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Six Emperors - Part Two

Cymon is a geeky historian with a passion for finding out and researching peculiarities and historical coincidences and unsung heroes.

Part One of this three part series looked at one of the world's smallest Empires, that of Haiti. Here, in part two, I take a look at a much larger domain, in fact one that takes in almost half a continent, with a land area of over three million square miles.



The Empire of Brazil had a bizarre birth and the story begins in Portugal in the early C19th.

The House of Braganza, one of the most powerful royal houses of Europe, was founded in ignominious fashion for it was descended from an illegitimate line of King John Ist of Portugal in the early C15th.The house eventually attained royal status in 1640 when the Duke of Braganza was elevated to King John IVth of Portugal following the defeat of the Philippine dynasty in the Restoration War. The Braganzas ruled Portugal and forged the country’s expansion into a colonial powerhouse, which included South America’s largest and richest territory, Brazil.

In the early C19th Portugal came under threat from the expansion of Napoleon’s new French Empire. Many of Europe’s monarchies had succumbed to Napoleon’s victorious march across the continent. Kings and Emperors had retreated into their own hinterland, accepted subjugation or fled in exile to other European countries. The Braganzas took a different route.

Under threat from the advancing French armies, Queen Maria Ist, under the leadership of her son, Prince Joao (John), who had been regent since 1799, his mother having been diagnosed insane, made for Brazil, taking up to fifteen thousand courtiers with them. Embarking on 29th November 1807 they escaped just three days before Napoleon’s army, under the command of General Junot, marched into Lisbon.

It was an unprecedented move, taking courtiers, legislators and other people of note with them, a significant minority under some duress. They were effectively moving the government of the Portuguese Empire to Brazil, which would become the capital of an empire that included territories on both east and west African coasts, the Indian sub-continent, south east Asia and of course Brazil itself, the largest and most prosperous colony in South America. Even without the motherland, the Portuguese Empire would remain one of the richest and most powerful in the world.

Sailing first for Madeira, under the protection of both the Portuguese Navy and the British Royal Navy thence on to San Salvador da Bahia, disembarking on 22nd January 1808. Never before had the entire governance of a country upped sticks and relocated, not to mention over seven and a half thousand kilometres away across an ocean.

Prince Regent Joao

Prince Regent Joao

Soon after arriving the Prince Regent signed a commercial and trading treaty with “other friendly powers", principally the United Kingdom. This was the first step to independence as it meant that Brazil could trade directly with foreign countries, without Portugal acting as the colonial master – the middle man.

Prince Joao spent the next seven years improving Brazil’s, and particularly Rio de Janeiro's infrastructure. Roads were built, sanitation improved and industry developed. The Prince Regent enjoyed life in Brazil and the free Brazilian people favoured him for the prosperity that his actions brought. There was a cost to humanity though. The Brazilian economy was heavily reliant on slave labour and the new prosperity meant a need for more labour and the importation of slaves increased significantly. It is estimated that at its height the enslaved of the colony was in excess of half the entire population.

The successful slave rebellion in Haiti, as described in Six Emperors Part One, led to the Portuguese Brazilians fearing a repeat. Joao therefore oversaw the imposition of draconian laws that would punish the poor severely for minor infractions. Thus, the powerful believed, they would be able to keep a lid on any similar actions.

On 16th December 1815 the Prince declared that Brazil would become a kingdom in its own right and that the monarch would rule over the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and The Algarves. Just a few months later Queen Maria died and Joao succeeded as King Joao (John) VI.

Although Portugal had shaken off the shackles of the French during the Peninsular War, which came to an end in 1813, the new King decided to remain in Brazil, where he remained popular with the majority of the free peoples. However Portugal, with the absence of its king, suffered from political and economic instability as a result and a liberal revolution took place in 1820. In April 1821, fearing that the instability in Portugal might result in him losing that throne, King Joao VI decided that he and certain members of the Royal Family, along with a number senior and adept aides, should return to Europe. Just before leaving the King invested his liberal minded, twenty two year old son, Pedro, the Prince Royal, as Regent, granting him powers that would render Brazil with a greater say over its own affairs.

