Friday, October 20, 2017

Monarch Profile: King Manuel II of Portugal

The last reigning Portuguese monarch to date, Manuel II, had a very interesting life, with all of the misfortune that statement implies. Coming to the throne of Portugal before his time, he was young, handsome, widely popular and seemed to embody a real sense of hope that the Kingdom of Portugal could be on the verge of a great revival in prestige and prosperity. Yet, after all too short a reign, he became the first major monarch to lose his throne in the Twentieth Century. Predictably, his country suffered as a result and there was every reason to believe that he could have been restored in his own lifetime. Yet, he was not and would live out his remaining years in exile, leaving behind a very problematic succession dispute. His life, in a way, embodies the problem with what we know as “constitutional monarchy” which looks quite reasonable and has worked very well for certain periods of time yet which always seems to go in the same direction. King Manuel II was probably the most “modern” monarch that Portugal had ever had, yet his position meant that he had great responsibility with very little power and fell victim to a powerful republican faction even though most Portuguese thought well of him.

His Royal Highness Infante Manuel Maria Filipe Carlos Amelio Luis Miguel Rafael Gabriel Gonzaga Francisco de Assis Eugenio de Orleans Savoy and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha Braganza of Portugal was born on November 15, 1889 at Belem Palace in Lisbon, the second son and third child of King Carlos I of Portugal and Queen Amelie of Orleans, daughter of the Count of Paris. As the younger son he was not expected to succeed to the throne and so was not educated with national leadership in mind though he was still given a first-rate education. Indeed, young Manuel proved to be a brilliant boy, becoming literate and fluent at French at only six years old. He was very much the bookish type, inclined to study with a great interest in literature and the arts, particularly music, having a great appreciation for the classics and becoming quite an adept pianist. Athletic activities were required of course but he preferred to spend his time reading and listening to Beethoven and Wagner, a young man of refined tastes. He seemed tailor-made to serve as in intellectual advisor to his handsome, more athletic and outgoing older brother Luis Felipe, when he eventually became king.

While his brother was trained for the army, Prince Manuel was set to enter the Portuguese Naval Academy for his own military career. However, all of those plans came to ruin on the tragic day of February 1, 1908 when a republican terrorist gang assassinated the King, the heir to the throne and wounded Prince Manuel in the arm. He likely would have been killed as well had it not been for the heroic actions of his mother Queen Amelie, instead, he became King Manuel II of Portugal and the Algarves under the most traumatic of circumstances. Although he confessed to being unprepared for such a position and forced to rely on his loyal ministers for advice, the new, young monarch did take some immediate and decisive action, dismissing the prime minister and his government which had presided over such a disaster and replacing it with a new government led by the distinguished Admiral Francisco Joaquin Ferreira do Amaral. It was hoped that this new government would encourage national unity and, in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, it seemed to work. However, the republican conspiracy was found to be more widespread than any had originally realized.

King Manuel II started his reign greatly loved by the vast majority of his people. He was young, handsome and most felt immense sympathy for him due to the circumstances which had brought him to the throne. He also set a tone that he was to be a more “modern” king than his predecessors. He did away with most of the traditional pomp and ceremony of the royal court and, not surprisingly considering the fate which befell his father, declared that he would “reign” but not “rule” and would not be intervening in political matters as King Carlos had done. He also quickly set about trying to build a personal relationship with his subjects, traveling around the country to see and be seen by as many people as possible. He was highly praised for his frank conversations, sincerity and informal style. Unfortunately, none of this had any impact on the blind hatred of the ideologically driven republicans. As the investigation into the assassinations went forward, it was found that the web of these villains was extensive indeed and their hostility would be unremitting. King Manuel II did not remain unaware of this and decided on a way to try to deal with it but it would mean playing with fire.

The plan of the young monarch was to try to tame the socialist party, which, odd as it seems now had never fared well in Portugal, in order to make them a more palatable alternative to the republican party. Of course, being socialists, they were naturally republicans as well but the hope was that they could be made to work within the existing system of constitutional monarchy and that leftist agitators would abandon the cause of the republicans who had no other goal than the ruination of the kingdom. This would be no small trick as it would require two political miracles; making the republicans go over to the socialists and yet not have the socialists simply replace them as the primary threat to the monarchy. King Manuel II hoped that he could weaken the republicans and, perhaps naively, that the socialists could be a force for good in the country. Unfortunately, though perhaps not surprisingly, this never really worked but nor was it given much of a chance to. The situation was deteriorating faster than anyone would have expected. The efforts to modernize and any moderation on the part of the Crown was the scent of blood in the water for the republicans.

