The Last Queen of Portugal
In 1884 during a tour of Europe, Amelia and her family visited King Alfonso XII of Spain, Amelia's uncle. This visit was a milestone in the princess' social life, and the foreign press praised her beauty and her elegance. But Amelia's social debut came later in the tour, during her visit to Vienna. Archduchess Marie Valerie, the youngest daughter of Emperor Franz Joseph, invited her to go to a play, where she was sitting in the imperial box at the theater. Amelia accepted the invitation, not knowing that she would meet the Emperor face to face in the box. The Emperor invited her to sit at his side, which caused amazement all over the theatre; the entire audience looked at the shy and embarrassed Princess. The princess visited the Belvedere, walked on the Prater and was delighted with all the novelties. After Vienna she ended her trip in Munich where she met a Bavarian prince who would propose to her a few months later. His proposal was refused; the memories of the French-German war of 1870 were still too fresh.
Wedding and Early Married Life
The Princess said a heartfelt goodbye to everybody who lived and worked in her parents' home in Paris, and more than 10,000 citizens were present to wave goodbye at the railway station where she departed for her new home. On 19 May 1886 she arrived in Portugal at the train station of Vimieiro. Here she changed into a dress made of blue and white silk and a hat in the colours of the monarchist Portuguese flag. Amelia was not an extraordinary beauty, but her impressive height (5 feet 10 inches/180 cm), her dark hair, and her brown eyes impressed the Portuguese spectators. From the station the Princess and her party went to the Palace of Necessidades in Lisbon. On her wedding eve, Amelia visited the palace chapel to confess and to pray.
The royal wedding was celebrated three days after her arrival, on 22 May, in the Church of São Domingos in Lisbon. The day was splendid, the Sun shone, and everyone was on the street to greet the royal family. It was jokingly said that only the sick and the lame stayed at home. On that day, everybody forgot the political differences. In Lisbon, the hotels were filled with guests who came from remote places in Portugal. The church was dazzling, not only because of the blue and white decorations but also because of the beauty and variety of uniforms and gowns worn by the guests. At 2.10 pm the bride arrived at the church with her father. The Countess of Paris followed them and was escorted to the altar by the bridegroom, while the music of Hino da Carta - national anthem of the kingdom of Portugal - was played. Everybody was eager to see Amelia’s dress. She didn’t disappoint them: her white wedding dress was made of faille silk with a long train, and her lace veil was a gift from friends from France. On her head she wore a garland of orange blossom; she didn’t wear any jewelry.
After a short honeymoon in the bucolic and romantic city of Sintra, the young couple went to live in the Palace of Belém while Amelia's parents stayed in the Palace of Necessidades. It was at this time that the family heard that they were exiled from France again. The exile was caused by the “extravagant” celebrations for Amelia's wedding, which had aroused royalist feelings in France.
The first years of their marriage were happy. When the Duchess of Luynes, a friend of Amelia, wanted to know if the Crown Princess had found real happiness, Amelia replied in a letter: "I have adapted very well to my new life; my parents in law are so tender to me and the people show me such kindness.” In 1886, Amelia became pregnant with her first child. It was an easy and happy pregnancy, but the actual delivery of Infante Crown Prince Luís Filipe on 21 March 1887 did not go as swiftly. It took so long that the family and the courtiers got frightened.
From the beginning of her life in Portugal, Amelia refused to be confined to a comfortable life in the palace and started her own initiatives. She didn’t want to limit herself to being a mere financial supporter of social institutions; she visited the institutions and interacted with the people there. But her social activity was not always positively welcomed. Many aristocratic ladies thought it was inappropriate for a royal to visit poor neighbourhoods and spend time with the poor, the sick, and the rejected. The republican press used to criticize her for her contact with the poor too. However, Amelia did not pay much attention to these negative comments and became the patron and founder of two very important institutions: the Institute Princess Dona Amelia (which had been created to support the workers' social rights) and the National Association against Tuberculosis. Health care would become one of her lifelong interests, and several decades later when she was living in exile she became a volunteer in the Hospitals of Wandsworth and Whitechapel, helping the doctors and nurses take care of wounded soldiers during the First World War. In France, Amelia was an important financial donor to the Red Cross and to new schools and hospitals.