During the following few years there were moves in Lisbon to return Brazil to colony status. This somewhat irked the young regent, who appears to have considered himself more Brazilian than Portuguese, having been brought there as a child aged nine in 1808. Resisting the politicians in Lisbon and many Brazilians who were loyal to the motherland Pedro stood his ground and made a courageous move to declare independence.

Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil


It must have been a difficult decision to make, for not only was Pedro creating a new independent country but he was also effectively declaring war on his own father. Of course there were those about who maintained loyalty not only to Portugal but to the King, Joao VI.

Just a month or so after independence was declared the young Prince was elevated to the position of Emperor and the new Empire of Brazil came into existence.

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As Emperor Pedro Ist he forged ahead and in the ensuing three years he defeated not only those loyal to Portugal but also quelled an uprising known as the Confederation of the Equator in the north.

Unrest did persist, particularly in 1825 when the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata, effectively modern day Argentina, attempted to cede the southern part of Brazil. The conflict, known as the Cisplatine War, was conducted both on land and sea, with the Brazilian navy effectively blockading the River Plate and thus starving the United Provinces of supplies and suppressing trade. The Brazillian Navy was commanded by former British Royal Naval officer Lord Cochrane, later the Earl of Dundonald. Chochrane had been dismissed from the Royal Navy due to his involvement in a Stock Exchange fraud but had found his way into several commands in South America. Emperor Pedro had appointed him First Admiral of the National and Imperial Navy. His adversary, commander of the United Provinces Navy, was Irish born Admiral William Brown.

Lord Cochrane, First Admiral of the National and Imperial Navy

Lord Cochrane, First Admiral of the National and Imperial Navy

On land, although the Emperor's forces suffered greater losses, estimated to be nearly four times greater than that of the aggressors, his superior numbers prevailed. By the end of the conflict, not only was Pedro the victor (just! - many saw it as a stalemate) but it resulted in the eventual formation of the fledgling Republic of Uruguay.

A further complication for Emperor Pedro was that, in the meantime, on 10th March 1826 his father, King Joao VI died, making Pedro both King of Portugal and Emperor of Brazil. At the time the two countries were technically still at war. Pedro was therefore at war with himself!. Realising that this position was untenable he abdicated the throne of Portugal in favour of his then seven year old daughter Maria, proposing that she should marry his younger brother Miguel. Miguel had been living in exile after having led revolts against his father. On his return to Portugal he usurped the throne, but this is a whole different and intriguing story!

Pedro set about establishing Brazil as an Empire with a post feudal, modern constitution. An independent judiciary and elected legislature were put in place, with the Emperor holding ultimate power. Debates in the legislature, particularly over how much power Pedro should hold continued until 1831.

Again we return to the motherland, Portugal, where unrest and rebellion had been the order of the day for some ten years or so. Miguel had declared himself king, as Miguel Ist, in 1828 and factions supporting Maria had been struggling to re-instate her for five years. With the political instability in Brazil surrounding the level of power he should hold and the troubles facing his daughter in Portugal, Pedro decided to abdicate his Brazilian throne and return to Europe to fight for his daughter's realm.

Just three years or so after his return, Pedro, formally Emperor of Brazil and King of Portugal, if only briefly, died of tuberculosis at the age of 35. At the time of his death the most senior title that he held was that of Duke of Braganza. Shortly before his death he implored Brazil to renounce slavery, which he described as an evil and a cancer.

Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil


On his abdication and subsequent return to Portugal, Pedro Ist had named his son, the Prince Imperial Pedro, as Emperor. Young Pedro was five years old therefore following in family tradition in being the nominal ruler at an early age, his aunt Maria being just seven when she became Queen of Portugal.

The new Emperor endured a lonely and almost solely educational childhood, with little time set aside for childish dalliances and amusements and minimal contact with other children, including his own sisters. However he relished his studies and grew to become recognised around the world for his knowledge, intelligence and understanding.

