Maria II da Gloria (1819–1853)

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Maria II da Gloria (1819–1853)

Queen of Portugal who ruled as a symbol of constitutional monarchy during an era of intense strife between Portuguese conservatives and liberals . Name variations: María II da Glória. Born on April 4, 1819, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; died in Lisbon on November 15, 1853; reigned 1826–1828 and 1834–1853; eldest child of Peter IV, king of Portugal (r. 1826), also known as Pedro I, emperor of Brazil (r. 1822–1831), and the Archduchess Leopoldina of Austria (1797–1826); named Maria da Gloria and given the title of princess of Grão-Pará; married Prince August of Leuchtenburg also known as Auguste Beauharnais (1810–1835), on January 28, 1835 (died two months later); married Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1816–1885), also known as Ferdinand II of Portugal, duke of Saxony, on April 9, 1836; children: Pedro de Alcântara (1837–1861), later known as Pedro V or Peter V, king of Portugal (r. 1853–1861); Luis Filipe (1838–1889), later known as Luís I or Louis I, king of Portugal (r. 1861–1889); João or John (1842–1861), duke of Beja; Maria Anna of Portugal (1843–1884); Antonia of Portugal (1845–1913); Fernando or Ferdinand (1846–1861), duke of Coimbra; Augusto or August (1847–1889); plus Maria (1840–1840), Leopoldo (1849–1849), Maria (1851–1851), and Eugénio (1853–1853), who died at birth.

Royal family arrived in Rio de Janeiro, seeking refuge from the Napoleonic invasion of Portugal (March 1808); John VI (João VI) returned to Portugal (1821); Maria's father declared Brazilian independence and began to rule as Emperor Pedro I; death of Maria's mother Leopoldina (1826); death of John VI in Portugal; Pedro I's promulgation of Constitutional Charter for Portugal (1828); Portugal's acclamation of Maria II (1828); Maria sent to Europe (1828); Maria returned to Brazil (1829); Pedro I abdicated as Brazilian emperor (1831); Maria returned to France (1831); Maria arrived in Lisbon (1833); Maria II declared of age to rule (1834); death of Pedro (1834); September Revolution (1836); Belemzada (1836); Maria awarded Rose of Gold by Vatican (1842); Maria de Fonte revolt (1845); beginning of "Regeneration" (1851).

For a queen who ruled 19 years until her premature death at age 34, Maria II da Gloria of Portugal faced a life of insecurity and political turmoil from her earliest years. The first European monarch native to the New World, Maria da Gloria was born on April 4, 1819 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Her father Pedro (I) had fled to South America along with the royal court when Napoleon's armies invaded Portugal in 1807. From Brazil, Maria's grandfather, John VI (JoãoVI), ruled the Portuguese empire as prince-regent for his mentally ill mother, Maria I of Braganza , until her death in 1816. He then assumed the crown himself. By then, the Portuguese had freed themselves of the French and insisted that their monarch return to Europe. John VI did not depart Brazil until 1821, however, and then left his son Pedro to rule Brazil. The latter declared Brazil independent of Portugal in 1822 and began to reign as Emperor Pedro I.

Three-year-old Maria da Gloria was heir to her father's throne because her younger brother John (João) Carlos, born in 1821, had died in infancy. A blonde, vivacious child, Maria spent her early years on the beautiful São Cristóvão estate outside Rio. Life at court was "lax and voluptuous," according to one of her biographers. Nowhere was this more evident than in her domestic arrangements. Maria's father took a Brazilian mistress, Domitila de Castro , who lived at the palace. For a while it must have seemed to Maria that she had two mothers, Leopoldina of Austria and Domitila. But the empress died in 1826, somewhat resolving the confusion at home but leaving Maria motherless.

