From Crusader to Count: the story of the Almadas of Lanheses

Tuesday, December 10, 2013, 20:19

I want to show you a treasure just off the main square in Lanheses. I usually drive through the village on my way from Porto airport to Ponte de Lima but occasionally I have stayed there. This time I'm going to stop, take you with me and tell you a story.

Let's venture down this ancient shady avenue. Just glance to your right and you'll see a mossy stone pillory standing in a little glade: this is a national monument which once signified a place where justice was carried out. Let's go further. See! There at the end of the avenue stands a stone gateway with a coat of arms atop it, and through the archway we come to another of the Minho's elegant grey and white eighteenth century mansions hiding away from the bustle of daily life. This is the Paço de Lanheses and there's a strange tale of two multicultural knights of the late14th and 15th centuries connected with it. There's a Knight of the Garter, the exclusive honour founded by Edward the Black Prince, son of the English King Edward III; and there's the Count of Avranches, a city in France.

Paco de Lanhese

To read the rest of the story, click here.

The Paço de Lanheses is home to the dowager Countess de Almada. (The present count, the eldest of her five sons, lives in Lisbon. The youngest owns the distinctive torreão in Refoios do Lima, mentioned in a previous post "The Peopling of Portugal".)

It's more than likely that the diminutive countess, Dona Isabel, herself will welcome you, at the top of the flight of steps leading up to the entrance, for this is a typical house of its type and period with store rooms, wine cellars and shelters for the animals on the ground floor and stately rooms for the family on the first floor.

entrance Paco de Lanheses

We shall be going to the guest wing where we have the use, if we wish, of a large reception room and a smaller breakfast and sitting room with a log fire burning in the grate.

Large sittingroom

Small sittingroom

Here over tea and perhaps, if you come in autumn as we last did, a bowl of roast chestnuts gathered from the grounds of the manor house, Dona Isabel will tell you of her late husband's ancestors.

The earliest ancestor is a shadowy figure from the earliest epoch of Portuguese history. He is said to have been one of the English Crusader Knights who chose to fight the Moors in the Iberian Peninsula instead of taking the long road to the Holy Land. It must have seemed something of a soft option; they would help the ambitious Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, to lay claim to his country and seize whatever booty they could lay their hands on as a reward. The Portuguese chronicles record this Englishman as having the peculiar name of Liberche, but we know nothing of him other than that he distinguished himself in the taking of the castle of Almada on the banks of the River Tejo south of Lisbon, took its name as his own and settled in Portugal.

However improbable the name, the fact that this early ancestor may have been English is possibly supported by the fact that contact with England seems to have been regularly maintained during the next couple of centuries. Joao Vasques de Almada served as emissary from Dom João I to the English Court and fought with Henry V, distinguishing himself at the taking of Rouen. His son Pedro, also fought in the Hundred Years War, bringing back the body of the Duke of Clarence to the English lines when it seemed it was going to be taken by the French.

Eventually we come to Dom Pedro 's son, Alvaro Vaz de Almada. Also a warrior and Knight Errant, Alvaro de Amada fought in France with Henry VI and so distinguished himself at the siege of Avranches that in 1445 the English King appointed him Count of Avranches and Knight of the Garter, a highly unusual honour since most other Portuguese members of the this brotherhood have been members of the royal family. Although Avranches was lost to the English crown soon after, it seems that Louis XI of France endorsed the title.

Count of Avranches

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

There is much more to tell of the Almada family. Without one, Antão de Almada, 7th Conde de Avranches, there might be no Portugal for you to visit. He is accredited as one of the major conspirators in the successful plot to end the union of Spain and Portugal which came about  - and lasted for 40 years -  after the death of the unmarried King Sebastião at the Battle of Alcácer Quibir in Morocco.

So, bizarrely, the English Knight and the French Count turn out to be one and the same Portuguese person. The present title of Count of Almada, which the family prefer as it is a Portuguese title, was conferred by Queen Maria I in 1793.

If you would like to know more family stories, Dona Isabel would be delighted to welcome you to the guest wing of the Paço de Lanheses where you can stay in a comfy en suite bedroom such as this one.

Lanheses Bedroom

And you even have a little kitchen at your disposal so, if you find you have overeaten at lunch time you don't need to go out to another restaurant in the evening. Instead you can prepare yourself a snack with tea or coffee to eat in your own room.

Web site:

Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 12:11
Simply splendid!
Lourenço de Alma(...) wrote:
Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 19:39
We love de article.
You are allways welcome.
Mosteiro de S. Cr(...) wrote:
Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 19:47
The Paço de Lanheses is very nice, but if you want to know a also very nice Monastery (Rural Tourism) in Lafões region, center of Portugal, visit the site and this Cistercian Monastery founded in the
12th century. It was built in its presente form in the ends of 17th century still by the monks. Availavble are one suite, a house with 2 bedrooms, and five double roms.
Margaret Bradley wrote:
Tuesday, May 27, 2014, 20:02
Thank you all three for your kind comments. I hope you will look at some of the other articles. I find such a lot of interesting things in Portugal and, as I think you will have guessed, I have always felt welcome. I hope too to visit the Cistercian Monastery near Lafoes one day when we travel south. Espero conhece-los todos algum dia. Obrigadissima pelos comentarios. Margaret
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