Nevertheless, it seems that the name of this war came from the fact that Manuel Godoy gave the queen of Spain a branch from an orange tree picked in Portugal.
Dom Manuel Godoy, painting by Fransisco Goya, 1801, depictingthe Spanish vioctory over Portugal in the War of the Oranges
Taken from the book “A Guerra das Laranjas – A Perda de Olivença: 1796 - 1801” (The War of the Oranges – the loss of Olivença: 1796 – 1801) by António Ventura
After the war of the Pyrenees (Roussilion) the relations between Portugal and Spain were somewhat strange because Spain had now become an allie of France and Portugal had still that old allegiance with England. Although both monarchies had close relations, politically it wasn't the same since France pressured Spain continually to allow the passage of their troops to invade Portugal. Even if the war only lasted less then 1 year, the diplomatic relations that preceded the war were not only far from simple but also a good explanation of the French Invasions.
Here is an analysis of the 9 most important reasons that brought these two countries into the war of the Oranges.
1. French pirates in the Atlantic
The signature of the Basel peace treaty between France and Spain made relations between Spain and Great Britain tense since the last one didn't liked the notion that European monarchies were allying themselves with rebellious and republican countries. And even thought Portugal had only fought alongside Spain in the Roussilion, it didn't took part of the treaty signing.
Now that republican France had accomplished a more safe position in Europe so did their pirates in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Portugal having a vast empire in Brazil and Africa saw their ships being threated. Spain ships were safe though. So, there was no other solution to ask English help since Portugal didn't had a strong naval strength in militarily speaking, with no results. And asking Spain for help wouldn't bring anything either for it now was building a diplomatic basis with France. And since Portugal had an interest in neutrality in the whole France/Spain issue there was no interest in harming the diplomatic relations with our neighbors.
2. Different allies and the impossible wish of neutrality
What explains the problems between Portugal and Spain the best is the fact that these 2 countries had 2 different allies. Portugal and Great Britain and Spain now with France. Portugal had build a strong commercial naval fleet and was dependent on others militarily. England had always provided but was Frances enemy number one. Spain was still known for its powerful fleet but had now linked itself to France. France wanted Portugal to submit and was using our neighbor Spain to accomplish that. Can you all see how complicated things were?
After the Pyrenees Spain saw itself now as the buffer between Portugal and France and was the diplomatic mediator between those two. But forcing Portugal to sign a peace treaty with France and forcing us to accept the French terms was only pressuring our wish of neutrality that we wanted so much. Even though Portugal maintained the talks for this treaty to happen it took 4 to 5 years to come almost to a conclusion, which in the end it didn't; we went into war.
3. Declaration of war to Great-Britain from Spain
Spain declared war to Great Britain on the 7th of October of 1796. This caused more trouble in the relations that Portugal had with those two countries and what it intended to avoid with France. Portugal had declared it's neutrality on September 17th but in the brim of a potential war this would go down the drain. A war between England and Spain would mean that the 1st one would use Portugal as a military platform, that France would then have even more reasons to hate us, that great amounts of money in trade would be lost, a.s.o. And no way on thinking to cut diplomatic relations with Great Britain like Spain wanted Portugal to do. This would be even worse.
With Portugal not wanting to loose it's old ally and trying to maintain a sustainable policy with Spain what happened was that the Spaniards started to move troops to the Spanish/Portuguese border. At the end of 1796 an army of 25 to 30 thousand men were in the Extremadura region, form which 5 to 6 thousand cavalry. And reinforcement arrived at the beginning of February of the following year.
4. Battle of Cape Saint Vincent of 1797
In February the Franco-Spanish and British fleets joined in battle at the mouth of the Mediterranean sea near Portugal. This was another headache for this country. And of course, Portuguese harbors where used by British ships making Portugal look more guilty then it really was. Lagos became a provisional prison for Spanish sailors. Rumors said that there were 20 thousand French soldiers ready to march int Portugal, so not even 3.000 English were sent to defend us. But things wouldn't stop here between Spain and England.
Nelson's approach to the San Nicolas during the Battle of Saint Vincent, National maritime Museum, Greenwich.
Nelson hurt during the Battle of Tenerife, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
In July the Nelson attacks Cadiz with the intention to destroy all the battle ships held at the harbor. Immediately France insists that Portugal should be invaded to stop it's, so thought, atrocious and secretive participation in this conflict.
