1808: The Flight of the Emperor (3 page)

BOOK: 1808: The Flight of the Emperor
11.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

II

The Era of Deranged Monarchs

T
he dawn of the nineteenth century offered a time of nightmares and terror for Europe's kings and queens. Two of them recently had gone mad. In England, King George III had been seen wearing a nightgown in palace corridors, his head wrapped in a pillowcase, as he cradled a pillow rolled up in the form of a newborn baby, which he claimed to be a prince named Octavius. At the same time in Portugal, demons were chasing Queen Maria I. In the cold and foggy early mornings, her screams of terror echoed throughout the Palace of Queluz. During these increasingly frequent bouts of madness, she reported seeing the image of her father, Dom José I—dead since 1777—as “a calcified mass of ashes atop of a pedestal of blackened and horrific molten iron, all the time ravaged by a phantasmagoric horde,” according to the marquis of Angeja, one of her ministers.
1

Two explanations might account for these patterns of bizarre behavior. The first and most obvious is that the two sovereigns suffered from severe mental disturbances, the nature of which doctors and scientists have not yet deciphered. Recent research suggests that they both had an illness called mixed porphyria, a hereditary disease with symptoms similar to schizophrenia and manic-depressive disorder. Descriptions of their behavior fit this diagnosis.

Psychotic outbreaks periodically interrupted the sixty years during which George III reigned over Great Britain. In one of them, he spent
seventy-two hours awake, talking nonstop for sixty of them. On another occasion, he gathered the court to announce that he had conceived a new doctrine of the divine trinity, composed of 1) God, 2) his own private doctor, and 3) the countess of Pembroke, the maid of honor of his wife, Queen Charlotte. “Our king is mad,” declared Dr. Richard Warren in 1788. In the final stages of his illness, George III fell under the care of the doctor and priest Francis Willis, who used shock treatment and a straitjacket and chair to immobilize him during bouts of madness.

Trained at Oxford University and a pioneer of a science until then unknown—psychiatry—Willis was enticed to Portugal in 1792 to care for Dona Maria I with an honorarium of £20,000, equivalent today to $1.7 million.
2
But it was all in vain. George III spent the final years of his life imprisoned in an isolated wing of Windsor Castle amid bouts of dementia each tragically more intense than the last. Maria I grew equally incapable of making decisions by 1799, when the regency of Portugal passed to her son, the future King João VI.
3

The second interpretation of the monarchs' madness is more symbolic. Besides dementia and a political alliance, George III and Maria I had another peculiarity in common. Both belonged to a species condemned to extinction in the Europe of 1807: enthroned monarchs. Never had European rulers lived through times as turbulent and tormented. Kings and queens were persecuted, rendered destitute, imprisoned, exiled, deported, and even executed in public squares.

Napoleon Bonaparte stood at the height of his power in 1807. Three years earlier he had declared himself the emperor of France. “I am not the heir to King Louis XIV,” he had written to his minister of external relations, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, “I am the heir to Charlemagne.”
4
The comparison reveals the heights of his pretensions. Louis XIV, the Sun King, had been one of the most powerful kings of France, but Charlemagne, founder of the Holy Roman Empire, controlled territory that covered the vast majority of Western Europe. In other words, for Napoleon, France was not enough; he wanted to be emperor of Europe. In practice, he already was. One year later, in 1808, he practically doubled the original territory of France with the virtual annexation of Spain and Portugal. His territory also extended over
Belgium, Holland, Germany, and Italy to say nothing of the surrounding nations that he controlled more indirectly.

Over the course of a decade, Napoleon led innumerable battles against the most powerful armies of Europe without facing a single defeat. He repeatedly trounced a dynasty of kings considered unbeatable, the Habsburgs of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He subdued the Russians and the Germans in Austerlitz and Jena, two of the most memorable battles of the Napoleonic wars. Kings, queens, princes, dukes, and nobles had fallen from their thrones, and Napoleon installed upon them members of the Bonaparte family.

