This an artcle about our personal route on the history of São Miguel and how and where the old Empires fought to have it under their control. For more information about São Miguel click here.
The island was probably discovered between 1426 and 1439 and was called “Ilha Verde” according to ancient maps of the mid-fourteenth century. That nickname will seem more than appropriate to every visitor once has spent even short time on their roads. Being a distant island, in the middle of the ocean, historically it was a territory used as a refuge for all kinds of settlers from different nations who wanted to leave their old lives behind. There they arrived many kinds of colons, from people who simply sought a better future to criminals escaping from the authorities.
The first capital of the island was Vila Franca do Campo, which was razed by an earthquake in 1522, at which time the capital was transferred to Ponta Delgada, an early vivid town in constant development that grew around the trade opportunities with the ancient Portuguese, French and Spanish colonies. Settlers conditions made them more eager to look and deal with the colonies rather than mainland or metropolises.
Nowadays Vila Franca do Campo is still one of the main towns of the island, with all the services and all its character. It’s unspoilt by tourist and besides you can go to the port and join a group for whale watching, they have no many touristic services so you can find there more real fishermen packing and chatting after work than tourist filling terraces. After the earthquake the town was rebuilt in a more modern way and continued its development as the whole island trading the introduced local products, especially oranges in the 17th century and after tea, tobacco and pineapples. The built along those exchanges a tied relationship mainly with the current Brazil and Canada that is still visible today, because the main identity of the island is based in being a strategic oasis in the middle of the large ocean.
The location of the island was excellent, especially the southern coast, as a stopover to get and upload supplies on the ships for the long trips between Europe and America. And this was an asset but also a theat. In 1580, Portugal got out of throne succession options and Felipe II of Spain was recognized as king of Portugal. Despite all Portuguese possessions, except the Azores, recognized Felipe II as king of Portugal, this statement was not too well accepted in France and England, because that made Felipe II one of the most powerful monarchs in history. So, France and England supported the cause of Don Antonio, prior of Crato, who also claimed the Crown of Portugal in order to avoid the union of the colonial empires of Spain and Portugal. And the struggles between the supporters of Antonio I of Portugal and those of Felipe II of Spain took place in the southern Coast of São Miguel. In 1582 the fight was set off.
Despite not being at war with Spain, France sent a fleet to Azores to support the Prior. England helped France on their common interest against Spain and its trading monopoly so they sent a fleet either. In June 1582 they have occupied Lagoa and quickly after Ponta Delgada completely except São Brás castle were the Spanish troops resisted the attack. The castle was built in the 16th century to defend the island against the attacks of privateers and pirates and was strategically located in the western area of the narrow tongue of land that gave name to Ponta Delgada. Nowadays you can visit this fortress as a military museum.
Spanish and Portuguese that defended Felipe II as the legitimate king of Portugal were pushed to fight against French, English and Portuguese who rejected the Spanish king, along the southern coast. That culminated in the naval battle of Vila Franca, which took place July 26 of 1582.
The Spanish Old Tercios of Flandes commanded by Álvaro de Bazán did a better job in worse conditions than their enemies and they defeat them clearly. On the Spanish side there were 224 dead, 550 injured and no ship was lost, otherwise on the French side 10 large ships were sunk and approximately 2,000 men were killed in combat, including Admiral Felipe Strozzi who commanded their fleet.
After the battle, Álvaro de Bazán, marquis of Santa Cruz de Mudela, disembarked at Vila Franca do Campo, where he established his headquarters and initiated a trial against the prisoners, accusing them of pirates, since Spain and France were officially at peace. Despite the French claimed not to be pirates because they had letters of the king of France.
Álvaro de Bazán took those documents as fake and sentenced them to death. On August 1, he hanged about 800 French and Portuguese prisoners. It was the most brutal massacre ever in Azores. Don Antonio, prior of Crato and applicant to the Portuguese throne, has already fled on one of the fugitive French ships.