In electoral terms, the supporters of the constitutional monarchy did quite well and the republicans won the least number of seats but, hypocrites as they inevitably are, they never intended to take power democratically anyway and from the start were plotting to seize power by force. The King traveled abroad and reaffirmed the historic alliance with Great Britain but disaster struck when King Edward VII died and without him and with a Liberal government in London the Portuguese Royal Family could expect no help from that quarter in their hour of need. It also did not help that the British alliance and the friendship between the British and Portuguese royal houses was still fairly unpopular with a segment of the population in Portugal over the British seizure of the African territory between Portuguese East and West Africa. From the time King Manuel II came to the throne the Kingdom of Portugal would survive for only 33 months. Of that time, Portugal saw the rise and fall of seven different governments in 24 of those months. As was all too often the case, a splintering of the pro-monarchy parties created a power vacuum that the republicans were only too eager to fill.

The King and royal officials knew something was up and on October 3, 1910 put the soldiers of the Lisbon garrison on the alert and took care to stay at a different location than his uncle and heir-to-the throne, Prince Royal Afonso, in case the worse should happen. Rumors of a coup attempt were thick but republican conspirators nonetheless succeeded, with some of their fellow members serving in the army, in sparking a mutiny first in the Sixteenth Infantry and later First Artillery Regiments. Men from other units joined as well along with a few hundred civilians and, after clashing with police and some municipal guard troops along the way, set themselves up behind barricades in Rotunda Square. By the next morning some naval crews had mutinied as well, one group of rebels even seizing the cruiser Dom Carlos I, the situation in the capital was momentarily deadlocked. The rebels had achieved all of their aims and yet there was no mass uprising of the people as they had expected. They controlled a major city square and Alcantara parish, but little more and they could not remain there indefinitely. With no movement on the part of the public, many rebel leaders gave up and went home. Unfortunately, the firebrand Machado Santos stayed and determined to carry on.

The following days, troops from the palace were sent to dislodge the rebels at Rotunda Square but they were attacked as they came up, fought off their attackers and pressed on only to be repulsed at the rebel barricades. They tried to call for reinforcements but telegraph lines had been cut and railroads smashed to hinder if not prevent just such an occurrence. The monarchist units began to crack under the stress, a rebel cruiser shelled government buildings within sight of a Brazilian battleship which was actually carrying the President of Brazil, a former Portuguese colony which had only recently overthrown its own monarch of the same family as King Manuel II (in fact, Emperor Pedro II of Brazil had been present when the last King of Portugal was born). The King was doing his best to appear confident and relaxed by the morning of October 5 but found his phone lines cut when rebels attacked the Palace of Necessidades where he was staying. When the president of the Council of Ministers finally got in touch with him, he advised him to flee, having heard that the palace was to be bombarded but King Manuel II refused, saying he preferred to die at his post.

The palace did come under fire from ships in the harbor but the King kept his cool and contacted the minister president about what forces needed to be sent to reinforce the position. As the attack on Rotunda had already failed, he was advised again that it would be easier to get him out than to get sufficient loyal troops in. The King agreed to evacuate to a military school at Mafra, dispatching many of the soldiers sent to escort him to fight the rebels. However, when he arrived, he found only a small fraction of the soldiers expected and by that time had not many with him either. It was decided to bring the Queen Mother and Dowager Queen Maria Pia of Savoy to Mafra and then they would all go to Porto to make a proper defense and organize a monarchist counter-offensive to take back control of Lisbon. Fighting was still going on there but it came to end in an odd way, all due to a misunderstanding.

A German diplomat had gone out under a white flag to try to arrange a cease-fire to evacuate foreign diplomats. The royalist general on hand agreed, thinking this would also buy him some time for more reinforcements to come in. However, the sight of the white flag and the royal forces holding their fire, caused many to believe that the King’s troops had surrendered and many of the republicans began celebrating. Now the public made itself known as huge crowds took to the streets. This buoyed the republicans and totally demoralized the loyalist forces which soon collapsed, however, many people had no idea what had actually happened. Some were simply celebrating that the shooting had stopped, others assumed that it was the rebels who must have surrendered. However, the rebels wasted no time and proclaimed the First Portuguese Republic. King Manuel II, still at Mafra, was shocked to receive word from the civic officials that his country was now a republic and he was cut off. The arrival of the royal yacht, which had already picked up his uncle, offered the only chance of escape. The King first hoped to take the ship to Porto and carry on the struggle as planned but was advised this would be too risky and, indeed, as it turned out the city would have been in republican hands by the time they arrived. Instead, they had just enough fuel to make it to Gibraltar.

