The Matrioshka Principle and How it was Overcome: Portuguese and Habsburg Imperial Attitudes in Sri Lanka and the Responses of the Rulers of Kotte (1506-1598)

In: Journal of Early Modern History
Zoltán Biedermann Birkbeck College, University of London

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This article deals with roughly the first hundred years of Portuguese expansion in Sri Lanka (1506-1600), the local “reactions” to it, and how the interaction was changed when the Portuguese Crown fell to the Habsburgs in 1580. It analyzes how Portuguese and Sri Lankan notions of kingship, authority and Empire were included in a dialog that indicates the existence of commonalities in the field of political culture. The imperial projects of Portugal and the Sri Lankan kingdom of Kotte, so it seems, had a potential for mutual accommodation, although some misunderstandings remained inevitable. The argument then moves to the transformations that occurred in the 1580's-90's, when a new policy of territorial conquest was put into practice by the Portuguese authorities. It is argued that this change of policy had to do with the Iberian Union of Crowns, although Spanish influence on Portuguese imperial policy in Asia was not linear. Crucially, another set of factors has to be sought in the Sri Lankan political landscape.

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