Leopoldina fell pregnant quickly – within four months of her wedding – but she suffered a miscarriage in May. She conceived again rather quickly and gave birth to a son – named Pedro Augusto – on 19 March 1866. A second son – named Augusto – was born in 1867. Two more sons followed in 1869 and 1870. However, Isabel did not become pregnant right away, and she anxiously wrote to her husband in 1865, “I am sure that you are also impatient to see me pregnant. I so much want to be Mother of your child.”1 By 1867, she was desperate, and on the advice of the Countess of Barral, she was examined by the court physician. Whatever he prescribed to her, it didn’t work. In September 1868, they spent time at several spas, taking the waters.
Early in 1871, Leopoldina fell ill with typhoid fever in Vienna. Isabel and Gaston were on their way to Italy when they heard the news and travelled to be with her. Isabel was only allowed to see her sister after all hope of a recovery was lost. Leopoldina died on 7 February 1871. Leopoldina’s mother-in-law wrote, “The abbot Blumel recited the prayer of the dying, we were all kneeling around her bed, and at 6 p.m. her breathing ceased, without the slightest contraction of her physiognomy. She was really beautiful then, and she had an angelic expression. Now she is lying in a coffin dressed in white silk clothes, a white crown, and her wedding veil over her head. She has not changed, it is good to look at her. She is all surrounded by fresh flowers, of crowns sent by all the princesses. Tomorrow there will be a religious ceremony at home, and she will leave for Coburg, where we will all attend, including Gaston and Isabel who are very good. The latter is desperate. I embrace you, pray for us, we much need it. All yours, Clémentine.”2 Isabel accompanied her sister’s body to Coburg for burial and wrote, “Faith is indeed the only consolation for such a loss! Leopoldina was so good that she in Heaven!”3
Isabel and Gaston returned to Brazil early where they found themselves suddenly facing a regency as Isabel’s father and mother were to go on a tour of Europe. Isabel was completely politically inexperienced, and it was expected that her husband and the prime minister were to hold the true power of the regency. Isabel followed her father’s style, intending to keep “the shack standing.”4 On 27 September 1871, Isabel signed a new anti-slavery act, The Law of Free Birth, which freed all children born of slaves after that date. Her father returned in March the following year, taking back the reins of government as though he had never been away.
Shortly after relinquishing the regency, Isabel found herself pregnant at last. She suffered from dizzy spells, had an aversion to food and nausea. Soon, however, she also began to discharge blood, and in October 1872, she suffered a miscarriage. The following year, Isabel returned to Europe to seek medical advice, and she also made a pilgrimage to Lourdes. By the end of 1873, she was pregnant again, and they were forced to return to Brazil as the first-born child had to be born in Brazil. However, Isabel was very wary of the long journey, and she pleaded with her father to allow her to stay in France. And so, in May 1874 they embarked on the journey home, arriving there in June. Her labour began at midnight on 25 July but would drag on for fifty hours. By the evening of the 27th, the child was clearly dead, but it could not be extracted until early in the morning of the following day. Gaston later wrote, “Our little girl was a term, perfectly formed, very pretty with a large quantity of curly blond hair extraordinarily long and thick.”5 Isabel’s mother praised her “incredible courage” throughout the ordeal and Isabel seemed to recover well enough.
In early April 1875, Isabel was pregnant again. Although she was happy to have conceived again, it probably filled her with dread as well. She refused to let her father visit her on the first anniversary of the stillbirth. She became gloomy and suffered from insomnia. The arrival of a French doctor brought some peace of mind to Isabel, though the decision was heavily criticised in Brazil. On 14 October 1875, Isabel went into labour with Gaston pacing in the room next door. The labour lasted for 13 hours, well into 15 October – which also happened to be their wedding anniversary. The doctor decided to use forceps to prevent another tragedy, but the child did not cry and appeared to be asphyxiated. A midwife who had accompanied the doctor blew into his mouth, tickled his nose and plunged him in water – saving the child’s life. It was only a day later that the doctor noticed that the newborn Prince could not move his left arm. Despite this, Isabel was over the moon, and the little Prince was named Pedro de Alcântara.
- Princess Isabel of Brazil: Gender and Power in the Nineteenth Century by Roderick Barman p. 92
- O Príncipe Maldito by Mary Del Priore p.53
- Princess Isabel of Brazil: Gender and Power in the Nineteenth Century by Roderick Barman p. 110
- Princess Isabel of Brazil: Gender and Power in the Nineteenth Century by Roderick Barman p. 114
- Princess Isabel of Brazil: Gender and Power in the Nineteenth Century by Roderick Barman p. 130
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