Isabel, Princess Imperial of Brazil

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Today marks the Centenary of the Death of Isabel, Princess Imperial of Brazil ‘The Redemptress’, who died on this day in 1921! The elder surviving daughter of Emperor Pedro II of Brazil and Princess Teresa Cristina of the Two Sicilies, she was made the Princess Imperial, Heir to the Throne, in 1850, but the Emperor, despite his fondness for his daughters, believed ‘that a single woman could not manage life’s problem on her own, even if she possessed the powers and authority of an empress’, and held the view that the Empire would end with him.

Educated by the Countess of Barral, the Princess Imperial learned Portuguese and French literature, astronomy, chemistry, the history of Portugal, England and France, drawing, piano, dancing, political economy, geography, geology, and the history of philosophy, speaking French, English and German in addition to her native Portuguese.  Despite the varied education, the Emperor avoided preparing her for her future role as Empress, not involving her in cabinet meetings, public audiences or in any state matters, giving her a lack of understanding of Brazilian political and social issues. In 1864, the Princess Imperial married Prince Gaston d’Orléans, Count of Eu, a grandson of King Louis Philippe I, King of the French, and the couple eventually had three surviving sons, born more than ten years after their marriage.

The Princess Imperial was Regent of Brazil on three separate occasions, in 1871, 1876, and 1887-88, when she signed the Golden Law (A Lei Áurea), abolishing slavery in Brazil, for which she was acclaimed as “the Redemptress” and was given a Golden Rose by Pope Leo XIII. The monarchy was never so popular, but at the same time never so frail, having lost the support of powerful slave-owning plantation owners, and in 1889, Emperor slave-owning plantation owners, without much protest, and the Princess Imperial stating:

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

The Imperial Family left for exile in Europe, first to Portugal and then France, and were faced with financial difficulties, while lending little support to efforts to gain back the Throne, even after the death of Emperor Pedro II in 1891. Eventually, the Princess Imperial and the Count of Eu purchased the Château d’Eu from his cousin, the Count of Paris, which remained the family home until 1954, with some parts till belonging to the descendants of their granddaughter, the Countess of Paris. After losing her younger sons in 1918 and 1920 respectively, the Princess was too ill to  Brazil when the government lifted the family’s banishment in 1920, and while the Count and their grandson and Heir, Prince Pedro Henrique, visited for the reburial of Emperor Pedro and Empress Teresa Cristina in Brazil in 1921, the Princess Imperial remained in France, where she passed away exactly 100 years ago, initially buried in the Orleans Royal Chapel at Dreux before being repatriated to Brazil in 1953, and interred in the Cathedral of Petrópolis in 1971.

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