Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Monarch Profile: King Pedro V of Portugal

Pedro V of Portugal, also called ‘Pedro the Hopeful’ and ‘Pedro the Beloved’ was born in Lisbon on September 16, 1837 to the admirable Queen Maria II and King-consort Fernando II, he was their first child, the first of many. Queen Maria II took great care that he be prepared for his future position and brought up properly. The Royal Prince and Duke of Braganza was given the best education possible and from an early age he displayed a great curiosity, intelligence, kindness and a willingness to study hard and learn as much as possible. He was a serious little boy but also enjoyed artistic pursuits such as painting and music. The Prince read Greek and Roman philosophy, could speak Latin fluently and had a great interest in natural history. The Crown was to come to him swiftly. Doctors had warned Queen Maria II against having child after child is quick succession but she refused to desist, saying that if necessary she would “die at her post”. She did pass away from childbirth complications in 1853 making the 16-year-old Royal Prince the new King Pedro V of Portugal. The loss of his mother was a terrible blow but he had a large support network of siblings, all of whom loved each other and they displayed none of the inter-familial bickering that had scarred Portugal in the past.

For the first two years of his reign King Pedro V was acted for by his father as regent but from the start be began to study statecraft intensely as well as diplomacy and all the necessary subjects for an active sovereign. His first overseas visit was to Great Britain (the oldest Portuguese allies) where he met with Queen Victoria and became especially good friends with the Princess Royal Victoria, the future German Empress. Afterwards he and his party toured Europe, visiting Belgium, The Netherlands, France, Austria, Prussia and other German states. Later he also visited Switzerland and Italy. When he became old enough to take up the direction of the Portuguese state himself, he was warmly welcomed by his people but also faced a nation in considerable trouble. A cholera epidemic had broken out in Lisbon and surrounding areas, costing thousands of lives, but the brave young monarch refused to relocate and preferred to stay and comfort his afflicted people even at the risk of his own life. There had also been crop failures which necessitated the importing of food which caused problems for the economy and government finances.

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.

Matters of the heart were also not neglected. In 1858 he married Princess Stephanie of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, first by proxy in Berlin and then in person in Lisbon on May 18. The British had helped to introduce the young couple and they seemed very happy and devoted to each other with all the necessities for a very long and happy marriage. However, unfortunately, tragedy came very quickly and the following year Queen Stephanie died of diphtheria. Queen Stephanie had won over everyone immediately with her warmth and generosity and the King and Portugal as a whole were greatly saddened by her sudden and tragic death. This probably also helped motivate King Pedro V toward the efforts he made throughout his reign to improve public health throughout his reign. The healthcare system improved very much during his reign thanks both to policy and the spread of hospitals and education on sanitation and fighting the spread of diseases. A special hospital for children suffering from mental illness was founded by the King in memory of and named after his late beloved wife.

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.

King Pedro V, who introduced the telegraph and railroad to Portugal, also wished for better communications between Portugal and the wider world. He saw to it that the shipping schedule between Portugal and the Portuguese colonies in Africa were increased and in 1860 agreed to the Peace, Amity and Trade Treaty between Portugal and the Empire of Japan which was signed by his representatives in Tokyo. The first article stated that, “There will be eternal peace and friendship between His Most Faithful Majesty, the King of Portugal, his heirs and successors and His Majesty, the Emperor of Japan, as well as amongst their domains and subjects”. The treaty has remained in effect since that time, the only problem arising over the Japanese occupation of East Timor island but this was done after Dutch and Australian forces had occupied it first and the Japanese later handed the colony back over to Portugal. Pedro V also signed a contract in 1855 to link Portugal and the United States via underwater cable and the year before he emancipated all the slaves belonging to the Portuguese government.

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.


  1. He was a quite interesting monarch. Generally the Portuguese monarchists have some rather mixed feelings about the House of Saxe: While HRH The Duke of Braganza inherited his claim, Miguelism is still the root of modern monarchism there.

  2. Would that rulers be oh so likewise humble in their aspirations presently....alas, all is afraid lost to the decorum of the reptilian blue-bloods of today who think nothing of the perishing & plight of people in their pursuit of halliburton type profit and greed of gain.

    I guess we the people have sowed discord, disdain, & discourtesy in our decorum with each other & therefore are now reaping the same.


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