Princess Teresa Cristina of the Two Sicilies was born on March 14, 1822 in Naples. She was born with a rather lengthy name – “Teresa Cristina Maria Giuseppa Gaspare Baltassare Melchiore Gennara Francesca de Padova Donata Bonosa Andrea d'Avelino Rita Luitgarda Geltruda Venancia Taddea Spiridione Rocca Matilde” – and was the tenth child and the sixth daughter of Francis I, King of the Two Sicilies, and his second wife, Infanta María Isabella of Spain. Teresa had eleven full siblings, a half-sister, Princess Maria Carolina, Duchess of Berry, from her father’s first marriage, and a handful of illegitimate siblings from her father’s various affairs. Two of her full siblings were Ferdinand II, King of the Two Sicilies and Maria Christina, Queen of Spain. Teresa’s parents were double first cousins and at the time of her birth, her father was not yet the king but simply the Duke of Calabria and heir to the throne. Francis was the eldest surviving son of Ferdinand I, King of the Two Sicilies, and Archduchess Maria Carolina of Austria, the sister of Marie Antoinette. María Isabella was the youngest daughter of Charles IV, King of Spain and Maria Luisa of Parma, a granddaughter of Louis XV of France. Teresa Cristina’s mother was also a younger sister of Infanta Carlota Joaquina, who was the paternal grandmother of Teresa Cristina’s future husband. Teresa Cristina’s father succeeded to the throne of the Two Sicilies in January of 1825 when she was just two years old. He was on the throne for a brief five years before his death and Teresa Cristina’s older brother, Ferdinand II, became king. Teresa Cristina had a lonely childhood after her father’s death since her mother ignored her after she remarried a young military officer. Historians say that the young princess grew up “in an environment of religious superstition, intolerance, and conservatism.” Teresa Cristina didn’t take after either her callous father or her impetuous mother; instead, she was gentle, meek, and uncomplaining. But she was more strong-willed than people recognized and, according to one historian, she “was not a submissive woman but instead a person who respected the roles imposed by the ethics and values of her own times”.
|The embellished portrait sent to |
Pedro II of Teresa Cristina
(José Correia de Lima, 1843)
In the early 1840’s, it came to Ferdinand II’s attention that his first cousin once removed, Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil, was looking for a wife. He extended his sister’s hand in marriage and sent Pedro a portrait of Teresa Cristina, which significantly exaggerated her features. Pedro agreed to the match and a proxy marriage was held on May 30, 1843 in Naples with Teresa Cristina’s brother, Prince Leopold, standing in Pedro’s place. Pedro II was the youngest child and eldest surviving son of Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil and his first wife, Maria Leopoldina of Austria, the daughter of Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor. Through his mother, he was the great-grandson of Ferdinand I and through his father he was the great-grandson of Charles IV of Spain. Thus, he was grandnephew of Teresa Cristina as well as her first cousin once removed. His mother died a year after his birth but two and a half years later, his father remarried Amélie of Leuchtenberg. Pedro grew so close to his stepmother that he eventually came to see her as his real mother. Eventually, the political standing of Pedro’s father fell so far that he unexpectedly decided to abdicate the Brazilian throne in April of 1831 in favor of his five-year-old son. His father and stepmother then left Brazil for the native land of Pedro’s father, Portugal, so little Pedro had a lonesome and bleak childhood, just like Teresa Cristina. From an early age, he spent all of his adolescence studying and carrying out his royal duties and had few friends or free time to engage in personal hobbies. While he developed a powerful sense of duty for his position and his people, he hated the crown, which he saw as a terrible burden.
|Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil|
(François-René Moreau, 1850)
On September 2, 1843, Princess Teresa Cristina arrived in Rio de Janeiro after a long voyage by sea. Pedro II hastened to the ship when it docked to meet his betrothed, who fell in love with her fiancée the moment she saw him. Pedro, on the other hand, was rather disappointed with his bride because she was nothing like the embellished painting he had been sent. While the brunette, brown-eyed princess was neither beautiful nor ugly, she was small, a little plump, and had a noticeable limp because of her bowed legs. Pedro was so distraught and dismayed with her appearance that he left the ship almost as soon as he climbed on board. Teresa Cristina was crushed at his cold reaction and broke down, sobbing, “The Emperor did not like me!” But despite Pedro’s displeasure with his bride, he could not call off the engagement because a proxy marriage had already taken place. So, on September 4, 1843, the twenty-one year old Teresa Cristina married her seventeen year-old cousin and became the Empress of Brazil. Because Pedro never loved his wife in a romantic sense, their marriage remained strained from start to finish. Teresa Cristina tried her best to the be the perfect wife and empress consort, despite her husband’s indifference, but when she accomplished her most important responsibility as an empress – that of having children – her husband began to warm to her. Eventually, the couple learned that they shared similar interests, which improved their distant relations, and their love for their children brought them closer together. Though Pedro never returned his wife’s love for him, he did grow to respect and care for her over time and saw her as a close friend and companion. The couple had four children, two daughters and two sons, but only their daughters survived past infancy:
- Alfonso, Prince Imperial of Brazil (1845-1847) died at the age of two from epilepsy
- Isabel, Princess Imperial of Brazil (1846-1921) married: Gaston d'Orléans, Count of Eu – had issue
- Princess Leopoldina of Brazil (1847-1871) married: Prince Ludwig August of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Duke of Saxony – had issue
- Pedro, Prince Imperial of Brazil (1848-1850) died at the age of one from a fever
Although Teresa Cristina conformed to the restricted position she held as Empress, some of her personal writings display that she did have a strong will hidden under her compliant persona. Her only close friends (because of her title) were her ladies in-waiting, who saw her as a down-to-earth, generous, and caring mother. Her modest personality was even reflected in her fashion sense, for she dressed quite humbly for an empress and rarely wore jewelry. She stayed out of politics completely since she had no interest or desire to take part in government, and spent most of her time reading, writing, and doing needlework. Teresa Cristina was said to have a lovely singing voice and she was quite fond of music, especially operas and balls. Her principal role as her husband’s consort was to attend religious and charity events as well as public or ceremonial functions. She also had a keen interest in archaeology and accumulated her own collection of artifacts that she would often exchange with her brother back in Italy, Ferdinand II, who had a collection of his own. She supported archaeological studies, the arts, and music as well as efforts to better public health and education in Brazil.
|Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil and his wife, Empress Teresa Cristina|
(François-René Moreaux, 1850)
|The Emperor and Empress with their daughters,|
Isabel (in white) and Leopoldina
(in the back), and their husbands
Teresa Cristina lost three of her four children during her lifetime. Both her sons, Alfonso and Pedro, died in infancy – Alfonso from epilepsy, which he inherited from his father, and Pedro from a severe fever. The deaths of their sons had a huge impact on both Teresa Cristina and her husband. Pedro was “deeply affected, emotionally, and intellectually” by the tragic passing of his heirs and it appears as though after the young Pedro’s death in early 1850, his father was so brokenhearted over the demise of his last son that he stopped having sexual relations with his wife. Pedro believed that since both of his sons (who he saw as living symbols of his future, along with Brazil’s) were dead, the imperial system would die as well. He didn’t believe his eldest daughter, Isabel, could succeed him due to her gender and didn’t prepare her in any way for the throne. He came to see the burden of the Crown as being permanently tied to his own lifespan. He believed that when he died, the Brazilian monarchy would die as well.
|Princess Leopoldina of Brazil, |
Duchess of Saxony
In December of 1864, Teresa Cristina’s youngest daughter, the seventeen year old Princess Leopoldina married Prince Ludwig August of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Duke of Saxony. He was just two years Leopoldina’s senior and was the second son of Prince August of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (a first cousin of Queen Victoria) and Princess Clémentine of Orléans (the daughter of Louis Philippe I, King of the French and Maria Amalia of the Two Sicilies). The couple, who were first cousins once removed, had four sons. A few months after the birth of her youngest son, Leopoldina died from typhoid fever in February of 1871 at the age of twenty-three. Teresa Cristina and Pedro II were shattered by their daughter’s death and decided to travel to Europe soon after her passing to boost their spirits and visit their now motherless grandsons. Though the royal couple travelled occasionally, Teresa Cristina liked Brazil much more than her native land of Italy, as her old home brought back grim memories of her sad childhood. Her family had been overthrown in 1861 and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was absorbed into what would become the Kingdom of Italy. After Teresa Cristina’s marriage, she never really saw any of her family members from Italy again, even though she went to Europe a few times after her marriage.