By 1888, the health of King Luis was deteriorating. The doctors decided that the monarch should take some time off and go on a boat trip through Europe. During his absence, Prince Carlos assumed the regency of the country. This gave Amelia a taste of her future role as Queen. The regency was not free of political and personal attacks; newspapers criticized Queen Maria Pia for shopping and visiting her friends all over the European courts while her husband the King was travelling alone and sick. Carlos's love affairs become another source of scandals, while Amelia was accused of being vain and too concerned with French fashion.
Amelia Becomes Queen
The year 1889 had a happy beginning for Carlos and Amelia; they spent several weeks in Spain, where they both spent their time hunting, one of Carlos's favourite hobbies together with oceanography. This vacation from which Amelia would return pregnant, would be the last carefree time for the couple. King Luis died soon after they returned to Portugal. Amelia thought about her mother-in-law, Queen Maria Pia, and wrote a letter letting her know that she would continue to respect her as queen and as mother. When Amelia became Queen, as soon as the phone service was inaugurated in Portugal, she ordered a special a private line, in the Palace das Necessidades, in order to enjoy private chats with her “mother."
Less than a month after the death of King Luis, Amelia gave birth to her second son, who she named Manuel. On 28 December 1889, Carlos swore his oath his oath and was acclaimed as King Carlos I of Portugal. The first year of his reign began with a death: Amelia’s grandfather, the Duke of Montpensier, passed away. Another death followed 5 years later; this time Amelia's father died. Apart from those deaths, these years were the best years of her life, with her sons were growing up healthy and happily. When the Queen was not in Vila Viçosa, the children used to write her many letters telling her about their progress in hunting. Sometimes they also had to tell her about their misfortunes. Prince Luis Filipe wrote to his mother: "Yesterday I failed to shoot a very wild boar, and you, my Mother, can’t imagine how ridiculed I was by everyone… At dinner, I got a letter from my friends. Father gave it to me. It was a picture of a sad boar, a happy boar, and a third boar looking me in the eyes. This last one said “with all my thanks!” Luis Filipe ends his letter with the dedication “To Your Majesty the Queen, from the Number 1.”
On 2 October 1895, King Carlos started the first foreign official visits of his reign. He tried to strengthen diplomatic relations with the big European powers. His tour started in Spain, followed by visits to France, Germany, and England. The King's visit to England was especially important as relations between the two countries had gone sour. In 1890 Britain had sent an ultimatum to Lisbon, telling Portugal to give up the territories between Angola and Mozambique. This ultimatum was a source of anger for many Portuguese, who were proud of the large Portuguese Empire in Africa, Asia, and Oceania. As Portugal was bankrupt, the country could not afford a war with Britain and the government had no other option than to bow to British demands. King Carlos, however, seemed to enjoy the company of King Edward VII in England, which angered Portuguese monarchists as well as republicans. Many newspapers called the king “Traidor!” - Traitor. During this trip, Queen Amelia stayed in Lisbon and acted as regent, a responsibility she found difficult to combine with her private life. Since Amelia was both Queen and acting Head of State, protocol rarely allowed her the luxury of being alone.
However, throughout her life, Amelia set aside some solitary time with her diary, where she could write about her state of mind and other emotions. But only horses and the sea gave her the rare moments of individual freedom. Her husband's interests and hobbies were in the arts and sciences, especially oceanography. The merit of his works in this area, namely his extensive book collection and scientific studies, was (and still is) internationally recognized by the most important scientific institutions. The King was also a painter. His watercolours of Portuguese landscape, boats, and the sea are his best personal art legacy, together with drawings of Portuguese birds for a book named Birds of Portugal. Horses were a shared interest of the couple. The Queen had loved to ride ever since childhood, her height and athleticism made her an outstanding rider. The was another interest the couple shared. When Amelia married Carlos, he already had a keen interest in the sailing; his first yacht, wthe Nautillus was a gift from father. Aura would be the next one, and after two yachts named Amélia, Carlos bought the Lia, a very modern yacht that Amelia would call “my other home.”
