Laurentino Gomes’s 1808: The Flight of the Emperor tells a remarkable story. In November, 1808 the entire ruling class of Portugal, including Prince Regent João VI, his wife Carlota Joaquina, their court, and most of the small country’s professional class (an estimated total of 10,000 to 15,000 people), fled Portugal in fear of Napoleon’s approaching army. João’s mother Maria I was the nominal sovereign at this time, but she was insane. Despite her advanced age and poor mental health, she, too, went on the voyage to Brazil, the harrowing details of which Gomes vividly describes.
The court, which was among the most reactionary and corrupt in Europe, was re-established in Brazil. João ruled both Portugal and Brazil from Rio de Janeiro until the court returned to Lisbon in 1821. Despite the government’s deficiencies and anxieties regarding revolution (newspapers could only be circulated in Brazil if the publishers agreed not to criticize the monarchy), the years the court spent in Brazil transformed the backwater colony into a land almost ready for independence, which it declared in 1822.
This is an eye-opening book about a place and time that may be unfamiliar to many readers. Find it in our catalog here.