Fall of the Portuguese Monarchy

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The King and Duke slain


King Carlos of Portugal and his son the Duke of Braganza had an appointment with Death on Saturday, February 1, 1908. One of the most arbitrary public-security laws in the history of Portugal was published that morning in the Journal Officiel. The new law was designed to rid Portugal of radicals opposed to the dictatorial policies of the monarch, King Carlos, and his Prime Minister turned dictator, Joao Franco. The decree provided for special tribunals and the immediate deportation of political criminals to Africa.

King Carlos and Queen Amelia along with their sons Luis Filipe and Manuel returned to Lisbon on that fateful Saturday afternoon from a short visit to Vila Vicosa, the seat of their ancient House of Braganza. The royal family disembarked at about five in the afternoon from the ferry-boat Dom Luiz, which had carried them from Berreiro to the Terreiro do Paco, They were greeted by Cabinet Members and dignitaries, then got into an open carriage and headed for the Necessidades Palace.

Joao Franco had always been careful to secure his own person, frequently moving from house to house, yet he provided inadequate security for the royal family that day. The King’s usual reckless bravado was really to blame for the lax security. Queen Amelie was well aware of the dangers due to the political turmoil: she had repeatedly opposed the exposure of her sons to the dangers of the conspiracy in Lisbon. In any case, riding in a landau with lowered hoods was certainly not the wise thing to do in view of the political circumstances exacerbated by Franco’s crackdown. Among other things, suspected Carbonaris were lurking about with concealed weapons. The route to the Palace was crowded with spectators. The royal family were sitting ducks.

As the royal carriage approached the corner of the Praca do Commercio up the street from the Arsenal, a young assassin, a Lisbon cashier named Alfredo Costa, stepped from the crowd, jumped up behind the carriage and fired a pistol at King Carlos. Queen Amelia tried to beat down the assassin’s arm with a bouquet of flowers that her little god-child had given her on the quay shortly before, but to no avail: one of the assassin’s bullets passed through her husband’s throat, severing the carotid artery – King Carlos, a vigorous man in his prime, was killed instantly.

Amelia placed herself in front of her youngest son, Manuel, looked squarely into the revolver aimed at him, but the shot was not fired. A struggle took place. According to the conflicting reports, a policeman either shot the assassin dead or ran him through with a sword. At that point the Queen’s lady-in-waiting, Countess Figueiro, tried to take her proper post in the carriage, but Amelia cried out, “Get away! Get away! I don’t want you to be killed too!”

The coachman whipped the horses – the carriage lurched towards the corner of the arcade. Shots rang out from the crowd. Amelia turned and found her first-born son Luis Felipe mortally wounded, struck in the face and chest. The fatal deed was reportedly done with a carbine wielded by a black-bearded assassin, an ex-calvary sergeant and dismissed village schoolmaster named Manuel Buica – he had been lurking behind the pillar of the Ministry of the Interior. Because four chambers in the Crown Prince’s revolver were found empty, a report credited him with firing at the assassins four times, perhaps wounding or killing one of them – another accounts stated that he did not get a single shot off. The bearded assassin took aim again and fired, slightly wounding Manuel in the arm. At this juncture the King’s brother, the Duke of Oporto, and aides de camp rode up with sabres drawn. Everyone believed to be an assassin was reportedly hacked to pieces – an innocent bystander was allegedly killed in the process.

The carriage hurried to the medical department of the marine Arsenal where King Carlos was declared dead on arrival. Crown Prince Luis Felipe expired minutes later.

Hence on that terrible day the eighteen-year-old Duke of Braganca became King Manuel II, last king of Portugal The next day he promised to uphold the Constitution, and with his mother managing he soon proceeded to dismantle the repressive machinery of his father’s regime. The regicides, allegedly members of Carbonari cells, were tried in secret and executed – numerous aggrieved republicans staged a demonstration on the graves. The number of assassins involved was unclear. Sometime later a third man, Jose de Alpoim, tried to take credit for the killings, but he, a known braggart, was given little credence.


Carlos searched for a wife before he took the throne of Portugal. To his good fortune he found a beautiful princess of France in the person of Amelie Louise Helene, Duchesse de Orleans, daughter of the Comte de Paris – heir apparent to the throne of France.

Dona Amelia d’Orleans

The Orleans line had become a collateral branch of the House of Bourbon following the marriage of Louis XIV’s brother, Philippe I (1640-1701). After the Restoration of the French monarchy following Napoleon Bonaparte’s Republic and Empire, Louis XVIII and Charles X of the Bourbon House ruled, and then the French Revolution of 1830 disposed of Charles X. The Bourbon candidate for kingship, the so-called “miracle child” who had unexpectedly been born after the assassination of the Duc de Berry, was passed over, and the July Monarchy of the Citizen King, Louis-Philippe of the House of Orleans, was established. That bourgeois monarchy prevailed from 1830-1848. the Revolution of 1848 gave Louis-Philippe due cause to abdicate in favor of his young grandson, the Comte de Paris; however, Louis Bonaparte Napoleon, wrongly believed to be a moron who could be dispo

sed of at will, was wheeled in to temporarily head up another Republic pending the resolution of certain troubling political issues. Shortly thereafter, by virtue of a coup d’ etat, the so-called moron became Emperor Napoleon III. He ruled over booming times until the disastrous Franco-Prussian war proceeded in 1870, hence the Third Republic was established (1870-1940). The remnant of the main Bourbon line perished in 1883, therefore waning Bourbon hopes as well as that of other Legitimists vainly rested with the Comte de Paris of the House of Orleans.

Amelie she well endowed in several respects when Carlos first met her. Besides being a very wealthy noblewoman, she was a classic beauty. True to her class, her bearing was self-confident and poised. A famous photograph captured her secret Mona Lisa smile. She was a pleasant, mentally active woman, accustomed to getting her way, probably a match for any man, certainly not a coy or wilting woman, but rather a fine lady who nevertheless might like to wear pants and play the tomboy when afforded the opportunity to do so discreetly.