6. The vexed treaty of August 10th, 1797
Since 1796 that Portugal intended to negotiate a peace treaty with France, without accepting it's surrender terms so it wouldn't loose Great Britain as an ally. Hence the attempt to declare itself as neutral. In august of 1797 progress was made, but the Portuguese ambassador, António de Araújo de Azevedo was heavily criticized for accepting to many French terms and therefore Portugal only decided to rectify the treaty partially. Several meetings between Portugal and Godoy happened and it was possible to remove a good part of the Spanish troops at the border. The treaty was signed and it loosened the knot around Godoy's neck. Articles 4th and 5th of the treaty were left to be discussed later but the treaty itself wasn't been rectified by Portugal yet. In fact, everyone became suspicious with the Portuguese attitude. What happened was that the treaty was sent back to Portugal when it was on it's way to Paris when in this city the coup-d'etat of 18 Frutidor happened. This was also criticized and on October the deadline to rectify the treaty closed negotiations. On December the Portuguese ambassador was arrested for attempt to corrupt the politicians of the Directory.
7. The fall of Manuel Godoy
On March of 1798 the prince of the Peace, after difficult relations in the Portuguese and French process (don't forget that Spain wanted Portugal on it's side), ceased to be the prime Minister of Spain. Even though Portugal intended to fight for a general peace, the removal from the Spanish diplomat gave this country only one option: to reinforce all military strongholds along the border, rebuilding them, recruiting new men, settling new arsenal, etc. France moves it's ships alongside North Africa, reaching Egypt (the Battle of Aboukir Bay of 1798). Britain retaliates and Paris hears that there were 5 Portuguese battle ships amongst them. Even if England won, the new anti-French position could not help Portugal much. The problem maintained.
8. Portugal as a British military platform
Because of the battles between Great Britain and Spain most English troops that were in Portugal to protect the borders with Spain were allocated to great displease to the national politics. And the British officials were not hiding that Portugal was involved, even spreading rumors that ships were departing from Lisbon like in the case of the attack to the Mahon harbor. From the English side there was no regard of the attempt of maintenance of peace between Portugal and Spain. Harbors were used to their own pleasure, troops were moved around away from the land borders, critics on the diplomatic relations with Spain continued. And Nelson even went against orders form Lisbon for the Portuguese ships to return to Portugal. And of course, the attack on Mahon just made Madrid even more furious, so all available Spanish troops (100 to 120 thousand soldiers in 4 columns to enter through Montijo, Beira Baixa, Galiza and Trás-os-Montes) were ordered to go to the border between the two countries. The fresh arrival of new British troops in Portugal makes Madrid lift almost the ban of French troops crossing Spain to invade Portugal.
9. The treaty between Portugal and Russia (1799)
In the same year as the coup of 18 of Brumaire Portugal signed a trade treaty with Russia. So far no problems; these two countries had done that in that past. But with the rise of Napoleon, French relations with Portugal got worse and we needed military aid in case of an invasion. So, in September a defensive alliance was signed between Portugal and Russia, almost at the same time as Russia declares war on Spain. The timing was awful! Spain was very close to declare war on Portugal. Portuguese diplomats in Spain received orders form Lisbon to return and Portuguese ships in Carthage were harassed by French pirates to the point of where the Portuguese attacked the pirates, which was offended Spain criticizing such behavior in Spanish territory.
Luis Pinto de Sousa Coutinho, Portuguese Prime-Minister from 1788 to 1803, painted by Bertolozzi.
Portugal maintained the talks of peace to gain time, Spanish troops continued to move to the border. In September 1800 filed hospitals were set up in the regions of Extremadura and Galiza, in November arrived 1500 British soldiers (numbers to reach until 4000), 5 to 6 thousand Portuguese men were to be recruited and war was to start if a breakout of an epidemic in Cadiz hadn't stopped it.
The return of Manuel Godoy brought a slight hope but Portugal could not accept the Spanish demands of January of 1801: the immediate waiver of the allegiance with Great Britain, the closure of Portuguese harbors for British ships, opening them for French and Spanish ships, delivery of one or more provinces for the return of Malta and Mahon and the payment of a compensation to Spain.
On February the 27th Spain declared war on Portugal.