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The Royal Arms

The Order of Christ

The Armillary Sphere

Portuguese Flags

The Portuguese Colonial Empire

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The Portuguese Seaborne Empire was the first global commercial empire in history. It was the earliest and longest lived of the European colonial empires, spanning almost six centuries, from the capture of Ceuta in 1415 to the handover of Macau in 1999.

Portuguese explorers began exploring the coast of Africa in 1419, leveraging the latest developments in navigation, cartography and maritime technology such as the caravel, in order that they might find a sea route to the source of the lucrative spice trade. In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and in 1498, Vasco da Gama reached India. In 1500, an accidental landfall on the South American coast by Pedro Álvares Cabral would lead to the establishment of the colony of Brazil. Over the following decades, Portuguese sailors continued to explore the coasts and islands of East Asia, establishing forts and trading posts as they went. By 1571, a string of outposts connected Lisbon to Nagasaki: the empire had become truly global, and in the process brought great wealth to Portugal.

The Dutch, at war with the Spaniards and consequently also with the Portuguese after 1580, were the first to challenge Portuguese hegemony. They were joined by the English and French during the 17th century. Less organised, and with a smaller population to draw on, Portugal was unable to defend its position, and so the empire began its long and gradual decline. The loss of Brazil in 1822, by then Portugal's largest and most profitable colony, at a time when independence movements were sweeping the Americas, was a blow from which Portugal and its empire would never recover.


The Scramble for Africa which began in the late 19th century left Portugal with a handful of colonies on the continent. After World War II, Portugal's right-wing military dictator, Salazar, desperately tried to keep the Portuguese Empire intact at a time when other European countries were beginning to withdraw from their colonies. In 1961 the handful of Portuguese troops garrisoned in Goa were unable to prevent Indian troops marching into the colony, but Salazar began a long and bloody war to quell anticolonialist forces in the African colonies. The unpopular war lasted until the overthrow of the Portuguese regime in 1974. The new government immediately changed policy and recognised the independence of all its colonies, including East Timor, save for Macau, which was eventually returned to China in 1999, marking the end of the Portuguese overseas empire.


The Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) is the cultural successor of the Empire.[1])


The Order of Christ

In the Portuguese Seaborne Empire the Order of Christ exercized certain sovereign rights under the patronage of the king of Portugal. Thus, civil and ecclesiastical power were indissolubily united in its administration.

The Portuguese patronage or Padroado can be loosely defined as a combination of the rights, privileges and duties granted by the Papacy to the Crown of Portugal as patron of the Roman Catholic missions and ecclesiastical establishments in vast regions of Africa, of Asia, and in Brazil. These rights and duties derived from a series of Papal Bulls and Briefs, beginning with the Bull Inter cætera of Calixtus III in 1456 and culminating in the Bull Præcelsæ devotionis of 1514. In fact,  the Portuguese Padroado Real in the non European world was for long only limited by the similar rights and duties conferred on the Patronato Real of the Castilian Crown by a parallel series of Papal Bulls and Briefs promulgated in favour of the Catholic Kings between 1493 and 1512.

In so far as Portugal was concerned, many of these ecclesiastical privileges had originally been granted to the Order of Christ.

In 1420 the master of the Order of Christ, Dom Lopo Dias de Sousa, died. On 25 May 1420, Pope Martin V issued a bull "In Apostolice dignitatis specula", in response to a petition from King João, naming Prince Henry the administrator of the Order of Christ.


The Order of Christ was involved with Henry's expeditions of discovery. Henry invested a considerable part of the Order's revenue in the Discoveries. The implications are that brothers of the Order colonised Madeira and the Canaries in 1425, and then the Azores in 1445.


After the first profitable expeditions - from 1441 onwards - African goods filled Lisbon's markets and swelled the coffers of the order of Christ. Trading posts were established, defended by the brethren, while the Templar's red cross continued to sail south. The Order of Christ grew steadily richer. Henry obtained the Cape Verde islands, and his brethren introduced sugar to their Madeira estates.

