January 9, 1822: Fico – I am staying
The political situation in Brazil deteriorated and threatened to escalate. Dona Leopoldina’s adherence to her principles ensured that Brazil lost none of its original territory.
King João VI of Portugal, Leopoldina’s father-in-law, had to return to Europe in order to retain his position as ruler of the European motherland. On 25 April 1821 Prince Pedro was appointed Prince Regent of Brazil. Pedro was 23 years old and had no political experience. The Cortes, the elected parliamentary representatives of the Brazilian people, wanted to exploit the politically unstable situation in Rio de Janeiro and force Pedro and Leopoldina to leave the country, after which Brazil would have been divided up into separate regions.
Pedro, who was completely out of his depth in this situation, constantly backed off from the demands of the Cortes, invoking a constitution, then a new constitution, declaring himself ‘governor of the people’ and reducing his budgetary expenditure. Finally he even embarked on an affair with the wife of a general. All he wanted was to go home to Portugal, and in September 1821, six months after his father’s departure, he wrote: ‘I beg Your Majesty most urgently to release me from this onerous task’.
Leopoldina’s development during this six-month period was quite different. An educated man from São Paulo, José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva, had come to Rio de Janeiro. This ‘hoary hothead’ became a father-figure to Leopoldina; she was even able to speak German with him. She was able to help him become Pedro’s most valued advisor and, more importantly still, through her friendship with him she recovered her self-confidence. The moral principles by which she had been raised in Vienna, namely the duty of sacrificing personal happiness for the good of the people, once more came to the fore: she convinced her husband that maintaining the territorial integrity of this huge country was only possible if they both remained in Brazil. On 9 January 1822 Pedro solemnly declared: ‘Fico!’ – I am staying.
Two days later the Cortes struck while Pedro and Leopoldina were at the theatre; they occupied government offices and set fire to official buildings – in short, a revolution broke out. Pedro rode out with his troops against the Cortes and Leopoldina went onto the stage and announced: ‘Remain calm, my husband has everything under control!’. The announcement was greeted with jubilation, for with these words Leopoldina, who was seven months pregnant at the time, had placed herself firmly on the side of the Brazilian people. ‘Nossa mãe’ (our mother) had spoken to the people.
Leopoldina hurried back to Boa Vista. Her life was in danger. She packed both of her children, the three-year-old Maria-Glória and eleven-month-old João-Carlos, into the coach and fled with them to Santa Cruz, a twelve-hour journey on her own in the searing January summer heat.
The political situation soon calmed down and Leopoldina was able to return with the children to Boa Vista. However, the young Crown Prince João Carlos never recovered from the strain and passed away on 4 February 1822. The curse of the House of Bragança had struck again. This curse, pronounced against the House of Bragança by a Franciscan monk in 1640 when they had refused him alms, stated that no first born son of the house of Bragança would survive, and the prophecy was fulfilled yet again.