Born in Lisbon in 1767, the son of Maria I and Peter III of Portugal, he was originally an infante (prince, but not heir to the throne) of Portugal. He only became heir to the throne when his older brother José, Prince of Brazil, died of smallpox in 1788 at the age of 27.
Before his accession to the Portuguese throne, John VI bore the titles Duke of Braganza and Duke of Beja, as well as Prince of Brazil. From 1799, he served as prince regent of Portugal (and later, from 1815, as prince regent of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves), due to the mental illness of his mother, Queen Maria I. In 1816, he succeeded his mother as monarch of the Portuguese Empire, with no real change in his authority, since he already possessed absolute powers as regent.
One of the last representatives of absolute monarchy in Europe, he lived during a turbulent period; his reign never saw a lasting peace. Throughout his period of rule, major powers, such as Spain, France and Great Britain, continually intervened in Portuguese affairs. Forced to flee to South America across the Atlantic Ocean into Brazil when troops of the Emperor Napoleon I invaded Portugal, he found himself faced there with liberal revolts; he was compelled to return to Europe amid new conflicts. His marriage was no less conflictual, as his wife, Carlota Joaquina of Spain, repeatedly conspired against her husband in favor of personal interests or those of her native Spain. He lost Brazil when his son Pedro declared independence, and his other son Miguel (later Miguel I of Portugal) led a rebellion that sought to depose him. According to recent scholarly research, his death may well have been caused by arsenic poisoning.
Notwithstanding these tribulations he left a lasting mark, especially in Brazil, where he helped to create numerous institutions and services that laid a foundation for national autonomy, and he is considered by many historians to be a true mastermind of the modern Brazilian state. Still, he has been widely (if unjustly) viewed as a cartoonish figure in Portuguese-Brazilian history, accused of laziness, lack of political acumen and constant indecision, and is often portrayed as physically grotesque.
João Maria José Francisco Xavier de Paula Luís António Domingos Rafael was born 13 May 1767, during the reign of his grandfather, Joseph I of Portugal. He was the second son of the future Queen Maria I, Joseph's daughter, and her husband (also her uncle), the future King Peter III. At the time of John's birth they were, respectively, Princess of Brazil and Infante of Portugal.
He was ten years old when his grandfather died and his mother ascended to the throne. His childhood and youth were lived quietly, as he was a mere infante in the shadow of his elder brother José, Prince of Brazil and 14th Duke of Braganza, the heir-apparent to the throne. Folklore has John as a rather uncultured youth, but according to Jorge Pedreira e Costa, he received as rigorous an education as José did. Still, a French ambassador of the time painted him in unfavorable colors, seeing him as hesitant and dim. The record of this period of his life is too vague for historians to form any definitive picture. Little is known of the substance of his education. He surely received instruction in religion, law, French, and etiquette, and would presumably have learned history through reading the works of Duarte Nunes de Leão and João de Barros.
In 1785, Henrique de Meneses, 3rd Marquis of Louriçal, arranged a marriage between John and the Infanta Carlota Joaquina of Spain, daughter of King Charles IV of Spain and Queen Maria Luisa of Parma. Like her betrothed, Carlota was a junior member of a royal family. Fearing a new Iberian Union, some in the Portuguese court viewed the marriage to a Spanish infanta unfavorably. She endured four days of testing by the Portuguese ambassadors before the marriage pact was confirmed. Because John and Carlota were related, and because of the bride's youth (she was only 10 years' old at the time), the marriage required a papal dispensation. After being confirmed, the marriage capitulation was signed in the throne room of the Spanish court with great pomp and with the participation of both kingdoms. It was followed immediately by a proxy marriage. The marriage was consummated five years later.
The infanta was received at the Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa at the beginning of May 1785, and on 9 June 1785, the couple received a nuptial benediction at the palace chapel. At the same time, John's sister, the Infanta Mariana Victoria, was married to the Infante Gabriel, also of the Spanish royal family. An assiduous correspondence between John and Mariana at that time reveals that the absence of his sister weighed upon him and, comparing her to his young wife, he wrote, "She is very smart and has a lot of judgment, whereas you have rather little, and I like her a lot, but for all that I cannot love her equally." John's young bride was little given to docility, requiring at times the correction of Queen Maria herself. Furthermore, the difference in their ages (John being 18 years old) made him uncomfortable and anxious. Because Carlota was so young, the marriage had not been consummated, and John wrote, "Here's to the arrival of the time when I shall play a lot with the Infanta. The way these things go, I think six years from now. Better that she be a bit more grown up than when she came." The consummation waited until 5 April 1790. In 1793, Carlota gave birth to the first of nine children: Teresa, Princess of Beira.
