Dom Joao VI, The damned Prince, King of Contraditions

(This is Gargamelo’s first post with Ptara.)


Pop art portrait of Dom Joao VI of PortugalApril 1812, Rio de Janeiro, King’s Palace.

The Regent and his two sons – meeting with their state secretary and top ministers – have just received the news that Napoleon’s troops have definitely been expelled from Portugal.  That means that there is no longer a valid reason for the court to remain in Brazil.

However, except for the Regents wife, Queen Carlota Joaquina, the royals are in no hurry to return.  Dom Joao VI really enjoys life in Brazil where he is a completely different man than the introverted, sickly and indoor-bound individual that he was in Portugal.  The English and French and Spanish are far away, and the worries they brought with them.  The infants, heir to the throne Pedro and infant Dom Miguel, (who later would fight each other in the conservative-liberal civil war) feel more Brazilian than Portuguese:  they arrived as young boys and appreciate the vast and open new continent.

Since 1808, Rio has been the capital of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brasil and Algarves.  That was when the entire court and some others were evacuated from Lisbon on the approach of the Napoleonic troops.  With this retreat, the king of Portugal became the only monarch who was invaded by Napoleon and did not surrender.  At the same time, Brazil became the only kingdom in the western hemisphere.

Dom Joao VI and the Court first arrived in Brazil in Bahia, on 22 January 1808, and reached Rio de Janeiro on 26 February.

But who is the king, anyway? Dom Joao VI reigns, but his mother, Donna Maria I, who had been declared legally insane in 1799, is still legally monarch, and her son is merely the Regent. (interestingly enough, a similar situation exists in England, where the future George IV is the regent due to the madness of his father George III).

In fact, Dr. Willis, George’s psychiatrist, went to Portugal to treat Donna Maria I, but was as unsuccessful with the Portuguese queen as he was with the English king.

Only in March 1816, when Donna Maria I dies (still living in Brazil), will Dom Joao VI be declared the King of Portugal, Brasil e Algarves.

Dom Joao VI is a “king despite himself”, his life full of contradictions.  He did not grow up expecting to be king; but the tragic death of his older brother and his mother’s disease catapulted him to the throne in a couple of years, “unprepared” they say.   To his detractors Joao was weak, hesitant, uneducated, and he abandoned his people – giving in to both France and England. To his defenders Joao was a genius of compromises, master of diplomacy, and the father of present-day Brazil.

Physically very ugly and with fragile health, Joao was the unlikely fallback for a mad mother and a dead brother.  His family relationships were full of incidents: Joao had to step in and declare his mother incompetent, Joao’s own son declared the independence of his biggest possession, and Joao’s wife constantly conspired against him.

Carlotta Joaquina wife of Joao VI
Carlotta Joaquina loved Spain more than Portugal.  But who poisoned her husband?

Dom Joao IV’s marriage to Carlotta Joaquina was a hate-love affair, they were married when she was 10 and he 18.  Even though she came over to Portugal at such a young age, she was ever the Spanish princess, and fought often to defend the interests of the Spanish court, even joining a conspiracy to depose her husband, after which she was relegated to the Palacio de Queluz, while the Prince-Regent remained in the Palacio de Mafra.  The move to Brazil brought them together again, but on their return to Portugal the relationship would worsen and they would again separate.  However, there seems to have been some real love between them, and they managed to have 9 children.  — Dom Joao VI died of poisoning, and it is not clear who the assassins were.

One thing is certain: the legacy of Joao VI’s reign is immense: Brazil developed to the point of surpassing the mother country, national institutions like Bank of Brazil and Universities were created, and a strong Country emerged, (contrarily to what happened in the Spanish side of the continent, which was fragmented into several pieces and suffered prolonged wars.)  Of course, one could argue these developments were not caused by Joao VI personally, but just happened because of the move of the capital to Brazil.

Back to our meeting.  The royals learn that Napoleon’s troops left Portugal.  Should they stay in Brazil, or should they go “home” to Portugal?

The decision was easy, they would wait and see. After all, the English generals who had gone to help the Portuguese troops against Napoleon were effectively running Portugal, and Portugal remained an occupied territory for a while.

Marquis of Aguiars Dom Fernando Jose de Portugal e Castro
The Marquis of Aguiars wanted the royals to go back to Portugal

Not everyone wanted to stay.  There was another person present who voted for a quick return: then Minister of War and External Relations, Count and Marquis of Aguiar, Dom Fernando José de Portugal e Castro, the Count and Marquis of Aguiar (“Count of Aguiar” for short).

Some may have suspected the Count of Aguiar’s motives.  The Count of Aguiar had been Vice-Roy of Brazil and maybe he would get his old post back, should the Court return to Portugal.

portrait of the count of Arcos, Dom Marcos de Narhona e Brita
Marcos de Narhona e Brita, The count of Arcos, later imprissoned and exhiled. Based on a print by William Skelton

There had been another Vice-Roy of Brazil since the Count of Aguiar stepped down, the Count of Arcos. But the Count of Arcos was in Bahia, where he had been transferred as Governor after the arrival of the Prince Regent.  Indeed the Count of Arcos would return to Rio when the King returned to Portugal in 1821, but instead of getting the top post back, The Count of Arcos would ended in jail, and later be expelled to Portugal where he would die soon after his arrival.

They waited in Brazil till long after the war in Europe was over.  Dom Joao VI would stay almost another 10 years in Brazil, returning to Portugal only in 1821, when the Portuguese declared that enough was enough. By then, his mother Donna Maria had died and Joao VI was king in his own right.

He left his son Dom Pedro as regent in Brazil, and this one wasted no time in declaring the independence of the new Country, and “his” people no longer accepted being demoted to a dependency. Portugal now was the dependency, as the loss of Brazil would cause a major economic crisis.

Interestingly enough, when Dom Joao VI accepted the independence of Brazil in 1822, he gave himself the title of first Emperor of Brazil, until the following year when Dom Pedro became Emperor Pedro I.  Soon after, Dom Joao VI would die, and Dom Pedro sent his daughter Dom Maria II (Dom Joao’s granddaughter), who was born and raised in Brazil, to become queen of Portugal.

thumbnail of dom joao VI

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