Dom Pedro II, second and last Emperor of Brazil (1825-1891), followed his father to the throne aged five in 1831 when Dom Pedro I abdicated and returned to Europe whence the Brazilian branch of the House of Braganza hailed. Unlike the ill-fated Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico (an Austrian Archduke by birth), Dom Pedro II was born in the country he was to rule.
Brazil was the largest and wealthiest colony belonging to Portugal. It was thus an obvious destination for Dom Pedro I to flee to when Portugal was invaded by Napoleon’s troops in 1807 and the House of Braganza was deposed. Dom Pedro II’s sister Maria became Queen of Portugal and it was to secure her throne that his father ceded Brazil to a five-year old. Emperor Pedro II’s mother had died when he was an infant so a regency council controlled the early years of his reign.
The young Emperor was a studious, shy child who according to his beloved duenna ‘saw books as a refuge and retreat from the real world’. He was declared fit to rule at the age of fourteen and was crowned in 1841 two years before he was forced into an arranged marriage with Princess Teresa Cristina of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. When the youth first saw Princess Teresa he declared ‘they have deceived me’ for the lady was short, stout and plain.
Emperor Pedro II grew into a six foot three Adonis with blue eyes and blonde hair. His childhood being ruled by faction and the Regency council, he learned to mask his emotions. The Emperor believed ‘I was born to devote myself to culture and sciences’. By the time he was crowned he was said to speak ten languages including Latin, French, English, Greek, Arabic and Chinese. His areas of study included anthropology, geography, astronomy, poetry, chemistry, music, philosophy, law and religious studies.
Emperor Pedro II had inherited a nation on the verge of chaos. He earned his title ‘Pedro the Magnanimous’ by championing civil rights, freedom of speech, economic prosperity for all of his people and the abolition of slavery. The latter was the most controversial of the Emperor’s crusades because Brazil’s was a plantation-based economy that relied on slave labour. The Emperor practised as he preached. His court couldn’t have been less pompous than his fellow Emperors in Russia, Prussia or Austria.
Emperor Pedro II woke at 7am and did not sleep before 2am. In idle hours he read or studied. The records at Henry Poole & Co bear out his reputation for dressing parsimoniously in black frock or tailcoats that were practically monastic in their lack of embellishment. He wore the royal regalia only twice a year to open and close Brazil’s General Assembly. As he said, ‘I understand that useless expenditure is the same as stealing from the nation’. Dom Pedro II was said to be ‘indispensable to Brazil’s continued peace and prosperity’.
The darkest hour for Brazil’s Emperor was the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-70) that saw the nations of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay fighting each other singularly and in faction. Brazil was never defeated. Disappointments for the Emperor included the death in infancy of both his male progeny and the disintegration of his marriage to the Empress. From 1850 Dom Pedro II had affairs, most notably with the Countess of Barral who was governess to his daughters Leopoldina and Isabel.
The reputation of Brazil’s Emperor as a scholar and philosopher spread throughout the world and he corresponded with Charles Darwin, Victor Hugo, Richard Wagner, Louis Pasteur, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Friedrich Neitzsche. Darwin said of him ‘the Emperor does so much for science that every scientific man is bound to show him the utmost respect’. In 1871 the Emperor began the travels that took him to Europe (where he paid a call on Mr Poole) and onward to American in 1876. He met Victor Hugo who said of him ‘Sire you are a great citizen. You are the grandson of Marcus Aurelius’.
Emperor Pedro II was deposed in a coup d’etat at the height of his popularity. Had he fought, it is believed his people would have supported him. But the Emperor merely declared ‘rarely has a revolution been so minor. If it is so, it will be my retirement. I have worked too hard and I am tired. I will go rest then’. The Emperor went into exile on November 17th 1889. His Empress died three weeks after arriving in Europe.
Ex-Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil spent his last years in exile in Cannes and Paris. He was said to be lonely and melancholic; living in modest hostels without money and writing in his journals of dreams in which he was allowed to return to Brazil. He never supported a restoration of the monarchy saying he discouraged a return to the position which he occupied especially by means of conspiracy of any sort. His last words were ‘may God grant me these last wishes – peace and prosperity for Brazil’.