Wednesday 24 September 2014

"Only ordinary men die, not heroes": The Death of Pedro I

Pedro I of Brazil (aka The Liberator, Lisbon, Portugal, 12th October 1798 – Lisbon, Portugal, 24th September 1834)

Pedro I of Brazil, 1834

We make a trip to South America today to witness the last act in the life of Pedro, Duke of Braganza, founder of the Empire of Brazil and former king of Portugal. His life was far from long but it was never anything but eventful and in less than forty years he packed in two marriages, over a dozen children, war, abdication and intrigue.

By 1833, however, the king's remarkable life was drawing to a close. He had abdicated the throne of Portugal in favour of his daughter and that of Brazil in favour of his son. However, events took a turn for the disastrous in Lisbon as that same daughter, Maria II, found herself usurped by Prince Dom Miguel, her paternal uncle. Determined to take back Portugal, Pedro I sailed for his homeland and invaded in the summer of 1832.

In fact, the invasion proved to be a drawn out and painful affair and the the ensuing war proved to have terrible consequences for Pedro as his usually rude health began to deteriorate at an alarming rate. When peace was reached in 1834, Pedro was already suffering from tuberculosis and though he took up residence in the Queluz Royal Palace, he was unable to move far from his sickbed.

Pedro I of Brazil on his deathbed, 1834

The ailing Duke of Braganza knew that the end was drawing near and concerned himself with putting his affairs in order. He wrote an open letter to the ruling classes of Brazil in which he outlined his plans for the abolition of slavery, which he described as "a cancer". It was his final constitutional act and fourteen days later, in the middle of the afternoon, Pedro I died.

In accordance with his wishes, Pedro's heart was placed in Lapa Church at Porto whilst his body was laid to rest in the Royal Pantheon of the House of Braganza, his adventurous life finally at an end.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

Pen and Sword
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Unknown said...

What a sad reminder of how we can turn from a state of robustness to frailty in such a short time. Great man!

Catherine Curzon said...

He truly was!

Unknown said...

Yes that whole period of Portuguese and Brazilian history is fascinating with various family feuds and intrigues. Pedro's father, King John did not return to Portugual to rule until six years after Waterloo. Then during the Brazilian war of independence with Portugal, Pedro was effectively fighting against the forces of his father and was still heir to the Portuguese throne. I have a book coming out on 1st October which centres on how Thomas Cochrane achieved the liberation of much of northern Brazil for Pedro largely through cunning and trickery. While he does not feature in my book, I think there should be more recognition for Pedro's son, the Emperor Pedro II. Abandoned by his father in Brazil aged just 5, during his fifty-eight years ruling the country he provided political stability, freedom of speech and civil rights. He oversaw vibrant economic growth and achieved the abolition of slavery despite strong opposition from vested interests. Under his rule the country won three wars with its neighbours, with the emperor sometimes leading at the front. At the end of one conflict the General Assembly proposed a large bronze statue of him on horseback to commemorate the victory; in a typical gesture, he chose to use the money to build elementary schools instead.