Carlota Joaquina (1775–1830)

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Carlota Joaquina (1775–1830)

Queen of Portugal as wife of John VI, renowned for political intrigue and a leading proponent of conservatism and absolutism against the rising tide of liberalism after 1822. Name variations: Carlotta, Charlotte or Joaquina Carlota de Borbon; Charlotte Bourbon; Charlotte of Spain. Born on April 25, 1775, in Aranjuez, Spain; died on January 7, 1830, in Queluz Palace outside Lisbon; daughter of Charles IV, king of Spain (r. 1788–1808), and Maria Luisa Teresa of Parma (1751–1819); sister of Maria Luisa of Lucca and Etruria (1782–1824); betrothed to John, prince of Portugal in 1778; married Joao VI also known as John VI (d. March 10, 1826), king of Portugal (r. 1816–1826); children: Teresa of Portugal (1793–1874); António Pio (1795–1801); Maria Isabel of Portugal (1797–1818); Peter IV (b. 1798), king of Portugal (r. 1826) also known as Pedro I, emperor of Brazil (r. 1826–1831); Francisca of Portugal (1800–1834); Isabel Maria (1801–1876); Miguel also known as Michael I (1802–1866), king of Portugal (r. 1828–1834); Maria da Assumpção (1805–1834); Ana de Jesus Maria (1806–1857, who married Nuno José Sevro de Moura, 1st duke of Loulé).

Death of his older brother José made John the crown prince and Carlota Joaquina the crown princess of Portugal (1788); John declared regent due to insanity of his mother, Maria I (1792); John, Carlota Joaquina, and court fled to Brazil due to Napoleonic invasion (1807); Carlota Joaquina initially tried to claim regency of the Spanish River Plate territory and then unsuccessfully pressed for the right to rule it as empress (1808–12); acclaimed queen of Portugal (1816); liberal Revolution of 1820 in Portugal; returned to Portugal with John VI (1821); Rua Formosa Conspiracy to depose John VI in favor of Carlota Joaquina (April 1822); "Vilafrancada" movement (May 1822); "Abrilada" revolt headed by Carlota Joaquina and her son Michael against the liberal monarchy (1824); death of John VI brought to the throne Pedro IV, who as emperor of Brazil abdicated the Portuguese crown in favor of his daughter, Maria da Glória (1826); with Carlota Joaquina's support, Michael declared absolute monarch, leading to civil war (1828).

Little about Queen Carlota Joaquina matched the stereotypes of regal dignity or womanly submission to male authority associated with the Old Régime. Born April 25, 1775, in the Aranjuez Palace south of Madrid, she was the daughter of the Spanish crown prince Charles (the future Charles IV) and Maria Luisa Teresa of Parma . When she was three, her grandfather, Charles III, approved her engagement to the Portuguese prince, John (João), to fortify amicable relations between the two monarchies. As a ten-year-old, she left her beloved Spain to marry, although she and John then lived separately at different palaces for five years until Carlota Joaquina reached puberty. The separation was a foretaste of their conjugal life: despite giving birth to seven children, she hated her husband, often lived apart from him, and caused John frequent scandal and controversy.

The royal couple had little in common except their homeliness. Andoche Junot, Napoleon's officer assigned as a diplomat to the Portuguese court, reportedly told his wife after meeting John and Carlota Joaquina: "My God! How ugly he is! My God! How ugly the princess is! How ugly they all are!" Phlegmatic but thoughtful with an oversized head and drooping lip, the prince wore clothes till they literally fell from his body. A glutton, he stored boxes of roasted chicken in his pockets in the event hunger tempted. In 1792, he became regent and de facto ruler of Portugal due to the mental illness of his mother, Maria I (1734–1816).

Maria Isabel of Portugal (1797–1818)

Portuguese princess. Name variations: Marie-Isabel Braganza; Isabella of Portugal. Born on May 19, 1797, at Queluz; died on December 26, 1818, in Madrid; daughter of Carlota Joaquina (1775–1830) and John VI (1767–1826), king of Portugal (r. 1816–1826); became second wife of Fernando or Ferdinand VII (1784–1833), king of Spain (r. 1813–1833), on September 29, 1816; sister of Peter or Pedro IV, king of Portugal, and Michael I, king of Portugal. Ferdinand VII's first wife was Maria Antonia of Naples (1784–1806); his third was Maria Josepha of Saxony (1803–1829); his fourth was Maria Cristina I of Naples (1806–1878).