“If we were to cast our eyes over Europe in 1807, we would see an extraordinary spectacle,” writes historian Manuel de Oliveira Lima.

The King of Spain, on French soil, begging for Napoleon's protection, the King of Prussia ousted from his capital after the invasion of French soldiers, the . . . would-be King of Holland taking refuge in London, the ruler of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies exiled from his beloved Naples; the dynasties of Tuscany and Parma, vagrant; . . . Scandinavia ready to beg for an heir among Bonaparte's marshals; the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and the Papal States obliged to abandon the thrones that they said were eternal and untouchable.
5

The triumph of Napoleon ended the age of European history known as the Ancien Régime, in which monarchs dominated their countries with absolute power. France had once stood as the paradigm of this system. Louis XIV, the most exuberant of all monarchs in this epoch, ruled for more than seventy years and became known for the phrase “L'état, c'est moi” (I am the State). The Sun King also fought interminable wars. As a result, at the end of his rule, the French monarchy was broke. At that point, France's national debt equaled seventeen times the operating budget of the French government. The court at Versailles supported more than 200,000 people.
6

Louis XV continued his predecessor's lavish spending, and on the eve of the French Revolution many criticized Marie Antoinette for her expenditures on jewels, clothing, and all-night gambling binges with her friends.
Her enemies called her Madame Deficit, as if she held total blame for the chronic financial problems of the government. These problems drastically worsened over time under the rule of her husband, Louis XVI, during the French involvement in the American Revolution. Supplying arms and funds to the army of General George Washington would help expel the English from North America, but it also left France in financial ruin. To cover its expenses, the government had to raise taxes, generating enormous discontent among the bourgeoisie, the emerging merchant class that had grown rich without direct dependence on the goodwill or favor of the king.

This combination of poor financial management and lack of individual rights resulted in the French Revolution of 1789. The people, incited by the bourgeoisie, occupied the streets, dethroned the monarchy, and installed a new regime—an act unheard of in modern times—which promoted justice and popular participation in government under the motto “Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood.” What nobody could have imagined was that to implement these ideas still more bloodshed had to take place. Within a short time, the Revolution escaped the control of its leaders and the Reign of Terror spread through France. In 1793, King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, were decapitated at the guillotine. Chaos overwhelmed the country. A young Corsican official named Napoleon Bonaparte assumed command of the army in 1796 with two objectives: to restore order at home and to stand against the other European monarchies at war with revolutionary France.

Thereafter an incredible series of events radically altered the map of Europe. Napoleon created the most powerful war machine known to modern man and managed devastating victories over opponents stronger both in force and numbers. Regimes that had maintained relatively stable power for centuries began to fall, one after another. The long respected privileges of the nobility ceased to exist virtually overnight. The Napoleonic wars, which lasted some two and a half decades, left millions dead across countless battlefields and changed the course of world history.

In the last two centuries, more books have been written about Napoleon than any other individual in history except for Jesus. More than 600,000 works refer to him directly or indirectly.
7
His immeasurable ambition and
vanity stood inversely proportional to his minimal stature of 5'5". Napoleon liked to call himself the Son of the Revolution, and, a military genius by nature, it was the Revolution that gave him the opportunity to demonstrate his talent on the battlefield. He was, therefore, the right man in the right place at the right time—depending of course on how one views the situation. Born in 1769, he was the scion of a family of the petty nobility. During military school, he gained a reputation as a republican and established links with future revolutionary leaders. At sixteen years old, still an adolescent, he became a lieutenant in the French army.

Those revolutionary links placed him in 1793 at the frontlines of the artillery in the Battle of Toulon, a rebel city defended by the English. So decisive was his participation that in the following eight weeks he rocketed from captain to general at a mere twenty-four years old. Three years later he was army commander in Italy, where he distinguished himself for bravery and the boldness of his military maneuvers. Three years after that he became the first consul of France, a position that granted him unrestricted powers. In 1804 he proclaimed himself emperor, at the tender age of thirty-five.

