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Pedro I (October 12, 1798 – September 24, 1834), nicknamed “the Liberator”, was the founder and first ruler of the Empire of Brazil. As King Pedro IV, he reigned briefly over Portugal, where he also became known as “the Liberator” as well as “the Soldier King.”

Pedro was born on October 12, 1798 in the Queluz Royal Palace near Lisbon, Portugal. He was named after St. Peter of Alcantara, and his full name was Pedro de Alcântara Francisco António João Carlos Xavier de Paula Miguel Rafael Joaquim José Gonzaga Pascoal Cipriano Serafim. He was referred to using the honorific “Dom” (Lord) from birth.

Pedro I-IV, Emperor of Brazil, King of Portugal and the Algarves.

Through his father, Prince Dom João (later King João VI of Portugal) Pedro was a member of the House of Braganza and a grandson of King Pedro III and Queen Maria I of Portugal, who were uncle and niece as well as husband and wife. His mother was Infanta Doña Carlota Joaquina of Spain (1775 –1830), and was by birth a member of the Spanish branch of the House of Bourbon and an Infanta of Spain and by marriage Queen consort of Portugal.

Doña Carlota Joaquina of Spain, Queen consort of Portugal.
King João VI of Portugal and the Algarves.

Eldest daughter of King Carlos IV of Spain and Maria Luisa of Parma, she was married in May 1785 aged 10 with Infante João, Lord of the Infantado and Duke of Beja, second son of Queen Maria I of Portugal, in an attempt to cement ties between the Kingdoms of Spain and Portugal.

Pedro’s parents had an unhappy marriage. Carlota Joaquina was an ambitious woman, who always sought to advance Spain’s interests, even to the detriment of Portugal’s. Reputedly unfaithful to her husband, she went as far as to plot his overthrow in league with dissatisfied Portuguese nobles.

As the second eldest son (though the fourth child), Pedro became his father’s heir apparent and Prince of Beira upon the death of his elder brother Francisco António in 1801. Prince Dom João had been acting as regent on behalf of his mother, Queen Maria I, after she was declared incurably insane in 1792. By 1802, Pedro’s parents were estranged; João lived in the Mafra National Palace and Carlota Joaquina in Ramalhão Palace. Pedro and his siblings resided in the Queluz Palace with their grandmother Maria I, far from their parents, whom they saw only during state occasions at Queluz.

In late November 1807, when Pedro was nine, the royal family escaped from Portugalas an invading French army sent by Napoleon approached Lisbon. Pedro and his family arrived in Rio de Janeiro, capital of Brazil, then Portugal’s largest and wealthiest colony, in March 1808. During the voyage, Pedro read Virgil’s Aeneidand conversed with the ship’s crew, picking up navigational skills.

In Brazil, after a brief stay in the City Palace, Pedro settled with his younger brother Migueland their father in the Palace of São Cristóvão (Saint Christopher). Although never on intimate terms with his father, Pedro loved him and resented the constant humiliation his father suffered at the hands of Carlota Joaquina due to her extramarital affairs. As an adult, Pedro would openly call his mother, for whom he held only feelings of contempt, a “bitch.” The early experiences of betrayal, coldness and neglect had a great impact on the formation of Pedro’s character.

The outbreak of the Liberal Revolution of 1820 in Lisbon compelled Pedro I’s father to return to Portugal in April 1821, leaving him to rule Brazil as regent. He had to deal with threats from revolutionaries and insubordination by Portuguese troops, all of which he subdued. The Portuguese government’s threat to revoke the political autonomy that Brazil had enjoyed since 1808 was met with widespread discontent in Brazil. Pedro I chose the Brazilian side and declared Brazil’s independence from Portugal on September 7, 1822. On 12 October 12, 1822 he was acclaimed Brazilian emperor and by March 1824 had defeated all armies loyal to Portugal. A few months later, Pedro I crushed the short-lived Confederation of the Equator, a failed secession attempt by provincial rebels in Brazil’s northeast.