King Manuel II was extremely civil about the whole ordeal. After landing at Gibraltar he even ordered the yacht to return to Portugal on the grounds that it was government property and not his own. He would live out the rest of his life in exile in Great Britain. For a kingdom that dated back to 1139, with roots stretching back even further, it seemed an anticlimactic end, more like the result of a bizarre accident than a successful conspiracy. King Manuel II still regarded himself as King of Portugal, as did the other crowned heads of Europe and, indeed, there was plenty of reason to hope for a restoration as the First Portuguese Republic proved to be an incoherent, anticlerical, monument to political incompetence from start to finish. In 1911 and 1912 there were efforts at a royal restoration, showing considerable public support for the monarchy but each were unsuccessful. In 1913 the King married Princess Augusta Victoria von Hohenzollern but the two never had any children.

In World War I, starting the following year, the King, living in exile in Middlesex, England, supported the British war effort and approved of Portuguese involvement in the conflict on the Allied side. This put him at odds with many of his supporters who hoped for a German-Austrian victory. However, while intervention was a fiasco, the King’s judgment ultimately proved correct. Portugal would have lost their African empire in the event of a German victory and, as it happened, their colonies were saved by being on the winning team while at the same time the war severely discredited the republican government. They had been unable to maintain the Portuguese Expeditionary Force sent to France and ultimately allowed it to be absorbed into the British military because they could not provide support for their own soldiers. It was in light of this that another, very serious, attempt at a restoration of the monarchy occurred in 1919. Alas, once again, the republic managed to just survive.

There were also, unfortunately but not surprisingly, problems which the monarchists created for themselves. Ever since the Liberal Wars of 1828-1834 between the constitutional and absolute monarchists (basically the Portuguese version of the Spanish Carlist Wars) there had been a faction of the Portuguese Royal Family providing a rival claim to the throne in opposition to the victorious constitutional monarchists. At the time of the overthrow of King Manuel II, the absolutist claimant was Miguel, Duke of Braganza and this division doubtless hurt the overall cause of monarchy. It was also all the more pressing given that Manuel II had no heir to continue the constitutionalist line after the death of his uncle in 1920 with no heirs either.

King Manuel II and the Duke of Braganza met shortly after the revolution in Portugal and supposedly the King agreed that the Duke’s line were part of the family but no more than that and even that remains disputed to this day by some. Later, in 1922, another agreement was supposedly reached in France between the two rival claimants that the Duke’s heir, Duarte Nuno, would succeed Manuel II as claimant to the Portuguese Crown. However, the absolutists refused to accept allegiance to a constitutional monarchy and, as the offer by Manuel II depended on this, it was withdrawn. Maybe. Again, the facts on this are seemingly impossible to obtain as each side has a different version of events. Portuguese succession law also proved very problematic and hard to maneuver around, especially since it could no longer be modified and there were still those absolutists who would never accept a constitutional monarchy and constitutional monarchists who would never accept an absolute one.

As it was, Manuel II, the last King of Portugal to date, died of suffocation from a throat problem on July 2, 1932 which made the Miguelist heir Duarte Nuno the ‘last man standing’ and basically the only option for carrying the monarchist cause forward. By this time the First Portuguese Republic had fallen apart and a corporatist “New State” was in place led by Prime Minister Antonio Oliveira de Salazar who had begun to stabilize things and slowly bring the country back toward prosperity. A devout Catholic and inclined to monarchist sympathies, he allowed the remains of King Manuel II to come to Portugal for burial with full state honors. The sad occasion gathered huge crowds, showing again how much popular support the monarchy still had in Portugal. Salazar talked of restoring the monarchy and seriously considered it in 1951 but, perhaps because of the legal disputes and lingering rivalries within the monarchist community, ultimately never did so. When his regime was brought down by a military coup in 1974 the revived Portuguese republic has had basically only liberal or leftist governments ever since which, of course, have little time for any talk of monarchy.

In the end, King Manuel II had been a monarch with much promise. He was very intelligent, very devoted to his country and hoped to bring about a revival of Portugal by reviving the national pride of the Portuguese themselves as a unique people with a glorious history. A king at eighteen he was, nonetheless, inexperienced and was handed a problem on his first day that had been festering for years and proved worse than anyone then knew. He had so little time to prove himself that he can hardly be faulted for how things turned out. The situation which brought about his downfall was so bizarre as to almost defy belief. For the rest of his life he seemed the ideal exiled monarch and always seemed tantalizingly close to restoration only to never have it quite work out. He may not have always made the right moves, but his heart was always in the right place and Portugal only suffered by his absence. He could have done so much more for his country if only he had been allowed the opportunity.

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