David Gelber - Royal Rio: The Brazilian capital under the Braganzas, 1808-1889

seminar report

In 1808 the Portuguese queen, Maria I, her son, heir and regent (later King John VI), their family and hundreds of other courtiers and officials, landed in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. They had fled Portugal in great haste from invading Napoleonic armies. From then until the overthrow of the last Braganza emperor in 1889, Rio remained Brazil’s capital and primary seat of the Brazilian court. From 1808 to 1822, Maria, then John VI, ruled a united Luso-Brazilian monarchy; but from 1822 to 1889, Pedro I, followed by Pedro II, governed an independent Brazilian empire, with the ‘senior’ Braganzas safely back in Lisbon. During their residency the relatively quiet trading city and viceregal seat became a flourishing port and court city, remaking Rio socially, culturally and economically. Until 1822, Rio was an important international diplomatic centre; and home to Brazil’s first printing press. Later, Pedro II enthusiastically promoted educational and scientific modernization and urban reforms (social and physical) and for three generations the city benefited greatly from the Braganza presence. John VI and Pedro I especially understood the need to build a respected court, handsomely housed. They skilfully established ceremony, ritual, and etiquette to enhance their authority and protect dynastic continuity. Family and national festivals elicited showy celebrations while coronations — which had long before fallen into disuse in Portugal — were revived and made particularly splendid. They built imposing residences, at first from sheer necessity, then for grandeur and pleasure. Palaces in Rio, São Cristóvão and Petropolis became centres of display and dynastic promotion. The glittering wedding of the future Pedro I to the Habsburg archduchess, Leopoldina, in 1817, was a crucial reminder for Brazilians of the status of the ruling family. Yet not even careful manipulation of their image nor Pedro II’s simplicity of manner and genuine sympathy for ordinary Brazilians prevented the destruction of the monarchy in 1889 and exile of the Braganzas from the city they had helped transform. CCN