Napoleon transformed the art of war. His armies moved with more rapidity and agility than any other. He always took the offensive and assumed the most advantageous positions on the battlefield, surprising the enemy who quite often withdrew or surrendered without firing a single shot. In December 1805 on the eve of his most memorable victory at the Battle of Austerlitz, a squad of his troops traversed more than sixty miles in just two days—when there were no trucks, tanks, airplanes, or helicopters to transport personnel and equipment. This tremendous mobility allowed his armies to surprise their enemies with unexpected maneuvers in battles that sometimes seemed lost before they even began. Such unpredictable tactics were devastating to his opponents, accustomed to slower, conventional maneuvers.

Before Napoleon, it took months and sometimes years to recruit, train, and mobilize troops for a battle.
8
“In the century before the French Revolution wars had become formal affairs, pursued with limited means for limited objectives by highly trained and brutally disciplined professional armies, commanded, especially in the higher ranks, by an aristocratic cousinage,” writes Gunther Rothenberg, military specialist at the Smithsonian Institute
and author of
The Napoleonic Wars.
“Battles were avoided because heavy casualties, coupled with desertions, proved too costly for victors and vanquished alike. Wars commonly ended with the exhaustion of finances and manpower rather than with a decisive battle.”

Two factors contributed to this change of scene. First, new agricultural techniques increased the yield of food supplies at the end of the eighteenth century and produced a drastic demographic change in Europe. In just a few decades, the population of the continent nearly doubled. France, which had 18 million inhabitants in the middle of the eighteenth century, increased to 26 million by 1792, thereby becoming the second most populous country in Europe (if you count Russia, which had a population of 44 million). More people of course meant more soldiers for the armies involved in the Napoleonic wars. At the same time, the Industrial Revolution, the second factor, allowed for mass production that increased the yield of iron for cannons and rifles, textiles for uniforms, and other equipment necessary for military campaigns.

Napoleon boasted of being able to replace losses on the battlefield at a rate of 30,000 soldiers per month. In 1794, France counted 750,000 men who were trained, equipped, and highly motivated to defend the ideals of the Revolution. This gave him an army on a scale not seen since the Roman Empire. But what mattered to the emperor—a practical, methodical, and cold general—was the result of his combined forces and not the individual destiny of soldiers who fell by the wayside. He planned battles meticulously and shared command with nobody: “In war, one lousy general is better than two good ones,” he said.
9
But he was also charismatic and capable of rapidly rousing the spirits of his officials and soldiers. “Morale and the army's attitude are half the battle,” he claimed.

Important achievements on various fronts marked his rule, including the hygiene of public finance, the adoption of the metric system, a new constitution, and the Napoleonic Code, which still forms the basis of the judicial systems of France and many other countries to this day. He also began changing the urban landscape of Paris, opening new, wide avenues and inaugurating parks, public squares, and monuments—efforts later continued famously by Georges Haussmann.
10
In 1814, exiled to Elba and
isolated from the continent by the Mediterranean after the failed invasion of Russia, Napoleon began drawing up plans to improve education, agricultural production, fishing, and living conditions on the island.

At the height of his power, Bonaparte roused fear and admiration as much in his enemies as in his supporters. Lord Wellington, who defeated him definitively at Waterloo in 1815, once said that on the battlefield Napoleon by himself was worth 50,000 soldiers. The writer François René de Chateaubriand, his adversary, described Napoleon as “the mightiest breath of life which ever animated human clay.”

This was the man whom the indecisive and fearful Dom João, prince regent of Portugal, was about to confront in 1807.