Queen Amelia's heart problems became worse in 1902 when she was 38 years old. Her doctors advised a long period of rest,and suggested a voyage. The Queen listened to their advice and took her two sons with her for a three-month trip in the Mediterranean on the yacht Amélia. It was a great opportunity for her and her children to visit other places and cultures. Luis Filipe and Manuel were astonished by the great centres of civilization of antiquity. They also received visitors like Prince Albert of Monaco with his children, Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria, Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany with his brother Prince Eithel, the Duke of Connaught, and some others. This trip was used by republican newspapers as an excuse to describe lavish parties that were given to foreign royal guests, and they even mentioned the amount of coal on board to keep the royals and their guests warm at night. Another thing that angered the republicans was that King Carlos offered yet another luxurious yacht, called Sunshine, to Queen Amelia as a birthday present. Due to the criticism Queen Amelia had to give up her old yacht, Amélia, and donated it to the corporation of pilots.
The year 1902 was a dramatic year for Queen Amelia, with several deaths in store. The first shock was the suicide in January of Prince Luis Filipe’s tutor, Joaquim Mouzinho de Albuquerque. He could not handle the rumours circulating in the palace about his platonic passion for the Queen. In June, Queen Amelia had some serious heart problems. On a more pleasant note, she had the joy of seeing her elder son taking his first steps in the international scene. Luis Filipe, only 15 years old, was the King's official representative at the coronation ceremony of King Edward VII in London. However, when Luis Filipe returned from England, Amelia had a stroke. To worsen the situation, some of her close friends died or suffered other accidents and there were rumours that she and Carlos were becoming estranged, which was true. Before Carlos became King, he used to ask for Amelia's opinion about political events, and she liked to be close to these issues. But after the death of King Luis, King Carlos had his own counsellors and did not ask his wife for advice any longer.
The couple was definitely more popular abroad than in their own country, apart from Madeira and the Azores where they made the most memorable of their visits in the summer of 1901. The royal visit had been planned for months and the enthusiasm of the public was huge. The main focus of that attention was Amelia; her kindness, her capacity to listen, and her ability to give accurate opinions to everyone who decided to talk to her, helped make the royal visit a success and endeared the royal couple to the people of both Portuguese islands. Amelia was more than just a Queen to many Portuguese. While her mother-in-law Queen Maria Pia was formal and more conscious of her duty as a consort, Amelia was like a mother to the people, and her admirers were enchanted by her tender and calm demeanour. Besides that, Queen Maria Pia never made a great effort to learn the Portuguese language correctly while Amelia thought it was an important thing to do.
In November 1904 the royal couple visited England to improve relations between the two countries. King Carlos demanded a major security force for himself and the Queen. Some found his recent concern or even obsession for security curious, but it was quite understandable since the political atmosphere in Portugal was hostile. Some newspapers even wrote: “For much less, Marie-Antoinette was killed.” The trip to England would be refreshing for Carlos as he and Edward VII shared a true friendship. But England was not the only country they would visit. Spain was an important country to Portugal too, due to the strong commercial bonds between the two countries; and the family ties between Amelia and the Spanish royal family helped in making this a successful visit. The Queen really liked Andalusia, where she attended some bullfights.
King Carlos' efforts to forge good diplomatic relationships with the colonial European powers (England, Germany, France, and Belgium) was aimed at protecting the Portuguese territories in Africa. His efforts resulted in a succession of official trips to Portugal by foreign heads of state. One of those visits was from President Émile Loubet of France, who visited Portugal in 1905. The initial meeting between the President and the Queen must have been difficult for both of them. He was the representative of the regime that had exiled Amelia and her family; however, the friendliness and even the chemistry between them was immediate. When the royal band played the Marseillaise in front of the Rossio train station, in honour of the President, voices were heard giving hurrahs to the republic. President Loubet raised his hat in thanks, but everybody understood that the crowd's cheers were a protest against the monarchy. This event shows that King Carlos' efforts to maintain good diplomatic relations with other countries was not good enough for his own people. It did not compensate for the growing anger about domestic problems. Social discontent was rising, new ideologies like socialism were emerging, the influence of the Catholic Church in society was declining, and industrialization opened doors to organized labour unions. The republican opposition organised revolts and both the Carbonaria (the armed wing of the Republican Party) and the freemasons conspired against the King. The monarchist parties fought among themselves and made the regime even weaker. During the 21 years of Carlos' reign, Portugal had ten governments, most of them led by left-wing politicians. This all made Portugal a powder keg, just waiting to explode.
