Damião de Gois

DAMIAO DE GOIS was born in 1502 to a family of nobles in Alenquer, a town thirty miles north of Lisbon. Góis’ life would span the first three-quarters of the sixteenth century. By the age of nine, Damião de Góis had begun his formal education in languages, sciences, music and dance at the court of King Manuel I, in Lisbon. In 1521 King Manuel died, and his successor and son, João III dispatched the twenty-one year old Damião de Góis to Antwerp, where for five years he would exercise the office of secretary at the Casa da India, the principal commercial depot in the entire Portuguese empire.

By 1528 Góis merited a diplomatic assignment to England, the first of several missions abroad. In 1529 he traveled to Vilnius (then of Poland) and in 1531 he traveled to Poland and Russia on a mission of diplomacy, passing en route through Schleswig, Denmark. Then, in Wittenberg, Góis attended a sermon by Martin Luther. Later the two dined, joined by another Lutheran leader, Melancthon, with whom Góis would correspond for seven years. Góis enrolled in the University of Louvain (Flanders) in 1532. There he had opportunity to meet the Spaniard Juan Luis Vives, another dedicated Iberian humanist. In 1533 he visited Erasmus in Freiburg, then declined an invitation from King João to return to Portugal as a teacher of humanistic studies. The following year Góis returned to Freiburg, spending five months as the guest of Erasmus. Upon the advice of Erasmus, Góis settled in Padua for further studies in 1534. In Italy he would establish a long-term friendship with the reform Cardinal Bembo.

During his four years in Padua Góis also made the brief acquaintance of Simão Rodrigues, a zealous Portuguese cleric who had rose to prominence in Portugal during the 1540s, who denounced Góis as a freethinking heretic first in 1545, and again in 1550. These acts set the stage for the reopening of the case against Góis in 1571, which would lead to his conviction.

In 1538 Góis returned from Italy to Louvain, where he married Joana de Hargen. Góis continued his studies, but was taken prisoner by the invading French in 1542, just as he attempted to mediate the crisis. After paying his own ransom, he was handsomely rewarded for his negotiation efforts by the Emperor Charles V. Three years later King João called Góis back to Portugal. Góis settled near the Castle of São Jorge in Lisbon with his wife and three young sons, enjoying an appointment as royal historian at the Torre do Tombo, the national archives.

During the next twenty years he produced three important works: the Urbis Olisiponis Descriptio (1554); the Chronicle of the Most Fortunate King Manuel (1566-67); and the Chronicle of Prince João II (1567). More than anything, Góis’ strong links with Protestant reformers during his earlier years abroad led to his final, humiliating downfall. In 1571 the Inquisition once again reviewed the case against Góis, this time calling him before the inquisitorial board. By December of 1572 Góis had been convicted as a heretic and was imprisoned. Old and ill, he was set free sometime later and died under strange circumstances in 1574. The official version of his death depicts him as having fallen into a fireplace late at night at an inn. However, when his remains were transferred in 1941, an analysis revealed a cranial fracture, confirming for some the hypothesis that Damião de Góis was murdered.

Copyright © 2022