In 1454 Pope Nicholas V recognised the claims of Afonso V to all newly discovered lands on or near the west coast of Africa and forbade all Christians to visit them without the permission of the King of Portugal. In 1456, Calixtus III confirmed this in the bull Inter Caetera, and granted to the Order of Christ spiritual jurisdiction over all the 'islands, towns, ports, countries and states, from the Capes of Bojador and Nao, throughout all Guinea, and beyond that southern region as far as the Indies.' The Grand Prior of the Order would be empowered to nominate incumbents to all benefices both of secular and of regular clergy, to impose censures and other ecclesiastical penalties, and to exercise the powers of an Ordinary within the limits of his jurisdiction. All these regions were declared nullius diocesis (belonging to no diocese).


After Henry’s death in 1460, governorship of the Order remained in the hands of the royal family until João III incorporated Mastership of the three Portuguese Orders (Christ, Avis and Santiago) into the crown.

The governors and directors of the order immediately after Henry's death were:

  • The Infante D. Fernão, the younger brother of King Afonso V, who was also the chief heir to Prince Henry, and who died in 1470. D. Fernão had also been the master of Santiago since 1444.
  • When D. Fernão died in Setubal on 18th September 1470, his 8-year old son, Dom Diogo, was made master & administrator.


Dom Manuel *1469-†1521

Dom Diogo was stabbed to death by King João II in 1484 for conspiring to overthrow him. João's cousin D. Manuel, Duke of Beja (soon to become King Manuel I) then became governor of the order.


When Manuel came to the throne in 1495, he refused to follow João II's will in passing the mastership of the order to D. Jorge (João's illegitimate son, who already was master of Santiago and Avis). Instead Manuel sought the other two masterships for himself. He obtained in 1516 the patronage of the masterships of all three orders as soon as the masterships became vacant.


In 1503 Manuel called a general chapter of the order to reform the order's rule. Manuel created 37 new commanderies for those living and serving in North Africa. In a series of bulls beginning in 1514 and ending in 1518, Pope Leo X granted permission to fund many more commanderies. By the end of King Manuel's reign (1521) the order possessed 454 commanderies, in Portugal, Africa and the Indies


. João III was the successor to King Manuel, both as king and governor of the Order of Christ.

The Order was divided into two branches, probably in 1522 - one religious under the Pope, and one civil, under the king, as they remain today.

The governors and directors of the order after João III's death in 1557 were the reigning monarchs:


  • King Sebastian, †1578.
  • King Henry, †1580
  • King Philip I, †1598
  • King Philip II, †1621
  • King João IV, †1656
  • King Afonso VI, †1667
  • King Pedro II, †1706
  • King João V, †1750
  • Queen Maria I, †1816
  • King João VI, †1826


In their dual capacity as kings of Portugal and as ‘perpetual governors and administrators’of the Order of Christ, Dom Manuel and his successors had the right of patronage over all ecclesiastical posts, offices, benefices and livings in the overseas territories confided to the Padroado. They acted as if the overseas bishops and clergy were, in many ways, simple functionaries of the state, like viceroyas or governors. They gave them orders without reference to Rome which was their nominal overlord, controlled their activities, and often legislated in matters ecclesiastical. They did the same with their provincials or acting heads of the religious orders working in the territories of the Padroado. They refused to recognize the validity of any Papal Briefs, Bulls or Provisions which had not been approved by the Portuguese Crown and registered with the Regium Placet in the royal chancery.


The Colonial Empire after 1822

The Constitution of 29 of Aprtil 1826 stipulates that the territory of the Kingdom of Portugal and Algarves consists of




O seu Território o Reino de Portugal e Algarves, e compreende:

§1.° - Na Europa, o Reino de Portugal, que se compõe das Provinciasd do Minho, Trás-os-Montes, Beira, Estremadura, Alentejo, e Reino do Algarve e das Ilhas Adjacentes, Madeira, Porto e Açores.

§ 2.° - Na  África Occidental, Bissau e Cacheu; na Costa da Mina, o Forte de S. João Baptista de Ajudá, Angola, Benguela, e suas dependências, Cabinda e Molembo, as Ilhas de Cabo Verde, e as de S. Tomé e Principe, e suas dependências; na Costa Oriental, Moçambique, Rio Sena, Sofala, Inhambane, Quelimane, e as Ilhas de Cabo Delagado.