By that time, John's hitherto relatively quiet life had been turned upside down by the death on 11 September 1788 of his older brother Dom José, which left John as the heir apparent to the throne, with the titles of Prince of Brazil and 15th Duke of Braganza. Great things had been hoped for from Dom José, who associated himself with the progressive ideas of the Enlightenment. Criticized by the clergy, he appeared to have been inclined toward the anti-clerical policies of the Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, 1st Marquis of Pombal.
John, in contrast, was well known for his religiosity and his attachment to absolutism. The crisis of succession was aggravated with the death soon after of Ignacio de São Caetano, Archbishop of Thessalonica, the queen's confessor and a powerful political figure, who had influenced a controversial choice of Maria's ministers that favored John, but not without encountering strong opposition from important fidalgos who had ambitions for those posts. Furthermore, the year after these deaths, John became so ill that his own survival was uncertain. He recovered, but in 1791, he again fell ill "bleeding from the mouth and intestines", according to notes left by the chaplain of the Marquis of Marialva, who added that his spirit was always depressed. This created a tense climate and uncertainty about his future reign.
Meanwhile, the queen showed increasing signs of mental instability. On 10 February 1792, seventeen doctors signed a document declaring her unable to manage the kingdom, with no prospect for her condition to improve. John was reluctant to take the reins of power, rejecting the idea of a formal regency. This opened the way for elements of the nobility to form a de facto government via a Council. Rumors circulated that John exhibited symptoms of the same insanity, and that he might be prevented from ruling. According to longstanding laws that guided the institution of regency, were the regent to die or become incapable for any reason, and having children of less than fourteen years (which was John's situation at the time), government would be exercised by the guardians of those children or, if guardians had not been formally named, by the wife of the regent. In John's case, that would have been a Spanish infanta. Fear, suspicion and intrigue engulfed the entire institutional framework of the nation.
At the same time, the French Revolution perplexed and horrified the reigning houses of Europe. The execution of the French former king Louis XVI on 21 January 1793 by the revolutionaries precipitated an international response. On 15 July 1793, Portugal signed a treaty with Spain, and on 26 September allied itself with Great Britain. Both treaties pledged mutual aid against revolutionary France and brought six thousand Portuguese soldiers into the War of the Pyrenees (1793–1795), a campaign that began with an advance to Roussillon in France and ended in defeat with the French conquest of northeastern Spain. This created a delicate diplomatic problem, as Portugal could not make peace with France without damaging an alliance with England that involved several overseas interests. The Portuguese thus sought a neutrality that proved fragile and tense.
After the defeat, Spain abandoned its alliance with Portugal and allied with France under the Peace of Basel. With Britain too powerful for France to attack directly, France set its sights on Portugal. In 1799, John officially assumed the reins of government as prince regent in the name of his widowed mother; that same year, Napoleon Bonaparte staged his coup d'état of 18 Brumaire in France and coerced Spain into issuing an ultimatum to force the Portuguese to break with Great Britain and submit the country to the interests of Napoleon. With John's refusal, neutrality became unviable. Spain and France invaded in 1801, setting off the War of the Oranges; a defeated Portugal signed the Treaty of Badajoz and the subsequent Treaty of Madrid, under which it ceded territory to Spain, in particular Olivenza, and made concessions to French over certain colonial territories. With conflicting interests among all the countries involved, the war was marked by ambiguous movements and secret agreements. Portugal, as the weakest player, could not avoid continued struggle. At the same time, John had to face an enemy at home. His wife, Carlota Joaquina, loyal to Spanish interests, initiated an intrigue with the objective of deposing her husband and taking power herself, an attempt that failed in 1805. This resulted in the queen's exile from court; she resided at Queluz Palace, while the regent took up residency at Mafra Palace.
The prince regent played a desperate game with France for time. For as long as he could, he pretended an apparent submission to France, to the point of suggesting to King George III of the United Kingdom the declaration of a fictitious state of war between their countries, but he did not obey the dictates of Napoleon's Continental System (a blockade against Great Britain). A new secret treaty with the British guaranteed him help in case of an eventual flight of the royal family. The accord greatly favored the British and preserved their influence over the country, as the United Kingdom continued to make vast profits in trade with the Portuguese intercontinental empire. It fell to Portugal only to choose between obedience to France or to England, and the hesitancy to decide firmly placed Portugal at risk of war with not merely one of these powers, but with both. In October 1807, news arrived that a French army was approaching, and on 16 November, a British squadron arrived in the port of Lisbon with a force of seven thousand men with orders either to escort the royal family to Brazil or, if the government surrendered to France, to attack and conquer the Portuguese capital. The court was divided between Francophiles and Anglophiles, and after anguished consideration under pressure from both sides, John decided to accept British protection and leave for Brazil.
