Saturday, June 25, 2016

Amélie of Leuchtenberg, Empress of Brazil

Princess Amélie Augusta Eugénia Napoleona de Beauharnais was the fourth child and third daughter of Eugène de Beauharnais, the stepson/adopted child of Napoleon I, and Princess Augusta of Bavaria. Amélie was born on July 31, 1812 in Milan, Italy, where her father served as the Viceroy of Italy. She was the paternal granddaughter of Joséphine de Beauharnais, the first wife and Empress of the French of Napoleon, through her father and the maternal granddaughter of King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria through her mother. Amélie’s siblings included: Joséphine, Queen of Sweden and Norway and Auguste, 2nd Duke of Leuchtenberg and the Prince Consort of Maria II of Portugal (Amélie’s future stepdaughter). She was also a first cousin of Napoleon III, Emperor of the French.
Amélie had a happy childhood with her siblings and parents, who cared deeply for all of their children and made every effort to raise them into respectable, intelligent adults. Amélie’s parents had married for political reasons but they had fallen in love at first sight and their passion for one another never waned during their eighteen years of marriage. When Napoleon, Amélie’s paternal grandfather, was overthrown in 1814, Eugène lost his position of Viceroy of Italy and left the country with his wife and family for Bavaria, Augusta’s homeland. They were welcomed with open arms by Augusta’s father, who gave his daughter and son-in-law the title of Duke and Duchess of Leuchtenberg and the principality of Eichstätt. Since Amélie was just two years old when her family fled Italy, she didn’t remember her early life in her birthplace of Milan. But she did have very fond memories of her happy childhood in Munich, where her family lived in Bavaria.

Amélie of Leuchtenberg
(Franz Xaver Winterhalter)
By December of 1826, Emperor Pedro I of Brazil (also King Pedro IV of Portugal), was searching for a second wife. His first wife, Maria Leopoldina of Austria, had just died at the age of twenty-nine after suffering a miscarriage. Though she had given Pedro seven children, four of which survived infancy and childhood, Pedro wanted another consort beside him. Pedro was the eldest surviving son of John VI, King of Portugal and Infanta Carlota Joaquina of Spain (the sister of Infanta María Isabella, Queen of the Two Sicilies). By the time Pedro was born, his father had already been ruling Portugal for his mentally unstable mother, Queen Maria I, for six years as regent. Pedro and his siblings lived with their insane grandmother during their childhood and rarely saw their parents, who had a very unhappy marriage and didn’t care much for their offspring. Even though his parents were estranged from their children, Pedro loved his father but hated his mother for the disrespect she had caused her spouse, as she allegedly had various affairs with other men during her marriage. Pedro was so disgusted with his mother’s scandalous behavior that he openly called her a “bitch” and never felt anything but contempt for her. On March 20, 1816, Pedro’s grandmother, Queen Maria I died and his father became the King of Portugal and Brazil.

Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil
Pedro was a bright and extremely energetic man whose cold and neglectful childhood played a huge role in shaping his personality. He was impulsive, controlling, irritable, and had a short attention span. He was also an irredeemable womanizer and many ladies fell for his status and appearance. Pedro was a handsome young man (his first wife fell in love with him as soon as she saw him) and was described as having piercing dark eyes, brown hair, rosy cheeks, and a fair complexion. He was “a little above average in height” and, according to one historian, “owed much to his bearing, proud and erect even at an awkward age, and his grooming, which was impeccable. Habitually neat and clean, he had taken to the Brazilian custom of bathing often”. Pedro was proclaimed the first Emperor of Brazil on his twenty-fourth birthday, October 12, 1822, which was also the inauguration day of the empire itself. Brazil had previously been a colony of Portugal but in September of 1822, Pedro had led Brazil in a fight for independence against his own father. A month later, Pedro was victorious and his successful war resulted in him being proclaimed Emperor. Upon his father’s death on March 10, 1826, he succeeded to the throne of Portugal, becoming not just an emperor but a king as well.