§ 3.° - Na Ásia, Salsete, Bardez, Goa, Dão, Diu e os Estabelecimentos de Macau e das Ilhas Solor e Timor.


and in Chapter I:






ARTIGO 132.°


A Administração das Provincias ficará existindo do mesmo modo, que actualmente se acha, enquanto por Lei não for alterada.


The amendment on the Constitution of 5 of July 1852, provides for a special legislative status to the provinces overseas:


ARTIGO 15.°  


As Províncias Ultramarinas poderão ser governadas por Leis especiais, segundo o erigir a conveniência de cada uma delas.

§ 1º - Não estando reunidas as Cortes, o Governo, ouvidas e consultadas as estações competentes, poderá decretar em Conselho as providência legislativas que forem julgadas urgentes.

§ 2° - Igualmente poderá o Governador Geral de uma Província Ultramarina tomar, ouvido o seu Conselho de Governo, as providência indispensáveis para acudir a alguma necessidade tão urgente que não possa esperar pela decisão das Cortes, ou do Governo.

§ 3.° - Em ambos os casos o Governo submeterá às Cortes, logo que se reunirem, as providências tomadas.

§ 4.° - Fica deste modo determinada a disposição do artigo cento e trinta e dois da Carta Constitucional, relativamente às Pro­víncias Ultramarinas.




In the Portuguese Seaborne Empire we meet insignia of different kinds:


First: The royal coat of arms

Second: The cross of the Order of Christ

Third: The emblem of the Portuguese Empire.


These insignia were combined in different ways which will be described in the following sections.


The Royal Arms


As the king of Portugal was the patron of the Order of Christ, the royal arms were used in the Portuguese settlements in Africa, the Indies and America. We meet the royal arms always in the crowned version because the king did not excercise his military powers in the settlements but only his administrative powers.

The royal arms in the 15th century were the well known arms with the five escutcheons, the cross of the Order of Aviso and the bordure with the castles. They were crowned with a crown of five leaves and four pearls.

In 1485 the cross of the order of Aviso was left out.

A main change occurred in 1580 when the coat of arms of Portugal was incorporated into the royal coat of arms of the spanish Habsburg kings.

After the regaining of sovereignty in 1640 the ancient royal coat of arms was readopted unchanged. The crown on top was augmented into a modern royal crown with five leaves, four pearls and five hoops.

The royal arms were changed by royal decree of 13th of May 1816. This version consisted of an armillary-sphere for Brazil, charged with the ancient arms of Portugal and crowned with the royal crown. These arms were abandoned in 1822.

The royal arms disappeared after the revolution of 1910. They were replaced by the coat of arms of the republic of Portugal.




For the purpose of the exploration and annexation of the African Westcoast by the Portuguese in the 15th century, Dom João II gave order to the navigator Diogo Cão to erect a  padrão or boundary-post at certain places.

This boundary-post is a reconstruction made after fragments preserved by the Sociedade de Geografia de Lisboa, of the padrão erected on the southern bank of the river-mouth of the Zaire, called Punto Padrão and today the northwesternmost point of Angola. The inscription in Portuguese on the monument reads:




On the die is the crowned coat of arms of King João II, borne until 1485. It is: Argent, a cross of five escutcheons Azure, each charged with five roundles Argent in saltire, placed on the cross of the Order of Aviso andd surrounded by a bordure Gules, charged with seven castles Or. The crown is a royal crown of five fleurons and four pearls. The die is surmounted by the latin cross patonce which is the symbol of the religious branch of the Order of Christ.













Å The Padrão in the Afrika Museum, Tervuren (Belgium).  

(Foto H.d.V.VI.2000)


The Order of Christ


The knights of the predecessor of the Order of Christ, the Order of the Temple, wore after 1130 a white cloak, from 1148 for the noble knights stitched with a red cross. Certain sources show the cross as a greek cross or crux quadrata, others show it as a latin cross. On a map of Jerusalem, now in the Royal Library in The Hague, a knight of the Order is shown with a greek cross on his pennon and a latin cross on his shield. [2]

The two crosses, the latin cross symbolizing the religious power of the Order and the greek cross its temporal power, were maintained for its successor, the Portuguese Order of Christ.

