Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil
by James Russell Miller
Dom Pedro de Alcantara João Carlos Leopoldo Salvador Bibiano Franciso
Xavier de Paula Leocadio Miguel Gabriel Rafael Gonzaga de Bragança e Borbón was born in
Rio de Janeiro December 2, 1825. This august name bestowed on him by his parents Don Pedro
I and Doña Leopoldina attest to his high and noble birth. This unsuspecting child was
born into a family whose relations included the oldest and most noble royal houses of
Europe. His grandfathers included the kings of Spain and Naples. His extended family were
the royal houses of Great Britain, Frances, Barvaria, and Sardinia. If these impressive
relations were not enough to set this child above in prospects for future success, his
ancestors included Louis XIV of France and Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire. However,
this child was born into less than desirable circumstances, for his would-be empire and
future throne were far from secure.
The Empire of Brazil was a newly created state and was not completely
accepted in the circles of world power. This experiment in crafting an empire has been
called a ?political hybrid.? A mixture of the traditional monarchy, shaped by
the Divine-Right theory, and shaped interestingly enough by the ideals of the
Enlightenment that had shaped the United States' and France?s revolutions. Brazil was
a nation divided into three classes: those of Portuguese descent; those of Amerindian
extraction; and those of African derivation. The labor of black slaves provided economic
benefit for thriving agri-businesses. The royal court of João VI had fled the
encroachments of Napoleon and set up court in Rio de Janeiro in 1807. The situation
finally improved and the court returned to Lisbon in 1821. There were strained relations
with the Portuguese Cortes and the interests of far away Brazil.
On September 7, 1822, Dom Pedro declared that Brazil was independent of
Portugal. He was proclaimed Emperor some weeks later not wishing to usurp the tile of his
father, the King of Portugal. The new Emperor was to begin his reign with problems. Dom
Pedro I would resist any attempts to lessen his royal prerogatives. He, after all, was of
a royal blood but lacked the political prowess to accomplish his desires. Pedro I
gradually lost his grip on power, first exhibited in the unpopular choice of a mistress, a
mistress elevated in royal position, with her bastard seed , to that of equality of the
Empress and royal children. The death of Doña Leopoldina was a blow to the national
psyche and surprisingly enough to Pedro I. Later Pedro I lost the trust and cooperation of
the Chamber of Deputies. He dismissed his ministers, causing street riots. The Emperor was
give in his view no choice but to abdicate and hope for better results back in Portugal.
He did so on April 7, 1831. He quickly left with his new Empress Doña Amelia, his
daughter Doña Maria da Gloria, and with as much of the royal silver and possessions as
possible. It was said that there was only one silver spoon left at his departure and no
one cared, only wishing him to leave immediately.
The world was an unsure place for the new five-year-old Emperor of
Brazil. He and his two sisters would be the only members of his immediate family left in
Brazil. The continuance of the Bragança dynasty in Brazil became tenuous at best. Fear
became a motivating force for unity to preserve Brazil in this unsure time. Politicians
united in support of the monarchy; it now would serve as a rallying point for the survival
of the Empire. Three men were chosen as interim regents until the Legislature could meet
and choose permanent regents. Dom Pedro II was proclaimed Emperor of Brazil on April 14. A
meeting to choose three to rule as Regents until the eighteenth birthday of Pedro II,
December 2, 1843. A motherless, and now with an absent father, fatherless, child of five
had his fate in the hands of others. Others that would make decisions about the future of
Brazil, the monarchy, and the boy himself. He would never see his father again, and it
would be forty years until he would see his cherished stepmother, Doña Amelia, in 1871.
Pedro II never had a clear picture of his parents and this would haunt him into his later
life. He would live an isolated life ordinarily as a royal, but this upbringing denied the
child emperor stability in family.