III

The Plan

W
hile the imminent invasion of Portugal by Napoleon's troops forced the prince regent to flee, the plan to move to Brazil was an idea almost as old as the Portuguese Empire itself. Based on sound geopolitical logic, it arose every time Portugal's neighbors threatened its independence. Despite having launched the Age of Discovery, Portugal still remained a small country with few resources. Squeezed and constantly threatened by the interests of its more powerful neighbors, it had neither the reach nor the army to defend itself in Europe, much less to colonize and protect its overseas territories fully. Brazil offered more natural resources, a larger workforce, and better chances of defense against would-be invaders. “It was a well-ripened proposal, invariably considered throughout all difficult moments,” observes historian Manuel de Oliveira Lima.
1

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Portugal depended completely on Brazil. The gold, tobacco, and sugarcane produced in the colony constituted the axis of its commercial relations. The volume of goods and commodities imported from the colony exceeded the amount exported to it by almost double. The commercial balance therefore tipped more favorably to Brazil at a proportion of two to one.
2
Some 61 percent of Portuguese exports to England, its principal commercial partner at the time, originated in Brazil.
3
Of the three hundred ships moored each year in Lisbon's port,
one third traded exclusively with Brazil. After observing the vigor of its colonial economy, English traveler Arthur William Costigan wrote that the very existence of the Portuguese as a people “and the immediate support of the throne” depended on Brazil.
4

This dependence had grown gradually since Vasco da Gama opened the route to the East Indies and Pedro Álvares Cabral landed his fleet in the Brazilian port of Bahia. At the same time, threats to the wealth and autonomy of the Portuguese throne had increased. In 1580, less than a century after the discovery of Brazil, King Phillip II of Spain assumed the Portuguese throne, left vacant two years earlier after the disappearance of King Sebastião during his crusade against the moors in Morocco. For the following sixty years, Spain governed Portugal during the period known as the Iberian Union. It was during this time that the first documents record the proposal to move the court to the Americas.
5

A few decades later, in 1736, the ambassador in Paris, Luiz da Cunha, wrote in a secret memorandum to Dom João V that Portugal was no more than “a finger's worth of land” where the king “could no longer sleep in peace and security.” Da Cunha suggested moving the court to Brazil, where João V would assume the title of emperor of the Occident and appoint a viceroy to govern Portugal.
6
Da Cunha further suggested that the eventual loss of Portugal and the Algarve to Spain could be compensated with the annexation of part of Argentina and Chile to Brazil's territory.

In 1762, facing another threat of invasion, the marquis of Pombal proposed that King José I take “the necessary measures for his voyage to Brazil.” With Europe occupied by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1801, this age-old plan took on a heightened sense of urgency. That year, Spanish troops aided by France invaded and defeated the country in an episode known as the War of the Oranges. Frightened by the fragility of the kingdom, Dom Pedro de Almeida Portugal, marquis of Alorna, wrote the following recommendation to Prince Regent Dom João: “Your Royal Highness has a grand empire in Brazil. . . . It is necessary to order with urgency that all of your warships are armed and that all of your transport ships find their way to the Port of Lisbon, where you board the ships with the Princess, your children, and all of your treasures.”
7
Two years later, in 1803, the head of the Royal Treasury,
Dom Rodrigo de Sousa Coutinho, completed an account of the political situation in Europe. In his evaluation, the future of the Portuguese monarchy lay in danger, and it would prove impossible to maintain the politics of neutrality between England and France for much longer. The solution? Sail for Brazil.

“Portugal is neither the best part of the monarchy, nor the most essential,” wrote Dom Rodrigo. “After the devastation of a long and barbarous war, the remains of the Sovereignty and its people will create a powerful empire in Brazil.” The new empire in the Americas could serve as the basis from which Dom João could later recover “all that he had lost in Europe” and still punish “the cruel enemy.” According to Dom Rodrigo, “whatever the dangers might be that accompany such a noble and resolute determination, they are much smaller than those that would certainly follow from the entrance of the French in the ports of the Kingdom.”
8
Dom Rodrigo's proposal was rejected in 1803, but four years later, with Napoleon's troops at the border, this extraordinary plan of relocation went into action.