The Order of Christ was founded in 1317 by King Denis as the successor of the Order of the Temple, which was dissolved in 1312. The new order received the same statutes and management of the goods and vassals of this order. In 1319 the Order of Christ was recognized by Pope John XXII on condition that the Holy See could also appoint knights. The originally purely spiritual order gradually became more secular. The grandmasterhood was united under John III by pope Hadrian VI (1522-'23) with the Portuguese crown. [3]

Both crosses were charged with another, white, cross for difference with the imperial arms of Portugal. This last was a red cross on a white field because Portugal was since 1179 de jure a vassal of the Holy See.



Foto NN, Internet

The tomb of Henry the Navigator in the monastery church of Batalha.

From left to right: The arms of the Order of Christ, The arms and strap of the Order of the Garter, the arms of  Henry the Navigator being Portugal-Aviso with a label of three Azure, each label charged with three fleurs-de-lys Or.

Henry, who was duke of Viseu and 3rd son of Philippa of Lancaster, was made the 160th Knight of the Garter in 1442.




The coat of arms of the Order of Christ is carved on the tomb of Henry the Navigator (†1460), in the monastery Church of Batalha. In this case the arms are: Argent, a greek cross patée Gules, charged with a cross Argent. On the arms of the Order of Christ is a crown similar to the crown on the personal arms of Prince Henry, duke of Viseu. This means that the arms on the tomb are the professional arms of the Grandmaster or Governor of the Order who had the rank of a duke.


Towards the end of the 15th century the form of the cross had evoluated to a very pronounced cross potent with triangular crossbeams. In this form the cross was depicted on the sails of the caravels of Cabral and Vasco da Gama on their expeditions to Brazil and the Indies. On flags the cross was depicted on a square white cloth.[4]) Afterwards the cross of the Order was always depicted in this form. From about 1522 the equilateral version of the cross was reserved for the royal branch of the Order.

Dom Manuel I

With the grandmastership of Dom Manuel a new coat of arms appears in close association with the Portuguese possessions in Africa and the Indies. Maybe this coat of arms replaced the Grandmasters coat of arms with the cross of the Order. It is for example carved on a padrão erected at Cape Cross in 1485 and it consists of the centerpiece of the royal coat of arms of Portugal only, that is to say of the quinas consisting of the five blue shields on a white field. It is very likely that Dom Manuel used this coat of arms as his arms in his quality of a Grandmaster of the Order.


The Padrão of Kaap Kruis.

Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin.


This limestone pillar was placed by Diogo Cão on Cabo Padrão, now Kaap Kruis, in south west Africa during his voyage of 1485-1486. On the front-side is a crowned coat of arms with the Portuguese quinas: a cross of five blue escutcheons charged with a saltire of five white roundels. On the back is an inscription in latin, mentioning King Joao III. If the pillar was ever crowned with the cross of the Order of Christ, this has now disappeared.


The coat of arms on the pillar poses some problems because they are not the royal arms. Very likely it is the coat of arms of D. Manuel, Duke of Beja, made governor of the Order of Christ in 1484, eleven years before his accession to the throne, The Order of Christ had been granted the spiritual jurisdiction over all the 'islands, towns, ports, countries and states, from the Capes of Bojador and Nao, throughout all Guinea, and beyond that southern region as far as the Indies' by pope Calixtus III, in the bull Inter Caetera of 1456. As such the pillar would be a confirmation of the privileges of the Order in Africa behind Cape Cross. It makes it probable that the expedition was under the auspices of the grandmaster of the Order of Christ instead of the king of Portugal.


1. On a picture of D. Manuel from 1515 his ensign bears this symbol on his banner. As the other symbols the ensign is bearing are the cross of the Order and, as a crest, the armillary sphere of D. Manuel, we can safely suppose that these symbols are the symbols of the Grandmaster of the Order.


Gallica BNF

Manuel I on Horseback, showing him as a Governor of the Order of Christ, about 1515.

The insignia of the Order are carried by his ensign: the banner, the crest consisting of the armillary-sphere, and the cross of the Order on two round shields: Argent, a cross patée Gules, voided Argent.


