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ar within his family, a push for independence, the end of slavery, and some weird incest. Such was the life of Pedro I, also known as “the Liberator”, or “the Soldier King”. A member of the House of Braganza (Portuguese: Bragança), young Pedro was born at the turn of the 18th century, in 1798. In 1807, at the tender age of nine, he, his family, the court, and the capital of Portugal moved to Rio de Janeiro.

The Portuguese refusal to accept Napoleon’s continental blockade of British ships was taken as a declaration of war. From 1807 to 1810, Napoleon Bonaparte would send armies to invade Portugal three times. With Bonaparte out of the picture in 1815 after his defeat at Waterloo, many in mainland Portugal expected the return of the king.

The country was de-facto run by the British generals stationed there, who ruled with an iron fist and used their influence to assert their dominance over many Portuguese industries, like Porto wine.

Liberal rebellions, revolutions, and uprisings started popping up both in mainland Portugal and Brazil. The more consequential was the Liberal Revolution of 1820 in the city of Porto, which set up a governing junta that demanded the king’s return.

The Cortes in session, working on the first portuguese Constitution. Sessão das Cortes de Lisboa, courtesy of Public domain / Museu Paulista (USP) Collection, via Wikimedia Commons

In the following months, King João VI tried to appease everybody, staying in Brazil to assure its autonomy and hoping his son, Prince Pedro, would represent him in Lisbon, in the drafting of a new constitution and the formation of a new government. The prince, already leaning more to the liberal side than to his father’s absolutism, refused. João VI returned to Portugal in 1821, leaving Pedro as regent.

The king seemed to know the future of the colony, telling his son before embarking: “if Brazil breaks away, let it rather do so for you, who will respect me, than for one of those adventurers”.

“Independence or Death!”

Pedro handled rebellions much better than his dad did, but the threat of the mainland government revoking Brazil’s political autonomy still lured and was met with widespread discontent. Pedro agreed, and moved out from his father’s metaphorical house, taking the whole country of Brazil with him.

“Friends, the Portuguese Cortes want to enslave and pursue us. From today on our relations are broken. No ties can unite us anymore”. He removed his blue-white armband that symbolized Portugal: “Armbands off, soldiers. Hail to the independence, to freedom and to the separation of Brazil from Portugal!” He unsheathed his sword affirming that “For my blood, my honor, my God, I swear to give Brazil freedom,” and later cried out: “Brazilians, Independence or death!”. — The “Cry of Ipiranga”, the declaration of Brazil’s independence

A month later, Prince Pedro became Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

After his father’s death in 1826, Pedro would give up a crown for the first time: he briefly became Pedro IV of Portugal, before abdicating in favor of his eldest daughter, Maria II. He insisted on two terms if he were to abdicate:

  • Portugal was required to adopt the Constitution which he had drafted earlier for the Empire of Brazil;
  • His daughter, Maria II, was to marry his brother Miguel. As she was still underage, her uncle returned from exile to act as regent until she came of age. He’d been exiled for being part of a counter-revolt in 1824, fighting for the return of authoritarian absolutism.
Dom Miguel I, King of Portugal, c.1830 {{PD-US-expired}}, via Wikimedia Commons

Miguel swore he would uphold his brother’s Constitution and serve as his niece’s (now fiancé) regent. However, as soon as his older brother Pedro turned his back and sailed for Brazil, Miguel revoked the Constitution and declared himself King of Portugal, establishing an absolutist monarchy in the country.

The Crossroads of Destiny

With his brother Miguel sitting on the Portuguese throne, and tensions rising in Brazil, on April 7th, 1831, Emperor Pedro I of Brazil decided to focus on defending his daughter’s claim, giving up his crown a second time, in favor of his son Pedro II of Brazil. According to historian Roderick J. Barman, this was more in tune with the Emperor’s personality anyway:

“[in] an emergency the Emperor’s abilities shone forth — he became cool in nerve, resourceful and steadfast in action. Life as a constitutional monarch, full of tedium, caution, and conciliation, ran against the essence of his character.”

Pedro I delivers his abdication letter while a courtier kisses the hand of the now Pedro II, his son and heir, representing the end of a reign and the beginning of another. {{PD-US-expired}}, via Wikimedia Commons

He sailed for France, and during the next few months, he went back and forth between France and Great Britain. He found himself in the awkward position of not belonging to either the Brazilian Imperial House or the Portuguese Royal House, and though he was warmly welcomed, he received no actual support for his cause, until he met Gilbert du Motier, Marquis of Lafayette, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War.