The prior existence of so many plans with so much history behind them explains why the relocation of the court to Brazil succeeded in 1807. It was indeed a flight but it was neither rushed nor improvised. The decision already had been made and analyzed by various kings, ministers, and advisors over the course of three centuries. “There would be no other way to explain how a classical country of improvidence and languor, shortly after the announcement of French troops within the national borders, could manage to embark an entire court, with all of its furniture, tableware, paintings, books, and jewels,” observes de Oliveira Lima.
9

But the months preceding the departure were tense and unsettling. In 1807, two groups attempted to influence the actions of the ever indecisive prince regent. The “French party,” led by the minister of external relations, Antonio de Araújo e Azevedo, favored joining with Napoleon and his Spanish allies. The “English party,” which ultimately triumphed, had Dom Rodrigo as its principal advocate. The godson of the marquis of Pombal and minister of marine commerce and overseas territories, Dom Rodrigo had a long-term vision. He had ambitious plans for Brazil and believed that the future survival of the Portuguese monarchy depended on its New
World colony. In 1790, as the minister of foreign affairs, he approached the Brazilian elite and sponsored trips for Brazilian students to the University of Coimbra in Portugal, then the main academic center of the Portuguese Empire. (Among these students was José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva, the future patriarch of the Brazilian Independence movement.)

On August 19, 1807, the Council of State met at the Palace of Mafra to discuss the political crisis. The nine closest counselors to the prince regent, including his master of wardrobe and private doctor, the council constituted the most important body of advisers to the monarchy, responsible for proposing large-scale governing measures in times of war and peace.
10
Dom João read out the terms of Bonaparte's intimidation: Portugal had to adhere to the Continental Blockade, declare war on Britain, withdraw their ambassador—Dom Domingos de Sousa Coutinho, Dom Rodrigo's brother—from London, expel the British ambassador from Lisbon, and close the ports of Portugal to British ships. They also had to imprison any English citizens inside Portugal and confiscate their property. The terrified council immediately approved Napoleon's conditions with two reservations: They wouldn't imprison English citizens nor confiscate their property. On August 26, a second meeting took place at the Palace of Mafra, during which the terms of the response to Napoleon were approved and the correspondence immediately sent to Paris.
11

This was all, however, a clever ruse and a dangerous game in which Portugal was bluffing both France and Britain at the same time. While pretending to accept France's ultimatum, they negotiated a different solution to the impasse with Britain. “In the war between France and Britain, Portugal played the role of a clam caught in the battle of the tide and rocks,” writes historian Tobias Monteiro.
12
Shortly after the meeting, Britain's representative in Lisbon, Percy Smythe, Viscount Strangford, wrote to his minister of foreign affairs, George Canning, offering a version of events quite different from the letter to Napoleon. According to Strangford, Portugal was trying to buy time with an “ostensible approach of hostility.” War with Britain would be officially declared but only as a decoy. In the meantime, the Portuguese government requested that the British neither invade their colonies nor attack their merchant ships.

Squeezed between two powerful rivals, Portugal nonetheless had in its favor the precariousness of communication and transportation. In 1807, the delivery of a letter from Lisbon to Paris took close to two weeks. The post traveled along roads pockmarked by holes and practically impassable during rainy weather. A round trip took a month, sometimes more. From Lisbon to London by sea took at least seven days.
13
This sluggishness allowed Portugal to buy time while they attempted an escape both honorable and acceptable to its fragile kingdom. Upon receiving the terms of the Portuguese counterproposal, Napoleon reacted as predicted; he sent warning that, if Dom João did not comply, Portugal would be invaded and the Bragança dynasty would be dethroned.

On September 30, gathered at the Palace of Ajuda in Lisbon, the Council of State finally recommended that the prince regent prepare his ships for departure.
14
At the beginning, it was thought that only the prince of Beira, the oldest son of Dom João, should go to Brazil. Young Dom Pedro—just eight years old but destined to become emperor of Brazil—was the natural heir to the Portuguese throne. On October 2, 1807, Dom João issued a proclamation to the Brazilian people, requesting that they receive and defend the young prince.
15
The plan rapidly evolved, however, into something more ambitious: transferring the whole of the court with its rulers, functionaries, and state apparatus—the entire Portuguese elite.