Pedro I had selected Jose Bonifacio de Andrada e Silva as his tutor or
really guardian. Bonifacio was a loyal man to the former Emperor and was a man who was
known for his belief in the monarchical system. He had served as chief minister of the
former Emperor and it was implied that Bonafacio was designated for the same role in the
Regency of Pedro II. Jose Bonafacio proved to be a man of political ambition and provided
more controversy and partisan quarrels that could have been lessened or completely
avoided. Bonafacio was forced from power by the Regents on December 14, 1833. Dom Pedro II
seems during this time to be much influenced by a former stable groom. This groom, Richard
Shelley, an Englishman, acted as a surrogate father for the young Pedro II.
Young Dom Pedro II loved to study and set about to become educated. He
studied and became fluent in French and came to accept French culture as his own. His
quest for knowledge was a lifelong pursuit. In his younger years, reading books and study
provided an escape into a world in which he could be separate from his problems and
pressures. Later in life he acquired a knowledge of Hebrew in order to study the Old
Testament and Hebrew literature. Once being able to read and write Hebrew, his studies led
him to on to learn Arabic, Sanskrit, and Tupi-Guarani. He employed world class linguists
to help in these pursuits. In addition to study, the emperor wrote in great amounts. His
love of science and study in general better suited him for a role other than Emperor of
This love of knowledge led Pedro II to world travel. During his visit
to The United States, he heard the preaching of Dwight L. Moody, the evangelist, in New
York City. He approved of Moody?s assertion that the Christian spirit existed above
denominational differences. He viewed buffalo in Wyoming, and was curious about Mormonism
in Salt Lake City. He secured Mormon literature and inquired about their beliefs. His
visit to New Orleans brought him to a Jewish synagogue and found him engaged in a
philosophical discussion with a Jewish scholar, Professor Fontaine. While he made other
stops and saw the vast nature of the American experiment, these tours in the area of
religion seem to set this emperor apart from the average head of state. He visited homes
for the handicapped and institutions for the insane, offering advice when he felt it was
needed. During a farewell tribute, the third stanza of Whittier?s "Freedom in
Brazil" was read. The poem had been composed when the Emperor set about the
initiative that led to emancipation in 1871. The American tour had been invigorating for
During his reign, major changes took place in Brazil. Pedro II was
popular, but his policies in economic and social matters proved problematic. Entanglements
in Latin American wars also plagued his reign. In 1850, the slave trade was prohibited; in
1871, gradual emancipation was granted; and in 1888, with Pedro II absence in Europe, his
daughter Isabel, acting ruler, signed a law abolishing slavery. The nature of
Brazil?s agrarian economy and the power of plantation owners led to opposition to the
nature of these laws. A growing coalition of the urban middle class, plantation owners,
and military leaders united in opposition to the traditional monarchy and to the
privileged class. Pedro II wrote late in his reign "If I were not an emperor, I
should like to be a school teacher. I know of no calling greater or nobler than that of
directing young minds and of training the men of the future" (Williams,1937, p. 214).
Brazil at his accession was an almost illiterate nation in need of a
teacher. During his reign progress was made to foster in Brazil the quest for learning.
After the war with Paraguay, he learned of efforts to erect an equestrian statue of him.
Pedro II promptly wrote a letter encouraging that the money be used for the construction
of more primary school buildings or improvements in existing public buildings. He would
not allow needed reapairs to be made to the City Palace, when in his words "to think
of a palace for me when we have not enough schools and school buildings"(Williams,
1937, p. 215). The Emperor would at times visit a school, sit by the teacher, watch the
students, and even participate. His committed to education was fueled by his desire to
produce Brazilian leaders for the future. He is credited with making Brazil the most
liberal and enlightened nation in Latin American of the day.
Even with all of the improvements and social changes, there were
growing problems for the monarchy in Brazil. The three most important sources of
discontent were within the Church, the planters, and the military. These had been
traditionally the closest supporters of the monarchy. Imprisonment of bishops caused a
great blemish on the monarchy?s prestige and image. The general population of Brazil
held the Church in esteem and above reproach. The Emperor?s government suffered a
great loss in public sympathy. Abolition of slavery alienated the planters and fostered
republican ideas among their ranks. The military became increasingly dissatisfied with the
government. Discontent had festered since the Paraguayan War.