Queen Amelie of Portugal was duly noted for an impossibly slim waist for her age, in stark contrast with that of her increasingly portly husband. Besides being the best dressed woman in Europe, she was the only member of European royalty who had a doctor’s degree. She was persuasive queen with a boundless influence over her husband’s mind. She was described by her contemporary, Francis Gribble, a British biographer of romantic personages, as the subject of a strenuous education, dignified but “also brilliantly clever, exceedingly accomplished, and endowed with the indefinable charm which causes people to be styled ‘sympathetic’…. At the same time, she displayed the shyness and timidity generally evinced by young people of superior merit in the presence of those who are at once grandiose and commonplace.”

Gribble recounts that a German prince had his eye on Amelie, but she was too patriotic to oblige a German. Her husband-to-be had a handsome German appearance but was also Portuguese by birth and nation. She preferred to live simply. She loved to leap her horse over walls, and to walk on the seashore with her husband. Depending on the critic, she was either a pious do-gooder or a bigoted fanatic, either charitable or extravagant. Gribble relates:

“The Queen encouraged the re-establishment of the religious order in Portugal; and there is unhappily only too much evidence to show that, when religious orders come in at the door, all prospects of thorough-going reform fly out the window. Or that, at all events, was the view of the new school of reformers then arising in Portugal: the earnest and clean-handed anti-clericals from the University of Coimbra – men in whose eyes the buzzing monks and cackling nuns were like a plague of flies settling on a carcass.”

George Young, a diplomat, writes: “The queen, whose piety and philanthropy had never won her any popularity, was suspected of being in the hands of the Jesuits, those traditional traducers of Portuguese national liberties.”

Amelie was popular in some quarters despite the cultural prejudices against her, not only among Catholics but with the victims of tuberculosis and their families; in fact, she led a crusade against the disease: in 1899 she sponsored a private foundation of free clinics, hospitals, sanitariums, and a preventoria.

The Queen loved poetry, art, and music, and was of course a patroness of the arts. For example, her personal patronage was deeply appreciated by Guilhermine Suggia (1885-1950), the “Queen of Cellists”, one of the first women to make a career of playing he cello. After Amelie heard her play, she sent her abroad to study in Leipzig.

According to Jean Finot, a French journalist who visited Portugal, the Portuguese favored King Carlos’ mother, Maria Pia, over Queen Amelie, who, after all, was a Catholic Frenchwoman:

“(Queen Maria Pia) is a ‘true queen.’ Above all, she is majestic. A true daughter of kings, she is good-natured and generous. The other queen? Still young and distinguished-looking, she brought with her to Lisbon a royal, a divine beauty. She is without doubt the most beautiful woman who has ever reigned over Portugal. Ever since she came she has tried to win all hearts. Amiable and prepossessing, she is careful to ignore, not to accentuate, distinctions in rank. She is as economical as the dowager is prodigal. Nevertheless, the Portuguese prefer Maria Pia. Queen Amelia is a Clerical, which offends the people.”

Amelie was heroically inclined. Germany and Sweden awarded her with their respective medals of honor for saving the life of a drowning fisherman. The poor man had been injured trying to save his overturned boat, whereupon Amelie jumped into the water fully dressed, swam out and rescued him. The Queen appreciated the same sort of heroism in others: an unemployed cobbler, who had been awarded medals by the humane societies of several countries for saving seventeen lives from drowning, applied to Queen Amelie for a job at the customs house, where he would have the chance of saving more lives while earning his daily bread. Amelie kindly granted his request, but he died before he could assume his post. Furthermore, as we see from the reports on the Lisbon assassinations, she tried to fend off her husband’s killers with a bouquet of flowers, and then interposed herself between the assassins and her son.


Sometimes a man’s hobby or avocation tells us more about him than his regular job. King Carlos, king of Portugal from October 19, 1889 until he was assassinated on February 1, 1908, did not choose his royal occupation: he was born into it.

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King Carlos’ Yacht Amelie


Portugal, a small nation with a long and illustrious history, looks out upon its oceanic calling from a scant 300 miles of coastline. King Carlos gazed upon the vast ocean as well; but for him, land bound as he was by courtly duties and love for his queen, the sea was a beloved avocation – King Carlos had a passion de la mer.

The King proudly possessed a series of recreational yachts, each named after his beloved Queen Amelie. Amelia I was 35 meters in length; Amelia II, 45 meters; Amelia III, 55 meters; Amelia IV, 70 meters. The first three yachts had sails; the first two had compound engines; the last two had triple expansion engines, to reduce coal consumption.

King Carlos was an excellent artist, as can still be seen from his lavishly illustrated catalog of the birds of Portugal and his loving sketches of his yachts. Besides his sketches, we may view photographs of the yachts – every one of his Amelias is beautiful.

An old saying has it that possession is nine-tenths of the law. The king possessed the royal yachts, but there was some confusion over who actually owned them, the nation, or the king. Of course there are ample precedents to cite for the idea that a king owns his kingdom and everything in it, but the law was changing in a revolutionary or liberal direction.

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King Carlos


Not every king or queen of Portugal was wealthy – quite to the contrary. Although Portugal was once the richest nation on Earth, she invested little of her wealth on public improvements at home and had a long record of wasted fortunes, wars, civil strife, epidemics and other natural calamities, to the point that some of her monarchs had to go to great lengths to cloth themselves and put food on the table. Carlos had inherited the usual deficit, from his artistically inclined father, King Luis. Indeed, the House of Braganca was sorely pinched for funds. The King Carlos’ ministers resorted to several stratagems to aid the king financially. For instance, the king’s current yacht and the queen’s carriage house museum were sold to his kingdom, a creative accounting maneuver that soon became a national scandal: the socialist faction protested that the king had obviously done something fishy; to wit, that he had sold the nation’s own property to itself and pocket the proceeds.

We who are not certified to make a competent judgment on the transaction dare not say the king was a crook. No doubt he relied on expert advice; yet, with our post-modern accounting scandals in mind, we may imagine how fishy the transaction smelled in those days. Nevertheless, let us not conclude that the king was a selfish man, merely entertaining himself and his guests with expensive pleasure cruises while grinding his poor subjects further into poverty.

