On this date in 1757, 17 people went to the scaffold over wine prices in Portugal.
The seeds of these hangings had been sown back in 1703 when the Methuen Treaty gave Portuguese wines favorable tariff treatment in exchange for reciprocal advantages exporting English wool to Portugal.* “The Portugal Wines,” Daniel Defoe noted, “became our general Draught all over England” with this arrangement, since the deal enabled those libations to undercut French claret.
A nearly thirtyfold boom in wine shipments in the first half of the 18th century brought conflict over the proceeds. Struggling to keep up with demand, some growers adulterated the product, causing friction between the English export “Factors”** and the Portuguese producers.
With this profitable but acrimonious relationship at its most tense point, the authoritarian Marquis de Pombal introduced a royal agency charged with quality control — an act that also made Portugal’s Douro wine region the world’s first demarcated regional appellation. Pombal’s quality control regime, in turn, caused prices for the now-unadulaterated wine to spike.
While this triggered more complaints from the unappeasable British Factors, price changes also hit much closer to home: everyday Portuguese also found the price of regular table wine suddenly rising to their considerable consternation. Take away the wine from your populace at your peril.
On the morning of February 23, 1757, taverngoers and -keepers in Porto marched the streets of Porto in opposition to the royal monopoly, and the protests turned violent: a judge was roughed up, and some property vandalized.
Pombal suppressed ruthlessly this “Tipplers’ Riot” or “Tipplers’ Revolt” (the term “revolt” seems like an overstatement).
On October 14 of that same year, 13 men and four women involved in the mob were put to death in a Porto clapped under martial law. Dozens of others were sent to the galleys, exiled to Portugal’s colonies, or stripped of their property. Pombal, as was his wont, got his way … and the lucrative Methuen Treaty impressively persisted until 1840.
* Part of a larger strategic arrangement joining England, Holland and Austria against Spain and France.
** British exporters of the general Draught were collectively known as the “Factors”; their 1790 trade association and gentleman’s club building, the Factory House, is still to be seen in the city of Porto. “Adulterations” included the addition of grape brandy to stabilize the wine shipment, a practice that subsequently became accepted — and indeed, characteristic of port wine.