Meanwhile, the emperor tried to secure his daughter's claim to both the Brazilian and Portuguese crowns. In 1822, he proposed that his brother Michael (I) come back to Brazil and wed Maria. When John VI died in 1826 and Pedro was acclaimed king of Portugal, he developed a complicated strategy to secure both kingdoms for his family. Realizing that he personally could not rule both, he offered to abdicate as king of Portugal in favor of Maria. His plan was to have Michael marry her and then rule as regent until Maria, 15 years his junior, was old enough to govern. They would then reign together. Anxious to gain power, Michael agreed. To complicate the matter, however, Pedro considered himself a liberal, and one of the conditions of his abdication was that the Portuguese swear fealty to the liberal Constitutional Charter which he gave them in 1828. On March 3, 1828, Pedro abdicated, whereupon the European powers recognized the young girl as Portugal's new monarch, Maria II.

To prepare her for her future marriage and reign, Pedro then sent Maria to Vienna, where she was to be educated by her mother's family. Arriving at Gibraltar, the girl and her advisers found that Pedro's plan was in disarray. With Leopoldina dead and Pedro advocating a constitutional monarchy in Portugal, the Habsburg absolutists had no interest in supporting Maria. Instead, they backed Michael, who had become the champion of absolutism in Portugal, against the liberal regime imposed from Brazil. Under the Duke of Wellington's conservative leadership, the British permitted Michael's acclamation as king in June 1828. While the Austrians and British were willing to allow the marriage to proceed, they urged Michael to ignore Pedro's Charter. In the meantime, 9-year-old Maria went to Britain, little realizing that she had come to symbolize such abstractions as liberty and civil equality for Portuguese liberals. Their sympathy for her misfortune also made her the legitimate queen for many Portuguese. In London, she became the center of her nation's liberal émigrés. Back in Brazil, Pedro considered his brother Michael a traitor.

Presented to the steely Wellington, who earlier had fought in Portugal against the Napoleonic invaders, Maria reportedly said, "I hope that your influence will defend my rights as decisively as your sword defended those of my grandfather." Her appeal was to little avail, despite the liberals' assurances that she would soon be going to Portugal. Instead, her father called her back to Brazil. She accompanied Amelia of Leuchtenburg , who was en route to Brazil to become Pedro's new bride. They arrived in Rio de Janeiro in October 1829, and Pedro set up a court-in-exile for his daughter. With the British supporting Michael, Maria II's prospects were faint, and Portuguese liberalism seemed doomed.

The queen, many times denigrated and calumniated by the political passions of her contemporaries, … appears today as a rare and very lively personality—bold, decisive, loyal and strong.

—Ester de Lemos

Adding to the confusion of Maria's situation was her father's forced abdication as emperor of Brazil on April 7, 1831. Leaving Brazil to Maria's young brother Pedro (II), the father sailed with his daughter for France. He claimed to act as her "tutor and natural defender." Their arrival and warm reception by Louis Philippe, the Citizen King, whose July Monarchy had come to power the previous year, breathed new life into Portuguese liberalism. Maria II became close friends with his daughter Clementine of Orleans , and their subsequent correspondence helps illuminate the remainder of Maria's life. On January 25, 1832, Maria's father, dressed in a general's uniform, knelt before her and swore fealty to her as queen. This increased respect for him among Maria's supporters, some of whom had feared that Pedro might try to seize her crown.

While 13-year-old Maria continued her education in Paris, Pedro and the liberals, from a base at Terceira in the Azores, captured Oporto on July 9, 1832. But much of Portugal remained indifferent to or opposed to Maria, Pedro and the liberals. Victories at the cape of St. Vincent and in the Algarve allowed Pedro and his army to enter Lisbon on July 24, 1833. Maria then went to Portugal, arriving in Lisbon harbor on September 21, 1833, aboard the British steamer Soho. Her father acted as regent. The war dragged on until the following May, when Michael was finally defeated and forced into permanent exile. Earlier that year, Pedro had reinstituted his Constitutional Charter. With their victory, the liberals began purging conservatives from the army, church and civil bureaucracy. On September 18, the national cortes (parliament) declared Maria II da Gloria of age to rule, and she presided over her first council of ministers that day. On September 24, Pedro died of tuberculosis. He left her a nation devastated by intermittent warfare since 1807 and a government in financial crisis.