No, the yachts named Amelia were not your usual “money holes”, but were investments in the greater good. The good king had an altruistic reason for his extraordinary expenses, as was demonstrated, for instance, by the fact that the Navy-staffed Amelias were getting progressively longer in length to accommodate a benevolent social end. You see, King Carlos is known to this day as “The Father of Portuguese Oceanography,” and as such he needed more room for his ocean-going laboratory.

Between 1896 and 1907, His Highness went on a series of oceanographic cruises along the southern Portuguese coast. In 1897, he published the preliminary results of his 1896 cruise, introducing his study as follows:

“The numerous oceanographic researches that foreign countries carried out in recent times with such auspicious results, the importance of these studies for the fisheries industry, one of the most important in our country, and the exceptional variety of bathymetric conditions of the sea along and off our coasts, suggested to us last year the idea of the scientific exploration of our sea, and to make available, by regular work, not only a knowledge of the fauna of our continental shelf but also that of the abysses that are found in certain regions only a few miles off the coast, a situation almost unique in Europe.”

Carlos collaborated with only one scientist, one Albert Arthur Alexander Girard, a gentleman who had immigrated as a child to Portugal from New York. Girard served as the King’s expert for the Fisheries Commission. Carlos also associated with a blue-blooded oceanographer, Prince Albert of Monaco, who called Carlos, “Le monarch savant.”

The King’s main oceanographic interest was in fish. If the biology and ecology of fish were better understood, he believed, the knowledge acquired would be a boon to Portuguese fisheries. Wherefore he used bottles to study the currents. He drew bathymetric charts, used beam-trawls and dredges to collect specimens, and so on. He was particularly curious about the depletion of fish caused by the steam crawlers off the shelf – Portuguese fishermen were still using sailboats in those days. A sardine crisis in 1902 off the French coast caused the French to believe that the sardines had fled to Portugal, but Carlos pointed out that there were several possible causes for such dramatic shortages, and reported that he had noticed no increase in sardines in Portugal. Moreover, in 1904 the King published an extensive study of the sharks of Portugal. His sea-faring scientific activities were known to the public through various national and international exhibits – the specimens he shared with museums still exist.

The King referred to his scientific studies as “mon repose et ma recreation.” At least his repose and recreation were good for his kingdom. Of course the impact was small in comparison to the global impact of his most illustrious predecessor, Prince Henry the Navigator, who established the first geographic institute in 1418. Prince Henry rarely sailed, and then not far, but his hobby gave Portugal a scientific foundation for the discovery of the half of the world many Europeans were oblivious to.

Now the glory days were over for monarchs when King Carlos sailed his yachts. Portugal’s kingdom would come to a ridiculous close a short time after the King’s death. The great country barely mourned the loss of the King and Crown Prince after they were assassinated in an open carriage, but the Lisbon assassinations were not part of a popular or concerted plan to overthrow the monarchy. Random terrorists, reputedly from a Carbonari cell, did the erratic deed.

Nearly three years after the king and his eldest son were murdered, his latest yacht Amelia served as the getaway vessel for Queen Dowager Amelia and Manuel II, who had assumed his father’s throne with a promise to abolish repressive laws and the misappropriation of public funds.


At eighteen years of age, Manuel was simply too young and inexperienced to rule. A pundit remarked that he was “an orphan not an heir.” He had been reared for the most part at Villa Vicosa, his mother’s estate, and he often visited his grandmother, the Countess of Paris, who resided nearby at her chateau, Villa Manrique, in Andalusia. Manuel was certainly was a pleasant young gentleman. He liked to hunt, and was an excellent shot. He loved horseback riding even more than his mother. He chased the famous giant bulls across the plains, and was pursued by them in turn.

Amelia was an accomplished horsewoman and horseshoer – she complained that blacksmiths were ruining horses. She was wont to accompany Manuel on his hunting expeditions, in part because she feared for his safety. She had taught him to ride when he was little, “dragging him through forest and fen.” He learned horseshoeing to please her. He did not have, however, her fondness for poetry, painting and literature. He delighted in playing skittles – ninepins – and was a good tennis player. We find this interesting note in Britannica’s Current Literature (1908):

“The Portuguese character is noted for its refinement and for what old-fashioned novelists were wont to term sensibility. Gentleness is its “note” and King Manuel has that. But he has no taste for the arts and literature. This, opines the Paris Gaulois, may tell against the young monarch in so literary and so artistic a court as that over which the late Carlos held sway. Society at Lisbon, and Manuel must live in it if he means ever to rule, is extremely blue stocking in a Latin, feminized way. At the court of Lisbon everyone tries to dazzle everyone else. There are innumerable men of superficial elegance, superficial talent, and superficial science. Peers dabble in poetry, dabble in biology, dabble in culture. Nobody studies hard and all live high. The ladies are the best dressers in Europe and they expect their hands to be kissed by the men, who must go down on one knee when they do so. Manuel is not of this breed. He is the bonnie sailor boy type, laughing and vigorous, who has learned sincerity and bluffness in the navy. He would never dream of translating Shakespeare into Portuguese, as his father and grandfather contrived to do between them. Like his father, however, he learned very early to speak both English and French fluently, to say nothing of his native Portuguese and his second mother tongue, Spanish. He has his father’s smile of good-humored complacency and extremely blond hair, forming a fringe around the brow. But in most respects he is a great contrast to the unfortunate Dom Carlos.”

PORTO King Manuel
King Manuel II

Manuel II ruled Portugal in name only – Amelia was in charge. Her sister, Princess Waldemar of Denmark, said the widowed queen was acting “as the man of the family.” Her attempts to combine leaders of the opposing parties into a “Ministry of Concentration” in order to achieve a reformed constitutional monarchy failed. The old Rotative System of taking turns dividing the spoils between two almost equal parties continued apace. There were the same old intrigues. The secret Carbonari cells were still armed. Plots were hatched to kill the fledgling King. The fall of the monarchy was such a foregone conclusion that reporters, anticipating the event, had arrived in advance of the fact.

