Isabel married Gaston d’Orleans, Count d’Eu, and had three sons. While she was still in her twenties, her father began leaving her in charge of Brazil as Regent during his numerous travels abroad. She came from progressive roots. When the military asked to be relieved of the responsibility of re-capturing runaway slaves, she agreed. She is best remembered in Brazilian history for her signing of the Golden Law that abolished slavery in Brazil in 1888.
For this act and for her pious character, she was awarded the Golden Rose by Pope Leo XIII in 1889. During these times, the Catholic Church bestowed this honor on royalty to acknowledge enlightened behavior. The award, symbolizing redemption and hope, was presented on Rose Sunday, a centuries-old custom. Isabel was one of the last people to receive the honor which since 1956 has only been awarded to holy places.
With no surviving brothers to inherit the throne, Princess Isabel might have become Empress of the country she loved, but the 1822 declaration of independence had set political change in motion, and the year following abolition, her father was deposed, and the family returned to France in exile. Dom Pedro II died in 1891, but the monarchy was not restored. Her succession was not to be.
To commemorate the hundred-year anniversary of independence, Brazil’s exile law was overturned, allowing Isabel to return to her homeland. As they made plans for their departure, Isabel, already in ill-health, died. Her husband set sail without her, aboard the steamship Massilia, but died during the voyage.
The remains of the princess, her husband, mother and father all ended up in Brazil. The Royal Family was buried on the grounds of the royal summer palace in the colonial city of Petropolis, forty miles north of Rio de Janeiro. Petropolis means “City of Peter,” in honor of her father, Dom Pedro II. They are interred in the Imperial Mausoleum of the Sao Pedro de Alcabtara Cathedral.
Visitors on Brazil tours may trace the life and times of Princess Isabel by visiting the Palace of Sao Cristovao, which since 1893 has served as the National Museum of Brazil, as well as the public botanical gardens in Quinta da Boa Vista Park, all located in what is called the Sao Cristovao neighborhood, north of Leblon beach. All of Southern Explorations’ travel to Brazil includes time on Rio de Janeiro tours.