To strengthen her monarchy and in accordance with her father's wish, Maria II gave permission to negotiate her marriage with August of Leuchtenburg. From birth, Pedro had taught her to expect no voice in the choice of her husband. Maria and August, brother of Maria's stepmother Amelia, were married in Lisbon on January 28, 1835, but the bridegroom died suddenly on March 28. This led to unfounded rumors that the duke of Palmela, president of the queen's council, had poisoned August in order to wed his own son to Maria II. Popular riots provoked Palmela's dismissal and reflected growing political and ideological factionalism regarding Portugal's future. Only two weeks after her husband's death, each house of Parliament requested that she quickly remarry to stabilize the government. Still in mourning for her father and her husband, she lamented: "To hear the same proposal twice in the same day is too much for my anguished heart!" Politicians openly debated what to do about the succession should she die without an heir.

Ever mindful of her duty, Maria II authorized negotiations with the French royal family for a new husband. Those failed due to British opposition to a marital alliance between France and Portugal. Maria's stepmother Amelia also resisted such a union, hoping her son Pedro might inherit the throne. Relations between the two women became more and more difficult. In the end, Maria married 19-year-old Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha on April 9, 1836. Their first child, Pedro de Alcântara, was born the following year and eliminated controversy over the succession. Ferdinand and Maria soon developed a genuine love for each other, giving the queen an emotional anchor in her otherwise storm-tossed life. This happened even though they had "political attitudes almost diametrically opposed: what was in her pride, tenacity, violence—was in him good nature and condescending indifference," writes Maria II's biographer, Ester de Lemos.

Between 1836 and 1853, Maria had 11 pregnancies, and 7 of her children survived infancy. She lavished great care on their education and demanded proper behavior of them. Once, while walking with one of her small children in the park, another child came up to the prince and enthusiastically embraced him. Taken aback, the prince recoiled and rebuked the little boy. Maria immediately grabbed the prince by the arm and forced him to embrace and ask pardon of the commoner. Even her political enemies credited the quality of her family life. The opposition paper Espectro admitted in 1847: "There is no queen more virtuous as wife and mother. Her house can serve as example to all those of Europe."

In the public sphere, however, Maria II faced repeated controversy and crisis. Loyal to her father's Charter, she represented a politically moderate position. Pedro's Charter did not recognize popular sovereignty and gave the crown an absolute veto over the legislature. Parliament consisted of two houses: the crown appointed members of the aristocracy to the Senate for life, while the Charter allowed elections for seats in the Chamber of Deputies. In supporting the Charter, Maria faced opposition from both the right and the left. Despite Michael's defeat, absolutism appealed to many Portuguese, either from ideological revulsion against the French Revolution or from tradition. This conservative element posed a significant threat to Maria's government during the early years of her reign, although its importance waned. Meanwhile, her monarchy found itself beleaguered by growing pressure from the left. Debating clubs, Masonic lodges, and much of the press called for greater freedom. They wanted a one-house legislature, with all deputies elected. They insisted on either a return to the more liberal constitution of 1822 or a new document which recognized popular sovereignty. They demanded that the monarch have only a suspensive, rather than an absolute, veto over the legislature.

By mid-1836, the moderates had failed to solve Portugal's economic and financial problems, and discontent was running high. Radicals from Oporto called for a return to the constitution of 1822. Dissident liberals in Lisbon rallied to their cause. This provoked the September Revolution. Troops from the National Guard sided with the radicals, and demonstrations disrupted Lisbon. Ferdinand urged Maria to take shelter on a British naval vessel in the harbor. Maria refused, persuaded that such action might provoke the protestors to demand the abolition of the monarchy. Growing popular pressure forced a tearful Maria to take an oath to the constitution of 1822. With tension still high in November, Maria and the royal family sought refuge in Belém, from whence she reinstated the Charter, to enormous popular indignation.

The so-called Belemzada was essentially an attempted coup d'état by the monarchy. Its failure discredited the moderates and threw the nation into the hands of the radicals or Septembrists. Rather than resurrecting the old constitution, they called a constituent cortes to write a new one and began to purge the Chartists (supporters of Pedro's Charter) from the government. In 1837, a failed coup by the moderates, the Revolt of the Marshals, further discredited the Chartists. Nonetheless, Maria II managed to rise above the turmoil. While sympathetic to the Charter, she was not ideologically committed to it. She seemed more devoted to the cause of peace and stability, even if it meant working with the radicals. The anarchy in the streets was a greater enemy to her than the radicals.

In 1838, on her 19th birthday, she gave her approval to the new constitution, which was acceptable to both Septembrists and Chartists. It provided for an elected rather than appointed upper house but otherwise retained many of the Charter's provisions. Maria II thereupon became a staunch defender of the new constitution, refusing to support recalcitrant Chartists. She remarked: "I do not intend to change the institutions which I have sworn [to uphold]." Several years of relative political peace ensued. Many liberals gave up their anti-clericalism, which allowed Maria and the government to establish better relations with the Vatican. In 1842, the pontiff awarded her the prestigious Rose of Gold and agreed to be godfather to her baby John (João).

That year also brought to power a ministry dominated by António Bernardino da Costa Cabral, who reinstituted the Charter. His authoritarian methods provoked revolts, especially in the countryside. Such rebellions were in part a reaction against Costa Cabral's centralizing and modernizing tendencies, and they pitted rural against urban Portugal. The most famous revolt was that of Maria de Fonte , which led the queen to dismiss Costa Cabral in May 1845. More political turmoil ensued, and the Septembrists resurfaced. Unwilling to turn the government over to them, Maria da Gloria and her political advisers sought support within the military to impose a new ministry against the will of Parliament. This "ambush" of October 6, 1846, was probably Maria's most serious mistake as monarch. It polarized the nation and touched off a bloody civil war.

Peace was restored through the intervention of the British and Spanish in support of Maria. The foreign intervention, plus her willingness to back a non-factional transitional ministry, enabled her to overcome the crisis. Only in 1851 did Portugal reach a political compromise regarding the nature of its government and the transferral of political power, the centrist "Regeneration."

Meanwhile, the political turmoil made it nearly impossible for Maria II and her ministers to address the nation's social and economic problems. "What I want is to do all the good I can," she wrote. Maria was sincerely interested in creating asylums and nurseries for foundlings and in reforming primary education. She also had the energy to rule. But the unrest made governance difficult, and her commitment to constitutional rule subjected her to the factionalism which ravaged the country.

By the time the Regeneration began, Maria was only 32. Her recent pregnancies had become more difficult, and friends cautioned her about the risks. But ever the devoted mother, she responded, "If I die, I die at my post." She perished during childbirth on November 15, 1853, at the age of 34. Reports asserted that during her funeral procession, a white dove landed on her coffin and remained there as it was carried to St. Vincent for burial. The woman who symbolized Portugal's transition from absolutism to constitutional monarchy and who knew so little tranquility during her lifetime was finally at peace.


Almeida, Fortunato de. História de Portugal. 6 vols. Coimbra: Fortunato de Almeida, 1957, vol. 6.

Lemos, Ester de. D. Maria II (A Rainha e a Mulher) no Centenário da Sua Morte. Lisbon: Fundação da Casa de Bragança, 1954.

Livermore, H.V. A New History of Portugal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966.

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

suggested reading:

Bastos, Francisco Antonio Martíns. Memorias para a História de El-Rey Fidelíssimo o Senhor Dom Pedro V e de Seus Augustos Irmãos. Lisbon: Typographia Universal, 1863.

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

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

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Maria II da Gloria (1819–1853)

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Maria II da Gloria (1819–1853)