Isabel, Princess Imperial of Brazil – Heiress of the Empire (Part three)

(public domain)

Read part two here.

Isabel revelled in her new role as a mother. She urgently needed medical advice for his limp arm, and he underwent several treatments, such as electric shocks. But more duties were to come as well. Her father wanted to go abroad for a longer time and once more named Isabel as regent from March 1876. This time, she faced more challenging questions, and her credibility as regent suffered as a result. All the while, Isabel faced yet another pregnancy and tragically, yet another miscarriage. At the end of August, she began to suffer from pains and took to her bed. She miscarried on 11 September 1876. Gaston could not be counted on during this time as he was “always subject to that state of nervous agitation.”1 He took a two-week vacation even though Isabel was still losing blood after her miscarriage.

The following year, Isabel was forced to take rest despite the country facing a severe drought as she once more struggled through a difficult pregnancy. She desperately wrote to her father, “Daddy mine, why don’t you write to me anymore?”2 Her father returned in September 1877, and he avoided Isabel as he had done with her first regency. On 26 January 1878, Isabel gave birth to a second son, and he was named Luís in honour of his paternal grandfather. Just three months later, Isabel, Gaston and their two young sons sailed for Europe to reside there for two years. They would also seek medical treatment for Pedro’s arm. While there, Isabel was able to distance herself from her parents and come into her own, at last. She loved living in France and extended the visit. However, their stay was a drain on their finances, but when Isabel found herself pregnant once more in early 1881, she feared a repeat of the disaster of 1874 when she was forced to return home pregnant. She asked permission from her father to give birth in France and to return by the end of the year. On 9 August 1881, Isabel gave birth to a third son – named Antônio.

On 10 December 1881, Isabel and her family returned to Brazil just after her father celebrated his 56th birthday. He had begun to suffer from diabetes and so more attention focussed on Isabel as the future Empress. By early 1887, Isabel and her family were itching to go abroad again, and they sailed to France much to the regret of her father who wrote, “The departure of my children and little grandsons caused me much pain.”3 Isabel was recalled in June after she received a telegram informing her that her father had fallen ill. As her father sought medical care in Europe, Isabel was once again left in charge. On 13 May 1888, Isabel signed the Golden Law, as it was known, which enabled the complete cessation of slavery. For her actions, she was given a Golden Rose by Pope Leo XIII.

Her father returned to Brazil in August 1888, but his life as a semi-invalid slowed down government business, and Isabel did not make a move to fill that void. She was all too happy to be a mother and would rather leave the government to her father. Intrigue then came from her nephew Prince Pedro Augusto of Saxe-Coburg, Leopoldina’s eldest son who had once expected to succeed the then childless Isabel. Although the abolition of slavery had won Isabel popularity, it had also damaged the relationship with those who held the slaves. The fact that she was a woman only added to their scorn. A radical newspaper wrote, “In conclusion, the countess d’Eu is not fit to occupy the throne of a country where the democratic tide is daily mounting. The reign of the princess and her entourage will bring disgrace to her family, disaster to the cause of liberty, and tremendous calamity to Brazil.”4 Attacks on Isabel and her family began to become more frequent.

On 15 November 1889, her father was deposed during a military coup. The family was informed that they had to leave Brazil as soon as possible. Isabel issued one final public message, “It is with my heart riven with sorrow that I take leave of my friends, of all Brazilians, and of the country that I have loved and love so much, and to the happiness of which I have striven to contribute and for which I will continue to hold the most ardent hopes.”5 Their exile began on board the Alagoas, which would take them to Europe.

On 7 December, the Alagoas arrived in Lisbon where they were received by Pedro’s great-nephew King Carlos I of Portugal. While the Emperor and Empress stayed, Isabel and her family travelled on for a visit to the south of Spain. This also meant that Isabel was not with her mother when Teresa Cristina died of a heart attack on 28 December 1889. Even Pedro was not with her when she died, leading to intense remorse on his part. Isabel rushed home and arrived on 30 December. She fainted upon seeing her mother’s body. The Portuguese offered to give the Empress a state funeral on 9 January. The family left for Cannes the day after the funeral, and they would take up residence there. Isabel found a villa to rent, which she paid for with an allowance from Gaston’s father. Just a short while later, they moved to the outskirts of Paris. On 7 December 1891, Pedro died of pneumonia. Isabel would have become Empress – a role she did not covet – but now she simply succeeded as the Head of the Imperial House of Brazil – an empty throne. Her father received a state funeral from the French government.

Isabel became financially independent when her parents’ property in Brazil was sold, and she received half of the proceeds. She devoted her time to her sons’ upbringing, and she also took up the care of Gaston’s father in his old age. As the years went on, her sons grew up and left home. Her eldest son married Countess Elisabeth Dobrzensky of Dobrzenicz who was not of royal descent and he gave up his succession rights – something he would later retract. They went on to have five children together. Her second son married Princess Maria di Grazia of Bourbon-Two Sicilies in a dynastic match, and they went on to have three children together. Her third son Antônio would never marry. Isabel delighted in the arrival of her grandchildren. Antônio died in an air crash shortly after the end of the First World War. In 1920, her second son Luís died after suffering from bone rheumatism he had contracted in the trenches. Isabel too was in ill-health.

During her final years, Isabel was confined to a wheelchair due to swelling of her legs and ankles. She was unable to attend the reburial of her parents in Brazil because of this. In November 1921, she contracted influenza, and she began to prepare for death. She told the parish priest, “Prepare me for death. I would have liked to have lived some more time in the midst of my family, but I ask for nothing. The Good Lord knows better than we what we need.”6 On 14 November 1921, she lost consciousness and was administered the last sacraments. She died that day. Her husband would follow her to the grave less than a year later. They were both initially buried at Dreux before being moved to Brazil in 1953.

  1. Princess Isabel of Brazil: Gender and Power in the Nineteenth Century by Roderick Barman p. 145
  2. Princess Isabel of Brazil: Gender and Power in the Nineteenth Century by Roderick Barman p. 145
  3. Princess Isabel of Brazil: Gender and Power in the Nineteenth Century by Roderick Barman p. 176
  4. Princess Isabel of Brazil: Gender and Power in the Nineteenth Century by Roderick Barman p. 188
  5. Princess Isabel of Brazil: Gender and Power in the Nineteenth Century by Roderick Barman p. 198
  6. Princess Isabel of Brazil: Gender and Power in the Nineteenth Century by Roderick Barman p. 188

About Moniek Bloks 2741 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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