Leopoldina of Brazil – The good sister

Leopoldina of Brazil
(public domain)

Leopoldina of Brazil was born on 13 July 1847 at the Imperial Palace of São Cristóvão in Rio de Janeiro as the third child and second daughter of Emperor Pedro II of Brazil, the younger brother of Queen Maria II of Portugal, and Teresa Cristina of the Two Sicilies. Her elder brother Afonso had died just one month before her birth, and the disappointment in her gender was twice as great.

On 11 July 1847, her father wrote to his stepmother, “With the most piercing grief I tell you that my dear little Afonso, your godson, unfortunately, died of convulsions that greatly frightened me.”1 Teresa Cristina’s grief was so intense that it was feared that she would miscarry, but she was safely delivered of a baby girl on 13 July. A year later, Teresa Cristina gave birth to her fourth and last child – a son named Pedro Afonso – who would live for just a year and a half. Leopoldina’s elder sister Isabel was confirmed as heir to the throne in 1852.

leopoldina brazil
Leopoldina (left) with her parents and sister (public domain)

They often spent the winter and spring at São Cristóvão and the summer and autumn at Petrópolis. The Empress and Emperor were affectionate parents, but the sisters’ upbringing was rather sheltered, and they lived their lives outside of the public eye. The sisters learned to read and write with the help of a teacher named Valdetaro, who called them “Little Ladies.” At the age of seven, Isabel was placed in the care of an aio (supervisor) who traditionally oversaw the education of the heir. He realised that Isabel and Leopoldina would need more than the traditional education for girls and wrote, “As to their education I will only say that the character of both the princesses ought to be shaped as suits Ladies who, it may be, will have to direct the constitutional government of an Empire such as that of Brazil. The education should not differ from that given to men, combined with that suited to the other sex, but in a manner that does not detract from the first.”2 Tradition also required that the girls be educated by a woman and Pedro did not believe that there was a suitable woman for this task in Brazil. He turned to his stepmother Empress Amélie (born of Leuchtenberg), but she refused to take up the post. He eventually found a suitable woman with the help of sister Francisca; her name was Luísa Margarida Portugal de Barros, the Countess of Barral.

The Countess of Barral took up her post in 1856 and attracted the immediate dislike of the girls’ mother, who was the exact opposite of the enigmatic Countess. Yet, she hid her dislike as best she could, not wanting to antagonise her husband. The Countess was also well-liked by the two Princesses. By the end of 1850s, both girls were following a strict educational program that lasted 9,5 hours a day, six days a week. The Countess of Barral did not personally teach them all their subjects, but she did supervise. Even their father took it upon himself to teach his daughters. The Countess wrote of Leopoldina in 1859 that she was, “getting plumper, with a pretty complexion, and since she can’t read this letter, I can say, without making her conceited, that she is becoming very pretty.”3

Despite their excellent education, they were still kept in social seclusion and surprisingly, Pedro also excluded Isabel from the affairs of state. Yet, in 1863 – shortly before Isabel’s 18th birthday – Pedro launched the search for a husband for Isabel and Leopoldina.

Two Princes were chosen and shipped to Brazil so that the Princesses could meet them. Although Pedro would have the final say in the matter, he did not wish to force them. The Princesses did not learn of all of this until just three weeks before Prince Gaston, Count of Eu and his cousin Prince Ludwig August of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha were due to arrive. They first met on 2 September 1864 before returning the following day for a longer meeting. Prince Gaston wrote home, “The princesses are ugly, but the second decidedly less attractive than the other, smaller, more stocky, and in sum less sympathetic.”4 Though Isabel was love-struck, Gaston was less so. He wrote that the Emperor’s proposal, “at first greatly upset me, but I believe less and less that it is my duty to reject this important position that God has placed in my path.”5 Ludwig August had been instructed by his parents to only settle for Isabel, but he found that he preferred Leopoldina. The engagement between Isabel and Gaston was settled on 18 September 1864, and they were to marry just one month later.

On 15 December 1864, Leopoldina married Ludwig August, and they moved into a mansion near the palace called the “Palace Leopoldina”. Leopoldina fell pregnant soon after the wedding day, but she suffered a miscarriage in May 1865. She conceived again in July and gave birth to a healthy son named Pedro Augusto on 19 March 1866. While Isabel would have quite a bit of trouble conceiving, Leopoldina gave birth to three more sons in quick succession: Augusto was born on 6 December 1867, Joseph Ferdinand was born on 21 May 1869, and Ludwig Gaston was born on 15 September 1870.

leopoldina brazil
Leopoldina with her husband and her eldest son (public domain)

Leopoldina and Ludwig August began to divide their time between Brazil and Europe. Their three eldest sons were born in Brazil while the youngest was born in Austria. At the end of January 1871, Isabel was on her way to see her sister in Vienna when she received the news that Leopoldina had contracted typhoid fever. Isabel was only allowed to see her sister after all hope of recovery was lost. Leopoldina died on 7 February 1871 – just 23 years old. Isabel accompanied her sister’s body to Coburg for burial. She wrote, “My good Leopoldina whom I loved so much and who loved me so much, my only sister, the trusty companion of all my childhood and my youth! Faith is indeed the only consolation for such a loss! Leopoldina was so good that she is in heaven.”6

Leopoldina’s mother-in-law wrote, “May God’s will be done, my good Chica, but the blow is hard, and we are very unhappy. The state of my poor Gusty breaks my heart, he sobs at every moment, does not eat nor sleep, and it is a terrible change! She loved him so much. And they were so perfectly happy together! To see such happiness destroyed at age 24 is horrible!! And these poor children! I wrote you Saturday, and Sunday and Monday were calm and quiet. She did not open her eyes, but she heard what was being shouted in her ear, and she certainly recognised her sister’s voice, for she spoke a few words in Portuguese. Monday night the doctors found a sensible improvement, and we regained hope. The night was calm, but by Tuesday morning the chest was taken, and at 10 o’clock the doctors declared that there was no hope, and yet I still cared for her on this long day spent by her bed, seeing her so calm and so little changed; but by 4 p.m. the breathing became shorter. 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”7

One of Leopoldina’s granddaughters was Maria Karoline who was gassed by the Nazis in 1941.

  1. Princess Isabel of Brazil: Gender and Power in the Nineteenth Century by Roderick Barman p. 24
  2. Princess Isabel of Brazil: Gender and Power in the Nineteenth Century by Roderick Barman p. 35-36
  3. Princess Isabel of Brazil: Gender and Power in the Nineteenth Century by Roderick Barman p. 41
  4. Princess Isabel of Brazil: Gender and Power in the Nineteenth Century by Roderick Barman p. 59
  5. Princess Isabel of Brazil: Gender and Power in the Nineteenth Century by Roderick Barman p. 59
  6. Princess Isabel of Brazil: Gender and Power in the Nineteenth Century by Roderick Barman p. 110
  7. O Príncipe Maldito by Mary Del Priore p.53

About Moniek Bloks 2764 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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