The invading army led by Jean-Andoche Junot advanced with some difficulty, arriving at the gates of Lisbon only on 30 November 1807. By this time, the prince regent, accompanied by the entire royal family and a large following of nobles, state functionaries and servants, had already embarked, leaving the government under a regency with the recommendation that the army not engage in hostilities with the invader. The hasty departure during a rainstorm caused havoc in Lisbon as an astonished population could not believe that their prince had abandoned them. According to the account of José Acúrsio das Neves, the departure brought forth deep emotion on the part of the prince regent:
He wanted to speak and could not; he wanted to move and, convulsed, did not succeed in taking a step; he walked over an abyss, and envisioned a future dark and as uncertain as the ocean to which he was about to deliver himself. Country, capital, kingdom, vassals, he was about to leave all of these suddenly, with little hope of setting eyes on them again, and all were thorns that pierced his heart.
To explain himself to the people, John ordered that posters be put up along the streets stating that his departure was unavoidable despite all efforts made to assure the integrity and peace of the kingdom. The posters recommended that everyone remain calm, orderly and not resist the invaders, so that blood not be shed in vain. Because of the rush to depart, the Prince Regent John, Queen Maria, Prince Pedro, Prince of Beira (later Pedro I of Brazil and Pedro IV of Portugal), and the Infante Miguel (later Miguel I of Portugal) were all in a single ship. This was an imprudent decision given the dangers of a transatlantic voyage in that era, since it placed at risk the succession of the crown in case of shipwreck. Carlota Joaquina and the infantas were on two other ships. The number of people who embarked with John remains a matter of controversy; in the 19th century there was talk of up to 30 thousand emigrants; more recent estimates vary between five hundred and fifteen thousand, the latter being close to the maximum capacity of the squadron of fifteen ships, including their crews. Still, the ships were overcrowded. According to Pedreira e Costa, taking into account all of the variables, the most likely numbers fall between four and seven thousand passengers plus the crews. Many families were separated, and even high officials failed to secure a place on the ships and were left behind. The voyage was not a tranquil one. Several ships were in precarious condition, and overcrowding created humiliating conditions for the nobility, the majority of whom had to sleep huddled in the open in the poops. Hygienic conditions were bad, including an epidemic of head lice. Many had failed to bring changes of clothing. Several people fell ill. Supplies were scarce, causing rationing. Furthermore, the flotilla spent ten days nearly becalmed in the equatorial zone under a scorching heat that caused moods to turn quite sour. The flotilla also faced two storms and was eventually dispersed near Madeira. In the middle of the voyage, Prince John changed his plans and decided to head for Salvador, Bahia, probably for political reasons. He wanted to please the inhabitants of the colony's first capital, which had given many signs of discontent with the loss of its old status. The ships carrying his wife and the infantas held to the original destination of Rio de Janeiro.
On 22 January 1808, the ship of the prince regent and two others arrived in Baía de Todos os Santos, Brazil. The streets of Salvador were deserted, because the governor, the Count of Ponte, preferred to await the prince's orders before permitting the people to receive him. Finding this attitude odd, John ordered that all could come as they wished. However, to allow the nobility to compose themselves after such an arduous journey, the landing was postponed until the next day, when they were received joyfully amidst a procession, the ringing of bells and a celebration of a Te Deum at the Cathedral of Salvador. In the following days, the prince received all who wished to give homage, granting the ceremony of the beija-mão (the kissing of the monarch's hand) and conceding various mercies. Among the latter, he decreed the creation of a public lecture series on economics and a school of surgery, but his most decisive action at this moment was the Decree of Opening the Ports to Friendly Nations (Decreto de Abertura dos Portos às Nações Amigas), a measure of vast political and economic importance and the first of many that went to improve conditions in the colony. Britain, however, whose economy depended in great part on maritime commerce, and for whom the Portuguese and Brazilian monarchy was now something of a protectorate, was the most direct beneficiary.
