1808: The Flight of the Emperor (5 page)

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With the fall of Pombal and the spirit of his reforms, Portugal once again fell prisoner to the destiny of its past: a small, rural country incapable of breaking with centuries-old vices and traditions, dependent on slave labor, intoxicated by easy money, and lacking a clear plan for the future of its colonies. As a result, the nation soon became a pawn on the chessboard of Europe. Like the proverbial ostrich that buries its head in the sand to escape danger, it futilely sought to maintain political neutrality among its richer and more powerful neighbors. If the country involved itself as little as possible in conflicts, the theory went, it would avoid counter-attacks and ensure the uninterrupted flow of wealth that arrived from overseas territories. The theory failed miserably.

As with Spain and Switzerland in the course of the twentieth century, the politics of neutrality are never as neutral as they seem. Portugal always had Britain as a preferred business partner and with good reason. The ancient alliance derived from the very origins of the Portuguese monarchy itself. English crusaders on their way to the Holy Land to fight the Second Crusade in 1147 helped the young Afonso de Borgonha, first king of Portugal,
to expel the Moors and conquer the port near the mouth of the Tagus River that became Lisbon.
The first trade alliance between Portugal and England came into effect in 1308.
In 1387, the Anglo-Portuguese alliance further consolidated in the form of the marriage of Dom João I, the Master of Aviz, to Phillipa of Lancaster. Thanks to English aid, Dom João I, illegitimate son of King Pedro I, secured his position as the king of the new Aviz dynasty and wrested from Spain the recognition of an independent Portugal in 1414.
One of the sons of João and Phillipa, Henry the Navigator, receives credit for the development of long-distance seafaring that enabled the great discoveries and formation of the Portuguese colonial empire—though ironically he himself never sailed.

Constantly threatened by neighboring Spain and France, Portugal would have ceased to exist many centuries earlier if not for the strategic alliance with England. The partnership provided mutual benefits, however, of which England also availed itself in moments of necessity. With the aid of Portugal, England conquered the Rock of Gibraltar—still part of its dominion today—from Spain in 1704. That crucial position at the mouth of the Mediterranean has played a decisive role in all major conflicts involving the British for the last three centuries.
In 1799, during Napoleon's Egyptian Campaign, the Portuguese squadron lent its services to the commander of the British fleet, Admiral Nelson, in blocking Malta.
Two years later, in 1801, when Spanish troops invaded Portugal, Britain reciprocated with monetary aid and troops.

It was this ancient alliance that Prince Regent Dom João invoked in 1807, when Bonaparte once again imperiled the future of his small and fragile nation.



he day of November 29, 1807, broke in Lisbon full of sunshine. A light breeze blew from the east. The sky shone blue, but the roads still roiled in mud from the rains of the previous day.
Near the port, confusion reigned. An unprecedented spectacle was unfolding over the calm waters of the Tagus River: The queen, princes, and princesses, and all the nobility were abandoning their country. Incredulous, the people gathered at the edge of the docks to behold the departure.

At 7 a.m., the
Royal Prince
billowed its sails and began to glide toward the Atlantic. It carried the mad queen Maria, Prince Regent João, and his two heirs, princes Pedro and Miguel. The rest of the royal family sailed on three other ships. The
Afonso de Albuquerque
transported Princess Carlota Joaquina, wife of the prince regent, and four of her six daughters. Her other two daughters, Maria Francisca and Isabel Maria, traveled on the
Queen of Portugal.
João's aunt and sister-in-law followed on the
Prince of Brazil.
Four dozen more boats took up position behind the royal squadron.

It was an impressive scene, but it didn't come close to recalling the heroic departure from these same docks of the fleet of Vasco de Gama, sailing out to navigate seas unknown and to discover distant territory. Instead, in 1807, the spirit of adventure gave way to fear. Rather than seeking conquests or glory, the Portuguese elite were fleeing without any attempt to resist the
French invaders. “Three centuries earlier, Portugal embarked for India, full of hope and lust; in 1807, a funereal entourage left for Brazil,” records Portuguese historian Oliveira Martins.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 people accompanied the prince regent on his voyage to Brazil—a huge number considering that Lisbon had close to 200,000 inhabitants.
The group included nobles, advisors, soldiers, judges, lawyers, merchants, and their families. Doctors, bishops, priests, handmaidens, valets, pages, cooks, and stable grooms also set sail with the court. Because of the obvious urgency of the boarding, the vast majority of travelers was not registered or catalogued. The figure for the number of passengers comes from reports and estimates from this period. The few existing official lists record 536 people, but the actual total certainly stood many times larger if only because alongside these names appear imprecise descriptions such as “the Viscount of Barbacena with his family,” as historian Lília Schwarcz observes.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, maritime voyages made for a risky adventure. They demanded careful and protracted preparation. A voyage from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro took two and a half months and encountered storms, doldrums, and surprise attacks by the pirates who infested the Atlantic. Disease, shipwrecks, and marauders took a heavy toll on the few voyagers who risked traveling so far. The dangers were so great that the British Navy—the most skilled, organized, and well-equipped naval force in the world at the time—considered a rate of one death per thirty sailors acceptable on long maritime journeys.
Voyagers normally took great care in organizing their affairs and saying farewell to relatives and friends. The chances of never returning were enormous.