Manuel was sent off to Paris to further his education. Soon after his return, his friendship with a dancer scandalized the nation. Francis Gribble reports on the affair without mentioning her name. The friendship was supposedly a true friendship; that is, not for money. But the dancer advertised the romance at every opportunity, right down to showing off the garter given to her by the King during one of her visits to the Palace. The public would normally not be surprised to hear rumors of dancing girls and perhaps even an orgy or two in the Palace. But the newspapers had a field day with this particular love affair, giving the radical republicans – now a Republican Party filled with ‘Puritans’ – more ammunition.

Hardly anyone opposed the revolution when came in October 1910. About 100 men were killed and another 500 wounded. It might easily had been put down were it not for misinformation delivered to Manuel and Amelia about the status of the revolt. Manuel’s own warships shelled the royal Palace. Both Manuel and his mother resolved that it was the King’s duty to die in Portugal rather than flee. But then they fled for England on the yacht Amelia, and that was that: the rather absurd fate of Portugal’s eight centuries of monarchy.

No doubt King Carlos would have enjoyed that voyage and the destination as well – not only was he fond of sailing, he was related by Saxe-Coburg blood to King Edward and was quite popular with the English court – but that voyage was not fated for the man with a passion de la mer.


The news of the assassination of the King of Portugal and his eldest son the Duke of Braganca on February 1, 1908, reached London the following day:

“The news of the murder of King Carlos and the Crown Prince of Portugal reached London on Sunday, February 2, 1908, and was received with astonishment as well as horror. Little attention had been paid by the general public to the progress of the struggle, and there had been no thought that the enemies of the Dictator might turn their vengeance from him to the Crown. The murdered King was popular at the English Court, and had repeatedly visited Great Britain. Sympathy was expressed universally, from the Court downwards, and on Monday, February 3, notice was given in both Houses that an address to the Crown would next day be moved expressing the “indignation and deep concern” of Parliament at the murders, and praying His Majesty to signify to the King of Portugal their abhorrence of the crime, and their sympathy with the Royal family and the people. In the Commons this address was moved (the members uncovering) by the Prime Minister, who depicted in vigorous words the indignation and horror everywhere shown at the murder of “the kind, manly, friendly King – an outrage on humanity redeemed only by the courage of a woman.’ Mr. Akers-Douglas, in the absence of Mr. Balfour, added a few appropriate words on behalf of the Opposition. In the Lords a similar motion was moved by the Marquess of Ripon and seconded by the Marquess of Landsdowne.” (The Annual Register 1908 London: 1909, Longmans, Green & Co.)

The English public has good reason to be astonished by the assassinations. The public were relatively uninformed of the progress of the civil struggle in Portugal because the news was censored in Portugal beforehand and was difficult to get out of the country. But the courts of Europe were apprized of the volatile situation well before the murderous deeds were done. Queen Amelie herself had visited in England in 1907 for the marriage of her sister, Princess Louise of Orleans, to Charles of Bourbon:

“Throughout the wedding festivities the Queen of Portugal, who, the London papers say, kept up a constant communication by telegraph with Lisbon, seem grave and preoccupied. Dispatches from her husband’s capital told that the situation both for King Carlos and the dictatorial premier whom he persists in maintaining at the head of affairs had become one of extreme difficulty. Each day witnessed an addition to the number of monarchist politicians who made declarations “in a republican sense,” abandoning their former support of the King. The only method of dispatching press news from Portugal last month was to proceed by train from Lisbon to the frontier and telegraph by way of Madrid; but for the sake of the queen of Portugal the rigors of this system were relaxed. Her majesty got news so serious on the even of the wedding, says one account, that she referred jestingly to the possibility of making her home at Wood Norton in the near future….” (Current Literature vol. XLIV 1908)

We are further informed that “the Queen of Portugal made her visit to Wood Norton for her sister’s wedding the occasion for presenting her husband’s side of the case to her family.” Gossips had it that the King of Spain, Alfonso XIII, would meet with King Carlos at Wood Norton, where they would discuss the instability in Portugal The Spanish king had reportedly tolerated Portuguese dissidents to operate in Spain, a sort of dissidence which he would not tolerate if his own constitutional monarchy was at stake. Since Carlos had stayed behind in Portugal, his queen allegedly took up the matter with King Carlos when the Bourbon family conferred at Wood Norton, from whence they went on to Windsor, where a total of five Queens and three Kings “discussed the Bourbon crisis in every aspect.”

“(Queen Amelie) won to her way of thinking not only all the Bourbons but it is said King Edward herself. Don Carlos has seen reason to feel aggrieved at the freedom with which revolutionary Portuguese juntas are permitted to agitate in Madrid. Spain is a constitutional monarchy. Alfonso XIII claims to act always within the limits of the organic law of his kingdom. Madrid, however, is the news center of Portuguese revolt. The extent to which the influence of the Queen of Portugal was exerted in England to terminate her husband’s embarrassments from Spanish sources is one of the most delicate topics connected with the great family gathering of the house of Bourbon….

“Stories of the imprisonment of the crown prince of Portugal by his own father, of the discovery of republican conspiracies in the army and of the contemplated flight of Don Carlos from Lisbon, in connection with the rumors of what may have been said at the Bourbon family conference… leave the whole subject of the month’s events in obscurity. It was impossible for even the best equipped newspapers in Europe to get uncensored dispatches out of Lisbon. The suspension of the newspapers continued with the sanction of the King. It is thought significant that among the organs thus punished are various Roman Catholic, clerical and conservative journals. At the various Portuguese legations in Europe it is maintained that the month’s rumors have to do with nothing more serious than measures against anarchists and republican agitators. This sort of talk is pronounced “silly” by that sincere friend of the Portuguese dynasty, the Paris Temps. The King, it says, is “outside legality” and the question is now when he will return to “legality.”

The Paris Temps had indeed been inclined to support the “legality” of Joao Franco’s dictatorship under King Carlos, as well as the dictator’s right to make decrees, as had the London Times. Portugal was formally a constitutional monarchy at the time, but the King and his strong man had resorted to a temporary dictatorship to curb political corruption at the highest levels and to strangle threats to the very existence of Portugal’s centuries-old monarchy from below. The wealthy, energetic and youthful (about forty) Senhor Joao Franco, who lived in Spartan simplicity in Lisbon with his rich wife, had been ruling Portugal since May of 1907, “unassisted by Parliament,” by virtue of a dictatura or legislative lacuna, which, the Paris Temps pointed out, had been regularly exercised over successive opposition ministries. Franco’s “rule or ruin” methods were favorably described in some European quarters as bona fide imperialism.

