Saturday, April 16, 2011

Brazil's European Colony

by Leighton Gage


The year was 1807, and the Prince Regent, Dom João Maria José Francisco Xavier de Paula Luís António Domingos Rafael de Bragança (For simplicity’s sake, let’s just call him by his English name, John) ruled in theKingdom of Portugal. He ruled, but feared he wouldn’t be ruling long.

The armies of Napoleon were sweeping down from the north, engulfing the Iberian Peninsula. In those days, back before Napoleon took Moscow, the conventional wisdom was this: in warfare, all you had to do to win was to capture the enemy’s capital. Having done that, you declared victory, they admitted defeat and the war was over. John (above, on the left) was a man of his time. He accepted that as truth. Accepted it, but also revolted at the idea of languishing under a French yoke.
He decided to flee.
But flee to where?
Brazil was the obvious choice. John's new world colony had plenty of room. The country was more than 90 times the size of Portugal. (It measures 8,456,510 SQ KM. Portugal, in contrast, only 91,951 SQ KM) 
So, on November 29th, 1807, John, under the protection of a British fleet, set sail with all his court. It was a pretty big court, even by modern standards. There were about 15,000 of them.
Two days later the French took Lisbon.


During the long voyage, John had plenty of time to consult his advisors. 


Upon his arrival in the new world, he handed the French emperor a surprise: the French might have captured Lisbon, he reasoned, but they hadn’t defeated the mother country. Why? Because, according to him, the residence of the king defined the capital, and the royal residence was now Rio de Janeiro. Therefore,  the mother country was no longer Portugal. It was now Brazil. Portugal was a colony.

Seven years later, Napoleon suffered his final and humiliating defeat at Waterloo. By that time, John, like many before him, had settled into the good life of the tropics. He had no desire to go “home”. He wanted to stay in Brazil forever. But he couldn't. A severe political crisis ultimately forced him back to Lisbon.


He left his son, Pedro, in Rio de Janeiro as regent.
That, as it turned out, was a mistake. Pedro  had no desire to go "home" either. Or ever.


On September 7, 1822, he declared the independence of Brazil and had himself crowned emperor, thereby severing the bonds that had connected Brazil and Portugal for more than 320 years.
And leaving Brazil the only country in the new world that had ever had, or ever will ever have, a colony in the old.


2 comments:

Ben Small said...

I really enjoy these articles, Leighton, and my FB friends enjoy them, too. Thank you.

Leighton Gage said...

Ben,
Thanks for your kind words.
This kind of stuff fascinates me.
I'm glad that it also captures your imagination.