King Luis I of Portugal and the Algarves (1838-1889) was the second son of queen regnant Dona Maria II of the House of Braganza whose doctors advised her that giving birth every year would endanger her life. The courageous Queen Maria replied ‘if I die, I die at my post. This she did but only after siring her eleventh child. Queen Maria was succeeded by her eldest son King Pedro V in 1853 who was given the moniker ‘The Hopeful’. All hope expired when the king succumbed to cholera in the epidemic of 1861.
Like many royal second sons, Prince Luis was given a naval education and was appointed to his first command in 1858. He toured Portugal’s colonies in Africa and was thus equipped to protect his country’s territories and further colonial ambitions when he became king. His passion was oceanography and he established one of the world’s first aquariums – the Aquario Vasco da Gama in Lisbon – during his reign. King Luis was a Renaissance man with varied interests. He spoke several languages, was an amateur painter and poet, composed music and played the cello and piano. He also translated Shakespeare into Portuguese. Politics was not one of his talents.
A year after he became king, Luis married Princess Maria Pia of Savoy, the daughter of King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy. The marriage was ostensibly happy and Queen Maria Pia bore the king two sons who survived childhood but he had a weakness for mistresses one of whom bore him an illegitimate son Carlos Augusto in 1874. The queen Portuguese people christened the ‘Angel of Charity’ and ‘Mother of the Poor’ sank into a depression from which she was never entirely freed.
King Luis’s reign began when the political climate in Europe and the Americas was particularly volatile. There was Civil War in the US and Brazil was seeking to expand its territories in South America. The Portuguese monarchy had not been stable since the Napoleonic Wars. King Luis’s mother Queen Maria was briefly deposed in the early years of her reign before holding the throne uninterrupted for twenty years.
His own reign was blighted by a power struggle between Liberal and Conservative political factions. The economy was unstable and, in 1870, a military uprising in support of Prime Minister the Duke of Saldanha was only crushed with the support of the people. The Duke was allowed to live though Queen Maria Pia said if she were in her husband’s shoes, she would have had him shot.
The thrones of Portugal and Spain had a history of being entwined for centuries and when the Spanish throne was vacated in 1870-71, King Luis contemplated staking a claim but his own kingdom was too weak to support a successful bid and he withdrew. King Luis turned his attention to his African territories Angola and Mozambique. It was the king’s ambition to join Portuguese-protected lands to form an uninterrupted path across the continent from east to west Africa. The British and Belgians put paid to those ambitions with counter claims and greater military force.
Towards the end of his twenty-eight-year reign, King Luis was faced with the rise of the Republican and Socialist parties but his sudden death in 1889 aged fifty-one passed this political turbulence to his eldest son King Carlos I. The Spectator magazine was generous to King Luis ‘The Popular’ who was described as ‘well-meaning, not illiberal and had some ability choosing competent advisers. His kingdom advanced under his reign, which was marked by the nominal abolition of slavery and by a revival of colonial enterprise in the direction of acquiring African territory. His government is even now claiming dominion of Mozambique to Benguela: a broad belt stretching right across Africa to the north of the Zambezi’.
King Luis I could have echoed King Louis XV of France who famously said, ‘après moi, le deluge’. His son King Carlos had been conscientiously raised in preparation for a constitutional monarchy. Prince Carlos had served as regent in 1883, 1886 and 1888 while his father travelled in Europe. He married Princess Amelie of Orleans, daughter of the French Pretender the Duke of Orleans, who was by all accounts a strident queen consort. However, in 1908 King Carlos and his heir Prince Luis Filipe where shot dead in an open carriage by Republican activists. His younger son, Prince Manuel, who had escaped with only a flesh wound to the arm, was proclaimed king. He was deposed in the revolution of 1910 and was Portugal’s last monarch.