Monday, December 7, 2009

Brazil's European Colony

The year was 1807, and the Prince Regent, Dom João Maria José Francisco Xavier de Paula Luís António Domingos Rafael de Bragança (For simplicity’s sake, let’s just call him by his English name, John) ruled in the Kingdom of Portugal. He ruled, but feared he wouldn’t be ruling long.

The armies of Napoleon were sweeping down from the north, engulfing the Iberian Peninsula. In those days, back before Napoleon took Moscow, the conventional wisdom was this: in warfare, all you had to do to win was to capture the enemy’s capital. Having done that, you declared victory, they admitted defeat and the war was over. John (above, on the left) was a man of his time. He accepted that as truth. Accepted it, but also revolted at the idea of languishing under a French yoke.
He decided to flee.
But flee to where?
Brazil was the obvious choice. John's new world colony had plenty of room. The country was more than 90 times the size of Portugal. (It measures 8,456,510 SQ KM. Portugal, in contrast, only 91,951 SQ KM)
So, on November 29th, 1807, John, under the protection of a British fleet, set sail with all his court. It was a pretty big court, even by modern standards. There were about 15,000 of them.
Two days later the French took Lisbon.
During the long voyage, John had plenty of time to consult with his advisors. Upon his arrival in the new world, he handed the French emperor a surprise: the French might have captured Lisbon, he reasoned, but they hadn’t defeated the mother country. Why? Because, according to him, the residence of the king defined the capital, and the royal residence was now Rio de Janeiro.
Therefore,  the mother country was no longer Portugal. It was now Brazil.
Portugal was a colony.
Seven years later, Napoleon suffered his final and humiliating defeat at Waterloo. By that time, John, like many before him, had settled into the good life of the tropics. He had no desire to go “home”. He wanted to stay in Brazil forever.
But he couldn't. A severe political crisis ultimately forced him back to Lisbon.
He left his son, Pedro, in Rio de Janeiro as regent.

That, as it turned out, was a mistake. Pedro (on the right) had no desire to go "home" either.
Or ever.
On September 7, 1822, he declared the independence of Brazil and had himself crowned emperor, thereby severing the bonds that had connected Brazil and Portugal for more than 320 years.
And leaving Brazil the only country in the new world that had ever had, or ever will ever have, a colony in the old.

Leighton - Monday


  1. Truth is, if not stranger than fiction, often more entertaining. This is a great story, one I've never heard. Royal families do seem to have more than their share of dysfunction, don't they?

  2. As Tim said, royal families have more than their share of dysfunction or just plain craziness.

    I did not know that the Americas had a king other than Maxmillian.

    One of my favorite stories is that of Juana la Lorca in Spain and her husband, Philip the Handsome. He got his name before she got her's. Juana, Joanna of Castile, was the second daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, the younger sister of Catherine of Aragon who had her own problems with her husband.

    Juana fell madly in love with Philip and couldn't bear to be separated from him so, when he died, she carted him with her all over the countryside. Periodically, during their travels, she would have his casket opened so that she could gaze upon his "handsome" face. At one point she would only travel at night because Philip had been the light of her life so without him she wanted to be in darkness. Philip had had a wandering eye so when she and his body were supposed to stay at a convent she wouldn't go inside because she didn't want him near other women. Instead, she slept beside his casket in a field.

    Philip may have been handsome but Juana earned her nickname as crazy.

    How different might history have been if the pope had given Portugal the land to the west of the Line of Demarcation and Spain the lands to the east. Portuguese would be the dominant language of South America and Mexico rather than Spanish.

  3. Beth, your posts are always a delight to read.
    Why don't you write a novel set outside the US? Then we can put your picture up on our blog.
    Sunday is still available.

  4. Leighton - I really appreciate your faith in me but I have not a scintilla of the talent required to do what you and the others on this blog do so elegantly.

    I am a pretty good editor having spent many years helping kids (my own as well as students) polish essays, valedictory speeches, and entries in speech contests.

    You have the gift to use words as art to create art. I'm like a someone who quilts by moving the fabric I'm given into a reasonable design.

    One of my daughters was told by one of her high school teachers that her stories were publishable then. Right now she has no interest in acquiring the discipline necessary to produce something. Maybe later.

  5. I am learning so much from the rest of you! Keep it up.

  6. Thanks Leighton for that fascinating story that might have been repeated if the Royal Family had left Britain in 1940 for Canada.