Childhood & Early Life
Pedro de Alcântara João Carlos Leopoldo Salvador Bibiano Francisco Xavier de Paula Leocádio Miguel Gabriel Rafael Gonzaga (Pedro II), named after St. Peter of Alcantara, was born on December 2, 1825, in the ‘Palace of São Cristóvão’ in Rio de Janeiro, Empire of Brazil, to Emperor Dom Pedro I, the founder and the first ruler of the Empire of Brazil, and Empress Dona Maria Leopoldina.
His paternal grandfather, John VI, was the king of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves, while his maternal grandfather, Franz II, was the last Holy Roman Emperor. Pedro II was a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte through his mother. From his father’s side, he belonged to the ‘House of Braganza.’ He used the honorific "Dom" (Lord) since birth.
On August 6, 1826, Pedro II, the only legitimate son of Pedro I who survived infancy, was bestowed with the title “Prince Imperial” and was officially recognized as the heir apparent to the throne of the Empire of Brazil. He lost his mother on December 11 that year.
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Unable to cope with issues arising in both Brazil and Portugal simultaneously, Pedro I suddenly abdicated the throne as the Emperor of Brazil, in favor of Pedro II, on April 7, 1831, and sailed for Europe.
Pedro II was an intelligent child and could grasp things and acquire knowledge quite easily. His regular routine consisted of hours of studying. He prepared himself to become an able monarch and enjoyed only 2 hours of recreation every day. The absence of both his parents and little contact with his sisters and a handful of friends of his age made Pedro II grow up to be a shy person with an isolated life. He thus took refuge in books.
Since 1835, the proposal of lowering the emperor's age of majority from 18 was doing the rounds. The regency that ruled on his behalf was marked with rebellions and conflicts among political sections from the very outset. Soon, Pedro II consented to assume full powers. This led the parliament of Brazil to formally declare the 14-year-old Pedro II of age on July 23, 1840. His coronation was held on July 18, 1841.
The young emperor was initially influenced by a group of high-ranking palace servants and eminent politicians known as the ‘Courtier Faction,’ led by Aureliano Coutinho. With time, he developed both physically and mentally, shedding away his weaknesses and building enough strength of character to emerge as a learned, confident, impartial, tactful, courteous, and diligent monarch. He exercised full authority without any influence of the ‘Courtier Faction.’ As a result, the ‘Courtier Faction’ gradually became defunct.
The government of Pedro II succeeded in suppressing the Praieira revolt, a movement in the Pernambuco region of Brazil that witnessed conflict between the local political factions. The revolt lasted from November 6, 1848, to March, 1849.
The challenges of the monarch also included tackling the trade of illegally imported slaves and the abolition of slavery. The passage of the ‘Eusébio de Queirós Law’ in Brazil, on September 4, 1850, led the Brazilian government to get rid of the problem of importation of slaves by 1852. However, the use of slaves became a common phenomenon in Brazil, among both the rich and the poor, and only few, including Pedro II, openly opposed and condemned the system.
During the early 1860s, he focused on removing the norm of enslavement of children born to slaves. He continued his support for the gradual eradication and abolition of slavery, without paying heed to the political damage it was causing to his image and the monarchy. Finally, the ‘Law of Free Birth,’ championed by Prime Minister José Paranhos, Viscount of Rio Branco, was passed on September 28, 1871, by the Brazilian parliament. The law stated that all children born to slave women after that date would be regarded free-born.
Meanwhile, Brazil formed an alliance with Uruguay and the Argentine provinces of Entre Ríos and Corrientes and fought the Platine War against the Argentine Confederation, from August 18, 1851, to February 3, 1852. The war resulted in an allied victory and the commencement of Brazilian hegemony in the Platine region.
Such successes achieved by Pedro II marked the state as a hemispheric power, quite distinct from its Hispanic neighbors. The political stability; the vigorous economic and infrastructural growth, including the connectivity within the nation through electric telegraph lines, railroad, and steamship lines; liberal ideals such as the freedom of the press; constitutional respect for civil rights; and a functional parliamentary monarchy enhanced both the status and the stability of Brazil in the international arena.