The political unrest, that his father had effectively fled, continued and the young Emperor was held up is a beacon of authority, neutrality and moderation. At the age of fourteen the legislature bestowed on him the full powers that were not his due until he had reached eighteen by declaring that he had reached majority.

For the ensuing six years, although Pedro officially held power, the government was in fact run by a faction which controlled him. However, being the intelligent, well educated young man that he was it did not take him long to assert his rights and he steadily and carefully removed the men that he saw were holding Brazil back. By the age of twenty he had replaced them with men that he could trust and that were more in line with his open minded and forward thinking views.

If ever there was a man fit for rule it was Pedro II, but, by his late middle age, if there ever was a man that wanted it less it was he.

Once he had taken control Pedro set Brazil on a course of economic growth, enlightenment and liberalism that resulted in it enjoying the most stable government in South America.

As previously mentioned, the Brazilian economy was reliant on slave labour. The first step in undoing this had occurred in 1826, with the banning of the importation of slaves. This was a condition of retaining favourable trading terms with the United Kingdom. However illegal activities in slave transportation were rife and it wasn't until 1852 that Pedro's government gained acceptance from the UK that the trade had been successfully curtailed.

On internal and external conflicts he also eventually prevailed. The factions that had held power during his minority had led to regional authorities gaining more influence over the governance of regions and provinces. The last internal rebellion being overcome in the spring of 1849. Continued aggression from Argentina, which was ruled by the dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas, continued until 1852. This ended with victory in the Platine War, when, along with Uruguay and some internal Argentinian parties, de Rosas was deposed. Brazil was thence to enjoy forty years of peace, growth and prosperity.

Juan Manuel de Rojas

Juan Manuel de Rojas

That is not to say that there was no war at all, but these generally, if not always, were effected outside Brazil's borders. The hot Uruguayan and Paraguayan Wars were potentially less damaging than a cold war with the British Empire between 1862 and 1865. This latter event was caused by some extremely undiplomatic words from the British Ambassador in Rio, William Christie, who was retired from his post. The "conflict" came to an end when the British government apologised for Christie's actions.

The Paraguayan War in particular was expensive both in terms of loss of life, some 50,000 or so, and financial cost. But, as with many military conflicts,it led to economic stimulation and growth.

In the early 1870s further strides were made toward the ending of slavery when a bill was passed to free the children of slaves. Pedro backed this position and as a result surrendered his recognised neutrality between political parties. It also led to the splitting of the ruling conservative party, which would ultimately lead to the Emperor's disaffection with his position as ruler.

The remaining fifteen or so years of his reign saw Brazil prosper further, in no small part to his wisdom in the early and middle parts of his tenure. However his disappointment at having to fight so hard on the question of the abolition of slavery and other liberal minded policies steadily led him to take a back seat with regard to political matters.

Slavery was eventually abolished in 1888 and this ended Pedro's recognition as an arbiter of neutrality. Factions in the military, supported by self interested politicians bent on instituting a republican dictatorship, eventually resulted in a "mild" military coup

Pedro ceded, without a fight and the Royal Family was deposed and subsequently sent into exile in November 1889. His discontent with the political situation was confounded by similar feelings with regard to his personal life. Having married, for state reasons and by proxy, Princess Teresa Cristina of the Two Sicilies in 1843 he failed to find love and meaningful companionship, which he had coveted from childhood.

His remaining desire was to expand his own knowledge and encourage academic thought on a wide range of subjects that included history, the arts, geology, law, religion, philosophy and medicine, to name but a few. However,once exiled his enthusiasm waned. First settling in Cannes and thence Paris, he led an increasingly solitary life.

With little fortune he died of pneumonia in the Hotel de Bedford on Rue de l'Arcade, on 5th December 1891. It is reported that his last thoughts were for the prosperity and enlightenment of Brazil. Within hours it is said that thousands stood vigil outside the hotel. His funeral was attended by senior royalty and government representatives from around Europe and indeed the world.

Subsequently Pedro has been revered as a man of integrity, foresight, enlightenment and is still seen by many in his homeland as the greatest Brazilian of all time.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Cymon Snow

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