The rivalry which had existed between the Portuguese and the French in the early days of Brazilian colonization has already been referred to.
With this exception, the first era of the Colony of Brazil was comparatively peaceful that is to say, the Portuguese, proving themselves of a more liberal temperament than the Spaniards, did not suffer from the fierce aggressions of the English and the Dutch to the same extent as did their Castilian neighbours. In 1580, however, the situation altered itself abruptly in a most unpleasant fashion so far as the Portuguese were concerned.
In that year Portugal became subject to Spain, and thus the Portuguese Colonies were now controlled by Spain. As a result of this Brazil had to undergo the enmity of the English and the Dutch in addition to that of the French.
This latter was now of comparatively old standing. The forays and raids of the French had, indeed, continued almost without cessation, Pernambuco and Paraiba being two of the chief spots attacked. In many of these incursions the French were assisted by the natives, with many tribes of whom they had succeeded in establishing good relations.
In the course of time, however, it became evident that the French, like the British, were to be feared in these neighbourhoods rather on account of their raids than for the danger of a permanent settlement.
Until 1580 several English expeditions had proceeded to Brazil, and had succeeded in trafficking with the Portuguese in complete amity. One or two of the English are even said to have established themselves near Bahia in the quite early days of the colony, and to have lived on good terms with the Iberian lords of the soil.
Afterwards, through the instigation of the European officials, this cordiality became lessened, and in 1580, as has been said, the nations proceeded to open warfare in South America.
In 1582 Edward Fenton visited the coast of Brazil, and was attacked by a Spanish squadron. One of the latter vessels was sunk, and a decided victory was obtained by Fenton, who, after this, put out to sea. This was the first hostile action undertaken by the English on the Brazilian coast.
In 1591 Cavendish came to raid the various settlements. He ravaged many places, and eventually came to Espiritu Santo, where he landed a force, which, through bad generalship, was much cut up by the defenders of the place.
Cavendish after this left the coast, and died on the way home to England some say of a broken heart.
In 1595 James Lancaster's expedition arrived off Brazil. Lancaster had been brought up among the Portuguese in Europe. He understood their temperament, and was thus especially well equipped to command an enterprise such as this.
After taking a number of prizes on the high seas, he fell in with another expedition commanded by Captain Venner, and the two forces united, Lancaster remaining in chief command.
The English fleet now sailed for Recife. In this port they discovered three large Dutch ships, which permitted them to attack the port without interference. Lancaster, who displayed admirable generalship, landed his forces.
These surrounded and captured Recife, and the English found themselves masters of a large amount of booty. Lancaster, who was a tactician as well as a fighter, now made terms with the Dutch, and offered them freight to take to England on terms which caused the Dutch ships to abandon their attitude of benevolent neutrality in favour of an active alliance.
Shortly afterwards a squadron of five vessels hove in sight; these proved to be French. By presenting them with a gift of Brazil wood, Lancaster won these to his cause as well. So now a fleetof three nations English, Dutch, and French were simultaneously occupied in plundering Recife
Against this force the Portuguese could do little. Fire-ships and blazing rafts were sent down the river by the garrison who had taken refuge inland; but these attempts were frustrated, and, after some few weeks spent at Recife, Lancaster sailed away with his rich plunder, and the gathering of the hawks dispersed. It is worthy of note that Lancaster exhibited a trait sufficiently rare in his comrades. He apparently remained content with his booty, and determined to enjoy it, for he does not appear any more in the character of a buccaneer.
The Dutch now gave serious attention to South America, and a West India Company was formed in Holland for no other purpose than to capture and exploit Brazil. The first fleet, commanded by Jacob Willikens, sailed from Holland in 1623.
Both the authorities in the peninsula and Brazil had received warning of what was threatening, but no adequate steps would seem to have been taken for the defence of the colonies. The Dutch fleet anchored off Bahia, where a force was landed, which succeeded in obtaining possession of the town.
The Dutch were welcomed by the European Jews, who had taken up their abode in that place, and also by the negroes, both of whom appeared to live in dread of the Inquisition.
The Portuguese themselves, in the first instance, fled to the woods, under the impression that the raid was merely temporary, and that a day or two would see their waters free of the marauding bands, and would restore the sacked town to its rightful owners.