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The reign of Pedro II also witnessed the promotion of arts, sciences, and culture. The ‘Brazilian Historic and Geographic Institute,’ the ‘Pedro II School,’ the ‘Imperial Academy of Music and National Opera’ were a few of the institutes of repute that were built during his reign. His works earned respect and admiration from noted personalities such as Charles Darwin, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Louis Pasteur, Victor Hugo, Richard Wagner, and Friedrich Nietzsche.
A clash of the Brazilian government with the British consul in Rio de Janeiro, William Dougal Christie, over two minor incidents, almost led the two empires to go to war. It was Pedro II’s firm refusal to yield to the abusive demands of Christie that led to Brazil’s resistance, which then broke diplomatic ties with the British Empire in June 1863. Friendly relations between the two empires were later restored after diplomat Edward Thornton apologized on behalf of Queen Victoria and the British government.
Following the murder of Brazilians and the loot of their properties in Uruguay amidst the civil war there, the Empire of Brazil joined hands with the Uruguayan ‘Colorado Party.’ With covert support from Argentina, they fought against Uruguay's governing ‘Blanco Party’ in the Uruguayan War. The war that occurred from August 10, 1864, to February 20, 1865, resulted in a victory of the alliance and paved way for the Paraguayan War.
The Paraguayan War, considered the deadliest and the bloodiest inter-state war in the history of Latin America, took place from October 12, 1864, to March 1, 1870, with Paraguay fighting against the Empire of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. The war ended with the victory of the ‘Triple Alliance,’ and Brazil gained the disputed territories situated to the north of the Apa.
Pedro II was elected to the ‘French Academy of Sciences’ in 1875 and was a member of the ‘American Geographical Society,’ the ‘Royal Academies for Science and the Arts of Belgium,’ the ‘Russian Academy of Sciences,’ and the ‘Royal Society.’
Decline of Power, Coup d'Ã©tat & Exile
Brazil continued to develop, and Pedro II remained devoted to his responsibilities as a monarch. However, the now-aged man had a more alienated and pessimistic outlook. Following the early death of his sons, the emperor became more indifferent about the fate of the monarchy. On the other hand, many of the politicians of the newer generation also became more apathetic toward the monarchy.
The civilian republicans started pushing the army officers to remove the monarchy from power, although no such desire of changing the form of government existed among most Brazilians. A sudden coup d'état launched on November 15, 1889, headed by Manuel Deodoro da Fonseca, ousted Pedro II and reorganized the government, proclaiming Brazil a republic.
Pedro II did not oppose his ouster and even dismissed suggestions of suppressing the rebellion. On November 17, 1889, he was sent to exile in Europe along with his family. What followed was a long period of constitutional and economic crises, dictatorships, and weak governments in Brazil.
Family, Personal Life & Legacy
The government of the Two Sicilies learnt that Pedro II had been looking for a wife and offered him the hand of Princess Teresa Cristina. On May 30, 1843, Pedro II and the princess married by proxy in Naples. He accepted the marriage proposal after looking at her painting that depicted her as an ideal beauty. However after seeing her in person for the first time, Pedro II was greatly disappointed by Teresa’s plain looks and her short and slightly overweight built. She also walked with a pronounced limp. Although their marriage had an unpleasant start, with time, their relationship improved.
He had four children with Teresa: sons Afonso and Pedro and daughters Isabel and Leopoldina. Teresa died in 1889.
During his exile in Europe, he lived a lonely and melancholic life in modest hotels, with very little money. He breathed his last on December 5, 1891, in Paris, France, with his family beside him. A state funeral was given by the French government on December 9 that year, and it was attended by dignitaries and diplomats from across the globe. His body was then sent to Portugal and was buried in the ‘Royal Pantheon of the House of Braganza’ on December 12 the same year.
The news of his demise had great repercussions in Brazil, where the general public mourned and held masses in his memory. A feeling of guilt and a sense of regret also became palpable among the republicans. The remains of Pedro II and his wife were returned to Brazil in 1921 and were interred in the ‘Cathedral of São Pedro de Alcântara’ in Petrópolis.