Carlota Joaquina was short, little more than four and a half feet tall, with a hooked nose, large uneven teeth, unruly hair, and "bluish" lips. Whereas her husband seemed lethargic to observers, she exuded energy. She loved hunting and was an excellent equestrian, even after a riding accident broke her leg and left her lame. John loved religious music and ritual. According to historian Neill Macaulay, "In music, the princess preferred the profane to the sacred. In men, she preferred almost anyone to Dom John." Generally biased against her, foreign diplomats found her conspiratorial, avid for power, vindictive, and mean. William Beckford, for example, wrote of "her restless intrigues of all hues, political as well as private—her wanton freaks of favouritism and atrocious acts of cruelty."

Her hatred of John perhaps reflected her dependence on him. Carlota Joaquina delighted in defying him, and John could not help but perceive her scorn. Disdaining Portugal and its ally, Great Britain, she clung haughtily to her Spanish heritage. She found Lisbon boring, with "a husband she considered an imbecile, an insane queen and a poor nobility, without the least brilliance." By the late 1790s, her estrangement from John reached the point that she resided at the Ramalhão estate while he stayed at the monastery-palace of Mafra. Her later children had questionable parentage. One rumor held Michael (Miguel) to be the son of a gardener at Ramalhão; another that the Marquis of Marialva had sired him. Certainly by 1802 when Michael was born, Carlota Joaquina and her husband could hardly tolerate joint appearances on state occasions. In 1806, John fell seriously ill. She unsuccessfully maneuvered to have him declared insane and herself regent. To achieve her objectives, she sought her parents' support, wildly asserting that the Portuguese people loved her and would back her with force.

She was an ambitious woman who gave herself, with singular and stubborn ardor, to the most daring plans of conquest and grandeur, without being restrained by the difficulties of her position, her sex, nor much less the bad luck and dangers of her unfortunate undertakings.

—Roberto Etchepareborda

The following year, one of the most fateful in Portuguese history, opened new vistas for her schemes. Napoleon tried to intimidate John into breaking Portugal's alliance with Great Britain. When that failed, the French invaded. The British navy saved the royal family by escorting it, along with many courtiers, to Rio de Janeiro. Though Carlota Joaquina accompanied John to be with her children, she would have preferred staying in Europe, as her father Charles IV had aligned himself with Napoleon. During the voyage to Brazil, she refused to sail aboard the Príncipe Real with her husband, instead sailing on the Afonso d'Albuquerque. They arrived in Rio de Janeiro on March 7, 1808, to the delight of the Brazilians. John occupied the viceroy's palace, while Carlota Joaquina lived in apartments above the mint. She disliked Brazil, longing for the pleasures and sophistication of Europe. She made little effort to ingratiate herself with her Spanish-American subjects. As her carriage passed in the street, she demanded that all kneel before it and ordered her guards to beat anyone who failed to show her proper deference.

Meanwhile, Napoleon turned on Spain and forced Charles IV and then her brother Ferdinand VII to abdicate. This sent shock waves through the Spanish-American colonies, raising questions as to who their legitimate ruler was. Sensing an opportunity for power, Carlota Joaquina declared herself ready to rule Spanish America as regent until her family regained the Spanish throne. She wrote to Buenos Aires, Lima, Santiago, and Montevideo, offering her leadership and protection. The British admiral Sir Sidney Smith encouraged these ambitions, as did José Presas, an Argentine sympathetic to Great Britain who served as her secretary from 1808 to 1812. As her political ambitions grew, she also offered herself as regent to the junta (committee) of patriotic Spaniards who had organized to govern the independent regions of Spain and lead the resistance against Napoleon. Neither Spain nor the colonies showed any inclination to submit to her. Nonetheless, she pressed her claims, assisted for a while by John who feared he might never be able to return to Portugal. Thus, acquisition of former Spanish territories attracted him also. When Buenos Aires declared itself independent in May 1810, Carlota Joaquina offered to sell her jewels to provide arms for loyal Montevideo. Representing the monarchy in Spain, the duke of Palmela persuaded the junta to recognize Carlota Joaquina as heir to the Spanish throne should her brother Ferdinand die.

Nothing came of her efforts, however, and John eventually removed the inflammatory Presas as her secretary. By early 1814, Portugal had been liberated, and Ferdinand returned to rule Spain. This opened the way for John and Carlota Joaquina to go back to Portugal, but the Brazilians objected. They feared losing the privileges and freedoms granted them by the monarchy since 1808. Across the Atlantic, the Portuguese insisted that the court return, while John vacillated. In 1816, his mother Maria died, and the prince-regent became King John VI, with his estranged wife as queen-consort.

