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Leopoldina of Austria (1797–1826)

Leopoldina of Austria (1797–1826)

Empress of Brazil. Name variations: Marie-Leopoldine; Marie Leopoldina; Leopoldine; Dona Maria Leopoldina; Leopoldina von Habsburg; Leopoldine Habsburg-Lotharingen. Born Marie Leopoldine on January 22, 1797; died of septicaemia after a miscarriage on December 11, 1826; daughter of Francis II, Holy Roman emperor (r. 1792–1806), emperor of Austria as Francis I (r. 1804–1835), and Maria Teresa of Naples (1772–1807); sister of Marie Louise of Austria (1791–1847, who married Napoleon); married Peter IV, king of Portugal (r. 1826), also known as Pedro I, emperor of Brazil (r. 1822–1831), on May 13, 1817; children: Maria II da Gloria (1819–1853), queen of Portugal (r. 1826–1828, 1834–1853); Miguel (1820–1820); João Carlos (1821–1822); Januaria (1822–1901); Paula Mariana (1823–1833); Francisca of Portugal (1824–1898); Pedro II (1825–1891), emperor of Brazil (r. 1831–1839).

Leopoldina of Austria was born on January 22, 1797, in Vienna, the daughter of Habsburg Francis II, Holy Roman emperor, and Maria Teresa of Naples . She received an excellent education, showing considerable ability as a painter and throughout her life displaying broad intellectual curiosity, especially for the natural sciences. Her parents initially thought to arrange her marriage to the king of Saxony but changed their minds when a Portuguese emissary proposed that she wed the crown prince, Pedro (I). Leopoldina approved, the parties signed the marriage contract on November 29, 1816, and she married Pedro by proxy on May 13 of the following year. A few weeks later, she left Vienna to join her husband, who had fled to Brazil with the Portuguese court when Napoleon's armies invaded in 1807.

Leopoldina arrived at Rio de Janeiro on November 5, 1817. She was delighted with her husband, whom she found handsome if impetuous and poorly educated. He reportedly was a little disappointed that she was not beautiful and that she took little care with her appearance. Nonetheless, he treated her respectfully and grew to love her, even temporarily giving up his carousing at taverns and womanizing. They enjoyed riding horses together, and, a good pianist herself, she encouraged his musical talents. Leopoldina was especially close to her father-inlaw, John VI, whose interests and personality resembled her own. In 1819, she had her first child, Maria (II) da Gloria , who would later rule Portugal. Other pregnancies followed on an almost annual basis. Pedro (II), born in 1825, succeeded his father as ruler of Brazil.

The turmoil of Brazilian independence over-shadowed most of Leopoldina's married life. By the time she arrived in South America, Portugal had long since been liberated from Napoleon's forces, and the Portuguese demanded that John VI and his family return to Europe. Fearful that if the court did so, Brazil would revert to a colonial status under Portuguese dominion, Brazilians insisted that the ruler remain in Rio de Janeiro. Finally, in 1821, Portuguese pressure forced John to sail for Portugal, but Brazilians obliged him to leave Pedro behind to govern Brazil. This displeased the Portuguese, who insisted that the prince and his family return also. With Leopoldina's strong support, Pedro responded in 1822 by declaring Brazilian independence and assuming the title of emperor. Leopoldina thus became the empress of Brazil.

Her four remaining years of life brought more children, frustration and exhilaration over the political drama that unfolded with the birth of the nation, and dismay at her husband's extramarital affairs. (To her anger and resignation, Pedro took a beautiful mistress from São Paulo, Domitila de Castro , in mid-1822.) Leopoldina encouraged Austrian immigration to Brazil, including the colony of São Leopoldo (1824) in Rio Grande do Sul. She died from a miscarriage on December 1, 1826. Rumors that Pedro had caused the miscarriage reflected her popularity and growing dissatisfaction with him. Buried first in the convent of Santo Antônio in Rio de Janeiro, her body was later transferred to the crypt in the monument of Ipiranga, where Pedro had declared independence.

sources and suggested reading:

Henderson, Linda Roddy, and James D. Henderson. Ten Notable Women of Latin America. Chicago, IL: Nelson-Hall, 1978.

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

Oberacker Júnior, Carlos H. A Imperatriz Leopoldina: Sua Vida e Sua Epoca. Rio de Janeiro: Conselho Federal de Cultura, 1973.

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

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