John VI of Portugal


John VI of Portugal : biography

13 May 1767 – 10 March 1826

Flight to Brazil

The Prince Regent played desperately for time, pretending until the last moment an apparent submission to France, to the point of suggesting to George III of the United Kingdom a declaration of a fictitious war between their countries, but he did not obey the dictates of Napoleon’s Continental System (a blockade against Great Britain). A new secret treaty with the British guaranteed him help in case of an eventual flight of the royal family. The accord greatly favored the British and, preserving from certain deposition a legitimate government that had always been friendly toward them, preserved their influence over the country, as the United Kingdom continued to make vast profits in trade with the Portuguese intercontinental empire. It fell to Portugal only to choose between obedience to France or to England, and the hesitancy to decide firmly placed Portugal at risk of war with not merely one of these powers but with both. In October 1807 news arrived that a French army was approaching and on 16 November a British squadron arrived in the port of Lisbon with a force of seven thousand men, with orders either to escort the royal family to Brazil or, if the government surrendered to France, to attack and conquer the Portuguese capital. The court was divided between Francophiles and Anglophiles, after anguished consideration under pressure from both sides, John decided to accept British protection and to leave for Brazil.Valuguera, Alfonso B. de Mendoza Y Gómez de. "Carlismo y miguelismo". In: Gómez, Hipólito de la Torre & Vicente, António Pedro. España y Portugal. Estudios de Historia Contemporánea. Editorial Complutense, 1998, pp. 13–14. In Spanish.Pedreira e Costa, pp. 174–176

The invading army led by Jean-Andoche Junot advanced with some difficulty, arriving at the gates of Lisbon only on . By this time, the Prince Regent, accompanied by the entire royal family and a large following of nobles, state functionaries and servants, and bringing a variety of baggage including a valuable collection of artwork and books, had already embarked, leaving the government under a regency and having recommended to the army that they not engage in hostilities with the invader. The hasty departure, during a rainstorm that left the streets a morass, caused havoc in Lisbon as an astonished population could not believe that their prince had abandoned them.. Secretaria Municipal de Educação da Cidade do Rio de Janeiro. In Portuguese.Pedreira e Costa, pp. 185–186 According to the account of José Acúrsio das Neves, the departure brought forth deep emotion on the part of the Prince Regent:

To explain himself to the people, John ordered that posters be put up along the streets stating that his departure was unavoidable despite all efforts made to assure the integrity and peace of the kingdom. The posters recommended that everyone remain calm, orderly and not resist the invaders, so that blood not be shed in vain. Because of the rush to depart, the Prince Regent John, the Queen Maria, Prince Pedro, Prince of Beira (later Pedro I of Brazil and Pedro IV of Portugal) and Infante Miguel (later Miguel I of Portugal) were all in a single ship. This was an imprudent decision given the dangers of a transatlantic voyage in that era, placing at risk the succession of the crown in case of shipwreck. Carlota Joaquina and the infantas were on two other ships.Gomes, pp. 64–70 The number of people who embarked with John remains a matter of controversy; in the 19th century there was talk of up to 30 thousand emigrants;Bortoloti, Marcelo. . In: Revista Veja, Edição 2013, . In Portuguese. more recent estimates vary between five hundred and fifteen thousand, the latter being close to the maximum capacity of the squadron of fifteen ships, including their crews. Still, the ships were overcrowded. According to Pedreira e Costa, taking into account all of the variables, the most likely numbers fall between four and seven thousand passengers plus the crews. Many families were separated, and even high officials failed to secure a place on the ships and were left behind. The voyage was not a tranquil one. Several ships were in precarious condition, and overcrowding created humiliating situations for the nobility, the majority of whom had to sleep huddled in the open, in the poops. Hygienic conditions were bad, including an epidemic of head lice. Many had failed to bring changes of clothing. Several people fell ill. Supplies were scarce, causing rationing. Furthermore, the flotilla spent ten days nearly becalmed in Equatorial zone under a scorching heat, where the mood turned sour and there were murmurings. The flotilla also faced two storms and was eventually dispersed near Madeira. In the middle of the voyage, Prince John changed his plans and decided to head for Salvador, Bahia, probably for political reasons—to please the inhabitants of the colony’s first capital, which had given many signs of discontent with the loss of its old status—while the ships carrying the infantas held to the original destination of Rio de Janeiro.Pedreira e Costa, pp. 186–194Gomes, pp. 72–74; 82–100