Monarchists could not perceive of a nation without this stabilizing
institution and could not understand the growing conditions that would lead to an
overthrow of the monarchy. Republicans wanted to rid the nation of the abuses and
corruption they perceived inherent in the monarchy. They saw abuses in the power of the
emperor as indicative for the need to change to a republic. The Republican movement
desired to carry out the will of the people as their mandate. Some came to see all
monarchies as condemned by history, an institution best replaced by a republic.
The Masonic controversy proved to be a mortal wound for the monarchy.
The position of the Church was followed by the bishops of Para and Pernambuco in barring
Masons from participating Church activities. The Masons appealed to the government. The
monarchy, using imperial privilege, supported the Masons over the bishops, and thus the
Pope?s decision. The bishops resisted the interference and were arrested. They were
eventually released, but the damage to the crown was irreparable.
Abolition led to further erosion of royal support for her most logical
supporters, the planters. These landowners depended upon the economic benefits produced by
slavery and were unwilling to support the royal government?s efforts to be socially
Adding to these crown problems in the Church and in society was the
military. Republicans formed a large interest group within the military. There had been
growing dissatisfaction during the time since the Paraguayan War. Military men had assumed
a greater sense of importance in the society as a whole and felt that they were underpaid
and thus under-appreciated. The military assumed the duty of assuring to secure the
nation?s political and social well-being. The resulting demise of the monarchy and
replacement government would be devised from these three forces growing out of the
military movement: a military faction, plantation owners, and the urban middle class.
Dom Pedro II was at a crossroads. The Bragança dynasty was crumbling.
The will of the Emperor was broken. His daughter Doña Isabel convinced him to call a
meeting of the Council of State. Their final advice was to form a new cabinet. The
decision was made, the monarchy was finished. The boy emperor would now be dealt a similar
fate as his father before him. Exile was the only option. The republic was now firmly
established as a new constitution was called requested. Dom Pedro II retired to bed
leaving Doña Isabel and her husband to await the reply. An ultimatum was delivered next
morning stating the reasons for the overthrow of the monarchy and for the establishment of
the republic. Dom Pedro and his family were to leave the nation within twenty-four hours.
His reply was "I am leaving, and I am leaving now" (Barman, 1999, p361). The
provisional government made an allowance of five thousand contors de reis, which
amounted to six years income from the civil list.
Dom Pedro II contracted a chill on November 23, 1891 in Paris. The
doctor confirmed influenza and he was put to bed on November 26. His temperature soared to
105.8 degrees by December 4, giving the doctors no hope for recovery. He suffered little
pain and offered no struggle. His surviving daughter and a small group of family and loyal
courtiers attended the deathbed. The count of Aljezur, acting as court chamberlain wrote
out the legal act of death. As played out some sixty-five years before with the death of
his mother, all present kissed his hand. Then in turn, all kissed the hand of Doña
Isabel, acknowledging her claims to the throne. After great pomp in France, his body was
transferred to Lisbon to be received by King Carlos and the royal family. He was laid rest
beside his wife, Doña Teresa Cristina, his father, Doña Amelia, sisters, and other
relations of the Bragança family.
Many years would pass until the true accomplishments and legacy of Dom
Pedro II would be discussed and appreciated in Brazil. Closure would not come for the
former Emperor until 1971. His remains, along with those of Doña Teresa Cristina, Doña
Isabel and her husband are at rest in the city that he loved, Petropolis. He is now at
Barman, R.J. (1999). Citizen Emperor. Pedro II and the Making of Brazil,
1825-91. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Da Costa, E.V. (2000). The Brazilian Empire. Myths and Histories. Chapel Hill:
The University of North Carolina Press.
Williams, M.W. (1937). Dom Pedro The Magnanimous. Second Emperor of Brazil.
Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press