Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Monarch Profile: King Pedro V of Portugal
Through it all, Pedro V took his duties very seriously. He was as conscientious a monarch as one could hope to find. He never took precipitate action but would study all proposals very carefully, weighing the possible benefits and possible detriments, before he would give something his endorsement. He cared deeply for his people and wished no harm to come to them through some hasty action, even if well intentioned. To improve the quality of life of his people, King Pedro V embarked on a program of infrastructure modernization as well as promoting literacy and education. His reign saw a dramatic upsurge in the construction of roads, bridges, railroads and telegraph lines linking the major population centers. He also built new schools, often funded at his own expense, ordered Portuguese translation of the latest books on scientific discoveries and was fond of handing out books to children as royal gifts. He traveled extensively throughout the country to see firsthand what actions were required, where improvements were needed and what the lives of all of his people were like. He preferred to see for himself rather than listen to the reports of others. The King also wrote articles, under an assumed name, on military issues and current events for several popular periodicals.
All of this added to the great affection the Portuguese people had for Pedro V, who took such a great personal interest in their welfare and in being accessible to all his people. He disliked ceremony and was more inclined toward the practical. For example, he abolished the custom of hand-kissing, which he thought gave the impression that the King was a god as well as kneeling in the royal presence, again, something he thought suitable only for Church and the presence of God. Pedro V also had a suggestion box installed at the palace where his subjects could write to him directly about their problems and he took great care in reading and responding to these messages. Also in a very innovative step, the King abolished the death penalty in Portugal which he viewed as cruel and wasteful. Only God gave life and only God could take it in his view and he desired that the handling of prisoners should focus not on punishment but on rehabilitation and returning criminals to a proper sense of right and wrong as productive members of society. The King also continued, throughout his reign, to support a greater understanding of literature and scientific innovations amongst his people and would himself often go to the institutions he set up to listen to the lectures being given.
Few monarchs have been so widely loved as King Pedro V and few suffered as many misfortunes. In 1861, possibly after drinking tainted water from a pond while on a hunting trip, the young monarch fell ill with cholera. His brother, Prince Fernando, came down with it as well and the King remained at his side as long as possible. Many other members of the Royal Family were also stricken with the disease. Sadly, after a reign spent trying to eradicate the sorrow caused by such diseases, King Pedro V passed away on November 11, 1861 at the age of only 24. From Britain to America world leaders expressed their sadness at his loss and the Portuguese were so distraught and bewildered by his sudden end that some convinced themselves he must have been the victim of a conspiracy and rebelled. It was, however, simply a tragedy, the life of a promising young king cut all too short. In the time he had been given, he accomplished a great deal and we can confidently assume that, had he been given more time, his achievements could have been greater still for he had all the requisite qualities of a great monarch. He was intelligent, careful, compassionate, devoted to his people, faithful to God and his homeland and thoroughly committed to the ideal of royal service, to improve the lives of his subjects and the standing of his beloved country. Pedro V was a great king who left the world all too soon.