Such is a sample of the gossip and news prior to the Lisbon assassinations. Whether censored or not, the well established papers were wont to favor the prevailing authority. Sometimes we are tempted to compare newspaper editors with the priests of Apollo, who were inclined to interpret the Pythias’ rants favorably; that is, in favor of the party most inclined to win. In this case, the illiterate and conservative Portuguese masses, at least according to the Temps and other papers, favored their King and his dictator. Since the established political parties were biting each other’s backs, and the republican faction consisted of thinkers, talkers and dreamers, it appeared from a distance that the current authority would rule as usual.

Even Franco, who was intimate with the situation and who thought he was on top of it, was confident of his ultimate triumph on behalf of his king. Dissidents were doing what they do best in Lisbon and Oporto – talking and writing tracts and poems. The army was subsidized with bribes and double-pay for the officers.

No, Franco might not have seen the assassins coming. And King Carlos liked to show off his machismo, going about with little or no security. Nevertheless, as we have seen, Queen Amelie was uneasy and she feared for the lives of her sons if not for herself and her husband. As a matter of fact, she was at Villa Vicosa, her oasis-estate near the border of Spain, just prior to the assassination. She could have easily slipped over into Spain with her sons in the event of revolution. She did visit her mom just over the border at Villa Manrique, returned to Villa Vicosa, then on to Lisbon, where her husband and eldest son would be murdered before he eyes on the way “home.” Yet to the public imagination, all might have seemed well beforehand.

And Queen Amelie, rich in her own right, owning the finest private estate in Europe, splendid horses, fancy poultry, adoring husband and sons, seemed the happiest of women when she bade her mother good-bye at Villamanrique and returned to Villacosa.


A century has passed since the 1908 Lisbon assassinations. Some historians familiar with the murders consider them to be of no great moment. After all, King Carlos was a minor king of a small impoverished nation. In fact the entire year of 1908 seems rather unimportant in comparison to the world-shattering events soon to come. Besides, political assassinations were passé around the turn of the century, hence the killing of a president or tsar, a prince or king, was rather commonplace. Nevertheless, we are mindful of Leopold Ranke’s dictum, that all historical moments are important in some way because they are equally near to God. Wherefore we are bound to find something of interest everywhere in human history, especially if we dig into the devilish details presumably presided over by the Supreme Being.

One devilish aspect of a detail is that it is related to countless others. So many of them seemingly stand in a cause and effect relationship that superstitious people have been led to believe in an ambiguous world spirit, or in the existence of gods and devils summed up as God and Satan, personal entities allegedly behind all the scenes or at least dually innate in alienated human beings, hence present everywhere in universal history. Innumerable details led up to the slaying of the King and the Crown Prince of Portugal in an open carriage on the streets of Lisbon on February 1, 1908. Reference to even a few of them might bore us until we realize that we are talking about ourselves again, in another context.

Portugal became an independent monarchy in 1139, when Alfonso Henriques assumed the title of king. King Carlos was born into the Portuguese House of Braganca, the dynasty that ruled Portugal from 1640 to the fall of the monarchy in 1910. England mourned King Carlos when he was assassinated in 1908. England and Portugal were very old friends. In fact, there would probably be no Portugal absent England’s frequent meddling and occasional interventions. The advantages to Great Britain were ample: an excellent foothold on the continent; superb Port wine; Brazil’s developing markets, her brilliant diamonds, glittering gold, smooth coffee and sweet sugar. After all, besides companionship, what are friendships for?

King Carlos was personally popular at the English court. He was a handsome man with polished manners and he had diverse interests and skills. He was a marine biologist, bullfighter, skilled marksman, accomplished artist, sculptor, patron of the dramatic arts, and master of seven languages – he helped his father translate Shakespeare. Furthermore, the friendly relationship between King Carlos and King Edward VII was cemented by blood.

King Edward was the son of Queen Victoria and Duke Albert of Saxe-Coburg (Bavaria). King Carlos’s father was King Luis of Portugal, the son of Maria da Gloria (Maria II) of Portugal and Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. When Maria II died in 1853, at the age of thirty-four, her eldest son, Pedro V, was a minor, therefore her husband Ferdinand governed as regent for a few years hence the Portuguese house was technically the House of Coburg-Braganca. But the Portuguese did not care to use the Germanic reference. Neither did the British care much for Germans in their ruling house, despite the fact that Prince Consort Albert was an inspiration to their great Queen. When Edward succeeded to the throne, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was, correctly speaking, the royal house; however, in 1917, after a horrendous war with Germany, George V proclaimed “Windsor” to be the surname of Queen Victoria’s descendants.

Economically motivated historians claim that Maria II’s son, Pedro V, was the most attractive of the later Bragancas because he was keenly interested in the industrial and material improvements that Portugal direly needed after it had been wracked by Napoleonic invasions and civil wars. Maria II had managed to resolve the constitutional struggles that took place after the War of Two Brothers, the war between her father, Pedro I of Brazil, and his brother, Miguel. But Maria II died in 1853, at the young age thirty-four. Alas, in 1861, her promising son, Pedro V, also died an early death at age twenty-four. He was succeeded by his artistically inclined brother, King Luis, Carlos’ father.

King Luis entertained his court with performances on his violoncello and translated several of Shakespeare’s plays. In keeping with an old Taoist adage, it is said that he did not do very much during the twenty-eight years he reigned, yet he got a lot done. At least the country grew wealthier due to its industrial progress.

Equally important, Carlos’ father is credited for advancing Portugal’s cultural renaissance. High culture had suffered a terrible set back with the French invasion of Portugal in 1807. As the French advanced into Lisbon, Maria I and her regent Joao fled to Brazil with the court and a retinue of about fifteen-thousand persons, on thirty-six ships escorted by British men-of-war. They took the bulk of the most valuable cultural artifacts of Portugal with them; what they did not take was looted by the French if not stolen by the English and Portuguese defenders of Portugal.

