these, in my opinion, crucial relationships in this book?


    • You will not be disappointed with this book as Disney is very thorough on these issues. I’ve just found a new book that might answer your question. “Portugal in European and World History” by Malyn Newitt talks about Portugal’s alliances. For an even more in depth look at the English alliance, I would suggest “The Anglo-Portuguese Alliance and The English Merchants in Portugal 1654-1810” by Leslie M.E. Shaw. It is out of print but used copies are available. Hope this helps!


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.