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Title: Epidemics, quarantine and state control in Portugal, 1750-1805
Authors: Abreu, Laurinda
Editors: John Chircop, Francisco Javier Martinez
Keywords: Public Heath
State Control
Sanitary cordons
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: Manchester University Press
Citation: Abreu, Laurinda, “Epidemics, quarantine and state control in Portugal, 1750-1805”, Mediterranean quarantines, 1750-1914. Space, identity and power, John Chircop and Francisco Javier Martinez (eds.), Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2018, pp. 232-255
Abstract: Public health and poor relief were areas in which the Portuguese crown asserted and demonstrated its power during the construction of the early modern state. Having been subject to government intervention since the late fifteenth century, hospital management, disease control, the regulation of the ‘medical’ professions and the distribution of poor relief and healthcare assistance came to reflect all the vicissitudes that influenced the exercise of political power. This study focusing on the late sixteenth century showed, purely with regard to epidemics, that populations were better protected under a strong government that was able to impose itself on the towns and force them to implement the crown’s orders and sanitary measures. Conversely, whenever royal power appeared weaker, as it often did, the plague tended to spread uncontrolled while the towns waited for instructions or were forced to implement counterproductive measures. This pattern, which may also be examined as a barometer of the relations between central government and local communities, continued without major changes until the latter half of the eighteenth century, when new factors were added to the equation. The possibility that the fear of epidemics and the introduction of public safety measures may have been exploited for purely political gain can be seen first in May 1756 and again in late 1800. In the first case, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo used a remote threat of plague – reported two months previously in Algiers – to ensure his political survival. By controlling the navy and army, which he deployed along the Atlantic coast supposedly to protect the country from a peril that by then was threatening Naples, Carvalho e Melo displayed the extent of his power to those who were manoeuvring to oust him but ended up being banished from court themselves. In 1800 the situation was rather different, in that this time the government as a whole presented its actions as being a response to the yellow fever epidemic in Cadiz, when in fact the country’s military defence was also at stake. The notion that this first military cordon sanitaire to be established in Portugal had been planned more to police the border with Spain than to control the spread of the epidemic is supported by its geography. Even though the Mediterranean was the main source of contagion, the government decided to deploy troops along the country’s northern border and to man the cordon in the south with militias. In both cases, men were deployed on the Portuguese side of the frontier to shadow the movements of the Spanish army, which was massing near the border in preparation for an invasion of Portugal. A significant point in this interpretation is that the task of organising the cordon of militias was entrusted to Pina Manique, who was also responsible for recruiting soldiers for the army. This proved extremely difficult in Alentejo, where there was little appetite for enlisting in the army voluntarily. Everything suggests that this short-lived cordon sanitaire, which has left little trace, was immediately prepared for war. The last case analysed in this paper is from 1804. Although the political scene was still highly unstable – after the Portuguese defeat in the War of the Oranges the country feared French reprisals for refusing to close its ports to Britain, a choice that ultimately led to the Napoleonic invasions of 1807-11 – there is no sign that any political capital was made out of the genuine danger posed by the yellow fever epidemic that had spread throughout Andalusia and was threatening Portugal. The cordon established this time was significant in that it was a genuine cordon sanitaire (in contrast to the cordon of 1800, which had not gone beyond the stage of troop deployment) and marked the beginning of a new phase in the way the country dealt with epidemics. Ongoing research has revealed that it drew on the experience of recruitment gained in 1800 and closely followed the prevailing ideas in Europe regarding the arrangement of military guard posts, the inspections to be performed by the municipal medical boards, and the roles planned for local hospitals and temporary lazarettos. Many of the difficulties encountered by the authorities in setting up the 1804 cordon sanitaire have now been elucidated, but the fact that the country again escaped the scourge of yellow fever – whereas, for example, the epidemic killed 36% of Malaga’s population in that year – shows that it was highly effective.
ISBN: 978-1-5261-1554-6
Type: bookPart
Appears in Collections:CIDEHUS - Publicações - Capítulos de Livros

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