Benedita and Joseph would indeed not have any children, and Benedita is known to have taken water cures, hoping to fall pregnant. She reportedly suffered miscarriages in 1781 and 1786, and there was some talk of annulment in 1787. In any case, the marriage of Maria’s second son John now became more vital, and he was duly married off to the ten-year-old Carlota Joaquina of Spain in 1785. Benedita’s hope of ever becoming Queen of Portugal – if she even had any – was squashed with the death of Joseph.
Joseph had never had smallpox before, and he had not been inoculated as his mother had refused the procedure on account of the risks and her religious principles. On 1 September 1788, the 27-year-old Prince began to feel unwell. He began to have a fever and spots developed on his skin. He seemed to be doing well at first, so life went about as usual. By 8 September, the blisters joined up, and his mouth and throat were affected as well. Soon, his breathing became laboured. In the morning of 11 September, Joseph was given last rites, and he died 12 hours later. Benedita and Maria had been by his bedside when he died and Benedita, kept repeating, “The Prince is dead.”1 Benedita retired to her bed “very much indisposed by this irreparable loss.”2 She only began to weep the following morning.
Benedita now had to give precedence to her 13-year-old tiny sister-in-law. The first time the family attended chapel after Joseph’s death, Carlota Jaoquina insisted on giving Benedita precedence “in an affecting scene […] accompanied by tears and expressions of grief.”3 However, Queen Maria insisted on the etiquette being followed but made sure her sister was well-cared for by settling 100,000 cruzados a year on her.
Just two months later, Benedita’s niece and Maria’s only daughter4 also died at the age of 19 of smallpox, shortly after giving birth to a second son – who would die seven days after his mother. Her grieving widower died 17 days later, also of smallpox. Maria worried about the succession as Benedita’s marriage had remained childless, and Carlota Joaquina and John had not consummated their marriage yet. And so her daughter’s only surviving child Infante Pedro was sent to Portugal and created an Infante of Portugal. In 1790, Carlota Joaquina had her first period, and Maria and Benedita prepared her for the consummation. She gave birth to her first child – a daughter named Maria Teresa on 29 April 1793. Seven more children would follow over the years.
By 1792, Queen Maria was thought to be insane, but John did not claim a formal regency until 1799. Perhaps some would have preferred to see Benedita act as regent. She was uncontroversial while John’s wife Carlota Joaquina was unpopular, and Benedita had been the wife of the heir to the throne. We don’t know if she ever aspired to such a position, and in any case, it did not happen. During the following years, Benedita devoted herself to charitable works and founded the Asylum for the Military Disabled of Runa.
When the royal family was eventually forced into exile following the Napoleonic Wars, Benedita joined the rest of the family in Brazil. Once installed there, life continued as normal as possible as “she wished for nothing more, she continued to live as she had lived in Lisbon, without the ambition to influence.”5 She shared a house with her sister Mariana in Botafogo. While in exile both of Benedita’s surviving sisters died. In 1813, Mariana, who had been similarly afflicted by mental illness, died at the age of 76. In 1816, Queen Maria died at the age of 81. Benedita also saw the creation of the Kingdom of Brazil in 1815.
In 1821, Benedita was finally able to return home to Portugal but “at the age of 75, the Princess had lost much of her strength, but she still had the strength of spirit.”6 Benedita settled at the Palace of Queluz, and she remained largely out of the public eye. In 1827, she wrote her will, making the asylum she founded her universal heir while also leaving legacies for family and servants. Her will made no mention of her being ill, but her health had certainly begun to deteriorate around this time.
Benedita died in the early hours of 18 August 1829 at the Ajuda Palace at the grand age of 83 after an illness of around a week. She had spent most of her life in the shadows – missing out on her chance to become a Queen and stepping out of those shadows.
- A princesa na sombra : D. Maria Francisca Benedita, 1746-1829 by Paulo Drumond Braga p.112
- The Madness of Queen Maria by Jenifer Roberts p.102
- The Madness of Queen Maria by Jenifer Roberts p.103
- Mariana Victoria had married her first cousin once-removed Infante Gabriel of Spain in 1785
- A princesa na sombra : D. Maria Francisca Benedita, 1746-1829 by Paulo Drumond Braga p.122
- A princesa na sombra : D. Maria Francisca Benedita, 1746-1829 by Paulo Drumond Braga p.126