The opposition was in a rage because of João Franco. Against the will of most political parties, King Carlos, facing the crisis that was affecting Portugal, appointed Franco as Prime Minister in 1907. Franco quickly established an authoritarian government. The displeasure with Franco and the rising criticism that Amelia was interfering too much in national politics (she wrote every day to Franco criticizing his policies) strengthened the republican movement. In Lisbon there were rumours that the King's life was in danger. The Count of Mafra wrote in his memoirs “they want to kill my King…” Carlos, who was in Vila Viçosa, was aware of the explosive situation but still wanted to return to Lisbon on 1 February 1908. Prince Manuel waited for his parents and brother at the Terreiro do Paço, a large square in downtown Lisbon, close to the river Tagus. When the family arrived they had a delay of four hours, which annoyed the King greatly. He refused to ride in the closed cars provided for their security, and insisted on travelling in an open carriage. At that moment there were very few people in Terreiro do Paço. When the carriage containing the royal family got close to the western corner of the square, two republicans shot at the royal carriage. The King was shot in the neck and died immediately, while Crown Prince Luís Filipe was mortally wounded after trying to shoot the murderers of his father. In the chaos that followed, the two murderers were killed by the police. While Prince Manuel cleaned the blood off his brother's face, someone shot him in the arm. Amelia was close to the gunman, and she stood up and hit him with her bouquet, which had been presented to her only minutes before. This situation caused even more confusion but it saved Prince Manuel, from being shot by other assassins. The chaos was complete, and many accomplices were able to escape.
After the regicide, something changed in Portugal. As the atmosphere became more explosive, Queen Amelia and her son were driven in closed cars to the funeral. Thousands of condolences arrived from all Europe. Most monarchs in Europe were not only related to King Carlos but they were also his friends. Edward VII, the British King, was one of them. He attended a Requiem for Carlos and Luis Filipe at the catholic St. James Church in London. It was the first time since the Reformation that a British monarch had attended a Catholic ceremony.
Queen Amelia knew that from now on her duty was to guide and assist her young and inexperienced son in his new position, a position for which he was not adequately prepared. On 6 May 1908, Manuel was proclaimed King of Portugal. He would be the last king of the country, and his precarious reign would last for only two years. Amelia, now known as Queen Mother, had a great deal of influence on her son. She used to call him “mon petit roi” because he was so young. Her influence on him was so strong that they even posed together for the international press in his office. The Queen Mother usually wrote the official texts that her son would sign; she read the dispatches and gave her opinion about political issues. She even presided over political meetings. Her interference fueled even stronger attacks on the monarchy.
Soon after Manuel was proclaimed king, he paid an official visit to Britain. This visit was important to his mother and other courtiers, and was seen as a way to find him a royal bride. When he returned to Portugal he mentioned Princess Alexandra of Fife, granddaughter of Edward VII, and Princess Louise of Battenberg (who would later become the second wife of King Gustaf VI of Sweden). But none of the potential brides' families were interested in marrying their daughters to the son of a murdered king. The official excuse was the different religion of the young people involved.
After a very successful trip to the north of Portugal, the new king visited the most important European courts. He wanted to become acquainted with other monarchs. King Manuel was, however, not as gifted as his brother in political affairs, and he committed several faux pas during his trip, including an indiscreet liaison with an actress in Paris, which led to accusations that he was amusing himself with affairs of the heart and ignoring the situation in his own country. In Portugal he was full of new ideas to mend the divisions that existed throughout society. He dismissed the dictator João Franco and his entire staff, and free elections were held. The republicans gained seven more seats in Parliament, and some were elected mayors of important cities, among them Lisbon. But the democratic result was not enough for the republican opposition, and a revolution was prepared.
