Wednesday, March 28, 2018

MM Mini View: Kings of Portugal (Part IV)

The House of Braganza

King João IV: Known as “the Restorer” led the war for independence from Spain which started when the upper and middle classes united against the Spanish monarch in Portugal. With support from some other powers, the Portuguese were able to defeat the Spanish and João IV secured the Braganza dynasty on the throne. Once done, he set about on another war to recover the Portuguese territories overseas lost during the Habsburg reign. Not everything was recovered but it was remarkable, given the state Portugal was in, just how much in South America, Africa and Asia was recovered. A great patron of art & music, he was in every way a successful monarch. He restored his country, recovered lost territory and secured the succession for his line. All in all, a solid win.

King Afonso IV: I have a soft spot for Afonso IV and a great deal of sympathy. The poor man hardly had a chance. Struck ill as an infant, his body became half paralyzed and his constitution very weak. It was also said that his mental capacities were diminished but, personally, I doubt that was entirely true. Anyway, he was disabled as a child and from then on the hits just kept coming. His brother Pedro had him declared incompetent, made himself regent, effectively stealing his crown, then stole his wife and had poor Afonso locked away until his death. It was a sad state of affairs and I can only feel sorry for him. Could he have reigned on his own? Maybe not, but it seems to me that he was not treated the way he deserved.

King Pedro II: After replacing his mother as regent, shipping his brother off to the Azores and marrying his sister-in-law, a princess of the House of Savoy, Pedro II became king in his own right. He renewed the alliance with England, giving the English their first foothold in India with the marriage of Catherine of Braganza to King Charles II, he boosted industry, switched to the winning side in the War of Spanish Succession and was very important in the development of Brazil. Other than how he came to power, he was highly praiseworthy and wins back a bit of my approval for being a fairly accomplished bullfighter. An astute monarch with many accomplishments, I just wish he’d been kinder to his brother. Nonetheless, a talented man.

King João V: It is not for nothing that João V is sometimes referred to as the Portuguese King Louis XIV and, like the “Grand Monarch” of France, it is impossible not to admire João V. He was lavish, ambitious, adept at statecraft and, more so than the “Sun King”, devoutly religious. He increased the state income but spent so much that there was no great increase in wealth but I give him a pass as he built grandiose monuments that are national treasures. He expanded the Portuguese empire abroad, earned the title of “Most Faithful Majesty” from the Pope for himself and his successors and ruled very much as an absolute monarch. He had enough children to secure the succession, had a care for the souls of his subjects and left Portugal more grand than he found it. An easy favorite.

King Jose I: Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse with Jose I. A man who loved music, hunting and women, especially fond of opera, he was rather less fond of governing and left that to the Marquess of Pombal who ushered in the “Enlightenment” to Portugal (Boo! Hiss!) and marked the change by expelling the Jesuits who had seemed such a permanent feature before. This obviously upset God as a massive earthquake hit Lisbon that was very damaging to the economy and left the king traumatized forever after. With a British assist, his forces did win a smashing victory over the invading Franco-Spanish armies but on the whole I view him as a less than admirable character whose reign was less than exemplary, bringing in many negative changes.

Queen Maria I: Maria was the sort of monarch I am inclined to like, having a reputation for both piety and madness. She was a pretty great queen, sending Pombal packing with all his terrible, “progressive” ideas, and being very much opposed to his liberal, anti-clerical policies. Very religious, she became ever more so after the poor woman suffered a string of misfortunes and many finally believed she to be going mad, suffering from depression, though there may have been a physical illness to blame for her most severe symptoms. Declared unfit to rule, her son acted for her as regent and after a brave but futile fight, the invasion of Napoleonic France and Spain forced her into exile in Brazil where she finished her life. An unfortunate woman but a great one in my book anyway.

King Pedro III: I cannot have very strong views about Pedro III as he was only technically the King of Portugal by virtue of being married to Queen Maria, which is fine, though he was also her uncle…which is disgusting. However, he seems to have been an alright guy. He took the side of the nobility against Pombal, also stuck up for the Jesuits, though the Pope suppressed them anyway, and generally just built stuff and did his own thing while his wife ran the show (as long as she was able anyway). They were happy enough as a couple and he did his job by fathering seven children so, good enough in that regard. He did what he was supposed to do. He was just a lot older than her and, well, her uncle, so it’s …just gross.

King João VI: A big deal in Portuguese history, João VI certainly never had it easy but still left his mark. The French invaded and occupied his country so he had to fight them from Brazil, deal with rising expectations there and put up with a conspiratorial wife. When the Anglo-Portuguese forces drove the invaders out, he came home but then had to deal with rebellions by people who had a taste for French Revolutionary ideas now like “rights” and such nonsense, which João VI was having none of. So he had a great deal of trouble fighting those people, trying to put his country back to the way it had been but with a Brazil that had been elevated to co-equal status as a kingdom. His reign was one crisis after another but I say God bless João VI for always fighting the good fight.