Amélie of Leuchtenberg
But his stunning physicality and influential power came with a price – that of his lust for women. He was never faithful to his first wife and treated her horribly during their marriage. He was constantly rude to her and purposely didn’t give her enough money to get by on. He also forbade her from leaving the palace and forced her to endure the humiliation of having his favorite mistress, a Brazilian noblewoman named Domitila de Castro, as her lady-in-waiting. It was only after his poor wife’s death that he realized just how cruelly he had treated her. He mourned her so immensely that he broke off his relationship with Domitila and sent her away in 1828. He wanted to marry again to become a better person and, more importantly, a better husband. However, he did have four conditions that his future wife had to meet: beauty, virtue, culture, and a noble family background. Pedro had a rather hard time finding a willing lady to marry him; he had a notoriously bad reputation as a womanizer and was looked down upon for the shameful way he had treated his devoted first wife. After eight princesses turned down Pedro’s request of marriage, the Emperor decided to change his conditions to just two qualities: “good and virtuous”. Eventually, Amélie was pointed out to Pedro and she caught his attention once he learned more about her. She was described as a tall and very beautiful woman with blue eyes and brownish-golden hair. She was well educated and kindhearted with “a physical air that like that the painter Correggio gave us in his paintings of the Queen of Sheba”. Her only fault was that her father was the stepson of Napoleon, who was viewed with shame by the European world because of his deposition and fall from power.

Amélie's mother (her father had died in 1824) agreed to the match and a marriage contract between the Emperor and the Princess of Leuchtenberg was ratified on June 30, 1829. A proxy ceremony was held on August 2nd in Munich. It was a modest and small event with the Emperor being represented by the Marquês de Barbacena. Amélie's mother knew that her daughter would face some challenges in her upcoming marriage and prepared her for her future role as a sovereign with great diligence and car. She found various teachers to educate Amélie on matters centered around Brazil’s culture and people, as well as her husband’s character, the routines of the Brazilian court, and the Portuguese language. On October 15, 1829, Amélie arrived in Rio de Janeiro where she met the ecstatic Emperor and his ten year-old daughter, Maria II of Portugal (Pedro had renounced his rights to the Portuguese throne in favor of his daughter in May of 1826 after just two months as king). Pedro was supposedly so overjoyed when he saw Amélie that he fell to his knees with passion when she disembarked her ship and stepped onto the dock.

The Wedding of Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil and Amélie of Leuchtenberg
(Jean-Baptiste Debret, 1829)
Two days after her arrival, the seventeen year-old Amélie married the thirty-one year old Emperor Pedro I on October 17th, officially becoming the Empress of Brazil. The Brazilian people were stunned by their new Empress’s beauty, which was accentuated by her regal, French-fashioned attire of a long, white gown and a robe embroidered in silver. Amélie had a warm relationship with her surviving stepchildren, the eldest of whom was just seven years her junior. Her four stepchildren were: Maria II, Queen of Portugal, Princess Januária of Brazil, Princess Francisca of Brazil, and Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil. Pedro also stayed true to his promise of becoming a better man, as he remained entirely faithful to his new wife during the length of their marriage. Pedro adored his young consort for her loveliness, humility, and kindness and she cared for him as well. Overall, the couple had a happy marriage together.
Amélie of Leuchtenberg, Empress of Brazil
(Jaime Young Gante)

Amélie put almost all of her focus on her new family, especially her stepchildren. She ensured that Pedro’s young children had a stable and happy family environment like the one she had growing up, as well as good educations. She was especially close to the youngest of Pedro’s children, four year-old Pedro de Alcântara (the future Pedro II of Brazil), who started to call her “mommy” after some time. The two remained close until their deaths and today, almost six decades of their letters to each other survive. Pedro II had so much respect for his young stepmother that when he had daughters of his own, he sought her help in arranging their marriages. She resided with Pedro and her stepchildren in the imperial palace, the Paço de São Cristóvão and immediately made some changes. She believed that the standard of protocol at court was rather incompetent, so she made French the official court language and shaped court ceremony after a more European model. Amélie changed the court’s meals, attire, decorations, and manners. She also became famous for her elegant fashion sense during her period as the Empress Consort.

At first, her marriage to Pedro boosted his popularity with the people, which was a great relief for the monarchy, as Brazil was going through a tough time politically. However, Pedro’s popularity didn’t last for long and despite Amélie’s efforts to rouse up popular support for her husband, the country fell apart both politically and economically. Brazil’s chaotic state ultimately pushed Pedro to abdicate the throne on April 7, 1831 in favor of his five year-old son. So, after less than two years as the Empress of Brazil, Amélie’s tenure as a monarch had come to an end. Once she and her husband had given up their crowns, they were simply known as the Duke and Duchess of Braganza. When they left Brazil to create a new life in Europe, Amélie was three months pregnant. They arrived in Cherbourg, France on June 10, 1831 but just ten days later, Pedro left for London to search for political support (which he never found) while Amélie remained behind in Paris with her stepdaughter, Maria II of Portugal, and her husband’s illegitimate daughter, Isabel Maria, the Duchess of Goiás, who Amélie actually adopted as her own daughter. She even arranged her marriage to Ernst von Treuberg, the Count of Treuberg, who she had four children with.

