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Colonial Flags of Brazil

Last modified: 2008-08-02 by ian macdonald
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Order of Christ

Ordem do Cristo

[Flag of the Order of Christ] image by António Martins

Would you be kind enough to translate the following statement? "...1320, da Ordem de Cristo 1ª hasteada em solo brasileiro."  The 1320 here apparently refers to a year, as all the other flags have dates of use listed. If that is so, how could this flag have been in Brazil at that time when, if I recall correctly, Portugal first arrived in Brazil in 1500?  If I understand correctly, and please comment if you have other thoughts, the web site is trying to state that the "Order of Christ" flag [which was adopted in the year of 1320] was the first flag of Portugal raised over Brazil in the 1500s. That being the case, I could understand that the Order of Christ banner that was 180 years old at the time Brazil was colonized became the first flag in Brazil.  Secondly, the flag shown is a red Order of Christ and to my memory all (or most) first flags of Brazil have been golden Order of Christ.  Just by reference to later flags of Brazil, the Order of Christ is red, and I believe red is correct. However, there seem to be many golden  flags shown in books.
C. Eugene Baldwin, 20 October 1998

The inscription indeed means "1320, of the Order of Christ. [adding a period, without which this makes no sense] First to be hoisted on Brazilian soil."  I think there is some confusion here:  Portugal only arrived in Brazil in 1500, but the Order of Christ was founded in 1320 (or something like that).  So 1320 doesn't refer to the first time the flag was hoisted in Brazil, but when it was adopted.

The Order of Christ was the main financer and "pusher" of the Portuguese discoveries, the man behind them, Infante Dom Henrique [Prince Henry the Navigator] being a member of the order.  Most if not all the ships that sailed to find new lands had members of the order in the crew and sailed under the flag of the order.  In fact, the various banners of the order that are mentioned by António Martins were, at the time, nearly the equivalent of what would today be called naval flags or ensigns of Portugal.  Therefore, as the British did with their ensigns, it was the banner of the order that was hoisted in the territories claimed for the Portuguese crown. This happened not only in Brazil, but also in the other territories in Africa and Asia. The usual thing, as far as I know, was for the captain of the ship to claim the territory for the King of Portugal and for Christianity--Christianity, naturally, being represented by the Order of Christ. The monuments the Portuguese left in the lands where they landed (called padrões) are a good example of this:  they were topped by a cube containing four Portuguese escutcheons with the bezants (quinas) and atop the cube a cross of the Order of Christ.

As far as I know, there is no proper color to the Cross of Christ, but it is usually represented in red.
Jorge Candeias, 21 October 1998

The Iberian Union, 1580-1640

The Iberian Union flag image by Alberto Daudt, 16 April 2004

Between the years 1580 and 1640 was the time know historically as "The Iberian Union". Brazil, was, of course, a Portuguese colony, but in 1580, the Portuguese King Sebastian I died (in a battle in Alcazar-Quebir, Morocco) without leaving children and his closest relative was his cousin Phillip II, the King of Spain, who become king of both Iberian Kingdoms. The Iberian Union lasted until 1640 when the Portuguese finally won a 18 year-long rebellion against Madrid and regained their independence.
Alberto Daudt, 19 April 2004

Dutch Brazil

Nieuw Holland

Dutch West India Company in Brazil  image by André Pires Godinho

From 1624 to 1661, part of northwest Brazil was Dutch Brazil. With the Spanish occupation of Portugal, the Netherlands, traditional commercial partner of Portugal but enemy of Spain, and with interests in Brazilian sugar cane, occupied the provinces of Pernambuco, Paraíba, Ceará, Alagoas, and, in the year 1641, Maranhão. The government of Dutch Brazil was administed by the Dutch West India Company (GWC). The flag used as the local flag of this period was the flag of the company (with the monogram). Today we can seen some Dutch descendants in the Northwest, which is in general a mixed Dutch and Indian people. The presence is noticeable in Paraíba and Ceará.
André Pires Godinho, 13 June 2003

I am quite curious where you found this image; it differs quite a lot from the flag normally attributed to the Dutch West India Company.
Jarig Bakker, 14 June 2003

The Flag of the GWC was used during the Dutch occupation as the flag of Dutch Brazil and is shown in Clóvis Ribeiro's Bandeiras e Brasões as well as in various Brazilian history books as the "Dutch Brazilian flag."
André Pires Godinho, 15 June 2003

In Vexilla Nostra of March 1973, Karl Fachinger writes that the monogram might stand for CDIM (Companhia das Indias Meridionais), the Portuguese name for the Dutch VOC (East India Company), although he clearly states it isn't more then just a guess. In Vexilla Nostra of October 1973 an anonymous article contends that the monogram could show IMNCVD for Iohan Maurits van Nassau Catzelnbogen Vianden en Dietz. Johan Maurits van Nassau was governor-general of Dutch Brazil (also known as Nieuw Holland) and nicknamed "the Brazilian." Personally I find both guesses not very convincing.
Mark Sensen, 15 June 2003

Most histories that I have read give the dates of Dutch control as 1630-1654. See for example this very comprehensive account. (I think the flag image shown on that page is intended only as a generic West India Company flag and not as necessarily depicting what was flown in Brazil.)
Ned Smith, 14 June 2003