King Luis died in 1889. When Carlos took the throne on October 19, the modern imperial scramble was going full steam ahead. Germany, recently united under Prussia, was already vying for a place in the Sun in order to save the world. Several countries still had kings, but monarchy was going out of style – its vestiges were certainly not appreciated by Portuguese “republicans” – democratically inclined radicals. Not only was Carlos a king by accident of birth, he was otherwise flawed to begin with as far as the republicans were concerned. He had his father’s looks: blond, Teutonic, and stout, he looked like a handsome German field marshal. And he had a Catholic queen, a princess of France, his beloved Amelie. To make matters worse, the branch of the House of Braganca which ruled the independent Kingdom of Brazil was overthrown on November 15, 1889, by anti-monarchist bourgeois liberals, and a republic was established there.

As if all that were not bad, Carlos’ personal prestige was dealt a severe blow in 1890 when he capitulated to Great Britain’s Ultimatum in the Rosy Colored Map Affair. The Ultimatum and capitulation were due to a conflict between the colonial interests of Great Britain and Portugal. Portugal wanted to connect its Angola colony in West Africa to its Mozambique colony in East Africa by grabbing the area in between. But Rhodes in South Africa had his eye on the same land, which a Portuguese minister had painted pink to graphically illustrate the concept of a giant, coast-to-coast Portuguese empire in Africa.

Things came to a head in Africa in 1889. A British official was sent to Africa to order Serpa Pinto, the Portuguese surveyor who was tracing out a route for a railroad, to back off. He refused to withdraw. Britain issued an Ultimatum, the purport of which was to get out of the disputed area or else. Carlos made a wise decision – he backed down. Financially strapped Portugal had been trying to bite off more than it could chew anyway. Nevertheless, this double-cross from the historical ally and Carlos’ subsequent capitulation infuriated many Portuguese people – it was in sum a national disgrace, a grievous blow to Portugal’s pride and further inspiration to republican nationalists. They accused King Carlos of selling out to Great Britain, of using his royal relationship with the British Crown simply to maintain himself on the throne.

“The effect of the ultimatum,” Young explains, “in weakening the monarchy was combined with a strengthening of the Republican movement by the fall of the Emperor of Brazil, and this from no personal fault or political defeat of the constitutional monarchy, but from a preference for the Republican principle…. Republicanism was no longer a mere protestant principle and a profession of an unknown faith, but a political program and a procedure for reform. Just as the American Revolution contributed to our (British) national liberties at the cost of our imperial possessions, so the collapse of a Portuguese Empire in South Africa and the conversion of a Portuguese Empire into a Republic in South America gave a moral stimulus and a political status to republicanism and reform in Portugal.”

Carlos inherited yet another problem with his crown, perhaps the most crucial one of all: political-party Rotativism, the rotating system in the Cortes (Parliament) whereby the two dominant parties, the Regenerators and the Progressives who took turns governing and exploiting the kingdom.

After the French Revolution Portugal’s political struggles took the typical dynamic form of a flying bird: left wing-central body-right wing. The absolutists on the far right wanted no constitution at all. The chartists or moderates in the middle wanted a liberal constitutional monarchy granted by the monarch. The radicals on the left, the ‘republicans,’ wanted a constitution embodying the principles the French Revolution – liberty, equality, fraternity.

After Miguel and his Miguelites – the absolutists on the extreme right who wanted no constitution at all – were finally defeated in 1834, the political bird drifted a bit to the left flank and political conflict continued between the two constitutionalist factions, the chartists and the republicans.

The chartists wanted the liberal charter that had been granted to them in 1826 by Pedro when he abdicated the throne of Portugal in favor of his daughter Maria da Gloria providing, of course, that she marry her uncle Miguel and that he accept the charter. But Miguel took the throne and did not want any liberal baggage so he tossed it out – his betrayal provoked civil war, the War of Two Brothers. The republican faction wanted the radical constitution which had been drafted by a constituent body in 1822. It was intended to be an interim constitution until such time as the monarchy could be abolished. In fine, one constitution was a gift of the monarch, while the other constitution was a demand upon the throne. Not only were heated words exchanged over the relevant issues but a great deal of blood was shed as well, usually after one political leader or another made a ‘pronouncement.’ Finally, the net result and main achievement of Maria II’s reign was a modified version of Pedro’s 1826 charter and the discontinuance of violence.

Thereafter, under the formal constitutional monarchy the chartist party or conservatives were called the Regenerators, eventually led by Ernesto Hintze Ribeiro. The ostensibly more liberal party, the Progressives, were headed by one Jose Luciano de Castro. But there was really not much difference between the Regenerators and Progressives, and many people were getting sick and tired of being routinely exploited by “the ins” and “the outs.” That is, under the rotative system, the two parties took frequent turns governing the exploitation of the kingdom. There was little chance for radical political reform short of revolution or tyranny. Not that Portugal was lacking in radicals on its left wing – the term ‘radical’ was reserved for the ‘republican’ constitutionalists who had been nearly squeezed out of the Cortes.

A period of stable corruption ensued as the Regenerators and Progressives rotated governments. A Regenerator cabinet headed by Ernesto Hintze Ribeiro and Joao Franco took its turn at government from 1893 to 1897.

The government began with liberal reforms in mind, but it soon turned dictatorial because of the growing criticism of the monarchy: a harsh crackdown on the press and a prohibition of public assembly ensued. The elected portion of the House of Peers was abolished. The Progressives in the House of Deputies refused to vote, hence an all-Regenerator Cortes. An apparent plot to kill the king was discovered. A severe decree mandated secret trials of political dissidents and their transportation out of the country upon conviction. The unpopular decree resulted in a backlash that forced the Regenerator ministry to resign in 1897. The Progressives were in, and then out in 1900.

This time Joao Franco took no place in the Regenerator cabinet, preferring instead to stand back and criticize Hintze in the Cortes, and then he seceded from the party with 25 deputies and formed a liberal splinter party. Hintze was infuriated: until his death in 1907, he did everything he could to crush Franco.

