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The Portuguese Community in the Port of London

Voyages of discovery
Sugar, wine and tobacco
The Jews and the Portuguese queen
Changing fortunes
From East End to West End
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The Jews and the Portuguese queen

Persecution of the Portuguese Jews

People of secret Jewish descent (known as New Christians) were persecuted in Portugal from 1496 onwards. This led to the founding of a small secret Portuguese Jewish community in London.

The unsettled religious status of England during the 16th century meant that the community was very secretive. Many of these Jews had served as mercantile agents for the Portuguese crown in Bristol and London. These men were the basis of the community.

Early Portuguese Jewish community

Jewish synagogue at Cochin, Kerela, India.
View full size imageJewish synagogue at Cochin, Kerela, India. © NMM
By 1550 there were around a hundred members of the Portuguese Jewish community in London. This centred on the Anes family who provided a physician to Queen Elizabeth.

The Portuguese Jewish community of London suffered a setback in 1609 when they were officially expelled. However, there is evidence that at least some of them continued to live in London.

During the 17th century, under the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition, many more Portuguese Jews fled to England, especially from the Canary Islands. This community had a large number of trading contacts extending from Jamaica and Brazil, through the Middle East to Cochin in India.

Hospital of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, Stepney Green, London.
View full size imageHospital of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, Stepney Green, London. © NMM
By 1656 the London Jewish community was openly allowed to practise its beliefs on where they could live or what work they could do. In the following year a small synagogue was established in Creechurch Lane in the City of London with a cemetery in the Mile End Road.

Charles and Catherine

One member of this community suggested the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza. For this act for the English crown Sir Augustin Coronel became the first English Jew to be knighted.

Among the followers of Catherine of Braganza were other prominent Portuguese Jews. To these were later added merchants and professionals such as the physicians Dr Jacob de Castro (1691-1762) and Dr Antonio Nunes Rebeiro Sanches (1699-1782). The census of 1695 produced more than 500 Portuguese Jewish names: 18 lived within the old walls of the city and the rest within the limits of the City of London.

A trading alliance

The Queen's House.
View full size imageInigo Jones's Queen's House. © NMM
Charles II married Catherine of Braganza in 1661. The marriage included trading privileges for British merchants in Madeira and the entire Portuguese Empire with the exception of Macao.

Catherine's dowry included the ports of Tangiers (Britain's first colony in Africa) and Bombay. The occasion may have prompted the line in the English children’s rhyme 'What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and all things nice.'

The rhyme may be a reference to Catherine of Braganza. She was described as of small stature, and the sacks of sugar and spice were originally brought to England in place of her dowry. The actual bullion dowry was brought to London later, to protect it from possible capture by the French.

In July 1662 Charles II presented his tea-drinking Catholic bride to his mother Henrietta Maria at the Queen's House in Greenwich. It was soon after his marriage to Catherine of Braganza that Charles II took an interest in Greenwich, and in particular in re-arranging the Queen's House.

Sebastio Manrique

Macau inner harbour.
View full size imageMacau inner harbour. © NMM
A few years after the arrival of Catherine in England an Augustinian priest by the name of Sebastiao Manrique arrived in London. This native of Oporto had sailed as a missionary to India and throughout the Far East eventually reaching Macao at the mouth of the Pearl River near Hong Kong.

Manrique's memoirs were published in Spanish. It is very likely that his death in London in 1669 was an attempt to keep the Portuguese 'discoveries' from falling into the hands of English pirates. Manrique's Portuguese servant is thought to have murdered the priest, whose body was placed in a box and thrown into Thames. 



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