Still they remained in Brazil, to the dismay of Portuguese conservatives who hoped the monarch would return and block the rising tide of liberalism. When the Riego Revolt forced Ferdinand VII to accept a liberal constitution in 1820, it provoked a liberal uprising in Oporto. The insurgents cast out the Council of Regency, which had been governing Portugal on John's behalf and invested sovereignty in the people and the cortes (representative assembly).

This at last forced John's hand. He and Carlota Joaquina returned in 1821, much to her delight: "At last we are going to a place fit for ladies and gentlemen to live in!" Their son Pedro remained in Brazil as regent to mollify the mounting nationalism among the Brazilians. He declared Brazil independent in September 1822. The monarchs found Portugal torn apart by conservatives yearning for the old days of royal absolutism and liberals anxious to maintain control of the nation. The liberal constitution required that the royal couple swear allegiance to it, which John did in November 1822. Conservatives, however, found a heroine in Carlota Joaquina. She absolutely refused, avowing that her religious views prevented her from taking any oaths. The queen was thus subject to loss of citizenship and exile. Aiding her resistance, conservative doctors found her too ill to travel, and she went into seclusion at the Ramalhão Palace outside Sintra.

Her refusal to take the oath was, according to her biographer Marcus Cheke, "the single most important action" of her life. It placed her at the head of the reactionary elements within Portugal. Carlota Joaquina's motivations were complicated. She undoubtedly held absolutist sentiments and despised the middle-class liberals. But her hatred for John strengthened her resolve and was perhaps as important as her political principles. His submission to the liberals' demands heightened her contempt for him. Regarding her exile, she wrote John: "Last night I received, by the hand of one of your ministers, the order to depart from your States. I pardon you. I pity you, from the bottom of my heart. All my disdain, all my hatred will be reserved for those who surround you." The queen also perceived the latent conservatism of the Portuguese peasantry and recognized that she could use it in her quest for political power. By this time, she had given up hope of ruling herself. She maneuvered instead to raise to the throne her favorite son, the 21-year-old Michael I. His charisma aided her cause.

Ramalhão became the center of conservative conspiracy against the liberal monarchy. The clergy, devout lay Catholics, and aristocrats intrigued with her. They took inspiration from events in Spain, where the French invaded to overthrow the liberal government and restore Carlota Joaquina's brother Ferdinand to absolute power. On May 27, 1823, a rebellion began north of Lisbon at Vila Franca de Xiram, headed by the absolutist Count of Amarante. The Vilafrancada spread to garrisons in Lisbon, and Michael joined the rebels. But John went to Vila Franca, and the troops invited him to rule as an absolute monarch. He accepted, frustrating Carlota Joaquina's ambitions. She then plotted, without success, to have him declared insane so that Michael could rule.

Nonetheless, the liberals were discredited, and Portugal shifted toward the conservatives. As historian H.V. Livermore notes, "The radical regime had … forced the separation of Brazil, imposed a doctrinaire form of government, humiliated the king, antagonized the nobility, the church and the merchants, and failed to produce any improvement in the economic situation." John tried to steer a middle course, but Carlota Joaquina and the other absolutists worked incessantly to seize control of the nation. Their machinations probably included the murder in February 1824 of the Marquis of Loulé, one of the king's confidants.

Tensions mounted, and in April the queen's partisans struck again. Placards appeared mysteriously in Lisbon, proclaiming "Long live the Queen!" and calling for John's abdication. On the night of April 29, the absolutists attempted another coup d'état. Michael gathered troops in Lisbon, ostensibly to protect his father's life. Carlota Joaquina's followers arrested a number of liberals, and the queen moved into Lisbon, to the Ajuda Palace. With the city in turmoil, John's position was precarious. Michael's forces continued their campaign of arrest and intimidation. The foreign diplomatic corps, however, refused to recognize the rebels and helped protect the king. John finally fled aboard the British Windsor Castle and from that refuge decreed the release of liberal prisoners and dismissed Michael from his military command.

Carlota Joaquina's gambit seemed on the verge of success. The Abrilada, as the tumult became known, nearly forced her husband's abdication. But she had not counted on Michael's impetuosity. Learning of his father's decree, Michael boarded the Windsor Castle and asked John's pardon. By submitting to the king, Michael undercut the rebellion. His mother reportedly remarked: "If when that old fool went on board the English ship Michael had come to me instead of obeying his father all would have been well: the Lisbon streets would have run with blood!" In the wake of the Abrilada's collapse, Michael went abroad, eventually spending his exile in Vienna. His mother, however, rejected John's encouragement to accept her brother Ferdinand's invitation and go to Spain to live. She remained at Queluz Palace, forbidden by the king to appear in public. Stories circulated of her wandering the grounds in a tattered dressing gown, her haggard appearance more in keeping with phantasms than royalty.

Her prospects seemed dim, but John VI died less than two years later, on March 10, 1826. His death touched off rumors and accusations. Liberals claimed that Carlota Joaquina had poisoned him. Conservatives reported that the king had died from a plot hatched in the masonic lodges, and she apparently feared the radicals would also kill her. Meanwhile, John's demise created a crisis over the succession. The government organized a council of regency headed by one of John and Carlota Joaquina's daughters, Isabel Maria (1801–1876). It excluded Carlota Joaquina. Pedro (Pedro I), emperor of independent Brazil, was the king's heir. He was in South America, and the Brazilians showed no inclination to let him take the Portuguese crown out of fear that they would revert to colonial status. Pedro attempted to resolve the predicament by proclaiming a new constitution for Portugal and then abdicating in favor of his seven-year-old daughter, Maria II da Glória . He also proposed Maria da Glória's betrothal to his brother Michael.

When the Portuguese regency enacted Pedro's constitution with support from the British, it alienated nationalist and conservative opinion and offered new hope to Carlota Joaquina. She moved into the Ajuda Palace to await Michael, whom Pedro had appointed lieutenant general of Portugal and the Algarve. Michael had convinced the British and the Austrians that he would respect the constitution. Once in Portugal, however, he quickly adopted his old colors. Greeting his mother, he announced: "Mother, you see before you the same child you lost!" On February 26, he was to take an oath to the new constitution. Amidst deafening shouts of "Long live the absolute king!" it was not clear whether Michael swore the oath. Liberals went into exile or hiding, after the absolutists crushed an uprising in Oporto. In late April, on his mother's birthday, an enthusiastic crowd acclaimed him king. Carlota Joaquina died not long afterward, on January 7, 1830. Her remains were buried at Sintra and then transferred to the Royal Pantheon in 1859.

Isabel Maria (1801–1876)

Regent of Portugal from 1826–1828. Born on July 4, 1801, in Lisbon, Portugal; died on April 22, 1876, in Benfica, Lisbon; daughter of Carlota Joaquina (1775–1830) and John VI (1767–1826), king of Portugal.

When she died, Carlota Joaquina's cause seemed triumphant, her enemies vanquished. But in reality, Pedro held sway. His constitution survived, with some modification, into the 20th century. He himself returned to Portugal to fight for his daughter's right to rule. Her cause prevailed, following a war against Michael's forces. Michael returned to exile, and in 1834 Maria II da Glória, Carlota Joaquina's granddaughter, became ruler of Portugal in the name of constitutional monarchy. Had she lived to witness the triumph of liberalism, Carlota Joaquina might have reacted as she did when a British diplomat visited her: departing from the audience, he glanced around and discovered that the old queen was sticking out her tongue at him.


Almeida Corrêa de Sá, José. D. João VI e a Independência do Brasil: Ultimos Anos do Seu Reinado. Lisbon: Sociedade Nacional de Tipografia, 1937.

Cheke, Marcus. Carlota Joaquina, Queen of Portugal. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1947.

Edmundo, Luiz. A Côrte de D. João no Rio de Janeiro. 2 ed. 3 vols. Rio de Janeiro: Conquista, 1957.

Etchepareborda, Roberto. ¿Qué fue el carlotismo? Buenos Aires: Editorial Plus Ultra, 1971, p. 58.

Livermore, H.V. A New History of Portugal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969.

Macaulay, Neill. Dom Pedro: The Struggle for Liberty in Brazil and Portugal, 1798–1834. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1986.

Serrão, Joaquim Veríssimo. História de Portugal. 12 vols. Lisbon: Editorial Verbo, 1977–1985, especially vol. 6–7.

suggested reading:

Fonseca Benevides, Francisco da. Rainhas de Portugal; Estudos Históricos com Muitos Documentos. 2 vols. Lisbon: Typographia Castro Irmão, 1878–1879.

Presas, José. Memórias Secretas de D. Carlota Joaquina. Rio de Janeiro: Edições de Ouro, 1966.

Kendall W. Brown , Chair, Department of History, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

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Carlota Joaquina (1775–1830)

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