The rotating parties continued to roll along regularly exploiting the countryside after Carlos took the throne. Hintze gerrymandered voting districts so that voting in rural areas would outweigh republican voters in the two major cities of Oporto and Lisbon, and party bosses went about drumming up support from eligible voters in the country towns, from local magnates and clergy.

As far as the largely illiterate and apathetic masses were concerned, the political agitation was a lot of malarkey about nothing. Most of the proletariat did not see anything in it for the working man. As for the peers, the revolution they contemplated to overthrow Franco was of no avail to them since the king was on his strong-man’s side. Franco, figuring all the factions would offset each other and amount to nothing much in their divisiveness, was confident of the future. But trouble was brewing among some of the more hot-headed members of the proletariat, as well as among urban professionals.

Disgruntled republican intellectuals were cultivating seeds of dissent at the university in Coimbra. The most notable dissidents were Professor Teofilo Braga, and the idol of republican students, Senhor Bernardino Machado, and, of course the noted poet, Albilio Guerra Janquiero. A slightly respectable Republican Party was afoot, and there was a Socialist faction formed as well. Joao Franco, via his brand new Centro Regenerador Liberal party, spoke out against the rotativism of Hintze’s Regenerators and Luciano’s Progressives. Franco’s new agenda was called Franquismo – the Republicans took advantage of its liberal aspects. So in 1905 there were five political parties: Regenerators, Liberal Regenerators, Progressives, Socialists, and Republicans.

More dangerous to the monarchy were the conspiring secret cells of the Carbonari. Membership therein was rumored to be rapidly rising – everybody and their brother were at one time or another suspected of belonging to a Wood Shop. Hintze was out again in 1904, Castro’s Progressives took another turn at the trough, but their stay was brief because of Luciano’s deteriorating health. Hintze was back as Prime Minister in 1906. He asked the king for a dictatura or period of dictatorship to stabilize the country. Carlos obviously believed that Hintze would not be a good strong man. “Woe betide those who can only rule in such a manner,” said the king. His letter of refusal was tantamount to a request for Hintze’s resignation. Hintze resigned. Joao Franco, whom many people believed was an honest, loyal, courageous, and resolute man somewhat along the lines of the classical true conservative, Cato, was called up to head the cabinet. He cut expenses right away and abolished sinecures; of course the old Regenerators and Progressives were duly outraged and called for his resignation, which he immediately tendered to the King, who, of course, refused it and gave Franco the dictatura he had denied Hintze. Wherefore the Cortes was dissolved and the “temporary” dictatorship established for the purpose of reform.

George Young opined that the Portuguese nobility and gentry with failing to follow a long-standing tradition to “fulfill their function, as in our (Great Britain’s) constitutional history, and act as trustees in the transfer of the sovereign power from the prince to the people.” He believed that Carlos was honoring “cosmopolitan concessionaires or those too politic politicians who were looked upon by the public as robbers and traitors.” As for capital shortage in poor Portugal, Young played the Jewish card and mentioned the “passive invasion” of Jewish German bankers: the Portuguese could not rely on them because a collapse of the Portuguese monarchy would only add to their Germanic advantage in Africa.

“Under the monarchy,” wrote Young, “rotativism seemed likely to have a long reign, and in consequence the Cortes was quite useless even for dealing with the one pressing political problem. This was no less than the question whether Portugal could pay its way as a nation. If it could not be made to do so, then obviously it could not hope even to maintain its position as a sovereign State, still less to make good its pretensions to be a world-empire.”

The political world, motivated by greed, rotated around money. King Carlos himself was described as a cynical man who was devoted most of all to sensual pleasure. Jean Finot, who was in Portugal for awhile, claimed that Carlos “sought oblivion in orgies sufficiently innocent, but which in Lisbon, a large provincial town, were thought the fetes of a Nero. In truth, he was bored. He courted all the pretty women, and was always dreaming of foreign travel,” and he says, “Brave to a fault, Dom Carlos used to walk about the streets of his capital alone without an escort, everywhere meeting looks of hostility, indifference, or even disgust from passers-by. Thus he threw in the face of his people an insult which the longed to avenge in his blood.”

However that may be, Carlos was well aware of the threat to the monarchy; he sympathized with the complaints below. He was corrupted by ministers who persuaded him to use devious devices to take more money from the public coffer to support his royal needs than was budgeted. He took the “bribes” against his better judgment, and he took steps to curb corruption elsewhere, but he was weak. His Prime Minister Franco was “the strong man” and was in effect the last monarch in Portugal. Franco, Portugal’s “Cato,” became the villain of the drama – Carlos looked on and lost his life. A contemporary historian, Vincent de Bragancaunha, stated, “The assassination of the King and the Crown Prince stands as proof of the political mistakes committed by Franco, which the country cannot easily forget or forgive.”

King Carlos refused to see representatives from the Cortes after it was dissolved. And he ignored the clamor of various other distinguished petitioners. During an interview with a reporter from the Paris Le Temps, Carlos declared his confidence in his dictator:

“He and I are quite of one mind,” Carlos said. “We work together, and he is completely in my confidence. There people are mistaken who think that I do not intend to keep him in power. I am quite satisfied with him. Everything is going satisfactorily. The present state of things must continue – the interest of the county requires it.”

Even worse, Carlos criticized Portugal during the interview, implying that the Portuguese national character was a dishonest one. Needless to say, this gaffe enraged the Portuguese public the most.

While Carlos talked, Franco was hard at work. Municipal elections were postponed. A decree was issued reforming the upper house of the Cortes, the House of Peers, setting aside the rights it had enjoyed for many years. Franco had been out of politics for awhile but when he returned to work for the King he said he had strong democratic instincts; however, the more his reforms were resisted, the more repressive his measures became, until, in Cunha’s words, his “recklessness was positively criminal.” Decrees were issued in January 1908 suppressing papers and imprisoning opponents of his policies. Allegedly at Franco’s behest, Carlos signed a decree authorizing dissidents to be transported to Africa on a moment’s notice. Carlos did have his reservations: he reportedly said upon the signing of one such repressive decree that he was probably signing his own death warrant. His queen, Amelie of Orleans, a highly educated woman and staunch royalist, also had her doubts. Francis Gribble quotes her: “Franco is in the right, I suppose, but he is very clumsy in his methods.” Just before he was assassinated, Cunha reports that the king had a presentiment of his fate:

“He asked Franco if it was safe for him and his family to drive through the streets of Lisbon. But the dictator spoke so confidentially that the King relied more or less on the personal pledge given by his minister for the safety of the Royal Family. So far from taking the ordinary precautions, Franco even allowed the King to enter, with the King and the Princes, a two-horse open carriage that was to drive them to the Necessidades Palace.”