On 4 October 1910 Manuel received his first official visit from the President of Brazil, Hermes da Fonseca. There were rumours that a republican revolution was imminent, and some ministers simply vanished into thin air. During the dinner, Manuel was informed that a revolution had started, and he decided to shorten the dinner and quickly left for the Palace of Necessidades. During the night, shots could be heard at different locations in Lisbon. In the morning republican red and green flags were flying over official governmental offices. The Army joined the revolution and expelled the King by shooting at the palace with the marine cannons. The republic was officially proclaimed on 5 October 1910; the Portuguese people, however, were never called to vote in a referendum to accept or reject the republican system.
When the revolution started, Queen Amelia and Queen Maria Pia were in Sintra. When they were told about it, Amelia immediately left to be with her son. Her intentions were not to comfort him or to start weeping; instead, she came to make sure that the King remained strong so he could do something to save the situation. She was furious at the apathy of the monarchists and decided to face the danger with all her energy. But when the warships shot at the Palace of Necessidades, where the King was staying, there was very little that could be done. The palace was hit, and the royal family was forced to leave Lisbon and went to Ericeira. Here they realised that the situation was hopeless. King Manuel, Queen Mother Amelia, Prince Afonso (King Carlos’ brother), Queen Maria Pia, some friends and ladies in waiting of the Queens, and the King’s secretary, the Marquis of Soveral, left Ericeira on board the yacht Amélia, heading for Gibraltar.
In exile the members of the royal family went their separate ways. Queen Maria Pia returned to Italy, her native country, where she died nine months later. Only minutes before she died she asked her servants to turn her body in the direction of Portugal. The others went to England, where the Duke of Orléans (Queen Amelia’s brother) received them at his house in Woodnorton.
Many royalists changed to the republican side just one day after the revolution. There was, however, still some monarchist resistance to the new republican regime, but not enough to convince King Manuel that he should fight for restoration of the monarchy. During the following year, 1912, Manuel travelled a lot. While he was on his way to Switzerland, he stopped in Sigmaringen to visit his great-aunt Antónia de Bragança. Here he met her niece, Princess Augusta Victoria of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. The two liked each other, and in 1913 they got engaged. They married on 4 September 1913. For the first time since the regicide, Queen Amelia discarded her mourning clothes and chose a bright dress to attend the wedding of her son and 'Mimi', as she called her daughter-in-law.
The beginning of the First World War filled King Manuel with mixed feelings. On the one hand, he supported England since England and Portugal were historical allies. On other hand, his wife was German and both his brothers-in-law were in German military service. Queen Amelia wisely advised her son only to get involved in the humanitarian part of the conflict, which he did. Soon after the war started, Queen Amelia visited France, her native country, to see the atrocities for herself. The visit made a huge impression on her, and she started helping out in several hospitals in Britain. Another sad event for Queen Amelia occurred in 1917. Her brother-in-law, Prince Afonso, decided to marry Nevada Hayes Chapman, a lady who had already been divorced three times. As this was rather scandalous at the time, Amelia was forced to break off all contacts with him.
In April 1919, the Countess of Paris, Amelia's mother, died in Villamanrique, Spain. In February of the following year, Prince Afonso (Amelia's brother-in-law) died in Posillipo, Italy. Because of his controversial marriage, none of his Portuguese relations were present when he died. After these two deaths, Amelia decided to leave England for good. The doctors had advised her not her to spend another winter season in England, and she was also missing France, where she had good memories of her relaxed youth. Her wish was to live close to Palace of Versailles. She chose a mansion in Chesnoy, known as Château de Bellevue, and spent the next 30 years of her life there. In Chesnay, the Queen mixed with the community, helping the Red Cross and other charities. King Manuel kept his mother informed about his decisions and politics, although the movement to restore the monarchy in Portugal was dying out.
