The story of a Portuguese man whose courage made him a legend

Portugal’s history is full of amazing deeds, so much, that one can’t help but feel surprised about how a country so small, and on the far end of Europe, can boast so many feats. If you are completely unaware of this… Shame on you! Just kidding, but hey! Our heroes did accomplish outstanding things: Think about the Lusitanian chief Viriathus that managed to fight the Romans, only to be defeated by means of treachery. Or how Vasco da Gama managed to link Europe and Asia by an ocean route, a feat that was perceived as impossible. Or even more recently in 1922, when Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral became the first to link Europe with South America by plane.

Portuguese flag carried during the battle in question

Yet, many are the men and women that time as long forgotten, and whose names seem to be lost in the sands of time. One of these largely unknown Portuguese heroes goes by the name of Duarte de Almeida. Forever he will be remembered as “O Decepado” (in English “The severed”) a nickname/title generously given by friends and foes alike.

Portuguese king Afonso V

The year was 1476, and King Afonso V of Portugal, forced by political constraints, was to go to war against Aragon and Castile in what became known as the battle of Toro. The context was the same as 90% of the post “Reconquista” medieval wars: Succession issues. On one side fought the Portuguese together with Castilian “Juanistas” (supported the claims to the throne of Joanna “La Beltraneja”), one the other fought the forces of Aragon and the Castilian “Isabelistas” (supported the claims of Isabella of Castile). Both forces were relatively same sized and by the end of the day, there wasn’t any conclusive victory, at least from a military perspective. From a political perspective however, Castile and Aragon strengthen Isabella’s claims to the Castilian throne, thus forming the basis for the political unification of Spain under the “Catholic Kings”.

Battle of Toro

While the battle itself was a huge mess, one fact remains sure and unchallenged by anyone: The feats of Duarte de Almeida. During the course of the battle, “in a supreme effort and wrapped in a swirl of spears, he wields the Portuguese flag and defends it with heroic bravery. However, soon a sword cuts off his right hand… Unconcerned with the pain but committed to his honor and loyalty, Duarte de Almeida wields the banner with the left hand only to be struck again, thus losing his left hand as well. Unwillingly to admit defeat, he takes the banner in his teeth… Torn, shattered, still he resists, always resists. Then the Castilians surrounded him and pierced him with spears, lastly, he fell dying but not dead”.

Ilustration of Duarte de Almeida’s feat

Indeed, he didn’t die during the battle. Given the seriousness of his injuries, one might wonder how the hell was that possible in a period that seriously lacked medical knowledge and equipment. We know today, however, that he was well treated by the Castilians, and after several months he was released and returned to his family and country…  It’s said that Duarte de Almeida died in misery and almost forgotten… While we can’t verify the claims of misery, we are sure that if we’re writing his tales today, for sure he wasn’t forgotten!


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