King Edward III, regarded as one of the great negotiators of the Middle Ages.

On this day in 1373, the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1373 established the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance, the oldest alliance still in force in the world. Under the terms of the treaty, Portugal is required to supply England with port wine “for every noble household,” and the English are required to supply Portugal with a variable quantity of jellied eels. It is notable that Portugal has not claimed its share of the bargain since 1374.


  1. Jared says:

    Serious question: has the full text of the treaty ever been recovered? I seem to remember reading that the Foreign Office had to rely on limited excerpts from it during WWII because they couldn’t find the original or any true copy. Have historians had better luck since, or is it forever tucked away in some dark corner of Dr. Boli’s cavernous library? The treaty is commonly said to be the oldest active treaty in the world, but for all we know, either or both parties are reneging on their commitments!

  2. John M says:

    Wasn’t that about the time that the Inquisition decided that forcing suspected heretics to eat jellied eels until they confessed was too cruel, and returned to using the more humane iron maiden, rack, thumbscrew and other typical fraternity initiation instruments?

  3. or forced to sit in the Commons all day and listen to the speeches and raucous rioting and go to the Lords and figure out where they went to school.

  4. JPC says:

    I share Jared’s curiosity about the original text of the treaty. The Windsor Treaty (1386, a reinforcement of that first aliance) is available online here: http://digitarq.dgarq.gov.pt/viewer?id=4186035

    But there’s no record of the 1373 document in the Portuguese historical archives (as far as I know…). And I would very much like to know if it really uses the expression «port wine». Could you confirm that, please?

  5. Dr. Boli says:

    The delightful thing about a treaty that has gone missing from the archives is that one can imagine its provisions rather than having to do the work of reading them, which (given the inevitably cautious and repetitive nature of diplomatic language) is boring. In this case, we can use reason rather than research to answer the question. If you were an Englishman, would you negotiate a treaty with Portugal without assuring yourself of a steady supply of port? No; it is simply inconceivable.

  6. JPC says:

    I see your point and it’s a powerfull one, indeed. But my question was a bit more specific and relates to the history of Port Wine. You see, the first time the expression «port wine» was used was in 1675, in an document regarding trade with Holland. As you might know, Port referes to the city of Oporto. But “port wine” is not produced in Oporto, it’s only stored and shipped there. The famous wine is produced in the Douro region, upstream the Douro river, and the locals even today call it «fine douro wine». In the XIV century, the Douro wine (not exactly the same qualitiy of port wine we have nowadays, even thoough it was already a more sweet and strong kind of wine) was shipped to England mostly in the sea port of Viana do Castelo, not Oporto. That’s why it would be a great novelty in port history, if that expression was already in use in the Middle Ages. One way or another, Port Wine owes it’s fame and superb quality mostly to brittish entrepreneurs (and dutch, to lesser extent), that owned most of the wine estates and trade businesses. And even today some of the principal port wine companies are from old brittish families.

  7. JPC says:

    Anyway, it was my first visit to this (mighty fine) Magazine, and I didn’t get that it was sarcastic, sorry, but all’s not lost and your readers get to know a little bit about Port Wine, the portuguese nectar of the gods. Time’s are though down here and we need all the publicity we can get for our products. Before there’s a new mass wave of portuguese refugees…

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