Emperor Pedro I of Brazil

Pedro’s character was marked by an energetic drive that bordered on hyperactivity. He was impetuous with a tendency to be domineering and short-tempered. Easily bored or distracted, in his personal life he entertained himself with dalliances with women in addition to his hunting and equestrian activities.

His restless spirit compelled him to search for adventure, and, sometimes in disguise as a traveler, he frequented taverns in Rio de Janeiro’s disreputable districts. He rarely drank alcohol, but was an incorrigible womanizer. His earliest known lasting affair was with a French dancer called Noémi Thierry, who had a stillborn child by him. Pedro’s father, who had ascended the throne as João VI, sent Thierry away to avoid jeopardizing the prince’s betrothal to Archduchess Maria Leopoldina of Austria.

Archduchess Maria Leopoldina of Austria.

She was born Caroline Josepha Leopoldine Franziska Ferdinanda of Habsburg-Lorraine in Vienna, Austria, the daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Franz II (Franz I, Emperor of Austria) and his second wife, Maria Teresa of Naples and Sicily. Among her many siblings were Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria and Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma, the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte.

On May 13, 1817, Pedro was married by proxy to Maria Leopoldina. When she arrived in Rio de Janeiro on 5 November 5, she immediately fell in love with Pedro, who was far more charming and attractive than she had been led to expect. After “years under a tropical sun, his complexion was still light, his cheeks rosy.” The 19-year-old prince was handsome and a little above average in height, with bright dark eyes and dark brown hair. “His good appearance”, said historian Neill Macaulay, “owed much to his bearing, proud and erect even at an awkward age, and his grooming, which was impeccable. Habitually neat and clean, he had taken to the Brazilian custom of bathing often.” The Nuptial Mass, with the ratification of the vows previously taken by proxy, occurred the following day. Seven children resulted from this marriage: Maria (later Queen Maria II of Portugal), Miguel, João, Januária, Paula, Francisca and Pedro (later Emperor Pedro II of Brazil).

A secessionist rebellion in the southern province of Cisplatina in early 1825, and the subsequent attempt by the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata to annex it, led the Empire into the Cisplatine War. In March 1826, Pedro I briefly became king of Portugal before abdicating in favor of his eldest daughter, Dona Maria II. The situation worsened in 1828 when the war in the south resulted in Brazil’s loss of Cisplatina. During the same year in Lisbon, Maria II’s throne was usurped by Prince Dom Miguel, Pedro I’s younger brother. The Emperor’s concurrent and scandalous sexual affair with a female courtier tarnished his reputation. Other difficulties arose in the Brazilian parliament, where a struggle over whether the government would be chosen by the monarch or by the legislature dominated political debates from 1826 to 1831. Unable to deal with problems in both Brazil and Portugal simultaneously, on April 7, 1831 Pedro I abdicated in favor of his son Dom Pedro II, and sailed for Europe.

Pedro I invaded Portugal at the head of an army in July 1832. Faced at first with what seemed a national civil war, he soon became involved in a wider conflict that enveloped the Iberian Peninsula in a struggle between proponents of liberalism and those seeking a return to absolutism. Pedro I died of tuberculosis on 24 September 1834, just a few months after he and the liberals had emerged victorious. He was hailed by both contemporaries and posterity as a key figure who helped spread the liberal ideals that allowed Brazil and Portugal to move from absolutist regimes to representative forms of government.

Except for bouts of epilepsy that manifested in seizures every few years, Pedro had always enjoyed robust health. The war, however, undermined his constitution and by 1834 he was dying of tuberculosis. He was confined to his bed in Queluz Royal Palace from September 10. Pedro dictated an open letter to the Brazilians, in which he begged that a gradual abolition of slavery be adopted. He warned them: “Slavery is an evil, and an attack against the rights and dignity of the human species, but its consequences are less harmful to those who suffer in captivity than to the Nation whose laws allow slavery. It is a cancer that devours its morality.” After a long and painful illness, Pedro died at 14:30 on September 24, 1834. As he had requested, his heart was placed in Porto’s Lapa Church and his body was interred in the Royal Pantheon of the House of Braganza