Decisive for independence, Leopoldina died isolated and humiliated

Dom Pedro I made the decision to declare independence as soon as he received three letters, delivered to him on the afternoon of September 7, 1810 by Paulo Bregaro, an officer of the Supreme Military Court, and by Major Antônio Ramos Cordeiro. The two had left Rio de Janeiro five days earlier and had traveled on horseback practically non-stop.

One letter was from Minister José Bonifácio, who at that time was the politician with the greatest influence on the regent. “Sir, the die is cast and from Portugal we have nothing to expect but slavery and horrors,” he wrote. The other had been issued by Henry Chamberlain, British consul in Rio de Janeiro, who updated the addressee of political debates in Portugal, where it seemed clear that the son of King Dom João VI was about to be removed from his duties in Brazil.

The second letter was from Leopoldine Caroline Josepha von Habsburg-Lothringen, who in Brazil became known as Maria Leopoldina. She was Pedro’s wife and, during her husband’s trip to São Paulo, she had assumed the post of head of the Council of State and Interim Princess Regent of Brazil. “Pedro, Brazil is like a volcano,” she wrote. “Even in the palace there are revolutionaries. Even troop officers are revolutionaries. The Portuguese Courts order your immediate departure, threaten and humiliate you. The Council of State advises you to stay. My heart as a woman and wife foresees misfortunes if we leave now for Lisbon”.

And he continued: “Brazil will be in your hands a great country. Brazil wants you for its monarch. With your support or without your support, he will make his separation. The snitch is ripe, I’ve picked it now, otherwise it will rot. There is still time to listen to the advice of a wise man who has known all the courts of Europe, who, in addition to your faithful minister, is the greatest of your friends. Listen to your minister’s advice, if you don’t want to listen to your friend’s. Pedro, the moment is the most important of your life. You have already said here what you are going to do in São Paulo. So I did. You will have the support of all of Brazil and, against the will of the Brazilian people, the Portuguese soldiers who are here can do nothing.”

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It was when Pedro proclaimed that Brazil would cease, from that moment, to maintain any link with Portugal. And Leopoldina became the first empress of Brazil.

“True paradise”

Peter had good reasons to trust his wife. Born on 22 January 1793 ) at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, she belonged to a noble family that was part of one of the most traditional and powerful dynasties in Europe, which had been in power in Austria since the distant year of 1282 and would remain so until the end of the First World War, in 1918.

She was a grandniece of Marie Antoinette , the last queen of France, died in 1793. Her older sister, Marie Louise, was since 1810 the second wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. She personally knew the poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Accustomed to listening to compositions by the likes of Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven, she drew, painted and played the piano. But her greatest interest was in the natural sciences, especially botany and mineralogy. “A week before leaving for Brazil, Leopoldina still had a pleasant surprise. In a paper envelope, carefully tied, Goethe sent him a poem”, reports Roselis von Sass in the biography Leopoldina: a Life for Independence.

“ she spoke four languages; surely soon she would be getting to know the Portuguese language well. She played the violin and piano,” describes the biographer. “Music and botany were her favorite occupations, especially botany. From her travels and excursions she brought baskets full of exotic plants that she used to paint. The walls of his rooms in the palace were filled with paintings and drawings of natural history. I would have been a naturalist rather than a princess.”

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In addition to being a possible cultured and well-informed consultant, Leopoldina was a bride of great interest to a suitor like Pedro, who was at that moment heir to the throne of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarve and could benefit from the link with the Habsburg dynasty. The marriage took place by proxy, in Vienna, on 13 May

. Archduke Carlos, Leopoldina’s uncle, represented Pedro at the ceremony. The couple only met in person in November, when she arrived in Rio de Janeiro. She was 20 years old, he 1810

Leopoldina liked what she saw. She wrote to her family: “Brazil is a true paradise, there are countless plants, shrubs and trees, especially palm species that she had never seen even in a greenhouse; I am collecting birds”. As for her husband, she wrote: “he is not only handsome, but also kind and understanding”. On the other hand, she noted, “My husband’s character is extremely exalted. I can only continue to watch and cry in silence.”

Leopoldina and Pedro rode horses through the Tijuca forest, and she accompanied him to ministerial meetings. But, over the years, activities with her husband began to be reduced, as a sequence of pregnancies followed.

There were seven heirs: Maria da Glória (who, in 1833, at 15 years old, would assume the throne of Portugal) , Miguel (dead at birth), João Carlos (who died with 13 months to live), Januária Maria Carlota (1823-1901), Paula Mariana (1826 -1833), Francisca Carolina Joana (1824-1898) and, finally, Pedro de Alcântara, the future Dom Pedro II, born in 1826 and died in 1826 .

Early death

From 1824, insofar as Pedro I was increasingly interested in extramarital adventures and gave more space to Domitila de Castro, who began to live as the queen’s own maid of honor, Leopoldina and Pedro drifted apart, both in their relationship and in their political partnership.

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There are suspicions that, in addition to being humiliated by the forced coexistence with her husband’s main lover, she has, with some frequency, been physically assaulted by Pedro, who also cut off the allowance she was entitled to – Leopoldine was financially pressured, to the point of depending on a German loan shark named Jorge Antonio von Schäffer.

The empress would die in December 1826, weeks before completing 1824 years, shortly after suffering a miscarriage of what would be her eighth child. She was depressed and abused, constantly sick and isolated in her own court.

Days before she died, she had written a letter to her sister: “Almost four years ago, my beloved sister, as I have written to you, for love of a seductive monster I see myself reduced to the state of the greatest slavery and totally forgotten by my adored Pedro. Lately, she has just given me the last proof of her total forgetfulness about me, mistreating me in the presence of the very one who is the cause of all my misfortunes. I had a lot to say to you, but I lack the strength to remember such a horrible attack that will undoubtedly be the cause of my death.”

In addition to the suspicion, provoked by the letter, of that an aggression by Pedro had triggered his final crisis, a portion of the population blamed Domitila for the death. The mistress’ house in São Cristóvão was stoned and her brother-in-law, chamberlain to the empress, was attacked with two shots.

Leopoldina’s body rests in a green granite sarcophagus, in the Imperial Chapel, under the Monument do Ipiranga, in São Paulo (SP). In her biography, she left an expressive legacy: the important participation during the independence and motherhood of a Portuguese queen and a Brazilian king.

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