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Posted by portugalpress on November 12, 2014
Alfredo Luís da Costa, born in Casével, near Castro Verde, was involved in the assassination of King Carlos I and the Crown Prince in 1908
José Júlio da Costa, from Garvão, Ourique, killed President Sidónio Pais in December 1918
The body of Manuel Buiça. From Trás-os-Montes, Buiça plotted the regicide in Terreiro do Paço, along with Costa
Illustration depicting the regicide in the foreign press
Illustration depicting the regicide in the foreign press

In the 1890s, the world economic recession, a decline in wine exports, Portuguese national bankruptcy and the loss of central Africa after the British Ultimatum all left Portugal in dire straits.

Strikes and even a revolution broke out in Porto and received wisdom in Portugal blamed their whole sorry mess on Great Britain. With the growing political and economic instability, more and more people began to align themselves with the Republican movement and the army, the professional classes and the lower-middle and working classes all demanded change. It is therefore no surprise that the first 20 years of the last century constituted a remarkable period of violence in Portuguese history.

The King and the Crown Prince were murdered in 1908, President Sidónio Pais was murdered in 1918 and Prime Minister António Granjo was assassinated in 1921.

It is remarkable that two of the assassins originated in a small area of the Baixo Alentejo, near Castro Verde.

Of the two regicides of February 1 1908, Alfredo da Costa was born in Casével near Castro Verde, while Manuel Buíça came from Trás-os-Montes. They participated in the Golpe do Elevador da Biblioteca on January 28, 1908 with the aim of assassinating the hated dictator João Franco and of proclaiming the Republic.

The plot was betrayed and many of its leaders imprisoned, but Costa and Buíça escaped and continued to meet with other conspirators in the Café Gelo in the Rossio. Frustrated in one plot, they were certainly deciding on their next target – the King himself, as he returned to Lisbon from a short stay in Vila Viçosa.

In the afternoon of February 1, Costa and an accomplice took up their positions in the Terreiro do Paço underneath the arcades of the government buildings, while Buíça and his accomplices waited near the statue of D. José. The steam ferry came alongside, the royal family landed and entered their landau. At 5.20pm as the landau pulled away, Buíça opened fire with his Winchester from the steps of the statue, and Costa immediately jumped onto the running board of the royal landau and fired two pistol shots into the King´s back. He was already dead, hit in the neck and shoulder by two shots from Buíça.

Queen Amélia thrashed at Costa with a bunch of flowers, and while D. Luís Filipe attempted to draw his revolver, Costa shot him in the chest. The prince managed to fire off four shots, two of which probably hit Costa, before Buíça shot him with his carbine. Costa was sabred around his back and face, and was marched off to the building of the Câmara Municipal, where he too was shot in the chest, possibly by an accomplice to prevent any interrogation. The same fate befell Buíça. Costa and Buíça were hailed by the people of Lisbon as “brave liberators of their country”, and their graves were covered with flowers.

Sidónio Pais was 46 years old when he was assassinated at Rossio railway station in Lisbon. After he came to power through a coup in 1917, he changed the law to allow a direct election for the Presidency of the Republic. Duly elected President in May 1917, he effectively suspended the Constitution of the Republic and was called Presidente-Rei, in all respects a dictator.

He escaped a first attempt on his life on December 5, 1918, but was shot and killed on December 14 by José Júlio da Costa. Sidónio’s funeral was marked by violent incidents and several deaths among the thousands who attended. He became a martyr figure for the conservative, Catholic sections of the community.

José Júlio da Costa came from Garvão in the concelho of Ourique in the Alentejo. Second son of a well-to-do family, he joined the army at age 16. He participated in the Implantation of the Republic in October 1910, saw military service in Timor, Mozambique and Angola before leaving the army in 1916 as a sergeant. Two years later, there was a strike among the farm labourers near Ourique.

José Júlio negotiated successfully on their behalf, but the government repudiated the settlement and many of the strikers were forced into exile.

José Júlio was incensed at this betrayal and resolved to deal with the Presidente-Rei, whom he viewed as the origin of the oppression of the working class and the traitor who had abandoned the Portuguese army to its fate in the trenches of Flanders.

He wrote down his intentions in a letter and, after dining at Restaurante Silva in the Chiado, penetrated the double police cordon around the President on the first floor of Rossio station, and fired two shots from the pistol hidden under his Alentejo cloak. The first hit Pais in the arm, the second made a fatal stomach wound.

Although Costa allowed himself to be captured, four other people were fatally injured in the tumult which followed his attack. Aged 52, José Júlio died in prison in 1946 without ever having been brought to trial.

The fact that Alfredo Costa and José Júlio da Costa both came from a small area in the middle of the Baixo Alentejo is probably a coincidence. But you never know.

By Lynne Booker

Lynne Booker, along with her husband Peter, founded the Algarve History Association.