Conscience and Empire: Politics and Moral Theology in the Early Modern Portuguese World

in Journal of Early Modern History
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


This article presents the first reconstruction of the relationship between conscience and empire in the Portuguese World between 1500 and 1650. It shows to what extent the foundation of the Mesa da Consciência (“Board of Conscience”), a royal council of theologians devoted to issues like war, commerce, conversion, and slavery, shaped the imperial ideology. In this context, “conscience” emerged as a keyword in the political vocabulary, reflecting the importance of moral theology for the political language in which the empire was conceived. It not only bolstered the hegemony of theologians but also encouraged the emergence of a missionary casuistry, which became increasingly independent of the central authorities in the kingdom and in Rome. Under the Habsburg domination (1580-1640) this system was dismantled and theologians lost their centrality at court. After the Restoration of 1640 some of the old institutions were recovered in name, but the old interconnection between politics and moral theology was not re-installed.

Conscience and Empire: Politics and Moral Theology in the Early Modern Portuguese World

in Journal of Early Modern History




João Francisco Marques“Os jesuítas confessores da corte portuguesa na época barroca, 1550-1700,” Revista da Faculdade de Letras (Universidade do Porto) s. 2 12 (1995): 231-270; José Pedro Paiva Os bispos de Portugal e do Império 1495-1777 (Coimbra 2006); Idem “El Estado en la Iglesia y la Iglesia en el Estado: Contaminaciones dependencias y disidencia entre la monarquía y la Iglesia del reino de Portugal 1495-1640” Manuscrits 25 (2007): 45-57; Angel Santos Hernández Las misiones bajo el patronato portugués (Madrid 1977).


Gerta Calmann“The Picture of Nobody: An Iconographical Study,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 23 (1960): 60-104; Anthony Archdeacon “The Publication of No-body and Some-body: Humanism History and Economics in the Early Jacobean Public Theatre” Early Modern Literary Studies 16 (2012) available online: (07/04/2012). This theatrical tradition was influenced by the English morality play The Somonyng of Everyman (late fifteenth-century).


Luís Filipe F. R. Thomaz“L’idée imperiale manueline,” in La Découverte le Portugal et l’Europe: Actes du colloqueed. Jean Aubin (Paris 1990) 35-103.


Charles Martial de Witte“Le ‘regimento’ de la ‘Mesa da Consciência’ du 24 novembre 1558,” Revista Portuguesa de História 9 (1969): 10.


Verdict of March 2 1569in Manuel de Meneses Chronica do muito alto e muito esclarecido D. Sebastião decimosexto Rey de Portugal . . . Segunda Parte (Lisbon 1730) 87-88.


Sanjay Subrahmanyam“Holding the World in Balance: The Connected Histories of the Iberian Overseas Empires, 1500-1640,” American Historical Review 112 (2007): 1359-1385.


António Manuel Hespanha“Luis de Molina e a escravização dos negros,” Análise Social 35 (2001): 937-960; Zeron Ligne de foi 271-294.


Anthony Pagden“Commerce and Conquest: Hugo Grotius and Serafim de Freitas on the Freedom of the Seas,” Mare Liberum 20 (2000): 35-55.

Index Card

Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 26 26 18
Full Text Views 24 24 24
PDF Downloads 3 3 3
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0