|Teresa Cristina, Empress of Brazil|
But everything in Teresa Cristina’s life fell apart on November 15, 1889 when the Brazilian army deposed her husband and forced the royal family to leave the country. Pedro II had been a steady ruler and had brought his kingdom back from the brink of collapse but the coup d’état that overthrew him had essentially no support outside a small group of military leaders who wanted the country to be a republic headed by a dictator. Pedro, as mentioned before, had never liked his being the emperor and had believed the future of the monarchy was doomed for years. Despite tremendous popular support, he made no attempt whatsoever to fight against his deposition or try to reclaim his throne. Teresa Cristina, on the other hand, was completely devastated when she was forced to leave her beloved adopted home after her husband lost his crown. According to one historian, “the events of November 15, 1889, broke her emotionally and physically”. The former Empress, now sixty-six years old and suffering from cardiac asthma and arthritis, would spent the rest of her days constantly traveling throughout Europe with her husband because they were never able to On December 7th, Teresa Cristina and her small family arrived in Lisbon, Portugal after a troublesome voyage and from there they journeyed to Porto. But just weeks later on Christmas Eve, the former monarchs received word from the Portuguese government that they were banished forever from the country. At the time, Pedro himself wrote in his journal, “The news broke D. [Dona] Teresa Cristina’s will to live”. Just four days later on December 28, 1889, she complained about a pain in her sides and in the afternoon, her respiratory system failed, leading to cardiac arrest. Teresa Cristina, the deposed Empress of Brazil and a former Princess of the Two Sicilies died at 2:00 in the afternoon at the age of sixty-seven. Her last words were “…I do not die of illness, I die of sorrow and regret…Brazil, beautiful land…to there I can not return”. She was buried in the Royal Pantheon of the House of Braganza in Lisbon, by her husband’s request.
|Teresa Cristina, Empress of Brazil|
The people of Brazil genuinely mourned the former Empress’s passing. Today, she is known as the “Mother of the Brazilians” for her kind nature, faultless behavior, and her efforts to promote Brazilian culture. Though most people of the present-day view Teresa Cristina as a quiet, meek, and plain woman in both appearance and intelligence who hid in the shadow of her powerful husband, she was actually a strong-willed, kindhearted, and virtuous woman who impacted Brazil behind the scenes in a great way. As one historian has said: “she promoted culture in various ways, bringing from Italy artists, intellectuals, scientists, botanists, musicians, thus contributing to the progress and enrichment of the nation's cultural life.”
After his wife’s death, Pedro settled down in Paris to live out his last years alone and depressed. He lived in simple hotels, spending his days dreaming about going back to Brazil, not as an emperor but as a regular man. After catching an infection, Pedro rapidly succumbed to pneumonia on December 5, 1891 at the age of sixty-six, almost two years after his wife’s death. He was given a grand state funeral in Paris, which various members of European royalty attended, and was buried alongside his wife in the Royal Pantheon of the House of Braganza. In 1939, their shared dream of going back to Brazil was realized when their remains were moved to the Cathedral of Petrópolis near Rio de Janeiro.
|Isabel, Princess Imperial of Brazil|
Teresa Cristina and Pedro’s last surviving child, Princess Isabel (who was described as having blonde hair, blue eyes, seemingly nonexistent eyebrows, and a short, plump stature), had married Gaston d'Orléans, Count of Eu, the first son of Prince Louis, Duke of Nemours and Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Through his father, Gaston was a grandson of Louis Philippe I, King of the French, and through his mother he was the first cousin once removed of Queen Victoria. Gaston was also the first cousin of his sister-in-law’s, Princess Leopoldina, husband – Prince Ludwig August of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. When the couple, who were second cousins, wed in October of 1864, Isabel was eighteen and Gaston was twenty-two. They had four children, three sons and one daughter, but their daughter was stillborn. Isabel, who became the heiress presumptive to her father’s throne after her brothers’ deaths, served as the regent of Brazil three times when her father and mother were away. In her last regency, she passed a law that emancipated all slaves in Brazil. After her father was deposed, she spent the last thirty years of her life in exile in France with her husband and sons. When her father died in late 1891, she became the Head of the Imperial House of Brazil. Princess Isabel died on November 14, 1921 at the age of seventy-five and was buried beside her parents in Brazil.