World History 2 124 - 8.4.1 The Establishment of the Kingdom of Brazil

In 1807, when Napoléon instituted his Continental System aimed at isolating Britain and economically destroying it, Portugal, notable for its long-standing alliance with Britain, was not able to comply. To punish Portugal’s breaking of his naval blockade, Napoléon obtained the Spanish Crown’s permission to invade Portugal by land (since the French navy was not capable of facing the British at sea). French troops commanded by General Jean-Andoche Junot swept across the Iberian Peninsula to storm into Lisbon.

In view of these events, Lord Strangford, Great Britain’s diplomatic envoy to Portugal, counseled the Portuguese royal family to move the court to Portuguese America. Queen Maria wore the Portuguese Crown, but because she had been declared mentally incapacitated, her son the Prince Regent João was left with the decision. The imminent arrival of French forces in November 1807 finally convinced João that fleeing to Brazil was the only solution. As the troops approached, the Portuguese royal family and its entourage of about ten thousand people escaped to Brazil in a fleet under British convoy (Figure 8.18). In return for their assistance, the British received generous commercial privileges in Brazil.

A crowd of men span the painting from left to right and stand facing forward. There are a couple of children with them. A fleet of large ships is in the background.
Figure 8.18 In 1807, the Portuguese House of Braganza and its court fled to Brazil to avoid being captured by French troops. The scene was imagined in this small-scale painting by an unknown nineteenth-century artist. (credit: “Embarkation of the Portuguese Royal Family” by Itamaraty Historical and Diplomatic Museum/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

In 1808, after a short stop in Salvador, Bahia, the royal family and their courtiers were welcomed by Brazilian colonists and departed to settle in Rio de Janeiro on the southeastern coast. For the first time in modern history, a European monarch, heir, and court had set foot in their American domain. On April 1, 1808, Brazilian ports were opened to all friendly nations, which really meant Great Britain; all previous manufacturing prohibitions intended to protect Portuguese industry were revoked; and the Bank of Brazil was established. As a result, Brazil’s total population jumped from almost three million in 1798 to almost four million in 1818.

The Portuguese Crown’s willingness to share power with the local planter aristocracy led to the expansion of institutions such as hospitals, libraries, and schools and universities. Vital reforms in administration, agriculture, and manufacturing were instituted. Though the cultural initiatives were welcome, the new tax burden imposed to pay for the needs of the royal court, the expanded bureaucracy, and the war against France, as well as Brazil’s great dependence on Great Britain, were not. The presence of the Portuguese Crown centralized control of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro to a great degree, however, and this centralization became a powerful force for the unification of Brazil as one nation.

Even after the fall of Napoléon in 1814 and the restoration of Bourbon kings in both France and Spain, the Portuguese Crown resolutely stayed on in Brazil. On December 16, 1815, Brazil was officially given the status of a kingdom. When Queen Maria I died there in 1816, her son became João VI, king of the United Kingdoms of Portugal, Brazil, and Algarve (the southern edge of Portugal).

Brazil also opened its ports to Bonapartist immigrants, including republican-minded scientists, architects, artisans, freemasons, engineers, painters, and officers who crossed the Atlantic with their liberal books and ideas intending to settle permanently in the new land. Under the sponsorship of King Joao VI, a group of Bonapartist artists and artisans, knowns as the French Artistic Mission, were invited to Brazil in March 1816 to establish an Arts and Crafts lyceum in Rio de Janeiro. The Lyceum later became the Academia Imperial de Belas-Artes under Emperor Pedro I. French painter Jean-Baptiste Debret, who had studied at France’s prestigious Academie des beaux-arts, was part of the group. Debret developed in interest in the enslaved and Indigenous peoples and produced many lithographs and paintings depicting people and everyday life in Brazil. He also painted many portraits of the imperial court (Figure 8.19). After returning to France in 1831, Debret joined the Académie des beaux-arts. By the end of the decade, he had published three volumes of engravings: A Picturesque and Historic Voyage to Brazil, or the Sojourn of a French Artist in Brazil (Voyage pittoresque et historique au Brésil ou Séjour d’un artiste français au Brésil).

In this painting, King Joao VI wears an ornate uniform, decorated by medals and jewelry. His left hand rests on the hilt of a sword. He carries a scepter in his right hand. A crown sits nearby.
Figure 8.19 This small-scale 1817 portrait of King João VI of Portugal was painted by Jean-Baptiste Debret, who immigrated to Brazil as a member of the French Artistic Mission. (credit: “Portrait of John VI of Portugal” by Museu Nacional de Belas Artes/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Link to Learning

Explore the work of French artist Jean-Baptiste Debret who lived in Brazil between 1816 and 1831 during that nation’s transition to independence and whose work depicted street scenes, local costumes, and gender relations.

King João VI was more sympathetic to his Brazilian subjects than King Fernando VII was to his own in Spanish America. Nevertheless, rebellions within Brazil were suppressed with force. For instance, in 1817, Brazilians from Pernambuco—a sugar-planting province on the northeastern coast—reacted to the arrest of a liberal military officer by declaring the province an autonomous republic. King João VI quickly put a brutal end to their experiment. He finally returned to Portugal in 1821, six years after Napoléon’s fall, when the Cortes, the Portuguese parliament, demanded his return.

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The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax