Maria I of Braganza (1734–1816)

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Maria I of Braganza (1734–1816)

First queen to rule Portugal, from 1777 to 1792, who ended the despotic regime of the Marquis of Pombal, her father's chief minister, and reigned during a period of relative peace and prosperity before succumbing to mental illness in 1792 . Name variations: María I Braganza; María I of Braganza; María Francisca. Born María Francisca Isabel Josefa Antonia Gertrudes Rita Joana on December 17, 1734, in Lisbon, Portugal; died in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on March 20, 1816; interred at the Basilica of Estrela, Lisbon; daughter of José I also known as Joseph I Emanuel (1714–1777), king of Portugal (r. 1750–1777), and Maria Ana Victoria (1718–1781); married her uncle, Pedro or Peter III (1717–1786), king of Portugal (r. 1777–1786), on June 6, 1760; children: José or Joseph (August 21, 1761–1788), prince of Beira; John de Paula (1763–1763); João or John VI (b. May 13, 1767), king of Portugal (r. 1816–1826); Mariana Victoria (1768–1788); Maria Clemantina (1774–1776); Maria Isabel (1776–1777). Heir and successor: John VI (João VI).

Reign of John V began (1706); Peter III born (1717); death of John V and accession of Joseph I Emanuel (1750); Portuguese Jesuits expelled (1759); death of Joseph I Emanuel and ascension of Maria I to Portuguese throne (February 24, 1777); death of Pombal (1782); death of Maria I's husband, Peter (1786); death of crown prince Joseph (1788); death of Maria's daughter Mariana Victoria (1788); onset of the French Revolution (1789); Maria I's mental illness forces Prince John to become regent (1792); execution of Louis XVI by French revolutionaries (1793); Maria I declared incurably insane and John elevated to Prince-Regent (July 15, 1799); French invasion of Portugal (1807); flight of Portuguese royal family and court to Brazil (1807–08); death of Maria I in Brazil (1816); return of John to Portugal (1821).

Born on December 17, 1734, the infant princess received the name of María Francisca Isabel Josefa Antonia Gertrudes Rita Joana from her parents, Joseph I Emanuel and Maria Ana Victoria . Joseph Emanuel was crown prince of Portugal, and as he had no sons, the baby became princess of Beira, second in line to the throne occupied by her grandfather, John V (João V). At the time, nothing predicted the political tumult which would color the years before Maria came to the throne nor the mental illness which overshadowed the end of her life. Nor would it have been possible to surmise, as historian Stanley Payne later concluded, that after Maria became queen in 1777, she "presided over the happiest and most prosperous period the Bragança dynasty had seen since the palmy early years of [John] V."

Contemporary observers described her as a bright, perhaps even precocious child, although somewhat reserved and pensive. She began speaking at 17 months and was soon reciting poems and catechisms. At four, Maria could read both Portuguese and Spanish. She also demonstrated excellent penmanship and a fine memory, described as "prompt in receiving, tenacious in conserving." The princess acquired an excellent education in matters deemed appropriate to royalty, and she enjoyed art, music, and the opera so fashionable in Lisbon at the time. She also showed a strong religious piety and was devoted to charitable works.

When Maria was 16, her grandfather John V died on July 31, 1750. This elevated her father to the throne, but he had little aptitude or training for rule, as historian Harold Livermore notes: Joseph Emanuel "had not been allowed to take any part in public affairs. Nor had he shown much interest in them. His benevolent and rather superficial nature did not admit of intense exertions. His main interests were riding, shooting, cards, the theater and music: these, with frequent devotions and religious holidays, easily filled an otherwise vacant existence." King Joseph I Emanuel immediately named as his chief minister Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, the future marquis of Pombal. Within a short time, the minister had taken the reins of power from the relieved monarch. For the rest of Joseph Emanuel's reign, Pombal, with the king's acquiescence, governed as a virtual dictator.

Meanwhile, Maria was a young woman, and it was time for her to marry. As she was the probable heir to the throne, it seemed best that she marry a countryman. John V had intended to wed Maria to his son Peter (III). Maria was receptive to the idea, but as Peter was her uncle, John V had to secure a dispensation from the papacy. Although Rome agreed to bless the union, John V died before it could be celebrated. To Maria's frustration, neither Joseph Emanuel nor Pombal wanted her marriage to take place. The king was not fond of his brother Peter, and the minister feared that if Peter were prince-consort, he would become the leader of aristocratic and clerical opposition to Pombal's ministry. Maria's father considered marrying her to a Portuguese aristocrat, and the English proposed George II's son, the duke of Cumberland. In 1760, Madrid formally requested her hand for the son of Charles III, Don Luis. By then, however, Pombal and Joseph Emanuel had less to fear from her marriage to Peter, whom Maria preferred anyway. Pombal had broken the power of the Portuguese aristocracy, making it unlikely that Peter would constitute any threat to the ministry. Thus, on June 6, 1760, Maria married her uncle, 17 years her senior.

The bride was tall and thin but physically robust, with a delicate, pale face that was pleasing, if not beautiful. She and Peter enjoyed an affectionate life together. Their first child Joseph was born on August 21, 1761. Another son, John (VI), arrived on May 13, 1767, and on December 15, 1768, a daughter, Mariana Victoria , named for Maria's mother. The family settled at Queluz, outside Lisbon, where Peter expanded and lavishly decorated the palace. Maria and her husband entertained sumptuously but generally avoided politics to preclude conflict with Pombal. On occasion, however, Maria voiced dismay with or opposition to Pombal's actions.

The marquis stood at the apogee of his power in 1775, but Maria was shortly to take her place at center stage. Pombal had exiled the Jesuits in 1759, imprisoned or executed defiant nobles, strengthened Portuguese industry and commerce, and enriched himself and his family. But Joseph Emanuel's health was poor, and he took seriously ill in 1776. Fearful that as monarchs Maria and Peter would strip him of his power, Pombal maneuvered to have the king put aside Maria's claim to the throne. According to some accounts, the king dutifully acceded to Pombal's suggestion that Salic law (restricting the succession to men) be instituted in Portugal. This would allow them to make Maria's son Joseph the heir. Pombal had cannily tried to influence the boy's loyalty by manipulating his education. Despite these maneuvers, Queen Maria Ana Victoria and Maria learned of the scheme and persuaded Joseph Emanuel to reverse himself. When the king died on February 24, 1777, Maria became queen.

Sensing Pombal's impending fall, many Portuguese greeted her with "great and general contentment." Tired of "the most ferocious despotism ever exercised in Portugal," the populace anticipated a reaction against Pombal's policies. Among nobles and clergy ran a desire for revenge against the marquis. Joseph Emanuel's will counseled Maria to rule with "gentleness, peace and justice, promoting the happiness" of the people. She began by allowing political exiles to return and pardoning state prisoners. From Pombal's prisons emerged 800 inmates. Some had endured 20 years of incarceration; many others had died without their families ever receiving notice. A foreign diplomat described the emergence of the prisoners as a "resurrection of the dead." On March 1, Pombal asked Maria's permission to retire to his estate. She gave her approval on March 4 and provided an armed escort to protect the fallen minister from his vengeful enemies.

Maria Ana Victoria (1718–1781)

Queen and regent of Portugal . Name variations: Mariana Victoria or Vitória; María Ana Victoria of Spain; Marianna Victoria; Maria Anna of Spain; Marie-Anne Bourbon; Marie Anne of Spain. Regent of Portugal (1776–1777). Born on January 31, 1718, in Madrid; died on January 15, 1781, at Ajuda Palace, Lisbon; interred at Sao Francisco de Paula, Lisbon; daughter of Elizabeth Farnese (1692–1766) and Philip V, king of Spain (r. 1700–1724, 1725–1746); sister of Ferdinand VI and Louis I, kings of Spain; married José Manuel also known as Joseph I Emanuel, king of Portugal (r. 1750–1777), on January 19, 1729; children: Maria I of Braganza (1734–1816); Maria Ana Francisca (1736–1813); Maria Francisca Dorotea (1739–1771); daughter (1741–1741, stillborn); daughter (1742–1742, stillborn); Maria Francisca Benedicta (1746–1829, who married José Francisco Xavier, prince of Beira).

Mariana Victoria (1768–1788)

Portuguese princess . Born Mariana Ana Victoria on December 15, 1768; died of smallpox in 1788, shortly after giving birth; daughter of Maria I of Braganza (1734–1816) and Pedro or Peter III (1717–1786), king of Portugal (r. 1777–1786); married Gabriel Antonio Francisco of Spain.

Strife over Pombal's policies colored Maria I's early reign. Pombal had led the public to believe that royal finances were in good order, but Maria I and her ministers discovered the treasury bereft of funds. The government had failed to pay salaries and pensions for many years, and Pombal had spent little on the army or navy since 1764. To save money, she quickly stopped work on some of Pombal's grandiose public projects and cut back on spending for royal entertainments. Her economy meant laying off workers, which fomented some discontent. But an economic recovery soon ensued, and the country was relatively prosperous for most of her reign.

Maria I found it impossible to escape altogether the outcry against Pombal. Her official acclamation by the cortes (parliament) and people on May 13, 1777, was accompanied by loud attacks against the marquis. On the one hand, the people greeted the new queen with tremendous enthusiasm: "This was for her the sweetest moment of her life; some threw themselves on their knees, others kissed the hem of her robe; she was touched almost to tears." On the other hand, many also demanded Pombal's head. The queen tried to ignore the rancor. But Pombal and his enemies engaged in polemical broadsides, upsetting the public satisfaction at Maria's coronation.

