300 Years Foundation Royal Academy Of History
The Royal Academy of Portuguese History, which celebrates its third centenary this year, was founded on 8 December 1720 as a response to the calls of various scholars for King João V to become the institution’s patron and protector. Emerging in a climate favourable to the arts and letters, subjects that were widely discussed and investigated in other private Academies at the time, the King relied from the beginning on the work of Manuel Caetano de Sousa, a Theatine cleric who developed the primary organisational lines of the Academy, alongside ve other gures of culture and erudition who had founded or participated in several other so-called “minor” academies: the Marquis of Alegrete, Fernão Telles da Silva; the Count of Ericeira, Francisco Xavier de Meneses; the Count of Villamayor, Manuel Teles da Silva; Martinho de Mendonça de Pina e Proença; and later António Caetano de Sousa. Following the academy’s foundation, a council presided by Manuel Caetano de Sousa was appointed, with the Count of Villamayor as his secretary. On 22 December, statutes divided in ten chapters were approved, in which, besides details regarding organisation and the academy’s fty members, it was determined that “The Academy will have its own Seal and Purpose... the Seal will consist of the Royal Coat of Arms, under which will appear the gure of Time imprisoned in chains, surrounded by the motto: Sigillum Regiae Academiae Historiae Lusitanae. The Purpose will be depicted by the goddess Veritas, as the ancient Romans had represented her, with the phrase: Restituet omnia.
The academy’s rst objective was the elaboration of the Historia Ecclesiastica destes Reynos, e depois tudo o que pertencer a toda a Historia delles, e de suas conquistas (Ecclesiastical History of these Kingdoms and all that pertains to their history and conquests). This work was to obey a certain method, without which it could not be accepted as scienti c, thus positioning the Royal Academy at the origins of scienti c history. For this purpose, the priority of “gathering manuscripts” and “summoning writers” was de ned, and Royal protection was decisive, “because without it, Archives are not opened, nor is what can be found in them discovered, but buried...”. Throughout the sessions of the Royal Academy, which featured the contributions of the above-named scholars, questioning, doubt and debate ourished. While none of the Histories was ever de nitively completed, there can be no doubt about the substantial endeavour of those pioneering scholars, re ected in letters, catalogues, notebooks and “papers” handed over for analysis to the censors. Most of these documents were printed at the time, while others awaited further treatment and were used when Father Luís Cardoso organised the so-called “Parish Memoirs”. The Institution also grew with the help of royal protection in the form of rents, favours and facilities, such as free entry into the Archives and the responsibility given to the Academy for the Defence and Conservation of Ancient Monuments.
The activity of the Royal Academy was maintained with great dynamism for over half a century. Founded to promote the writing of History, the Royal Academy would also play a fundamental role as a publisher, with the privilege of having its own dedicated censors.
Its last public act took place in 1777, when, as was tradition, an o cial address was made of behalf of the Academy to Queen Maria on her birthday. While falling into a period of decline from then on, the Academy was not de nitively extinguished. After a period of interruption lasting one hundred and fty years, the Royal Academy of Portuguese History was reborn on 19th May 1936.