1624 is the year Salvador was taken by the Dutch, but the occupation lasted only one year. In 1630 the Dutch came back and conquered the coastal area of Pernambuco. The colony now lasted langer, until 1654 when Recife was taken by the Portuguese without a shot. In 1661 the Dutch rights were sold to Portugal for 8 million guilders.
Source (in Dutch):
Mark Sensen, 15 June 2003

Some history of the Dutch occupation of Brazil; the source is the Almanaque Abril 2001, pp. 310-12. The Dutch Government and private investments created the Dutch West India Company (GWC), a commercial, military, and colonizing enterprise, to occupy the sugar cane plantations, control the production of sugar, and recover the business with the America and Africa, very affected by the Iberian union since the Netherlands and Spain were enemies. With the Iberian Union the Dutch lost their privileges in the sugar cane trade and were banned from Portuguese America (Brazil). In 1624 the Dutch (through the GWC) invades Salvador (Bahia). In the next year, Spanish troops expelled them from the city. The Dutch tried again in 1627 without success. In 1630 was the beginning of the the longer occupation of northwest Brazil; 56 warships invaded Pernambuco and Olinda and Recife were occupied. The local population, under the command of Governor Mathias de Albuquerque, organized resistance in Alagoas. In 1632, with the help of the Pernambucan Domingos Calabar, the Dutch conquered the interior of the provinces and Mathias de Albuquerque was exiled to Bahia. In 1637 the Dutch occupied Angola, the source of slaves for Brazil, so the Brazilian farmers had to turn to the the Dutch to get slaves. Support for the Dutch increased with the government of Mauritius Van Nassau, who turned a blind eye to local politics and religion and stimulated the local economy. Recife was urbanized and since then has been known as the "Brazilian Venice" because of the system of canals that cross the city. Under this government the occupation was extended from Ceará to the São Francisco river. In 1641, Maranhão was occupied. When Mauritius van Nassau returned to Europe, the credits extended by the GWC to the sugar cane plantations were reduced and the local farmers started the Pernambucan revolution to expel the Dutch. In the begining Portugal didn't support the revolution, hoping to get Dutch support in the Portuguese fight for independence from Spain. In 1649, the troops of Maranhão and Bahia defeated the Dutch troops in the Battle of Guararapes. The revolution ended when the Dutch, weakened by their war against England retired from the Northwest in 1654. Portuguese sovereignty over Ceará, Pernambuco, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba and Alagoas was reconized by the Dutch government by the Hague Treaty of 1661.
André Pires Godinho, 15 June 2003

Principality of Brazil

Portuguese Principality of Brazil image by André Pires Godinho

While Dom João IV was the King of Portugal, his son Teodósio [but see below--ed.], the heir to the throne, received the title of Prince of Brazil. So after 1645, every heir to the Portuguese throne was called "Prince of Brazil" (like the Prince of Wales in the United Kingdom). Thus Brazil became a principality and had its own flag. This flag can be interpreted as a personal ensign of the prince, but nevertheless it is a flag to represent the Brazilian Principality.
André Pires Godinho, 26 April 2003

It seems to me that this is really a Portuguese flag, not a Brazilian one. F. Pereira Lessa points out in Bandeiras Históricas do Brasil (Rio de Janeiro: Gráfica Guarany, 1940) on page 45 that this was essentially a personal flag of the heir apparent to the Portuguese throne, not a flag to represent Brazil itself--just as the flag of the Spanish Prince of the Asturias is not the Asturian flag and the standard of the Prince of Wales is not the Welsh flag. In addition, as I understand it, designating Brazil a principality did not change the way it was governed, and it would seem this flag probably never flew there.
Joseph McMillan, 3 May 2003

The Principality of Brazil was created for Teodósio (1634-53), Duke of Barcellos and Bragança and Prince of Portugal, elder son of Joao IV, but he died before his father. So, the Portuguese crown went to his second living brother Affonso, Affonso VI of Portugal.
Porfirio Suárez, 24 June 2008

United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves

United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves, 1816-1822 image by António Martins

This flag was used in 1816-1822. The Portuguese royal family came to Brazil and the city of Rio de Janeiro became the capital of Portugal (1808). Brazil and Portugal became a United Kingdom in 1815 and in 1816 a law created the flag of the three kingdoms (Brazil, Portugal and Algarve).
André Godinho, 23 April 2003

Not quite. Let's say that in 1816 (thanks to Napoleon), Portugal became an United Kingdom, with the territory of Brazil being raised from a mere colony to a co-kingdom (to mask the fact that the Royal Family had indeed fled the capital). There were not three kingdoms, just one.
António Martins Tuválkin, 3 June 2003


Flag of Brazil, 1816-1822

United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves, 1816-1822 image by André Pires Godinho

The law included a flag for Brazil:

"D. João by the grace of God King of Portugal, Brazil, Algarve and oversea Africa, lord of Guinea, and of the conquest, trading and shipping  of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and India, etc (...)
I - That the Brazilian Kingdom have a like ensign, a gold armillary sphere in a blue field
III - That all of these new ensigns be used in...flags."
The flag with the armillary sphere on a blue field was the Brazilian flag from that time, while the flag of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and Algarves was a "union jack" of the Portuguese Empire.
André Godinho, 23 April 2003

This is interesting. I had never heard about this flag: white (though not mentioned by André Godinho) with an armillary sphere on blue, but no shield from the coat of arms. And what was the difference between this flag and the one with the shield? Anyway I guess that the usual depiction is not "gold armillary sphere on a blue field" but something like "gold armillary sphere filled blue."
António Martins Tuválkin, 3 June 2003