The royal couple infused an element of humanity and moderation into the new reign. [Maria I] had had little education or preparation to fit her for the affairs of state. But she had application and some common sense, and took pains to try to understand the papers submitted to her and to give sensible replies.

—David Francis

She found it extremely stressful to deal with the controversy, as evidenced by her handling of the Távora affair. Pombal had arrested and executed the duke of Aveiro, the count of Atouguia, and some of their family members for an attempted assassination of Joseph Emanuel on September 3, 1758. During interrogation, the accused had implicated the marquis of Távora. Released from prison by Maria I, the surviving members of the Távora and Aveiro families petitioned for redress, asking that the crown review the evidence used against them and that it restore their confiscated properties. In August 1780, Maria finally agreed to reopen the inquiry. The investigation unfolded slowly, the judges perhaps waiting to know the queen's will. But she was apparently torn between a desire to see justice served and fear for her father's reputation (he had approved the punishments). The case weighed more and more on her mind until she became very distressed. One morning, she demanded that the judges be called into session and that they render a verdict that day. After meeting all night, they declared the Aveiros guilty, but exonerated the other accused aristocrats. Pressed by her confessor, she finally ordered the return of the Atouguia estate, which was in Pombal's possession. But her psychological agitation was evident: after signing the decree, she crossed out her signature "exclaiming that she was condemned to very Hell." Her actions censured Pombal and indirectly her father.

Soon thereafter, circumstances forced her to render a verdict on Pombal himself. On August 16, 1781, she declared him "culpable and deserving of exemplary punishment." But Maria I decided to treat him mercifully in view of his age, illnesses, and his request for pardon. The decision reflected her own propensity to show clemency, her ambivalence about her father's behavior as king, and her aversion to the controversies of power politics. She found the latter particularly agonizing. Throughout her reign, Maria I seemed able to deal with such debates only through the strong support of her husband, her mother Maria Ana Victoria, and other close advisors.

Yet her reign, even in its early years, was not a mere reaction against Pombal's absolutists policies. Martinho de Melo e Castro, minister of the navy and overseas dominions in her first cabinet, had served with Pombal. She refused to allow the Jesuits, whom Pombal had exiled, to return to Portugal, despite her own religious scruples and her husband's pro-Jesuit stance. In part, she wanted to respect the memory of her father, who had approved Pombal's actions, but Maria I was determined to steer a moderate course. Poorly prepared to govern because of Pombal's determination to set her aside in favor of Joseph, she wisely consulted with her husband and her mother, Maria Ana Victoria.

According to Maria I's foremost biographer, Caetano Beirão, "three great preoccupations dominated her thought: to repair the offenses to God, moralize political life and exercise a government both gentle and progressive." One of her priorities was to re-establish good relations with the papacy, which had suffered under Pombal's anticlericalism. She restored the papal nuncio's privileges and guided a far-reaching reform of Portuguese monastic houses. In fulfillment of a vow made prior to the birth of her eldest son, Maria I also built a large church dedicated to the cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

In terms of economic life, her government was less interventionist than Pombal's regime had been. Maria I disbanded several of the state trading companies established by the marquis, including the Grão-Pará and Maranhão Company in 1778 and the Pernambuco and Paraíba Company in 1780. She also limited the concessions made by the crown to the Port-Wine Company, reduced subsidies to the Portuguese silk industry, and turned other industries over to private entrepreneurs. To provide the nation with better infrastructure, Maria I fostered road- and canal-building.

She steered a moderate political course. While she rehabilitated many of Pombal's aristocratic enemies, she did not restore full power to the nobility. The prosperous mercantile class that had emerged during her father's reign continued to prosper and served as a counterweight to aristocratic pretensions. In 1790, she undercut feudal rights by abolishing seignorial courts and bringing administration of justice under the auspices of the crown.

In the arena of foreign affairs, Maria I and her ministers sought greater independence from Great Britain, Portugal's traditional ally, and a rapprochement with Spain. Her mother, Maria Ana Victoria, herself a Spanish princess, worked to establish better relations between Portugal and Maria's uncle, Charles III of Spain. The result was a treaty between the two nations, signed in 1778. Meanwhile, the revolt of the British colonies in North America threatened to draw Portugal into a general European conflict. France and Spain supported the Americans, whereas Great Britain pressed Maria I to stand with the British. She was determined, however, to avoid the conflict and steered a neutral course to the extent the British permitted her. In July 1782, Maria I agreed to a joint proclamation with the Russian tsar, in which the neutral nations asserted their right to trade as they deemed fit. Several years later, a British diplomat wrote of Maria I's policy: "During the fatal contest betwixt England and its colonies, the wise neutrality she persevered in maintaining was of the most vital benefit to her dominions, and hitherto, the native commerce of Portugal has attained under her mild auspices an unprecedented degree of prosperity." She cemented her ties with Spain through marriages. Her daughter, Mariana Victoria, was betrothed to a Spanish prince, and her son John married Carlota Joaquina , daughter of the future Charles IV of Spain. A Spanish-Portuguese expedition against Muslim pirates in Algiers proved unsuccessful.

