Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Madness of Queen Maria: The Remarkable Life of Maria I of Portugal

The Madness of Queen Maria; The Remarkable Life of Maria I of Portugal is a book is a 2009 book written by Jennifer Roberts on Maria the Pious, otherwise known as Maria the Mad of Portugal.

On January 19, 1729, Infante Joseph of Portugal, eldest surviving son of King Joao V of Portugal and Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria, married Infanta Mariana Victoria, the one time fiancee of Louis XV of France. After five years of marriage, Mariana Victoria gave birth to her first child, a girl. She was later christened, Maria Francesca Isabel Josepha Antonia Gertrude Rita Joana, and given the title of Princess of Beira by her grandfather. Joseph and Mariana Victoria would have a further four daughters. The Princess of Beira was raised in the incredibly religious Portuguese court, which was one of the strictest courts in Europe.

In 1750, Maria's grandfather died as a result of a series of strokes and her father became King Joseph I of Portugal. Whereas Joao took control of the government and made himself an absolute monarch, his son handed over his power to the Marquis of Pombal. The Marquis's aggressive policies and anti-religious laws made him so unpopular with the aristocracy that a conspiracy was hatched among the high nobility to murder the king and his adviser.When the plot was discovered, Pombal used this as an excuse to get rid of the Tavora family and to dispel the Jesuits. Plombal's control over the King was so great that even his eldest daugther's pleas were ignored.

In 1755, the Lisbon Earthquake hit Portugal, killing roughly 100 000 people. The Rebeira Royal Palace, Maria's birthplace, was destroyed in the quake. Afterwards, Joseph developed a severe case of claustrophobia and the court was moved to a new palace on the hills of Ajuda.

Maria was age 25 in 1760, high time for a Princess to be married but as heiress to the Portuguese throne she could not simply to married off to some foreign prince. A solution was found in Joseph's younger brother, Pedro. Maria married her uncle on June 6, 1760, her groom was 42. Despite the age gap, the couple experienced a happy marriage. Maria gave birth to her first child the very next year and it was named Jose after her father thus securing the succession. He was later created Prince of Brazil. They would have 5 further children: two Joao's born in two successive years that died a month after being born. A third Joao would be born in 1767 who did indeed survive childhood. His birth was followed by 3 daughters, only the eldest, named Maria Anna Victoria, survived infancy.

Following the example set by his Mother, the Prince of Brazil married his Aunt, Benedita, in 1777, when he was 15 and she was 30. The marriage was the express wish of his grandfather. King Joseph died only 3 days later. Maria was the undisputed queen of Portugal and although Pedro was also made King, it was in fact she that ruled. Her first act as queen was to rid the court of Plombal, a move that made her immensely popular. And so it was that for the first decade of Maria's reign, she was much loved by her people and regarded as a wise and good queen.

From 1785 onwards, things only went downhill for Maria. In this year, a double marriage by the Queen Dowager between Joao and Infanta Carlota of Spain and Maria Anna Victoria and Infante Gabriel. It was in 1786 that she began exhibiting the first signs of madness. It was also in this year that Pedro died. Poor Maria was devastated by her beloved husband's death and forbade court entertainments. Fate dealt the queen another hard blow when in 1788, her eldest son died of smallpox. He and Benedita did not have any children despite the Princess having 2 miscarriages. Maria Anna Victoria, her husband and her one of her two sons died of the same disease in that same year. Maria brought over Maria Anna Victoria's remaining child, Pedro Carlos, to live in Portugal and raised as a Portuguese Infante. His death and that of Maria Anna Victoria brought their mother further into the depths of insanity and by 1792 she was deemed incapable of ruling. Jose's successor, his younger brother, Joao, became regent for his mentally incapacitated Mother.

At the turn of the century, the threat of Napoleon loomed large on the Iberian Peninsula. After some antagonizing on the part of the Spanish with French backing and the urging of the British, the entire Portuguese fled to Brazil in 1808. Maria could be heard screaming the entire boat ride. In 1810, Pedro Carlos married Joao's eldest daughter, Teresa, Princess of Beira. They had one son, born in 1811. Pedro Carlos died the very next year. Carlota, wild and uncontrollable, would always be a source of trouble for the family. Maria I died in 1816 in Rio De Janeiro without ever having returns to Portugal. Her son became Joao VI of Portugal, Brazil and the Algraves.

The Braganza's returned back home in 1821 whereupon Carlota began stirring up trouble by supporting her second son, Miguel's, claim to the Portuguese throne.

I give this book a 2/5. I finished the book in one reading, it is a rather short book. I feel the book was rather empty and that it had about as much information as what I would find in a compilation of a bunch of wikipedia articles (although no doubt it might contributed to said articles). For a book on the "madness" of Queen Maria it does not go into any depth about what might have been the cause of Maria's insanity. It simply dates the time and place things happened which might have been why it was quite dull to me.

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