Pedro I

Pedro I (1798-1834) was a Portuguese king and emperor of Brazil. As prince regent of Brazil, he declared the independence of Brazil and then became emperor.

Pedro was born on Oct. 12, 1798, at the Queluz Palace in Lisbon, the son of the prince regent of Portugal (later João VI) and his wife, Carlota Joaquina, the daughter of the Spanish Bourbon king Charles IV. In 1807 the royal family fled to Brazil to escape Napoleon's invading armies. Pedro adapted well to the Brazilian milieu. He was an excellent horseman, enjoyed the military life, and could compete with common soldiers and officers equally. Also, he early demonstrated musical talents and later composed some music of creditable amateur quality. He was considered to be handsome, and women found him attractive.

In 1817 Pedro married Carolina Josefa Leopoldina, the daughter of Francis I of Austria. Her intelligence, consideration, and personality quickly earned her the respect and admiration of the Portuguese and Brazilians, as well as of her husband, but she was unable to distract him from his amorous affairs.

In 1816 Pedro's father became João VI, King of Portugal and Brazil, which had been elevated from the status of a colony to a kingdom in 1815. In 1821 João VI was forced to return to Portugal and leave Pedro as the prince regent. Recognizing the independence sentiments in Brazil, and observing what was occurring in the Spanish colonies of the New world, the King advised his son to declare Brazil independent and take the throne for himself rather than allow an adventurer to take over the country. On Sept. 7, 1822, supported by Brazilians who feared that the Portuguese would reduce the country to colonial status again, and following the advice of his wife and his chief counselor, José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva, Pedro declared the independence of Brazil and established the Empire of Brazil with himself as emperor.

In 1823 Pedro I called a constituent assembly to formulate a constitution but dissolved the body later that year. He promulgated a constitution on March 24, 1824, which remained Brazil's charter until 1889. The period was disturbed by dissension between native-born Brazilians and those born in Portugal. Pedro I was Portuguese and thus suspect to Brazilians, especially after he signed a treaty of peace with Portugal which left unresolved some basic issues concerning future relations between the two countries. When João VI died in 1826, Pedro I inherited the Portuguese crown, but the ruling of both countries by the Emperor was unacceptable to the Brazilians. Pedro I abdicated the Portuguese throne in favor of his daughter Maria da Glória, who was betrothed to her uncle Miguel.

Although he accepted constitutional monarchy, Pedro I was an absolutist in his approach to government. With difficulty he accepted advice from the legislative branch of the government, and his attitudes led to conflict with liberal Brazilians.

Pedro's long-standing affair with Domitilia de Castro, upon whom he bestowed the title of Marquêsa de Santos, was a cause of much criticism and provoked opposition. The Empress, Leopoldina, had widespread public support when the Emperor moved his mistress into the palace. Leopoldina died in 1827, and Pedro I continued his relationship with the Marquêsa de Santos until 1829, when he married Amélia Augusta Eugénia Napoleona, daughter of Eugene of Litchenberg.

In April 1831 Pedro I unexpectedly abdicated in favor of his 5-year-old son, who became Pedro II. Returning to Portugal, Pedro took up the cause of his daughter Maria da Glória, whose position as Maria II of Portugal was being challenged by her uncle Miguel. Dom Pedro directed the political and military campaign which defeated his brother and, acting as regent, had his daughter declared of age, although she was less than 18 years old. A few days later, on Sept. 24, 1834, he died in the Queluz Palace.

Further Reading on Pedro I

A study of Pedro I is Sergio Corrêa da Costa, Every Inch a King: A Biography of Dom Pedro I, First Emperor of Brazil (trans. 1950). Additional material is in Clarence Henry Haring, Empire in Brazil: A New World Experiment with Democracy (1958).

Additional Biography Sources

Macaulay, Neill, Dom Pedro: the struggle for liberty in Brazil and Portugal, 1798-1834, Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1986.

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