We can imagine Franco’s shock when he heard about the ignominious assassinations that ended his dictatorship. Jean Finot said that the news reached Franco during a diplomatic party at the French Delegation. The courtiers and ministers avoided him. He, pale and haggard, exclaimed, “They have killed my King and they have killed his Minister!” Queen Amelia reportedly said to Franco, “There – you see your handiwork!” And Maria Pia supposedly said, “You promised to release the monarchy from its tomb, and all that you have done has been to dig the graves of my son and grandson.” More gossip: Carlos’ brother, the Duke of Porto, reportedly got into a fight with Franco, rolling around on the floor of the Council Chamber after slapping him in the face and yelling, “Franco, Franco, what have you done to my brother?”

Franco resigned immediately, removed himself to Genoa, and never returned to public life. Joao Franco, a rich man who led a Stoic life, a man with a reputation for incorruptibility, courage, energy, and good intentions, was a precursor of the top-down state socialism or national socialism that was advancing in several European countries. Jean Finot wrote:

“The dictator took no one’s advice…. Franco became the real master of Portugal, a master the more to be dreaded because he held in his hands the whole political and administrative life of the country. On one occasion he said to me: ‘Our country has suffered and suffers still from administrative corruption. There is too much extravagance and too many abuses. I shall have to reform much of the machinery and get new laws passed; and when some years hence people see what I have accomplished they will excuse my brutalities and violations of the Constitution…. You must do violence to the ground before you can sow it….’ I had an opportunity of conversing with several opponents of the dictator. All admitted that, detestable though he was as a politician, his personal character was not open to attack. He prevented others from enriching themselves at the expense of the state, but he did not enrich himself. They told me many lively stories of this plunder of the state to which Franco had put an end.”

Vincent de Braganca Cunha, writing about the outrageous sinecures, said that Franco had “proceeded to deprive the State parasites of all imaginary posts so infamously monopolized by them. The corruption was such that a gentleman appointed Minister of Portugal in China had for two years drawn 2,400l a year without leaving Lisbon.”

Moreover, entitled ladies were getting money for the imaginary task of searching females at the custom house, and so on. George Young relates, “Joao Franco, a somewhat sinister personality… nor the less courageous and cynical King Carlos himself… set valiantly to work enforcing economies, most of them well advised – one or two of them ill-advised, such as the increase of the civil list in substitution for ‘irregular’ advances.” The civil list listed funds allotted to the monarch; in other words, Franco openly gave the King a raise; and dubious transfers were otherwise made. George Young writes, “One might define Franco as a fiscal reformer who engaged in corrupt practices; and the inevitable result of this dual activity was that he made two sets of enemies – the one by his corruption, and the other by his economies.”

Franco’s King and Crown Prince were dead. Franco was the fall guy in the service of a king who had full confidence in Franco’s crackdown on corruption and republicanism, a crackdown that made enemies on all sides. It might have worked given popular support and better luck. Much can be said for democratic methods when the time is ripe for them, but Portugal was not ready. The monarchy finally fell to the republicans in 1910 – Queen Amelie and King Manuel II fled to Gibraltar on the yacht Amelia, and on to England. The situation deteriorated even further, and the virtual chaos was not brought under control until the Salazar dictatorship (1926-1974), which was the longest-lived authoritarian system in Western Europe’s history. Despite the regressive aspects and brutalities of the Salazar Regime, the social progress it achieved was remarkable.



Cunha, Vincent de Braganca, Eight Centuries of Portuguese Monarchy, New York: James Pott, 1911. Vincent de Braganca Cunha was an excellent writer – I highly recommend this particular book for its lucid narrative style and presentation of interesting information about the Portuguese Monarchy.

Gribble, Francis (1862?-1946), The Royal House of Portugal, Port Washington: Kennikat, 1970 (first published 1915). Francis Gribble was British. He was an excellent, prolific writer whose many works appear throughout the world. He wrote biographies of romantic figures, including Balzac, Dumas, Shelley, Rousseau, Madame de Stael, and George Sand, Madame Collete, and others.

Young, George (1872-1952), Portugal Old and Young, Oxford: Clarendon, 1917, George Young served from 1896-1914 as a diplomat – secretary, attache, charges de affairs – in Washington, Athens, Constantinople, Madrid, Belgrade, and Lisbon. He was an authority on Ottoman law. In 1930, Young was an adviser on international affairs to the Labor Party.

Finot, Jean (1864-1935), ‘The Lisbon Assassination’, (A.D. 1908), article in The World’s Great Events. Jean Finot was a journalist and sociological researcher and writer. He was born in Warsaw as Jean Finckelhaus. In 1890 he founded Revue des revues in Paris. He is the author of the still controversial book, Race Prejudice, wherein he exposed the absurdities of pseudo-scientific racism. He spoke out against the racial viewpoints which helped lead the world into the Great War. He expressed approval of Tuskegee and other black schools.

One Hundred Years of Portuguese Oceanography, In the Footsteps of King Carlos de Braganca, ed., Luiz Saldanha and Pedro Re, Lisboa: Museu Nacional de Historia Natural, 1997

Nowell, Charles E, A History of Portugal, New York: Van Nostrand, 1952

Nowell, Charles E, Portugal, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall

Saraiva, Jose Hermano, Portugal, A Companion History, Portugal: Carcanet, 1997

Livermore, H.V., A History of Portugal, Cambridge: University Press, 1947

Anderson, James M., The History of Portugal, Westport: Greenwood, 2000

Current Literature, New York: Current Literature Publishing Co., 1908 issues

The Encyclopedia Britannica

Collier’s Encyclopedia

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