But in 1807 nobody had time to prepare or organize a thing. Although the plan to flee to Brazil was old, the decision to enact it came at the last minute. Up to one week prior to the largely improvised departure, hope still circulated in Dom João's court of a possible reconciliation with Napoleon that would thwart an invasion. But that hope fell flat on November 24, when the latest edition of the Parisian newspaper
Le Moniteur,
Napoleon's official publishing arm,
arrived in Lisbon, announcing that “the House of Bragança has ceased to reign in Europe.”
The news caused an uproar in the
court and finally prevailed over the prince regent's chronic indecision. There was no alternative: Either the royal family fled to Brazil, or Bonaparte would dethrone them. It was time to go.

At midnight, a messenger awoke Joaquim de Azevedo, court official and the future viscount of Rio Seco, and summoned him to the Royal Palace. De Azevedo found the state advisors assembled there as he received personal orders from Dom João to organize the departure. Before heading to the port, Azevedo guaranteed a place onboard for himself and his family, and then he went to work. Azevedo had fewer than three days to handle all of the necessary preparations, and counter-winds and strong rains conspired to postpone the departure to the morning of the 29th.

The royal palaces at Mafra and Queluz were evacuated with haste. Valets and pages worked through the night to remove carpets, paintings, and wall ornaments. Hundreds of trunks containing clothing, dishes, cutlery, jewels, and personal effects made their way to the docks. The caravan totaled more than seven hundred wagons.
Pack mules drew the Church's silver and the 60,000 volumes of the (reconstituted) Royal Library in fourteen carts. Gold, diamonds, and the currency of the royal treasury were packed in crates and escorted to the wharf, ready to make their ironic trip back across the Atlantic Ocean.

During those three days, the people of Lisbon watched the movements of horses, carriages, and government employees without exactly understanding what was happening. The official explanation asserted that the Portuguese fleet was undergoing repairs. The rich and well-informed, however, knew perfectly well what was happening. Pedro Gomes, a prosperous merchant, wrote to his mother-in-law: “We don't yet have a vessel, and I'm not sure we will, as there are many who want to go, and few ships. What we will do is prepare ourselves to leave the capital, to wherever it must be, at the first indication of danger. . . . The ships continue to be prepared with great haste, and all of the patterns point towards boarding.”
No surviving reports indicate whether Gomes and his family found a place aboard one of the ships.

When news of the royal departure finally spread, the populace reacted with understandable indignation. In the streets, tears flowed alongside demonstrations of despair and revolt. Stones pelted the carriage and injured the
coachman of Antonio de Araújo, the count of Barca, when he tried to make his way through the multitudes to the frigate
Araújo, João's minister of foreign relations, sympathized with the French and was viewed with suspicion in Portugal.
“The highly noble and ever-loyal people of Lisbon could not become comfortable with the idea of their king departing for overseas territories,” wrote de Azevedo, himself called a traitor by the infuriated crowds. “Wandering through the plazas and streets, without believing their eyes, shedding tears and curses . . . everything to them was shock, heartbreak, and longing.”
“The capital found itself in a state of gloom too somber to describe,” reported Lord Strangford, the British envoy to Lisbon in charge of negotiating the transfer of the royal family to Brazil. “Bands of unknown armed men were seen roaming the streets, in the most complete silence. . . . Everything seemed to indicate that the departure of the Prince, if not carried out immediately, would be delayed by public outbursts rendering it impossible to leave before the arrival of the French army.”

Amid the confusion, a five-year-old boy looked on in fright. José Trazimundo, future marquis of Fronteira, stood in the company of his uncle, the count of Ega, who at the last minute attempted to board his family on one of the ships of the fleet. They couldn't make their way through the mob quickly enough, so when finally he arrived at the quay the ships had already weighed anchor. Many years later, Trazimundo recorded his memories of that day: “I will never forget the tears that were shed, as many of them by the populace as by the servants of the royal residences and by the soldiers that were on the banks of Belém.” Unable to secure a place on a ship, the Trazimundo family took refuge in the house of the count of Ribeira in anticipation of the arrival of General Junot's troops. “The halls were filled with relatives who had faced the same luck, not even having said their last goodbyes to the emigrés,” he wrote of those who managed to depart.

