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Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Portuguese soap-opera

With the declaration of his mother's mental illness (Queen Maria, the 1st) in 1799 by the Junta Médica, João Maria José Francisco Xavier de Paula Luís António Domingos Rafael de Bragança became officially Prince-Regent Dom João the 6th of Portugal. He became one of the most important characters in Portuguese history from the early 19th century.
It was he who in the attempt to make Greeks and Trojans happy, as we say in Portuguese (by that we mean everyone, and in this case, Spain, France and England), made a continual strike of decisions that would send this country in downward spiral of misfortunes.
After signing an alliance with the Spaniards (before becoming regent, he was already signing all documents on behalf of his ill mother since 1792) to fight revolutionary France in 1793 and in participating in the Rossilhão Campaign (1793-95), he never could have guessed that Bonaparte would be so powerful in Spain and, therefore, turning past allies into enemies in the Guerra das Laranjas in 1801.
Our king then tries to minimize such impact by declaring England as enemy and keeping France and Spain at bay, respecting Napoleons ultimatum of 1806 to close Portuguese harbours to any British trade (which would have been a fatal decision on our national economy if it had been respected by the individuals, since we were so dependant on it).
On the other hand, his wife Carlota Joaquina de Bourbon, who was told to be ugly and nymphomaniac, was planing to overthrow her husband in alliance with the Spanish nobility from where she descended. It wasn't her only attempt. In fact, it is believed that she tried inumerous times to kill her husband and that many of the couples children couldn't been of the king, since they lived separated.

The portuguese king, Dom João VI and his wife Dona Carlota Joaquina.

And so France invaded Portugal with the kings promise not to retaliate. It must have been quite a sight for the people on the Lisbon streets seeing starving French soldiers “settling in” and no one had the permission to do anything against it. The year, 1807; the event, 1st French invasion.

The French army entering Lisbon, 1807.

As if this wasn't bad enough (remember, I said that D. João the 6th was an important character!) the king and all of his court, the government alongside with the creme-de-la-creme of Portuguese military fled to Brazil in 1807, thus leaving the country without a Ruler and army! And in 1810 he transfered the nations capital Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro (which later made the independence of Brazil possible).

The royal family embarking for Brazil at Belem, Francisco Bartolozzi.

On this November morning many of the more important people of the kingdom, clergymen and anyone who had money tried to get in one of the 36 ships available. On the docks the remaining people booed the fugitives and even some tried to stop them by force. Chaos had installed itself. 15.000 people left the country and with them valuable currency.
But what Junot wasn't expecting was the willingness of the Portuguese people to fight back. And fighting back they did!
Even though D. João promised in October to keep the continental blockage and declare war on England, he signed a secret treaty with the later to keep the Portuguese royal crown safe and grant them safe passage. a few months later, in may 1808, he declares all treaties with France null and, therefore, making England a new Allie. This was all that the Portuguese people and the British crown needed to hear.
In Portugal the people organized themselves into militias, in Porto a Junta was formed with the purpose to organize the fight against the French, called Junta Provisional do Supremo Governo do Reino (Provisional Junta of the Kingdom's Government) with D. António de Castro, Bishop of Porto, at it's front. And it was this Junta that will work closely with General Arthur Wellesley, another important character of Portuguese history of the early 19th century.
And so, therefore, the plot of this soap-opera is complete. More on some of the details such as the participation of the civilians, the economy and other matters, will be talked about on further posts.
I hope that this blog of mine will bring you some insight, specially a different one, of this 1st decade and a half of the 19th century.

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