Amélie of Leuchtenberg and her daughter,
Princess Maria Amélia
(Friedrich Dürck, 1840)
On November 30, 1831, Amélie gave birth to her only child at the age of nineteen, a daughter named Princess Maria Amélia of Brazil. Pedro, who was away at the time of his daughter’s birth, was overjoyed once he heard the news. He was in Lisbon fighting a brutal war against his own brother, Miguel I of Portugal, for the crown in the name of his daughter, Maria II. Miguel, who had been both the regent and the betrothed of his young niece, claimed the title of king for himself and usurped the throne in July of 1828, less than two years after Maria had took the crown. The conflict resulted in a victory for Pedro, so Amélie, Maria II, and the infant Princess Maria Amélia reunited with him in Portugal’s capital on September 22, 1833 after the war had reached its conclusion. With Maria II back on the throne and Miguel exiled from the country, Pedro and Amélie settled down at the Palace of Queluz with their family. But unfortunately, Pedro’s adventurous lifestyle over the years had taken a toll on his health and he soon fell ill with tuberculosis. He died on September 24, 1834 at the age of thirty-five, a year after seeing his youngest daughter for the first time. In his will, he provided for both his legitimate and his illegitimate children, proving that he loved each and every one of his offspring equally no matter how they were labeled.

Amélie, now a widow and a young mother at the age of twenty-two, never remarried. After her husband’s death, she moved to the Palácio das Janelas Verdes and spent most of her time focusing on supporting charities and raising her daughter. Maria Amélia proved to be a very intellectual and gifted girl like her mother, especially when it came to music. Sometimes, Amélie would go back to Bavaria with her daughter to visit her family. Although they continued to live primarily in Portugal, they were not considered to be part of the Portuguese royal family. Even the Brazilian government would not acknowledge Maria Amélia as a Brazilian princess and refused to let her enter the country. This was because the different political factions in the new kingdom harbored a fear that if the Empress Dowager and her daughter returned to Brazil, they would try to gain influence and power. But since Pedro II continued to maintain good relations with his stepmother, he recognized both her and his half-sister as members of the Brazilian royal family once he reached his majority in 1841.

Princess Maria Amélia of Brazil
(Friedrich Dürck, 1849)
By 1850, Amélie began to consider various offers for her daughter’s hand. Maria Amélia, though still young at the time, was a great prospect not just for her status as a Brazilian princess and the sister of the Emperor but also for her beauty and intelligence, which she inherited from her mother. In early 1852, Maria Amélia met her first cousin once removed in Portugal, the Austrian Archduke Maximilian, as he was serving in the Austrian navy at the time. Maximilian (the future Maximilian I of Mexico) was the younger brother of the Austrian emperor Francis Joseph I (the husband of Elisabeth of Austria, Amélie’s first cousin) and the son of Francis Charles, Archduke of Austria and Princess Sophie of Bavaria. Maximilian was a handsome and clever young man who excelled during his time in the navy. When he met the twenty year-old Maria Amélia, a golden-haired (though her hair darkened with age), blue-eyed beauty, he was instantly charmed by her kindness and virtue. She quickly fell for him as well and they were soon engaged. However, shortly after their betrothal was announced, Maria Amélia began to display signs of tuberculosis, the same disease that had taken her father’s life. In an effort to cure her only child, the anxious Amélie took her to the city of Funchal on Madeira Island in late August “in search of healthier airs”. But the disease proved to be too much for Maria Amélia and on February 4, 1853, the twenty-one year old Brazilian princess died.

The loss of her only child deeply affected the Empress Dowager. She visited her daughter’s grave in the Convent of Saint Anthony in Rio de Janeiro every year on the anniversary of her death for next twenty years of her life. Amélie moved back to Lisbon after her daughter’s passing, where she remained until her death on January 26, 1873 at the age of sixty. Her older sister, Queen Joséphine of Sweden and Norway, was the primary heir in her will (she received, among other things, the famous Braganza tiara) but Amélie also left behind her properties in Bavaria to Maximilian, the one-time betrothed of her daughter, “whom [she] would have been happy to have as a son-in-law, if God had saved her beloved daughter Maria Amélia”. Today, she is buried in the Monument to the Independence of Brazil in São Paulo along with her husband and his first wife.

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