Thursday, December 02, 2010

In Memoriam: Emperor Pedro II of Brazil


In retrospect, maybe it wasn't such a good idea to try and transplant a European monarchy into a New World colony; whatever social and political stability the monarchy might have leant to those fledgling nations which attempted it*, as early as the 16th Century it was becoming obvious that those settlers who made their way to North, Central, or South America were clearly not interested in recreating what they felt were the mistakes of Europe in the pristine wilderness they occupied...

The first European kingdom to plant itself in the New World did so out of necessity in 1815, when members of Portugal's Bragança Dynasty fled to South America just ahead of Napoleon's invading army; in Brazil - then their most important colony - they established the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarve. Once it was safe for them to return to Europe, in 1822, Brazil gained its independence with one of the dynasty's spare princes - the man who became Pedro I - at the helm of the newly created Empire of Brazil. Alas, he just wasn't very good at it; a civil war in Portugal over a disputed succession involving his daughter Maria II unseated him from both the throne of Portugal (where he'd briefly reigned as Pedro IV) and Brazil. He died at Lisbon's Queluz Palace in September 1834, aged only 35.

Born on this day in 1825, Pedro II came to the throne of Brazil at the age of 5 following the abdication of his father in April 1831; he achieved his majority in July 1839 - when he was 14 - and was crowned just under a year later. In September 1842 he married Teresa, daughter of King Francis I of the Two Sicilies and his Spanish consort Maria Isabella; over the next six years Pedro and his Empress had four children together - Afonso, the Prince Imperial who died as an infant; Isabel, who survived until the 1920s as the comtesse d'Eu; Leopoldina, who married a German princeling and died at 24; and Pedro, another Prince Imperial who followed in the tragic footsteps of the older brother he would never know.

Perhaps because he had come to it so young - and had therefore never known anything else - Pedro II managed to keep his throne for 49 years. During that time he used the Moderating Power granted to him under the Constitution of 1824 to help shape his nation in many essential ways: by encouraging farmers to grow coffee rather than sugar, leading the nation full steam into the age of industrialization by building railroads as well as a telephone network, bringing about a gradual end to slavery culminating in the passage of the Golden Law in May 1888, and even trying to learn Guarani so as to communicate with the largest of the indigenous groups in his charge.

While the Paraguayan War of 1865-1870 affected Brazil economically, weakening the Emperor's popularity, it was the freeing of the slaves which angered Brazil's elite, and ultimately brought about an end to both the Emperor and his Empire; he was deposed by Marechal Deodoro da Fonseca in November 1889, at which time he and his family went into exile in Paris. Pedro II died there in December 1891, but returned to Brazil in 1920, when his remains were transferred to a cathedral in Petrópolis.

*Brazil and Mexico.

share on: facebook


Anonymous said...

Great article, thanks.

One of those obscure royal dinasties...


michael sean morris said...

Not for long, if I have anything to say about it...