With limited funds, he organized a ragtag army, composed of Portuguese liberals, foreign mercenaries, and volunteers, such as Motier’s grandson.

On January 25th, 1832, Pedro said goodbye to his family and friends in France. He knelt before his daughter and said: “My lady, here is a Portuguese general who will uphold your rights and restore your crown.”

According to Barman, his daughter’s cause had “everything that appealed most to his character.” Sailing to Portugal meant “he could champion the oppressed, display his chivalry and self-denial, uphold the constitutional rule, and enjoy the freedom of action he craved.”

He sailed for the Atlantic archipelago of the Azores, the last Portuguese territory still loyal to his daughter. Pedro’s army landed in continental Portugal in July 1832. They entered the city of Porto unopposed on July 9th. Miguel’s troops encircled the city soon after, starting a siege that lasted for over a year.

That would be the beginning of the country’s only de-facto Civil War, pitting brother against brother, absolutism versus liberalism, and the past versus the future.

A Man of the People

During the war, he led by example, mounting cannons, tending to the wounded, digging trenches, eating, and fighting on the frontlines among his men. After their invasion, he and his soldiers swore they wouldn’t shave their beards until Maria II sat on the throne again.

Dom Pedro, Duke of Braganza, 1833. Image courtesy of National Library of Portugal {{PD-US-expired}}, via Wikimedia Commons

His decision to divide his forces and have them launch an amphibious attack on southern Portugal proved to be the right call, with his army capitulating Lisbon on July 24th, 1833.

His daughter was now queen, and his brother was once again banished.

Except for some epilepsy-induced seizures over the years, Pedro was always a healthy man. However, the war undermined his health, and Pedro, now 35, died of tuberculosis, shortly after the war ended, in September 1834.

Known as “the Liberator”, and “the Soldier King”, historians recognize him as one of the most important figures of the transition from absolutist regimes to representative forms of government.

His friend and guardian of his children in Brazil wrote of him “Dom Pedro did not die. Only ordinary men die, not heroes.”

Other curious facts about Pedro I of Brazil / Pedro IV of Portugal:

  • He was a composer, composing both “Hymn of the Charter,” the Portuguese national anthem until 1911, and “Independence Anthem,” a Brazilian patriotic song commemorating the country’s declaration of independence.
  • Besides having given up the crowns of Portugal and Brazil, he was also offered the crown of Greece in 1822 (he declined, and Otto of Bavaria became King of Greece) and the crown of Spain, offered to him twice in 1826 and 1829 by liberals revolting against the absolutist rule of his uncle, and also again in 1830, to make him “Emperor of Iberia.” He declined all three times.
  • In one of his many letters to his son in Brazil, he urged him to study and better himself:

“The era in which princes were respected solely because they are simply princes has ended (…) it is necessary that princes (…) know that they are men and not divinities, that for them knowledge and good sense are indispensable (…) The respect of a free people for their ruler ought to be born of the conviction (…) that their ruler is capable of making them achieve that level of happiness they aspire to; and if such is not the case, unhappy ruler, unhappy people”

– King Pedro IV
  • Despite his frustrations with the Brazilian Parliament as a peace-time ruler, he never tampered with elections, never dissolved the Chamber of Deputies when they disagreed with his goals, nor refused to sign acts approved by the government, or imposed any restrictions on freedom of speech.
  • He was an abolitionist: when he couldn’t enforce his gradual plan to eliminate slavery in the slave-owner-dominated Assembly, he led by example, freeing the slaves in his estate. In his words: “It grieves me to see my fellow humans giving a man tributes appropriate for the divinity, I know that my blood is the same color as that of the Negroes.”
King Pedro IV of Portugal monument in Porto, Portugal. by (Célestin Anatole Calmels — 1866). Image courtesy of Manuel de Sousa.
  • On his deathbed, he begged Brazilians to abolish slavery:

“[It] 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”.

– King Pedro IV

Having lived and reigned over Brazil and Portugal, his love was always split between two homes. After breaking a vicious siege that lasted for over a year, he proclaimed his heart forever belonged to the city of Porto.

So when the Brazilians demanded their Emperor’s corpse back, to be buried in Brazil, the Portuguese sent back Pedro’s heartless body. His remains lie at the Imperial Crypt of the Monument to the Independence of Brazil, in São Paulo, while his heart remains in Portugal, as he requested, at Porto’s Lapa Church.

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