The future Maria I of Portugal was born on 17 December 1734 at the Ribeira Royal Palace in Lisbon. In 1760, Maria was married to her uncle Pedro, who was her father’s younger brother. By law, Maria was banned from marrying a foreign prince. Her father died on 24 February 1777 and Maria became Portugal’s first Queen Regnant. According to Portuguese custom, her husband became King, but the power was vested solely in Maria. Maria is perhaps best remembered for her mental deterioration, which was first officially noted in 1786 when she was carried back to her apartments in a state of delirium. She deteriorated considerably after the deaths of her husband, eldest son and heir and her daughter. By 1792 she was deemed mentally insane. Her surviving son John took over the reins of government, but he refused an official regency, which only happened in 1799. In 1807 the family was forced to flee to Brazil after the Napoleonic Wars. Maria did not understand what was happening and continued to ask her son, ‘Where are you taking me?’ and ‘What am I doing here?’. She was confined to her bed for the last two months of her life. She finally died on 20 March 1816.
In contrast, William Stephens was the illegitimate son of a Cornish servant girl who became one of the richest industrialists in Europe. He built a thriving glass factory in a village north of Lisbon and Maria spent three days there in the summer of 1788.
Entertaining the Braganzas: When Queen Maria of Portugal visited William Stephens in 1788 by Jenifer Roberts describes this event in great detail. In addition, the book also spends some time describing the lives of both Maria and William. I was a bit apprehensive about the book but I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of background information and it is not quite as boring as the title might suggest. It is very well researched and deserves more attention than it has gotten so far!