Friday, July 12, 2013

Portuguese Court in Brazil

We are quite used to the story of European nations going out and violently conquering peacefully incorporating territories all over the world as colonies, stealing all of their resources bringing great new technologies to pitiful slums underdeveloped locales, and raping and pillaging befriending the hedonistic savages friendly indigenous communities while enslaving them economically allowing them to participate in the wonderful mercantilist system of the land of jerkfaces motherland. But has there ever been a time where the colony becomes the the motherland, and rules over the entire empire? Surprisingly, yes! Unsurprisingly, it's all thanks to Napoleon!

Fig.1: Queen Maria I of Portugal...with a 
blunt object! Run!
In 1807, Napoleon decided to invade Portugal because a) they had been traditional allies of the United Kingdom, and Napoleon hated everything British (he would automatically change the channel if Doctor Who came on, which, yes, even aired as early as the 19th century), and b) he really just enjoyed invading places, and how hard could Portugal be to take over? Even Portugal knew they wouldn't be that hard to take over, so immediately after Napoleonic French and allied Spanish troops crossed the border, the House of Braganza, the royal family of Portugal, hatched a plan. The regnant of Portugal was Queen Maria I (fig.1), who was at first labeled Maria the Pious, but eventually came to be known as Maria the Mad after reports that she always heard screaming in her head, talked to her dead husband when the room was empty, and claimed that Return of the Jedi was the superior chapter of the original trilogy. As such, her son and heir-apparent, John VI, ruled in her name beginning in 1799. Thus, it was up to him to put together a plan as Napoleon's crack troops marched closer and closer to the capital of Lisbon, and what he came up with was a rather simple idea. Bail!

And that's what Maria and John did, along with 15,000 of their closest family, friends, advisers, ladies-in-waiting, cooks, servants, make-up artists, concubines, and puppeteers. The court of the Portuguese government straight-up left Portugal on November 29, and headed across the pond to their wealthiest (and least African) colony, Brazil. Two days later, Napoleon captured Lisbon, but cried for a week when he realized that his Portuguese buddies would rather go on a two-month journey across the Atlantic than hang out with him. The Portuguese touched down in the New World (which was losing its shiny newness since it had now been known to Europeans for the past 300 years) in late January 1808, and eventually made their capital in exotic Rio de Janeiro! Upon the arrival of the royal family, a nine-day celebration commenced in the streets, which is certainly odd, because it's not like Brazilians are well-known for festivals or partying or any of that stuff (fig.2).

Fig.2: This sort of thing never happens in Brazil...
Portgual, however, was in no mood to live it up. Their queen and prince had abandoned them, they were invaded and taken over by a French midget (sorry...little, tiny, insignificant person), and trade with their colonies had to be cut off during the war, which meant no more coffee for the Portuguese who had become as caffeine-addicted as the starving artists in SoHo. It was an all-around grumpy time in Portugal. The court's presence had a rocky start in Rio as well; the town was not nearly as large as it is today, and did not have the proper supply of food and luxury items that fat, wealthy Portuguese people were accustomed to. This is why you should always keep large quantities of green wine, presunto (Portuguese dry-cured ham), and ClausPorto brand soap stored in your house at all times, in case the Portuguese monarchy ever chooses to move to your humble abode!

Fig.3: Yeah, ladies. You want some
of this.
But soon enough, Rio de Janeiro learned to cope with being the capital of a vast overseas empire, especially after Queen Maria died (possibly killed by rabid nerds when she stated that Empire Strikes Back could have used more Ewoks), and King John VI (fig.3) came to the throne in 1816. He created incentives for local businesses that benefited Brazil, allowed for the printing of newspapers, established medical schools, a military academy, a national bank, a botanical garden, and an art school (the latter two still exist today), and invented the bikini, which is still the national work uniform of the country. Most importantly, he elevated Brazil from a colony to a kingdom on the same standing of Portugal, creating a sort of United Kingdom (no, not that one). This opened the door for Brazilians to think of themselves as more independent, which would certainly have absolutely no ramifications whatsoever in the coming years. Most definitely none. Don't even think twice about it.