Lid of a pill- or ointment box Æ 5,5 cm

Showing the achievement of Dom Mauuel as a grandmaster of the Ordem de Cristo,

the cross a latin cross

Private property


2. Some governors of (Portuguese) India of the sixteenth century quartered or augmented their personal arms with the quinas. Known are the arms of Francisco de Almeida (1505-1509), Alfonso de Albuquerque (1515-1519) and Martim Afonso de Sousa (1542-1545).


3. Diogo Homem, on his maps of America, Africa and the Indies of 1558, depicts a gonfanon of the quinas and the cross of the Order in Mombasa and the Terra Incognita of the later Rio de la Plata region in America. This gonfanon is to be considered the gonfanon of the Grandmaster of the Order of Christ. A quinas on an orange cloth is ascribed to the Portuguese posessions in Brasil.





Gonfanon of Mombasa and Argentina, and below, the flags of Brasil and Congo. After Diogo Homem, 1558.


After the assignment of Portuguese sovereignty to the Spanish king in 1580 these emblems became obsolete.


Lower margin of  ‘The Port of Lisbon in the Early 16th Century’


Crónica do rei D. Afonso Henriques. Duarte Calvão Illuminated Manuscript on parchment Frontispiece, early 16th century 41.5 x 29.5 x 9 cm.Cascais, M.B.C.C.G. Inv. 14


Portuguese Triumphal Arch.

In the time of Archduke Ernst of Austria (†1595)

by Pieter van der Borcht 1594-‘95

From: Joannes Bochius, Descriptio publicae gratulationis, spectaculorum et ludorum, in adventu Sereniss. Principis Ernesti Archiducis Austriae, Ex Officina Plantiniana, Antwerpen 1595, p. 75. Collection of the  Rijksmuseum Research Library, signature: 325 A 9.[5]


  • Neptune with the armillary-sphere and a trident, riding two sea-horses.
  • The crowned Royal coat of arms of Portugal surrounded by the collar of the Order of the Fleece
  • The banners of  the Order of Christ
  • The banners of East India and Porugal
  • The crowned coat of arms of Archduke Ernst with collar of the Order of the Fleece
  • The alegories of Mauretania (lion), Brasilia (armadillo!), Ethiopia (elephant) and India (rhinoceros).


The Orb and the Armillary Sphere


The armillarysphere in the Boerhaave Museum, Leiden (NL)


In the Roman Empire of the Carolingians and their successors of the Holy Roman Empire an orb was one of the imperial regalia symbolizing the dominion over the world. When crested with a latin cross the religious dominion was meant and crested with a square cross the secular dominion of the world. As most of the rulers in Europe could not pretend to rule the world in any sense, the use of the globus cruciger was restricted  to the successors of the Roman emperor.

In the late 12th century King Alfonso I was represented with a sword and an orb and in the early14th century the kings of Portugal were represented in a Spanish manuscript with crown, sword or sceptre and a golden orb carried in the same way as the Holy Roman emperor did. [6]

Certainly from the end of the 15th century, after the discoveries of parts of the world by Portuguese seamen exploring the adjoining ocean and African continent thought to be a potential new Portuguese Empire, the orb was replaced in Portugal by an  armillary sphere, a quasi orb or globus that relates to Portugal itself and its trade empire that was built up during that period. The symbol of this empire became a armillary-sphere, consisting of a Ptolemeic model of the Universe, with: The equinoctial, the ecliptic, the tropic of Cancer, the tropic of Capricorn, the Arctic Circle, the Antarctic Circle, the equinoctial colure and the solstitial colure. The earth in the centre and the sun and moon circling around it.


Tapestry with the Portuguese Royal Coat of Arms before 1485

Brussels, late 15th century, Cotton, wool and silk

Over all measures: H. 155 Î W. 530  cm

Location: Sintra Castle, Corridor of the Coat of Arms Room [7]


A tapestry of the verdure or millefleurs type, with a dark blue background, decorated with floral features covering the entire field and interlaced with ribbons. A royal commission, at the centre is the (ancient) Portuguese royal coat of arms with the shield topped by the crest with the winged serpent (dragon) of the House of Avis. The four corners contain a depiction of the armillary sphere, the symbol of King Manuel I.