Maria I's reign was the height of the Portuguese Enlightenment. At the outset, she transformed the University of Coimbra library into a public institution and ordered that the faculty be drawn from all disciplines rather than only from theology. In 1778, Maria I ordered a review of Portuguese laws, which had not been codified for two centuries. At the instigation of the duke of Lafões, in 1779 she created the Royal Academy of Sciences, which proved crucial in promoting Enlightenment science and technology in Portugal. In the same year, Maria I issued a decree reforming public instruction in the ex-Jesuit schools, and in 1790 she created 18 schools for girls in Lisbon. Equally influential and very practical was her support of General Intendant of the Police Diogo Inácio de Pina Manique, who worked to improve public safety and cleanliness in Lisbon. This was a major challenge, given the damage caused by the great earthquake of 1750. Always fond of almsgiving and other acts of charity, she founded a house for abandoned children (Lisbon's Royal House of Charity) in 1782. It provided food, training in crafts, and education.

Despite these achievements, the queen's life was becoming unsettled. Death took a heavy toll on family and close advisors, leaving her with a sense of isolation and overwhelming burden. Her mother died in 1781, followed two years later by her confessor, Frei Inácio de São Caetano. Her husband Petro, the king-consort, expired on November 25, 1786, from a stroke. Thus Maria I's three closest confidants and advisors were now dead. But even greater tragedy struck her. On September 11, 1788, her son and heir, Joseph, died of smallpox, reportedly after the queen had refused to let doctors vaccinate him. Less than two months later, her daughter Mariana Victoria succumbed in Spain to the same disease shortly after giving birth. The child died a few days later, as did Don Gabriel, Mariana Victoria's husband.

Distraught over such disaster, Maria I struggled on, only to confront the French Revolution, which cost the head of more than one monarch. As news from France became more alarming and the British and Spanish sought Portuguese support in dealing with the revolutionaries, the burden of rule pressed more heavily upon her. By late October 1791, she was obviously suffering from acute depression and nightmares. A morbid fear of eternal damnation obsessed her. Liberals criticized her new confessor, José Maria de Melo, bishop of the Algarve, for his propensity to speak of the punishments of Hell. He perhaps heightened her sensitivity but certainly did not cause her mental illness. In January of the following year, her obsessions left her incapacitated. John, her only surviving child, reluctantly agreed to rule for her during the duration of her illness. Meanwhile, the government acquired the services of Francis Willis, a British doctor who had won fame for his treatment of George III's insanity. Willis went to Portugal and voiced optimism regarding the queen's condition, despite finding her possessed of a morbid fear that she was eternally damned. However, his attempts to sedate her met opposition from clerics and ministers who advocated religious consolation for the infirm queen. His suggestion that sea voyages might prove beneficial also came to naught, and Willis returned to England in frustration.

Maria I thus slipped into a state of deep melancholy. In 1799, the government determined that her illness was incurable, and John officially became prince-regent. When French armies invaded Portugal in 1807 and the court fled to refuge in Brazil, John took his mother along. During the Atlantic crossing, her condition reportedly showed some temporary improvement, perhaps justifying Dr. Willis' earlier diagnosis and treatment. Inadvertently the first European monarch to visit the Americas, Maria I died in Rio de Janeiro on March 20, 1816, whereupon the prince-regent became John VI.


Beirão, Caetano. D. María I, 1777–1792; subsídios para a revisão da história do seu reinado. 3rd ed. Lisbon: Empresa Nacional de Publicidade, 1944.

Ferrás Gramoza, José Pedro. Successos de Portugal; memórias históricas políticas e civís. Lisbon: Typographia do Diário da Manhã, 1882.

Francis, David. Portugal 1715–1808: Joanine, Pombaline and Rococo Portugal as Seen by British Diplomats and Traders. London: Tamesis Books Limited, 1985.

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

Payne, Stanley. Spain and Portugal. 2 vols. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1973.

suggested reading:

Domingues, Mário. D. María I e a sua época. Lisbon: Romano Torres, 1972.

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

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Maria I of Braganza (1734–1816)

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Maria I of Braganza (1734–1816)