Now, fellow historians will note that the Portuguese court was still in Brazil in 1816, even though Napoleon was finally defeated and his tiny-self banished from Europe in 1815. Good eye, folks! Indeed, King John and his court would stay in Brazil all the way until 1821! Why was it necessary for the Portuguese government to remain in Brazil when the motherland was safe from harm? Long answer short, it's much nicer in Brazil! John found the warm temperature delightful, the people friendly and open, the sport of women's beach volleyball a pleasure to watch. On the other hand, Portugal was still badly damaged from six years of war, and the people were rebelling every two seconds about something. Who wants to go back to that? Give me Rio any day! Besides, there was a very nice British gentleman by the name of William Beresford who took it upon himself to rule Portugal in John's absence, even though (little to John's knowledge) he governed ruthlessly and took advantage of the Portuguese people to enrich himself. John wanted just a few more years to work on his tan, and given his looks (again, fig.3), certainly any sort of physical change would be an improvement on him.

Fig.4: Portugal in the throws of the
Liberal Revolution of 1820.
But the Portuguese just wouldn't let it go. In 1820, a revolution of a liberal nature known as the Liberal Revolution of 1820 spread across Portugal. The issue: they were sick of being ruled from a former colony, which shouldn't have stopped being a colony in the first place, and they wanted their king back, because they missed him, and wished he never left, and Spain keeps poking them, even though they keep telling them to stop, and it's really annoying, and they just want stuff to go back to how it was before that little French guy came and started doing bad stuff, and they wanted a cookie too! So in April 1821, King John reluctantly said goodbye to Brazil with a single tear rolling down his face, and dishearteningly arrived in Portugal in July. In order for the Portuguese to quit their bellyaching, he signed a new constitution that established a constitutional monarchy led by the Cortes (a legislature that was actually not named after the Spanish gentleman who massacred the Aztecs, as lovely as that would be). The Cortes then demanded that Brazil return to its state as a colony, only trade with the motherland, and give back all of their action figures, since they were Portugal's and Brazil shouldn't have been allowed to play with them in the first place. Man, for a country that traces its roots back to the ninth century, Portugal can sure be immature sometimes!

Brazil, of course, was having none of this. On September 7, 1822, Brazil declared its independence from Portugal. Surprisingly, the leader of the independence movement was King John's son, Pedro, who was put in charge upon the king's return to Portugal! The sources differ as to whether John was upset with his son's behavior and threatened to wallop him on the backside if he didn't cut that rebellion stuff out, or actually encouraged it since he saw that Brazil was inevitably going to break up with Portugal, and wanted to still keep the throne in the family.  Primogeniture at its finest! There was a small independence war, but nothing like that of the rest of South America in the previous decade, or the American Revolution nearly fifty years prior, or the removal of David Lee Roth from Van Halen in 1984. Portugal eventually recognized Brazil's independence in 1825, and Pedro was made Emperor Pedro I of Brazil. King John didn't have much time to be proud of his son (or be grumpy that his title sounded better than his own), since he would die in 1826. This initiated a period of civil war in Portugal, while Brazil continued to grow and prosper throughout the 19th century. Take that, motherland! Who's being economically enslaved now?!

Fig.5: The only redeeming thing 
about this picture of Nixon eating 
pūpū in Hawaii is that at least we 
can't see the tight European bathing 
suit bottom he has on.*shutter*
This odd moment in history, where the ruler of a country preferred the company of a colony than to his homeland, almost has no equal (as long as we don't count Hawaii as a colony, because I'm sure every American president since Kennedy would prefer to be on the beaches there than dealing with the constant humbuggery in DC; fig.5). The Portuguese royal court's presence in Brazil from 1808-1821 gave Brazil all the institutions it needed to become a successful independent nation, which it continues to be to this day. This might have backfired on the House of Braganza, but in fact their family had the privilege of ruling two countries for most of the century, as they held the Emperorship of Brazil until 1889, and remained rulers of Portugal until the overthrow of the monarchy in 1910. Of course that means the Braganzas are once again without a homeland, so don't be surprised to wake up and find a guy named Duarte Pio (who would be king if there was still such a thing in Portugal today) just crashing on your couch, begging to stay there until he can find some other country to rule.

Fig.6: "C'mon, can I stay for just another few weeks? I hear East Timor is going to have an opening soon!"

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