Left  part  of the tapestry with armillary spheres


Æ As the coat of arms in the middle of the tapestry is of the model with the cross of Avis abolished in 1485, the armillary spheres on the tapestry may be an impresa of John II, probably meant to be the symbol of the department of the crown managing the commerce and exploration in Africa (since 1482) or of the explorations of Henry the Navigator in the Atlantic and the West-African coast.


The Armillary-sphere was or became the personal emblem (Impresa) of King Manuel I which he presumably introduced in connection with the voyage of Vasco da Gama to India in the years 1497-'98, This voyage in a certain sense constituted the final piece of the Portuguese expansion on the African coast in the years 1416 until 1488. On a picture of the Armillary-sphere of Manuel from the beginning of the sixteenth century there is a celestial globe on which the equator and the tropics are indicated around the earth and a band representing the path of the sun. On this are the words "O SPERA MVMDI" ("The World Globe", perhaps a wordplay with "The Hope of the World"). The whole is mounted on an axis through the poles, which stands on a turned foot.

From the beginning of the 16th century, a white and red shield can be considered as a national arm, with an armillary sphere in the middle. This weapon can be found in the Crónica do rei D. Afonso V de Portugal but this seems to be the only place where it can be found. It can therefore also be the personal weapon of Manuel I during whose government the chronicle originated.

 Afterwards, the armillary sphere placed on a white flag can be regarded as a national arms. Certainty in this respect can only be found in flag books from the 18th century in which the Armillary sphere is depicted alternately in gold and blue on a white canvas.



The coat of arms of Portugal consisting of the crowned royal coat of arms and angels for supporters, between two coats of arms that can be regarded as the national coat of arms: parted per pale of silver and red with over all a golden armillary sphere. From the Crónica do rei D. Afonso V de Portugal. At the top of this sheet ships with a red christ cross on a white flag.

The (celestial) globe was placed on the reverse side of coins after the restoration of Portuguese independence. The number of rings was extended with both polar circles and a number of meridians. Instead of the sphere standing on a pedestal, it was placed on the cross of the Order of Christ. This cross is a red, claw cross,  voided white.


The armillary-sphere we meet frequently in connection with the Portuguese settlements and the Portuguese Seaborne Empire, was created by Dom Manuel. It replaced the red cross as a symbol of the empire of Portugal. This red cross in fact, was the Imperial Symbol of the Holy See of whom Portugal was a vassal (1179). The red cross is known at least from the 6th century when it was depicted on a cross send in 565 to pope John III by emperor Justin II.

The armillary-sphere was depicted as a globe with meridians and parallels of latitude, the equinox and the world-globe in the middle, standing on a pedestal. This symbol was placed on the imperial arms and the imperial flag of Portugal. The imperial arms were parted per pale Gules and Argent, charged with a golden armillary-sphere. The imperial flag was parted per bend or parted per bend sinister of white and red with the armillary-sphere in the middle.




No symbol is known for the little settlement of Sunda Kelapa, nor do we know anything about the symbols of power of the Pajajaran princes. The introduction of West-European heraldry on Java occurred with the treaty between the Portuguese and Pajajaran when the first erected a so-called padrão to commemorate the agreement. This kind of pillars were erected in many places where the Portuguese set foot and they are intended as a sign of the occupation of the inland for te benefit of the king of Portugal. The padrao of Jacatra shows an armillary-sphere which was the symbol of the realm of Portugal. Initially the personal emblem of king Manuel I (1495-1521) it was used as an emblem for the Portuguese Empire.












Portuguese padrão to the memory of the Portuguese-Pajajaran treaty, August 1522. Discovered 1918 in the Prinsenstraat in Batavia (Jakarta). The Portuguese armillary-sphere and an unreadable inscription beginning with LOS POR…..

Portuguese Flags




In the 16th century with the Order of Christ under the Governorship of the King of Portugal expanding in America and the Indies the flags of the Portuguese empire showed the symbols of the king, the empire and the Order of Christ as can be seen in the (undated) picture above.[8]

The banner of the king was identical to the royal arms.

The banner of the Portuguese Empire was parted per bend or per bend sinister of white and red with the imperial symbol in the center.

