Emperor Pedro II of Brazil

Pedro II of Brazil
Pedro II of Brazil.

Emperor Pedro II of Brazil

Pedro II, of the House of Bragança, was Emperor of Brazil from 1841 to 1889. He was a fine ruler who did much for Brazil and held the nation together during chaotic times. He was an even-tempered, intelligent man who was generally respected by his people.

The Empire of Brazil

In 1807 the Portuguese royal family, the House of Bragança, fled Europe just ahead of Napoleon's troops. The ruler, Queen Maria, was mentally ill, and the decisions were made by Crown Prince João. João brought along his wife Carlota of Spain and his children, including a son who would eventually be Pedro I of Brazil. Pedro married Leopoldina of Austria in 1817. After João returned to claim the throne of Portugal after the defeat of Napoleon, Pedro I declared Brazil independent in 1822. Pedro and Leopoldina had four children survive into adulthood: the youngest, born on December 2, 1825, was also named Pedro and would become Pedro II of Brazil when crowned.

Youth of Pedro II

Pedro lost both his parents at an early age. His mother died in 1829 when Pedro was only three. His father Pedro the elder returned to Portugal in 1831 when young Pedro was only five: Pedro the elder would die of tuberculosis in 1834. Young Pedro would have the best schooling and tutors available, including José Bonifácio de Andrada, one of the leading Brazilian intellectuals of his generation. Apart from Bonifácio, the greatest influences on young Pedro were his beloved governess, Mariana de Verna, who he affectionately called “Dadama” and who was a surrogate mother to the young boy, and Rafael, an afro-Brazilian war veteran who had been a close friend of Pedro’s father. Unlike his father, whose exuberance precluded dedication to his studies, young Pedro was an excellent student.

Regency and Coronation of Pedro II

Pedro the elder abdicated the throne of Brazil in favor of his son in 1831: Pedro the younger was only five years old. Brazil was ruled by a regency council until Pedro came of age. While young Pedro continued his studies, the nation threatened to fall apart. Liberals around the nation preferred a more democratic form of government and despised the fact that Brazil was ruled by an Emperor. Revolts broke out all over the country, including major outbreaks in Rio Grande do Sul in 1835 and again in 1842, Maranhão in 1839 and São Paulo and Minas Gerais in 1842. The regency council was barely able to hold Brazil together long enough to be able to hand it over to Pedro. Things got so bad that Pedro was declared of age three and a half years ahead of time: he was sworn in as Emperor on July 23, 1840, at the age of fourteen, and officially crowned about a year later on July 18, 1841.

Marriage to Teresa Cristina of the Kingdom of the two Sicilies

History repeated itself for Pedro: years before, his father had accepted marriage with Maria Leopoldina of Austria based on a flattering portrait only to be disappointed when she arrived to Brazil: the same thing happened to Pedro the younger, who agreed to marriage with Teresa Cristina of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies after seeing a painting of her. When she arrived, young Pedro was noticeably disappointed. Unlike his father, however, Pedro the younger always treated Teresa Cristina extremely well and never cheated on her. He came to love her: when she died after forty-six years of marriage, he was heartbroken. They had four children, of which two daughters lived into adulthood.

Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil

Pedro was tested early and often as Emperor and consistently proved himself able to deal with his nation’s problems. He showed a firm hand with the continuing revolts in different parts of the country. Dictator of Argentina Juan Manuel de Rosas often encouraged dissension in southern Brazil, hoping to pry off a province or two to add to Argentina: Pedro responded by joining a coalition of rebellious Argentine states and Uruguay in 1852 which militarily deposed Rosas. Brazil saw many improvements during his reign, such as railways, water systems, paved roads and improved port facilities. A continued close relationship with Great Britain gave Brazil an important trading partner.

Pedro and Brazilian Politics

His power as ruler was kept in check by an aristocratic Senate and en elected Chamber of Deputies: these legislative bodies controlled the nation, but Pedro held a vague poder moderador or "moderation power:" in other words, he could affect legislation already proposed, but could not initiate much of anything himself. He used his power judiciously, and the factions in the legislature were so contentious among themselves that Pedro was able to effectively wield much more power than he supposedly had. Pedro always put Brazil first, and his decisions were always made on what he thought was best for the country: even the most dedicated opponents of monarchy and Empire came to respect him personally.

