These highly attractive views of Royal Navy frigates in the Tagus serve to illustrate the centuries-old alliance between England and Portugal first forged in 1373 and confirmed by the Treaty of Windsor in 1386. Greatly strengthened by a treaty concluded by Oliver Cromwell in 1654 and the subsequent marriage of the newly-restored Charles II to Princess Catherine of Braganza in 1662, the bond between the two nations was forever sealed by Wellington's successful campaign to liberate Portugal from French occupation which began in 1808. Long before that however, ships of the Royal Navy had always been welcome in the Tagus [see lot 36 in this catalogue for William Anderson's painting of the Spanish prizes going into the river after the battle of Cape St. Vincent], and once Portugal had regained her freedom, the people of Lisbon embraced every British warship with open arms.
Thus, in one of these views, the guns of the Belem Tower are saluting the new arrival just as the Captain of the frigate emerges from his ship's entry port into the waiting jolly boat. Once ashore, he will undoubtedly present his credentials to the city's governor and it is possible that these pictures relate to one of the two occasions when British warships were sent to the Tagus to defend Lisbon against Spanish-assisted reactionaries in 1826 and then to give aid during the civil war in the early 1830s.
The historic Belem Tower, often called Belem Castle in many older sources and one of Europe's most iconic landmarks, was actually built as a fortified lighthouse and formed the apex of a triangle of three structures intended to guard the approaches to Lisbon. Begun by order of King Manuel I (1515-20) during the first year of his reign and completed in 1521, the tower originally stood on an island in the middle of the Tagus until the course of the river was diverted by an earthquake in 1777, resiting it to its present location adjacent to the northern bank. Designed by Diego and Francisco Arruda in the Manueline style - it is, in fact, Portugal's only pure Manueline building - the tower is decorated with elaborate symbols of national as well as royal power including armillary spheres [King Manuel's badge of honour], crosses of the Military Order of Christ and even some naturalistic elements such as a rhinoceros, the first such representation in stone known in Europe. Subsequently used as a prison and then a telegraph station, occupying French troops destroyed the upper two stories in 1807 although these were later reconstructed to restore its original appearance.