Monday, December 10, 2012

Consort Profile: Queen Carlota Joaquina of Spain

Although a queen consort of Portugal, Carlota Joaquina of Spain is just as, if not more, well known in Latin America than in Portugal. That, interestingly enough, is not due so much to what she did but what she might have done. She was born Carlota Joaquina Teresa Caetana on April 25, 1775 in Aranjuez to the future King Carlos IV (younger brother of King Carlos III) and Maria Luisa of Parma (a granddaughter of King Louis XV of France). Raised in the typical fashion for her time and place, though no one ever thought much of her appearance, it was decided very early on that she would be married to the future King John VI of Portugal as part of an all-out marriage campaign to strengthen Hispano-Portuguese ties. How early an age was it? Well, she was born in 1775 and married in 1785 (May 8, so just after her tenth birthday). Lest anyone jump to horrid conclusions, rest assured the marriage was not consummated until January 9, 1790. Still, the little girl faced considerable opposition in Portugal where many feared that, by the marriage, Spain was setting up to dominate the country again and force them into a political union. Portuguese officials spent four days subjecting the ten-year-old girl to a battery of tests but she was very bright as well as energetic and passed them all.

Eventually the couple would have nine children but, at the time, it was not expected that John would ever succeed to the throne as he was the second son of Queen Maria I of Portugal and her husband (by then deceased) King Pedro III. However, when Prince Joseph, his older brother, died in 1788, John moved up in the ranks and was given the titles of Duke of Braganza and Prince of Brazil. Still, there were problems. The future King and Queen still did not attract a great deal of “celebrity” fanfare. Despite their many children, neither was extremely fond of the other. Few regarded John or Carlota as attractive people as each found the other deficient in about every way. John considered his wife to be lacking in intelligence and decorum and Carlota viewed her husband as boring, pious and overall dull. She was outspoken from the very beginning and not the sort to sit quietly in the background. At times, Queen Maria herself had to intervene to try to bring her exuberant daughter-in-law into line. John himself also faced considerable opposition at court from the “Enlightened” faction who had put their hopes in his elder brother but finally had to contend with John who was more traditional; more religious and committed to absolute monarchy as it was established.

The difficulties between John and Carlota were so widely whispered about, and their physical appearance held up to such ridicule, that when some of their last children were born people judged them too beautiful to have been fathered by John and assumed Carlota had found someone else for the job. It was nonsense of course though their marital relations were pretty much a matter of simple duty and after the birth of their ninth child they decided they had done enough to secure the succession for Portugal and lived apart thereafter. Ugly rumors were spread about her shockingly immoral behavior, which are not worth recounting, that she was plotting to take over the government, that she was an insatiable nymphomaniac and so on. Certainly she was no saint but the worst of such stories have not a shred of evidence to support them and were almost totally due to the fact that she was unpopular for simply being Spanish in most cases. There was no end to the rumors that Carlota was always scheming to do something terrible to the Portuguese Royal Family to enable Spain to take over the country. She certainly spoke up for the interests of Spain, which is hardly shocking, but most of the rumors were simply that and nothing more. In the end, of course, it was not Spain that proved to be the real threat but France. Under the dynamic leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte, French troops conquered Spain and soon Portugal as well, forcing the Royal Family to relocate to Brazil in 1807.

The change in location did nothing to change the ambition of Princess Carlota, who became Queen of Portugal in 1816. With Spain under French control, the vast Spanish empire in the Americas was left in an uncertain position, most still holding to their allegiance to the King Fernando VII rather than Jose Bonaparte but the King was rather missing in action most of the time. Some, of course, also sought to take advantage of the chaos in Spain to promote their own ideas for independence. Carlota thought she could play a part in this and so “Carlotism” became a new part of the political lexicon. Since the King was basically under house arrest in France, Carlota decided that she was the natural representative of “Free Spain” as we might say and tried to gain control of the Spanish colonies in America. Ultimately, this turned into an effort to make Carlota Queen of the Rio de la Plata (the viceroyalty which included what is now Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina).

Portuguese-Brazilian forces did annex some territory in this region and Carlota had the support of some prominent local leaders such as the Argentine national hero General Manuel Belgrano, however, the powerful viceroys opposed such a change and the British were against the idea as well. It is understandable but also inviting to imagine what might have happened if so large an area of South America had become an independent monarchy still tied by blood to the Spanish Royal Family. There were plans, or at least rumors of plans, for Carlota to assemble an army and march on Buenos Aires and declare herself “Queen of La Plata” but, as we know, nothing finally came of the grand scheme due to a lack of support from the local elites and the opposition of foreign powers. As the Napoleonic Wars ended Carlota would have to content herself with being Queen consort of Portugal. When she returned with the King and the rest of the family in 1821 things in Portugal had changed dramatically and not for the better. Revolutionary ideas had taken root and were spreading unrest throughout the country. A liberal uprising resulted in the proclamation of the first Portuguese constitution which King John VI promised to support.

Queen Carlota was outraged by this and wanted a return to the traditional absolute monarchy. The King was not too fond of the changes himself but felt honor-bound to go through with it. All of the rumors about plots by the Queen to take power were finally realized when she joined with her son, Prince Miguel who was commander of the Portuguese army, to put her husband under house arrest. They hoped he would abdicate in favor of Miguel who would then return Portugal to the traditional sort of government. However, it was not to be as King John VI was aided by the British in regaining power and forcing his wife and son into exile, though the Queen was soon back. The two lived apart and more family divisions were to follow as their son Dom Pedro, who had remained in South America, was proclaimed Emperor of Brazil the next year in 1822.

The King was not pleased though the British finally persuaded him to accept the independence of Brazil in 1825. He died the following year, unattended by his wife as Queen Carlota was becoming increasingly paranoid and was convinced that the Freemasons had poisoned the King as part of the effort by the liberal revolutionaries to take power. When the King died Dom Pedro became King of Portugal but abdicated in favor of his daughter so as to remain in Brazil as Emperor. Queen Carlota might have been expected to act as regent for Queen Maria but was not, probably for fear that she would work to displace her. If that was the thinking, it did no good for her uncle and intended husband, Prince Miguel, was declared King of Portugal by the conservative faction before she arrived back in Europe, setting the stage for a civil war. But there would be no more political intrigues for Queen Carlota who died at Queluz Palace on January 7, 1830 at the age of 54 after a very controversial and colorful life.

2 comments:

  1. I was familiar with Carlotism, but i think that she never had any serious chances of being "Queen of La Plata/Argentina", because the true desires of the "Heroes", (traitors if you ask to me), was to be independent of their king, so she was only a distraction used by the Independentist faction.

    The Belgrano in fact supported an Inca as King of La Plata, (i disagree with that idea), and wanted an liberal and indigenious monarchy, but he and the supporters of the idea, mostly Alto-Peruvian delegates in the Congress of Tucuman, faced an big oposition of the criollo elite of Buenos Aires (afterall the indians where serfs of the whites untill very recently), the monarchist in the Congress suported an European Prince, i think that the first Bernardotte King of Sweden was somewhat interested in the idea. But at the end nothing came from that. If you ask me a true monarchist would be on the side of the loyalists, like Linniers, peace be upon him.

    PD: By the way i had been thinking on the idea of restoring the Noble Houses as some kind of Familiar and Political institution, which members are to be seeking greater glory for the Clan, the King and the Country, but i have a big problem with that idea, i don't found a theorical justification for it. What Justification would you give to such idea, if you agree?.

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