The War of the Triple Alliance

Pedro’s darkest hours came during the disastrous War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870). Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay had been scrapping – militarily and diplomatically – over Uruguay for decades, while politicians and parties in Uruguay played their larger neighbors off against one another. In 1864, the war got more heated: Paraguay and Argentina went to war and Uruguayan agitators invaded southern Brazil. Brazil was soon sucked into the conflict, which eventually pitted Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil (the triple alliance) against Paraguay. Pedro made his greatest mistake as head of state in 1867 when Paraguay sued for peace and he refused: the war would drag on for three more years. Paraguay was eventually defeated, but at great cost to Brazil and her allies. As for Paraguay, the nation was completely devastated and took decades to recover.


Pedro II disapproved of enslavement and worked hard to abolish it. It was a huge problem: in 1845, Brazil was home to about 7-8 million people: 5 million of them were enslaved people. The practice of enslavement was an important issue during his reign: Pedro and Brazil's close allies the British opposed it (Britain even chased ships carrying enslaved people into Brazilian ports) and the wealthy landowner class supported it. During the American Civil War, the Brazilian legislature quickly recognized the Confederate States of America, and after the war, a group of southern enslavers even relocated to Brazil. Pedro, stymied in his efforts to outlaw enslavement, even set up a fund to buy freedom for enslaved people and once purchased the freedom of an enslaved person on the street. Still, he managed to whittle away at it: in 1871 a law was passed which made children born to enslaved people free. The institution of enslavement was finally abolished in 1888: Pedro, in Milan at the time, was overjoyed.

End of Pedro's Reign and Legacy

In the 1880's the movement to make Brazil into a democracy gained momentum. Everyone, including his enemies, respected Pedro II himself: they hated the Empire, however, and wanted change. After the abolition of slavery, the nation became even more polarized. The military became involved, and in November of 1889, they stepped in and removed Pedro from power. He endured the insult of being confined to his palace for a time before being encouraged to go into exile: he left on November 24. He went to Portugal, where he lived in an apartment and was visited by a steady stream of friends and well-wishers until his death on December 5, 1891: he was only 66 but his long time in office (58 years) had aged him beyond his years.

Pedro II was one of Brazil's finest rulers. His dedication, honor, honesty and morality kept his growing nation on an even keel for over 50 years while other South American nations fell apart and warred with one another. Perhaps Pedro was such a good ruler because he had no taste for it: he frequently said that he would rather be a teacher than an emperor. He kept Brazil on the path to modernity, but with a conscience. He sacrificed much for his homeland, including his personal dreams and happiness.

When he was deposed, he simply said that if the people of Brazil didn't want him as Emperor, he would leave, and that's just what he did - one suspects he sailed off with a bit of relief. When the new republic formed in 1889 had growing pains, the people of Brazil soon found they missed Pedro terribly. When he passed away in Europe, Brazil shut down in mourning for a week, even though there was no official holiday.

Pedro is fondly remembered by Brazilians today, who have given him the nickname "the Magnanimous." His remains, and those of Teresa Cristina, were returned to Brazil in 1921 to great fanfare. The people of Brazil, many of whom still remembered him, turned out in droves to welcome his remains home. He holds a position of honor as one of the most distinguished Brazilians in history.


  • Adams, Jerome R. Latin American Heroes: Liberators and Patriots from 1500 to the Present. New York: Ballantine Books, 1991.
  • Harvey, Robert. Liberators: Latin America's Struggle for Independence Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 2000.
  • Herring, Hubert. A History of Latin America From the Beginnings to the Present.. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962
  • Levine, Robert M. The History of Brazil. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
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Minster, Christopher. "Emperor Pedro II of Brazil." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/emperor-pedro-ii-of-brazil-2136595. Minster, Christopher. (2023, April 5). Emperor Pedro II of Brazil. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/emperor-pedro-ii-of-brazil-2136595 Minster, Christopher. "Emperor Pedro II of Brazil." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/emperor-pedro-ii-of-brazil-2136595 (accessed June 2, 2023).