The last time Amelia saw her son Manuel alive was in 1932 at the Wimbledon tennis championships. Her instinct told her that something was wrong with him, and indeed he was sick. He called his doctor, who diagnosed tracheal edema and advised him to take some rest. This was not enough, however, and he died later that year, of unknown causes. Queen Amelia had a weird premonition about this tragedy; when the letter with the news arrived at her house in Chesnay, she said “Je sais… mon fils, est mort” – I know my son is dead - even before she opened the envelope. Queen Amelia organized all the funeral ceremonies in the Catholic Cathedral of Westminster, just as she had done in Lisbon when her husband and eldest son died. The Marquis of Lavradio, who was the personal secretary of King Manuel, wrote in his memoirs: “when the coffin was passing through the cathedral’s door, Her Majesty D. Amelia took her hands to her lips and sent a last kiss to her son, with a gesture so full of tenderness that I was not able to forget.” Prime Minister Salazar decided to bring the king’s body back to Portugal and give him a state funeral. Queen Amelia and Queen Augusta Victoria were, however, not allowed to be present. King Manuel was laid to rest in the church of São Vicente de Fora, the pantheon of the Bragança family. In the following year it became clear that Manuel’s last will bequeathed to Portugal a huge quantity of his patrimony. These goods were later used to create the House of Bragança Foundation. Queen Augusta Victoria returned to Germany, and she would later marry Count Karl Robert Douglas.
In 1951, Amelia's sister Princess Isabelle died, after which her periods of dementia became more frequent. During her mental torments and living alone only with her servants and secretary, she asked everyone who could hear her: “why was I exiled? Why did they kill my sons?” Amelia didn’t say “son” but “sons,” which led some to think that she knew more about the suspicious death of her younger son than was officially said.
Apart from this despair, she had moments of joy when she was visited by admirers. She was very happy with the visit of the movie maker Leitão de Barros, who wanted to interview her for a television programme. The interview was a testimony to her resilient humour. When they began to film the Queen, she laughed and said “but why do you want to film this ruin?” Leitão de Barros confessed she was a very bright and sweet person, who was cooperative till the end of the film. The only thing she hated were the strong lamps. She called them “cet odieux soleil artificial!” The interview was a great success and showed how much Amelia still felt for Portugal. The journalist asked her if she thought often about Portugal, to which she replied in perfect Portuguese: “Remember? The ones who remember are the ones who once forgot. And I have never forgotten!” He wanted to know if she wanted to come back to Portugal ... “what do you mean, come back?...my heart is still there, my friend!”
The Queen's health continued to deteriorate and by the end of September 1951, she was kept alive only with the help of a huge quantity of medication. On 5 October her last words were to her faithful secretary, Julio da Costa Pinto. She recognized him, thanked him, and smiled while he was crying and kissed her hands. The Queen died 20 days later, only a few seconds after someone had given her some water. Smiling, and without a murmur or complaint, the Queen was finally at rest. She was 87 years old.
The first funeral service took place at the cathedral of St. Louis in Paris, in the presence of several members of the French and Portuguese royal families. On 26 November the Queen's body departed for Portugal. By a personal order of Salazar, Amelia received the ceremonies and honours of a reigning Queen. No one expected that so many people would be on the streets of Lisbon to follow the Queen’s last journey to her tomb. The unexpected number of people who went to São Vicente de Fora to pay their respects made the government decide to keep her body on view for thirty days instead of the initial three! Through the glass window of her coffin, it was possible to see the Queen, her hands and face as white as marble in contrast to her black dress, the same dress she was wearing on the day her husband and son were murdered. Through the years she had kept this dress, stained with their blood, to wear at her own funeral. In March 1952, she was laid to rest in a tomb which resembled the tombs of her husband and elder son. All of them were made of marble from the village at her beloved Vila Viçosa. On the sides of her tomb, the inscription says the most true thing ever written about her: "Aqui descansa em Deus, D. Amelia de Orleães e Bragança, rainha no trono na caridade e na dor”. – “Here rests in God, D. Amelia of Orléans and Bragança, Queen on the Throne, in Charity and in Pain.”
Grande Reportagem magazine, nº61, article: "No tempo dos reis"
Indy magazine no. 507, article: No dia em que o rei foi morto
Nobre, Eduardo. Amélia, Rainha de Portugal. Quimera, 2006
Nogueira, Franco Salazar vol. IV. Civilização Editora, 1986
Tavares Dias, Marina Dom Carlos Lisboa 1908. Quimera, 2007
Verger, Carlos Alberto A Dor de uma Rainha Civi World Brazil, 1975
All photos are public domain.