Monarch Profile: King Luis I of Portugal
HRH Prince Luis Filipe Maria Fernando Pedro de Alcantara Antonio Miguel Rafael Gabriel Gonzaga Xavier Francisco de Assis Joao Augusto Julio Valfando de Saxe-Coburgo-Gotha e Braganza was born on October 31, 1838 in Lisbon, the second son of Queen Maria II and King Fernando II of Portugal. As heir to the throne he was accorded the titles of Duke of Porto and Viseu.
His older brother, King Pedro V, after less than a
decade on the throne, died in the cholera epidemic that swept the
country in 1861, devastating the Portuguese Royal Family. As he had no
heirs, the throne passed to his younger brother who became King Luis I
on November 11, 1861 during a time of great turmoil in the world. Civil
war was raging in the United States and Mexico, war was about to break
out in South America between Brazil and its southern neighbors, in Italy
a new kingdom had just been formed and in Africa the competition for
colonial expansion was well underway. King Luis would do his best to
guide Portugal through these troubled waters, an apt analogy considering
his background was in the navy. He was given his first naval command in
1858 and had served in the navy for some time, visiting the Portuguese
colonies in Africa.
When it came to politics and government, unfortunately, King Luis was not to enjoy a very tranquil reign. There was constant power struggles between the liberal ‘Progressistas’ and the conservative ‘Regeneradores’ with the King naturally being partial to the conservatives. Portugal was in a precarious economic condition and, in an attempt to alleviate this situation somewhat, a consumption tax was passed which proved so unpopular that it sparked rioting in late 1867. Political problems boilded over on May 19, 1870 when a military uprising broke out with the support of the (long-time schemer) Duke of Saldanha who was serving a brief stint as Prime Minister. He lost his office over the affair though he might have lost more; the usually non-political Queen Maria Pia saying that if she were the king she would have had him shot. It was rather out of character but, on the other hand, an Italian woman with a fiery temper is hardly unusual either. It was also in 1870 that King Luis I considered the idea of putting himself forward as a candidate for the vacant throne of Spain but, probably wisely, he ultimately decided against it. As most know, it was another potential candidate for the Spanish throne that sparked the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71. Such trouble was the last thing Portugal needed.
After the abolition of the slave trade, the Portuguese launched military expeditions to expand these colonies from small coastal settlements deeper into the interior of Africa. The famous “Rose-Colored Map” illustrated the Portuguese desire to cross the continent and join East and West Africa together into one large Portuguese holding that would stretch from coast to coast. However, the British were expanding north from South Africa rapidly and negotiations were further put on hold by the Berlin Conference which set out to settle the disputed claims of the various European powers in the “Scramble for Africa”. Concessions were made to both the French and the Germans to obtain their support for the Portuguese claim to the interior which was considered even more vital after the Berlin Conference recognized Belgian rights over the Congo, further limiting the potential area of expansion for Portugal. It was, however, Portugal’s long-standing ally of Great Britain which thwarted the plan represented by the “Rose-Colored Map”. The Portuguese claim could simply not be reconciled with the desire espoused by Cecil Rhodes of British control of Africa from “the Cape to Cairo”.
Today, many unfairly blame King Luis for the ills that befell Portugal later and which ultimately brought down the monarchy. To do so is to hold him responsible for events which were far beyond his control. He was certainly not responsible for the wars that preceded his reign and he was not an absolute monarch who could rule however he wished. All he could do was try to bring the feuding political elites together but despite his best efforts they simply would not be reconciled. He was a thoughtful, well-rounded man who had every quality for a successful constitutional monarch. His people recognized him as such even if subsequent generations have not, calling him “Luis the Popular” and “Luis the Good”. Had he been a masterful statesman things may have gone better, presuming the politicians would have listened to him, but even as it stood, the public recognized that he was still the most upstanding man in the halls of power and appreciated him for it.