By the middle of October, the definitive decision to transfer the court to Brazil began in earnest. Through the mediation of his ambassador in London, Dom João signed a secret agreement with Britain through which, in exchange for naval protection during the voyage to Rio de Janeiro, he would open the ports of Brazil to commerce with other nations. Up until that point, only Portuguese ships had authorization to buy or sell goods in the colony.

But while the ink of his secret agreement with allied England was drying, Dom João persisted in his game of make-believe with the French. On the eve of his departure, he announced the prohibition on British ships entering Portuguese ports and the imprisonment and the confiscation of property of all British residents in Lisbon. At the same time, he sent an ambassador to Paris, the marquis of Marialva, who swore total surrender to the French. To
mollify Napoleon, the diplomat brought a box full of diamonds as a gift. He also suggested that Dom Pedro, the oldest son of Dom João, marry a princess from Bonaparte's family. Though Marialva was held prisoner, his actions singularly allowed Dom João to deceive Napoleon, who believed on the eve of Dom João's departure that Portugal had surrendered to his orders.

On November 1, the post from Paris arrived in Lisbon with another frightening message from Napoleon: “If Portugal does not do what I want, the House of Bragança will no longer have a throne in Europe within two months.” At that moment, the French army was already crossing the Pyrenees and heading toward Portugal. On November 5, the Portuguese government finally ordered the imprisonment of Englishmen residing in Lisbon and the confiscation of their property. Faithful to their double-crossing, they had warned Lord Strangford to protect himself. As part of the ruse, even the count of Barca, leader of the French Party in the Portuguese court, proposed the confiscation of British goods in Portugal, but behind closed doors he had negotiated with the British the reparations for eventual victims of this measure.
16

On November 6, the British fleet appeared at the mouth of the Tagus River, some seven thousand men strong. Their commander, Admiral Sir Sidney Smith—the same official who had bombarded Copenhagen two months earlier—had two seemingly contradictory orders. The first, and his priority, was to protect the royal family as they boarded the ships and to escort them all the way to Brazil. The second, in case the first did not succeed, was to bombard Lisbon.

It was a game of marked cards, in which no party had any illusion about the outcome. Convinced that Portugal had aligned with Britain, the governments of Spain and France had divided Portuguese territory among themselves already. The Treaty of Fontainebleau, signed by the two sides on October 27, 1807, split the tiny nation into three parts. The Northern region, consisting of the provinces of Entre-Douro and Minho, called the kingdom of Northern Lusitania, would go to the reigning queen of Etruria, Maria Luisa of Spain. Next, Alentejo and Algarve, in the Southern region, would pass to Don Manoel de Godoy, the most powerful minister of Spain, also known as the prince of peace. Finally, France would take over the central and richest
part of the country, composed of the regions of Beira, Trás-os-Montes, and Estremadura.
17
To the great humiliation of the Portuguese, this piece of land was offered to Napoleon's youngest brother, Lucien, who turned it down. “At a time in which the most voracious of rulers went unchecked . . . nobody wanted little Portugal,” writes de Oliveira Lima. “Above all, not without that which constituted its importance . . . its colonial empire.”
18

Some 50,000 French and Spanish soldiers invaded Portugal.
19
If he had wanted, Dom João could have resisted and with a good chance of winning. The soldiers whom Napoleon sent were mostly rookies and members of the foreign legion who had no interest in defending the ambitions of the French emperor.
20
Their commander, General Jean-Andoche Junot, was a second-rate official: a brave combatant but a terrible strategist. Due to lack of planning and the last-minute nature of the invasion, the troops arrived at the border famished and in tatters. Half of the horses had died along the way. Only six cannons arrived. Of the 25,000 soldiers who left France, 700
of them had already died before entering combat.
21
A quarter of the infantry had disappeared because, in the despair of searching for food, the soldiers had become separated from the main column and gotten lost.
22

BOOK: 1808: The Flight of the Emperor
11.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Remember Me by Irene N. Watts
Outcast (Supernaturals Book 2) by Jennifer Reynolds
Bad Seed by Alan Carter
Sisters in Sanity by Gayle Forman
Perfect Peace by Daniel Black
A Killing Night by Jonathon King