Family life in Rio de Janeiro

Nine pregnancies; a husband who indulges constantly in love affairs; a mistress who gets involved in politics…

From the very first weeks after her arrival, Leopoldina’s family life was difficult and complicated in every respect.


After a difficult delivery, her first daughter Maria-Glória was born on 4 April 1819. In nine years of marriage she had nine pregnancies, three of them ending in miscarriage. Of the six children she bore successfully, the first born son, João-Carlos, died at the age of eleven months.


Dom Pedro's dissolute private life was a source of much distress for Leopoldina. In 1822 he met Domitila de Castro Canto e Melo, a married woman, illiterate and of ill-repute.


Leopoldina found herself without support, since even the Austrian ambassadors preferred not to report on her family situation back in Vienna; after all, who wanted to be the bearer of bad news to Metternich. Nonetheless in October 1825 Ambassador Mareschal wrote to Prince Metternich that ‘the influence this woman has gained over Dom Pedro is astonishing, and it is to be feared that it will grow and be of long duration’. Pedro even demanded of Leopoldina that she raise his daughter Isabel, born to his mistress in May 1824, in Boa Vista along with their legitimate children.

Another circumstance that made it harder to cope with everyday life was the problem of sending and receiving news. Leopoldina suffered unspeakably from the failure of her marriage, but saw no means of escaping from it, since Brazil was so far from Europe. The English postal ships only sailed between Europe and Brazil every five or six months, sometimes at even greater intervals; on one occasion Leopoldina had to wait two years to receive a letter sent to her by her father. Furthermore, Leopoldina’s post was censured, although not, of course, officially.


During this period Leopoldina also fell into debt and financial straits, since Pedro was forever reducing the household budget. ‘Because of a seductive witch I find myself in a state of extreme melancholy’, she wrote to her sister Marie Louise.

Gloria Kaiser