When it became evident that the Dutch were fortifying the town and meant to retain possession of it for good, the national spirit of the Portuguese proved equal to the occasion, and Bishop Marcos Teixeira, after assuming the garb of a penitent, took command of the army, and hoisted the crucifix for his standard.
The Bishop proved an able commander, and the Dutch were closely invested in Bahia, finding themselves unable to stir outside their fortifications.
In the meanwhile the news of the capture of the capital of Brazil had produced a tremendous shock in the peninsula, and the greatest fleet which had ever sailed south was prepared to assist Bahia. Dom Manoel Menezes commanded the Portuguese section of the forces, which consisted of 4,000 men in twenty-six ships, while Fadrique de Toledo commanded the Spanish fleet of forty sail, which carried 8,000 soldiers.
On March 28, 1625, this formidable array of vessels appeared off Bahia.
The Portuguese colonists had continued to besiege their captured capital, and the Bishop, who had striven and fought nobly, died, worn out by too great exertions. At the sight of the Iberian fleet, the Brazilians made a fresh attack upon the capital with enthusiasm, but the rash attempt was repulsed with great loss.
Several encounters now took place, and the Dutch sent out fire-ships by night in the hope of destroying their enemy. The attempt, however, failed, and in the end the French and English mercenaries in the Dutch service, becoming tired of the struggle, worked their influence in the cause of surrender.
Shortly after this occurred, a powerful fleet of Dutch ships, under Baldwin Henrick, came in sight, but on seeing the Spanish standards flying instead of the Dutch, sailed away to the north. Had it remained, it would undoubtedly have gained a decisive victory, since the Iberian forces were in much confusion.
The Dutch prisoners were honourably treated, and in the end returned to Holland, where they met with a somewhat contemptuous reception on the part of their fellow-countrymen.
In 1627 the Dutch West India fleet fell in with a Mexican treasure fleet, captured this in its entirety and the enormous wealth thus gained gave great impetus to the enterprises of this kind. The Dutch now raided the north of the Continent, and in 1629 prepared an important expedition against Pernambuco.
Fifty vessels sailed from Holland for this purpose.
The force landed under the Dutch commander Wardenburg, and commenced operations in earnest.
First the town of Olinda, and then the neighbouring town of Recife, were captured, after very severe fighting. It was some while, however, ere the position of the Dutch became secure, and even the short passage between the twin towns could only be effected in circumstances of great danger and difficulty, owing to the raids of the investing Portuguese.
Soon after this the Dutch captured other neighbouring ports, such as Nazareth and Paraiba. The dominion of Holland in Northern Brazil now appeared assured.
At the same time the counter attacks of the Portuguese were ceaseless, and the leaders of the Dutch garrisons in South America made representations to the Netherlands in favour of reinforcements and a commander of real note.
In response, Prince Mauritz, Count of Nassau, was sent out to take supreme control of the Dutch ventures on Brazilian soil. A personality more fitted for this particular purpose could scarcely have been lighted upon.
For Prince Mauritz was not only a brave soldier, but a tactful and chivalrous enemy; indeed, his figure stands out in glowing colours in this campaign among the woods of the far southern coast, and the continuance of the Dutch dominion was no doubt largely due to his individuality.
His arrival with nearly 3,000 men inspired the worn soldiers of Holland with new confidence. Ceará was captured, and São Jorge da Mina was attacked and taken as well.
In his few moments of leisure Count Mauritz gave his attention to the improvement of the town of Recife, Olinda being now utterly destroyed, as a result of the numerous battles of which it had stood as the unhappy centre.
He drained the marshy ground, and planted it with oranges, lemons, and groves of coconut-trees, thus embellishing the country in the neighbourhood. Very little leisure was permitted for undertakings of this kind, for the Portuguese, persevering in their determination to regain their coastal territories, persisted in their attacks whenever an opportunity offered.
A certain number, whose patriotism was less dear to them than their purses, consented to traffic with the Dutch, and the Jews upheld with enthusiasm the interests of the new-comers in this matter; but the Portuguese, on the whole, remained steadfast to their ideals, and refused to have any dealings with the intruders.
By this time the Dutch had every right to consider themselves as likely to remain the permanent possessors of Northern Brazil. The circumstance, as a matter of fact, which was destined seriously to disturb their dominion came in the light of a totally unexpected happening.
Throughout the history of South America, when its lands were the colonies of Spain and Portugal, events in the European Peninsula had nearly always been echoed in the Southern Continent.