The First Emperor of Brazil


Before the French invaders arrived, Portugal’s Royal Family cleaned out the national treasury of its gold and silver, packed up the Royal Library, and escaped, accompanied by a court of between 10,000 and 15,000 members. Led by the Prince Regent, soon-to-be King John VI, they set sail for Brazil under escort of the British Royal Navy to rule the Empire from Portugal’s most profitable colony until it was safe to return home. Two months later, they reached Salvador. On one of his first orders of business, Prince John signed an agreement to allow Brazil to trade directly with other nations. During his stay, he moved the capital of the Portuguese Empire to Rio de Janeiro and elevated Brazil’s jurisdictional stature to that of the motherland.

The arrival of the Royal Family sent Rio de Janeiro into a public building frenzy as well as adding parks and monuments. His thirteen years in the colony were a period of tremendous economic growth for Brazil, during which he became King of Portugal on the death of his mother. When King John VI returned to Portugal to once again rule the empire from Lisbon, he left his son, Dom Pedro in charge as Regent. By then, Brazil’s parliament had passed a new constitution, placing limits on the monarch’s powers. When Portugal tried to return Brazil to its former territorial status, Dom Pedro sided with Brazil. Told to return to Portugal, on January 9, 1822, from the Imperial Palace, he refused in a famous declaration called the Dia do Fico. A few months later, on Sept 7, 1822, from the shores of the Ipiranga River in Sao Paulo, he proclaimed the country’s independence with the words, “By my blood, by my honor and by God, I will make Brazil free.”

After some clashes with colonial troops, the matter was settled with Portugal, and Dom Pedro was crowned the first Emperor of Brazil. On the death of his father in 1826, he became Dom Pedro I of Portugal but abdicated to remain in Brazil.

His popularity didn’t last long. After several years of political intrigue and instability, he abdicated in 1831. Don Pedro I returned to Portugal to fight his linage back into power there, leaving the Brazilian throne to his son, five-year old Pedro de Alcantara. When Dom Pedro I died of tuberculosis in 1834, he was only thirty-five.

Decades later, after Dom Pedro I’s remains had been returned to Brazil, they were interred in the chapel of the Museo Ipiranga, a cultural museum in Independence Park near where the Emperor declared Brazil free. The site is a popular attraction during Brazil tours to Sao Paulo.

Visitors on Rio de Janeiro tours may see the major historical sites of the reign of Dom Pedro I when the city was the seat of power for the Portuguese Empire. For those who travel to Brazil with Southern Explorations, all trips include time on Rio de Janeiro tours to learn about its rich history.