The banner of the Order of Christ was white with the cross of the order in the center.

These flags seem to have vanished in the time of the Iberian Union.


In this time (1580-1640) coins were minted with the piles of Hercules on the obverse, being the symbol of the Spanish Empire, and the cross of the Order of Christ between the castle of Castile and the lion of Leon, quarterly, on the reverse, probably meant to be the symbol of the Spanish-Portuguese empire of the Order of Christ.After the regaining of sovereignty in 1640, there were two Portuguese flags. The first showed the crowned royal arms on a white cloth. The second was also white but with the cross of the Order of Christ, charged with an armillary-sphere. This flag is called the ‘jack’ and ‘white ensign’ and is clearly meant to be used by warships and Portugues troops. These flags were parallelled by coins minted in 1640 and after, showing the royal coat of arms on the obverse and the cross-and-armillary-sphere on the reverse.




We are informed about the flags of independent Portugal after 1640, by flag charts from the end of the 17th century. The oldest one I could consult is the notebook of William Downman of 1685-1686. [9])

He gives the royal flag called ‘Portuguese Standard’, and a flag with the cross of the Order charged with the armillary sphere, called the ‘jack’.



The second source is the flag chart published by B. Lens  in about 1700.[10]) On this chart the same flags are given but a merchant flag is added:



The third version of the flags of Portugal has become the generally accepted version, albeit the symbol on the jack was obviously misinterpreted. We find this configuration of flags on the flag plates published by P. Mortier, Amsterdam 1700-1701.


The flag plate of P. Mortier, 1701.


On this flag plate  the jack or white flag of earlier versions is charged with the 16th century armillary sphere on its pedestal. The cross of the Order is reduced to two crosses mounted on the equator and one on top. In the legend the armillary sphere is described  as: “the sphere gold, the world blue and the crosses purple”.

This version of the Portuguese armillary sphere is not confirmed by any numismatic evidence. 

On the plate two other flags are added. The first is another “white flag”, the crosses of the equator replaced by two knobs; and the second a flag with an armillary sphere  between the royal arms and a monk with a cross.



On a flag chart from the middle of the 18th century the first flag is annotated with: Pav: de Portugal touchant la decouverte du Nouv: Monde. (Portuguese Flag for the discovery of the New World), the second flag with: Pav: de Portugal pour convertir les Americains (Portuguese Flag for the conversion of the Americans) and this may be the reason why these flags are associated with Brasil.


From this we may conclude that the correct version of the Poruguese jack and “white flag” showed the cross of the Order charged with a modernized version of the armillary sphere, like this:




Império Colonial Portugués




By Constitution of 19th of March 1933, Art. 3 of the Colonial Act, the ‘Portuguese Colonial Empire’ (Império Colonial Portugués) was created. It consiste of Angola,  Cabinda, Cabo Verde, Estado da India, Guiné, Macau, Mozambique, S. Juan Bautista de Ajuda, Sao Tomé e Principe  and Timor Leste


The Portuguese Colonial Empire was the responsibility of the Portuguese Minister of Colonies. The colonies themselves were ruled by Governors, the colonies of Mozambique and Angola by Governors General.

In 1951 the colonies were restyled into provinces overseas (Províncias Ultramarinas) and the denomination ‘Portuguese Colonial Empire’ became obsolete.

For the ‘Portuguese Colonial Empire’ an emblem or heraldic achievement was introduced that was common for all colonies. It consisted of the cross of the Order of Christ, charged with the armillary-sphere and coat of arms of Portugal.

The new emblem appeared for the first time on the reverse of coins issued in the colonies in 1935.


A version of this achievement, the cross of the Order of the Empire (Ordem do Imperio, founded 1932) was placed in the middle of the distinctive flags of the Governors-General, the Governors, the District-Administrators and the Inspector of Colonization. On these flags the cross of the emblem has yellow edges.



Flag of a Governor-General

Angola and Moçambique



Flag of a Governor

Cabo Verde, Guiné Portuguesa, São Tomé e Príncipe, Índia Portuguesa, Macau and Timor Leste


As a consequence of the greater autonomy of the colonies for each one of them a heraldic achievement was adopted by portaria nº. 8098 of 6th of May 1935.

The common part of these achievements was an armillary-sphere, crowned with a mural crown of five towers, on each tower the shield of the Order of Christ and a red armillary-sphere.

The armillary-sphere is charged with a shield parted per pale and enté en point. The first quarter is charged with the quinas of the five blue shields and the point is barry wavy of ten pieces Vert and Argent. On the second is the special symbol for the colony. On a listel is the formula COLÓNIA PORTUGUESA DE ……”, in 1951 changed into: “PROVÍN. PORTUGUESA DE …..”

After the liquidation of the Empire in 1975 the single remaining settlement of Macau was called GOVERNO DE MACAU


A sculpture on the Portuguese Overseas Bank (Banco Emissor no Ultramar) in Lisbon.

representing the achievement of Portugal surrounded by the coats of arms of the provinces


Fifteen years after the beginning of Salazar’s presidency and eight years before the collapse of the Portuguese Overseas Empire, the heraldist F.P. de Almeida Langhans designed an achievement for the Poruguese Overseas Empire which was recognized by the Overseas General Agency. It was as folows:


Achievement for the Portuguese Empire Overseas

by F.P. de Almeida Langhans, 1966 [11]


Arms: Portugal

Crest: An Armillary sphere topped with a square cross.

Order: Collar and star of the Order of the Tower and the Sword (Portugal, 1459).

Supporters: On the sinister a Black African Warrior with the banner of the Order of Christ; on the dexter a Warrior of the Indian Archipelago (Timor) with the banner of the Portuguese defense forces.

Motto: SPERA IN DEO ET FAC BONITATEM (Hope in God and do Good)

Compartment: An island in the ocean grown with the tropical vegetation of the provinces overseas.


The last Portuguese Empire Overseas consisted of:


Angola, Cabo Verde, Dão, Diu, Goa, Guiné Bissau, Macau, Moçambique,  Sao Tomé e Principe, and Timor Leste


The Constitution of Portugal of 1976 reads:


Article 5: Territory

1. Portugal shall comprise that territory on the European mainland which is historically defined as Portuguese, and the Azores and Madeira archipelagos.

2. The law shall define the extent and limit of Portugal's territorial waters, its exclusive economic zone and its rights to the adjacent seabed.

3. Without prejudice to the rectification of borders, the state shall not dispose of title to any part of Portuguese territory or of the sovereign rights that it exercises thereover.



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© Hubert de Vries, 2008.12.10 Updated 2009-10-01; 2018-01-13; 2018-12-25; 2019-03-11




[1]  From: Wikipedia.

[2]  K.B. Den Haag, Hs. 76 F 5 fol. 1 v°. ca. 1170

[3]) Gritzner, M. op.cit..

[4]  Sometimes also: In saltire white (or blue) and green, the cross of the Order. As on the Queen Mary Atlas by Diogo Homem 1558. Now in the British Library.

[5] http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.449521

[6] Compendio de cronicas de reies: http://bdh-rd.bne.es/viewer.vm?id=0000051546 :"Compendio de crónicas de reyes del Antiguo Testamento, gentiles, cónsules y emperadores romanos, reyes godos y de los reinos de Castilla, Aragón, Navarra y Portugal" ("Compendium of chronicles of the kings of the Old Testament, Gentiles, Roman consuls and emperors, Goth kings, and those of the kingdoms of Castile, Aragon, Navarre and Portugal"). Dated from the early 14th century, sometime between the death of King Ferdinand IV of Castile (1312) — Alfonso XI of Castile is depicted as a child — and the death of King Denis of Portugal (1325).

[7] https://www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/pontos-de-atracao/tapestry-with-the-portuguese-royal-coat-of-arms/

[8]  The picture is from Whitney Smith’s Flag Book but no source is given.

[9]  William Downman’s notebook. Ms. collection of the National Maritime Museum, ref. NVT/8 Plate IV.

[10]  Lens, B.: A General View of the Flags which most Nations bear at Sea. Ca. 1700, Pl. VI.

[11] Almeida Langhans, F.P.: Armorial do Ultramar Portugues. Agencia Géral do Ultramar, 1966.

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