King Pedro IV: “Unique” is a word that can certainly describe Pedro IV as King of Portugal. Prior to taking that job, he led the war for independence in Brazil, which he secured. However, almost as soon as he became Emperor Pedro I of Brazil, he was proclaimed King Pedro IV of Portugal upon the death of his father, a job he did not particularly want, being quite attached to Brazil. He tried to abdicate the Portuguese throne but this was problematic due to the burgeoning feud between the constitutional and absolute monarchists. More a liberal absolutist than a constitutionalist, he was in an impossible position and finally had to abdicate in Brazil and go to Portugal to see out the fight, complicated by the ‘spill over’ of the First Carlist War in Spain.

Queen Maria II: Born into a maelstrom, Maria II was a good woman stuck between a rock and a hard place. Named queen to take her father’s place as Portuguese monarch, she was the figurehead of the constitutionalist faction which was opposed by the absolutist faction led by her uncle Miguel, who was also her regent and who she was also supposed to marry. Yes, again, ‘yuck’. Civil war raged in Portugal but the liberals, backed by France and Britain, were victorious. Maria II married another prince, received the honor of a Golden Rose from the Pope. Born in Brazil, educated in France, her on-again, off-again reign was largely determined by actions beyond her control. Still, she seemed a good woman who did the best she could under the circumstances.

King Miguel I: The champion of tradition to the reactionaries and a usurper to the liberals, as usual, both sides had a point. Miguel was convinced that the Portuguese were unready and unsuited for constitutional government and sure it would be a disaster. He was, in all honesty, rather deceitful in how he came to the throne and his civil war possibly prevented Portugal from regaining her largest and most important territory (Brazil), however, he also represented the last gasp of the grand, old Portugal of yesterday which tugs at the heartstrings. After being tossed out, coming back, fighting another round, the romantic reactionary was ultimately defeated and lived in rather destitute exile thereafter. A pity, as history would rather prove him right about the viability of liberalism.

King Fernando II: Another king by marriage only, Fernando was from one of the multitudinous branches of the Saxe-Coburg family and was married to Maria II. As such he was related to Queen Victoria, Belgium’s King Leopold and the ill-fated Empress of Mexico. He was well-suited to be the standard bearer of constitutionalism alongside his wife. As he was responsible for her eleven pregnancies, he often oversaw things while she was incapacitated by impending motherhood. A fine enough fellow, intelligent, talented and all that, he was simply too “modern” for my taste. He represents dull, reliable practicality in my mind, in contrast to the ruinous but romantic King Miguel.

King Pedro V: Such a tragic waste, Pedro V, for me, is the great “might have been” of Portuguese monarchs. He had so much potential and so many hopes resting on his young shoulders. He seemed the ideal sovereign; young, handsome, intelligent, diligent and dedicated. Even at a young age he went to work quickly to modernize the infrastructure of the country, improve communications and healthcare. Sadly, his beloved wife died of diphtheria and he later succumbed to cholera at the age of only 24. Beloved by the people, he had given the country hope that the fortunes of the nation would be revived. That was something and he did achieve much in his short reign but it only serves to tantalize the imagination as to how much more he could have done if he had had the chance to.

King Luis I: The highly intelligent Luis might have been hailed as a Renaissance Man of sorts in another time. As it was, he had the misfortune to reign at a time when the problems of liberalism really began to take effect on the country. Feuding political factions stagnated the nation, bitterness and partisanship grew. Luis was inclined in the right direction but was not supposed to rule and busied himself with oceanography and his love of English literature. He was a cultured man, high in intellectual curiosity and a very good constitutional monarch. However, the fortunes of the country declined during his reign, the fault of the system itself rather than the King. When called to choose, he would choose the better option but, limited as he was, he could not do more.

King Carlos I: The problems that festered under Luis I began to come to a boil under King Carlos. Portugal went bankrupt, then went bankrupt again and a public uproar was caused when the British seized the interior territories between Portuguese East and West Africa. King Carlos tended to be quite unfairly blamed for this due to his friendship with the British Royal Family. Well, they were Portugal’s oldest ally and if Portugal had tried to fight for the territory the results would’ve been disastrous. This unpopularity was seized upon by the republican faction and Carlos, along with his son and heir were murdered in 1908, setting off the last act of the Portuguese monarchy. Again, there was much to recommend Carlos I but there was little he could do to save the situation.

King Manuel II: Thrust upon the throne in the most difficult of circumstances, young Manuel II hardly had a chance to prove himself. Given the situation, he took a more active part in national life but discovered that the republican conspiracy was far more advanced than anyone had imagined. Bright, popular and devoted to his people and country, Manuel II came to ruin by way of practically an accident. A military revolt in 1910 seemed to have failed but the confusion of the situation allowed the revolutionaries to catch Manuel II helpless and seize power. The first republic was declared and Manuel went into exile, gallant to the last and always remaining devoted to his nation. It gave him no satisfaction that Portugal went to ruin under the republic that usurped him.

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