An enquiry from Rio de Janeiro
In 1816 State Chancellor Metternich received an enquiry from Rio de Janeiro: a wife was being sought for the Crown Prince of Portugal, Pedro of Bragança.
Until the twentieth year of her life Archduchess Leopoldine’s life had followed the normal course: in accordance with strict Habsburg principles she had been brought up so that she might properly occupy her station in life. It was political developments in Europe that made her fate special.
The King of Portugal, King João VI of Bragança, was in difficulty. In 1807, with the help of the British, he had moved his court into exile from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro. In return for their help in this historically unique event, the British had negotiated reduced tariffs and trade restrictions which effectively placed Portugal’s economy under English control. In order to reduce this dependency, King João VI, acting as Prince Regent for his mentally unstable mother, Maria I of Portugal, sought to create an alliance with another European power, and he chose Austria. The usual means for establishing a friendly alliance was marriage, and so his son, Crown Prince Pedro, was to be married to a Habsburg princess.
For Prince Metternich this enquiry opened up some interesting new prospects. To send one of Emperor Franz I’s daughters to Brazil to marry meant that Austria could send an expedition to this then still largely unexplored land of fable, thereby re-establishing Austria as a powerful nation in the fields of science and art. Metternich proposed Archduchess Leopoldine Josepha Carolina as a suitable candidate, since it was her turn to be married.