Alexandre Herculano de Carvalho Araújo was born in Lisbon in March 1810. He studied Humanities at the school of Colegio dos Oratorianos. In February 1831 he was involved in the unsuccessful coup against King Miguel and was forced into exile, first in England and then in France. While this exile was punishing for him, it did open-up his cultural horizons. On his return to Portugal he participated in the Liberal expedition to the Azores and also took part in the Liberal struggles as a soldier.
After having been a librarian at Porto Public Library (1833-1836), Herculano was appointed librarian to King Fernando and placed in charge of the royal libraries at the Ajuda and Necessidades palaces. It was around this time that he began to publish interventionist writings that brought him notoriety.
In 1840 Herculano was elected Member of Parliament for the Chartist Party, dedicating himself to the area of public education, but he soon got tired of politics and returned to this writing. He became closely involved with "O Panorama" magazine. He returned to politics in 1851, supporting the Regeneration Party and drawing up several political projects.
Due to particular ideological differences Herculano took an opposing stand to the government of the day in two newspapers that the founded, "O País" [The country] (1851) and "O Português" [The Portuguese] (1853), in which he advocated a "programme of material improvements". He also attacked the reactionary bourgeoisie in the introduction to his book "História da Origem e Estabelecimento da Inquisição" [History of the Origins and Establishment of the Inquisition]. He ran for office in the local elections and was elected mayor of the new municipality of Belém [now part of Lisbon].
Herculano’s research in the notary offices and archives of Portugal resulted in his History of Portugal, in addition to his other major works, the eight volumes of "Opúsculos: Questões Públicas" [Pamphlets: public questions] and "Portugaliae Monumenta Histórica" [Historical monuments of Portugal]. Herculano was one of the founders of the Historic Party in 1856.
Herculano maintained a long-lasting and bitter dispute with the Catholic Church in Portugal that had to do with the Concordata, his defence of rigour in applying the anti-monastic laws and his proposal of the introduction of civil marriage.
In 1859 he used the royalties from his various different publications to buy the Vale de Lobos estate near Santarem, where he began to spend much of his time. When he married in 1866 he moved to the estate completely, where he continued his work as an historian and polemicist but also dedicated himself to agriculture. He saw this withdrawal as a civic protest against the lack of direction and excesses of constitutional monarchy.
Alexandre Herculano was everything from a poet, novelist, historian, journalist, defender of the country's heritage, a farmer, an upright citizen and a rigorous researcher - in addition to introducing Romanticism to Portugal (together with Garrett). He died at Vale de Lobos on 13 September 1877. The great respect he commanded was reflected in the many demonstrations of mourning across Portugal.
In 1888 Herculano's remains were transferred to the Chapterhouse in the Jerónimos Monastery, which had been expressly prepared to receive him in a tomb built with public donations. In 1910 the centenary of Herculano's birth was commemorated nationwide. In 1977 there were also official commemorations of the centennial of his death.