Other people of importance had to return home after unsuccessfully attempting to make it to the ships. Such was the case of the apostolic delegate Dom Lourenço de Caleppi. Days before, the sixty-seven-year-old showed up at the Palace of Ajuda, and João invited him on the voyage. Thereafter, he sought the minister of the Navy, the viscount of Anadia, who, to be on the safe side, had reserved him a place on both the ships
Martim de Freitas
On one or the other, de Caleppi would travel with his private secretary, Camilo Luis Rossi. On the arranged day, however, the two arrived at the docks only to find both ships completely full. The apostolic delegate eventually arrived in Brazil in September 1808, almost a year after the departure of the royal family.

Information about how Dom João boarded is imprecise. In one version, to avoid protests, he traveled to the port in a closed carriage, without a convoy, accompanied by only one servant and Dom Pedro Carlos,
of both Portugal and Spain and his preferred nephew. Despite technically belonging to the Spanish House of Bourbon, the boy came to live in Lisbon after the death of his parents, both of whom had fallen victim to smallpox in 1788. On arriving at the port with no one to greet him, João waded over the mud atop badly positioned planks of wood supported by police cables.
In the report of Portuguese historian Luiz Norton, the prince and his nephew crossed these planks “with the help of the people,” and had embarked “after a cold and funereal kiss upon the hand.”
In the version of events by French general Maximilien Foy, Dom João, after descending from his carriage, had trouble walking. “His limbs trembled under him,” the general writes. “With his hand he put aside the people who clung round his knees. Tears trickled from his eyes, and his countenance told plainly enough how woe-begone and perplexed was his heart.”

A farewell speech was impossible under the circumstances, so Dom João ordered a decree posted in the streets of Lisbon, explaining the reasons for his departure. It said that French troops were marching toward Lisbon and that resisting them would spill blood needlessly. In addition, despite all his efforts, he couldn't uphold the peace for his beloved subjects. Therefore, he was moving to Rio de Janeiro until the situation calmed down. He also left instructions in writing for how the Portuguese should treat the invaders: The troops of General Junot would receive the welcome of the Royal Assembly, a council of governors appointed by the prince. The Assembly had guidelines for cooperating with the French general and for offering shelter to his soldiers.

Princess Carlota Joaquina's carriage arrived at the port shortly after the prince regent, along with three of her eight children: Pedro, future emperor
of Brazil, eight years old; Miguel, six years old; and Ana de Jesus Maria, eleven months old. The rest of the family arrived in separate carriages: the adolescent Maria Teresa and her sisters Maria Isabel, ten years old; Maria Francisca, seven years old; Isabel Maria, six years old; and Maria da Assunção, two years old. Finally came Queen Maria I, now seventy-three years old. For the people gathered on the wharf watching the departure, the presence of the queen offered a great novelty. Because of her bouts of madness, the queen had lived for sixteen years as a recluse in the Palace of Queluz, not seen in the streets of Lisbon during all that time. As her coach darted toward the port, she shouted to the coachman, “Slow down! They'll think we're fleeing!”
On arriving, she refused to descend from the carriage, forcing the captain of the royal fleet to carry her to the ship in his arms. Dom João's sister-in-law Maria Benedita, sixty-one years old, and her aunt Maria Ana, seventy-one years old, brought up the rear.

To guarantee the future of the monarchy in the event of a disaster, planners considered it prudent to avoid putting all the heirs to the throne on the same ship. But in the haste of departing, this precaution was forgotten. Carlota Joaquina herself took charge of distributing the family across the ships. Their sons Pedro and Miguel, the two direct heirs to the throne, boarded the
Royal Prince
along with their father and their grandmother. It was a risky decision. In the event of a fatal shipwreck, this vessel could bring three generations of the Bragança dynasty to the bottom of the ocean. Carlota Joaquina and four daughters—Maria Teresa, Maria Isabel, Maria da Assunção, and Ana de Jesus—remained on the
Afonso de Albuquerque,
commanded by Inácio da Costa Quintela, along with the counts of Caparica and Cavalheiros, their families, and servants, yielding a total of around 1,058 people. The other two children traveled with the marquis of Lavradio on the
Queen of Portugal.

Before embarking, João scraped clean the royal coffers, a measure he repeated when leaving Rio de Janeiro to return to Lisbon. In 1807, they departed with a royal treasury of 80 million cruzados, nearly half of the currency in circulation in Portugal, along with a huge quantity of diamonds extracted from Minas Gerais that rather unexpectedly were returning to Brazil.
The royal baggage also included all of the archives of the Portuguese
monarchy. A new printing press, recently purchased in London, was loaded onboard the
just as it had arrived from England, its original packing still intact.
It was yet another instance of ironic cargo: To prevent the spread of potentially revolutionary ideas in the colony, the Portuguese government expressly had prohibited printing presses in Brazil. (To escape censorship, Brazilian journalist Hipólito da Costa published the
Correio Braziliense,
Brazil's first newspaper, in London in 1808.)

BOOK: 1808: The Flight of the Emperor
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