Salvador spent a month in commemorations of the presence of the court and tried to seduce the court into making it the new seat of the kingdom. The residents offered to construct a luxurious palace as a home for the royal family, but John declined and continued his voyage, having already announced to various nations his intention to make his capital at Rio de Janeiro. His ship entered Guanabara Bay on 7 March, where he met the infantas and other members of his entourage whose ships had arrived earlier. On the 8th, the whole court finally disembarked to encounter a city adorned to receive them with nine days of uninterrupted celebrations. A well-known chronicler of the era, Father Perereca, eyewitness to the arrival, while lamenting the news of the invasion of metropolitan Portugal, also intuited the significance of the arrival of the court on Brazilian soil:
If so great were the motives of sorrow and distress, no less were the causes of comfort and pleasure: a new order of things was going to begin this part of the southern hemisphere. The design of the Empire of Brazil could already be considered in place, and eagerly wished the powerful hand of our lord the Prince Regent to cast the first stone of future greatness, prosperity and power of the new empire.
With a court, the essential apparatus of a sovereign state became inevitable: the senior civil, religious, and military officials, aristocrats and liberal professionals, skilled artisans, and public servants. For many scholars, the transfer of the court to Rio began the establishment of the modern Brazilian state and constituted Brazil's first step toward true independence. While Brazil at this time remained formally and juridically a Portuguese colony, in the words of Caio Prado, Jr.
"Establishing in Brazil the seat of a monarchy, the regent ipso facto abolished the colonial regime under which the country had lived until then. All the characteristics of that [colonial] regime disappeared, the only remaining part of the colonial situation was to be under a foreign government. One after another, the old workings of colonial administration were abolished and replaced by those of a sovereign nation. Economic restrictions fell and thoughts of the country's interests moved to the front of government policy."
But first it was necessary to provide accommodations for the newcomers, a difficult problem to resolve given the cramped proportions of the city of Rio at that time. In particular, there were few homes suitable for the nobility, especially in the case of the royal family, who were installed in the viceregal palace, known today as the Paço Imperial (Imperial Palace). Though large, it was comfortless and nothing like Portuguese palaces. As large as it was, it was not enough to accommodate everyone, so neighboring buildings were also requisitioned, such as the Carmelite Convent, the town hall, and even the jail. To meet the needs of other nobles, and to install new government offices, innumerable small residences were hastily expropriated, their proprietors arbitrarily ejected, at times violently in the face of resistance. Despite the efforts of Viceroy Marcos de Noronha e Brito and of Joaquim José de Azevedo, the regent was still poorly accommodated. Merchant Elias Antônio Lopes offered his country house, the Quinta da Boa Vista, a sumptuous villa in excellent location that immediately met with the prince's satisfaction. Renovations and expansion transformed this into the Paço de São Cristóvão ("Palace of Saint Christopher"). Carlota Joaquina, for her part, preferred to settle on a farm near the beach of Botafogo, continuing her habit of living apart from her husband.
The city, which at that time had about 70,000 inhabitants, saw itself transformed overnight. The additional populace, full of new requirements, imposed a new organization in the supply of food and other consumer goods, including luxury items. It took years for the Portuguese to settle in, causing years of chaos in the daily life of Rio; rents doubled, taxes rose, and food was in short supply, requisitioned by the imported nobility. This soon dispelled popular enthusiasm over the prince regent's arrival. The very shape of the city began to change, with the construction of innumerable new residences, villas and other buildings, and various improvements to services and infrastructure. Likewise, the presence of the court introduced new standards of etiquette, new fashions and new customs, including a new social stratification.
Among the customs, John continued in Brazil the ancient Portuguese ceremony of the beija-mão, which he esteemed greatly and which fascinated the Brazilians and became part of their folklore. He received his subjects daily, except for Sundays and holidays. The long lines waiting to pay their respects and receive favors were a mix of nobles and commoners. According to painter Henry L’Evêque, "the Prince, accompanied by a Secretary of State, a Chamberlain and some household officials, received all the petitions that were presented to him; listened attentively to all the complaints, all the requests of the applicants; consoled one, encouraged others.... The vulgarity of the manners, the familiarity of speech, the insistence of some, the prolixity of others, none of this bored him. He seemed to forget that he was their master, and remember only that he was their father." Oliveira Lim wrote that he "never confused the faces or the pleas, and the applicants marveled at how well he know their lives, their families, even small incidents that had occurred in the past and which they could not believe had risen to the notice of the king."
Throughout his stay in Brazil, John formalized the creation of a huge number of institutions and public services and boosted the economy, culture and other areas of national life. All these measures were taken principally because of the practical needs of administering a large empire in a territory previously lacking of these resources, because the predominant idea continued to be that Brazil would remain a colony, given that it was expected that the court would return to its old metropolis once the European political situation returned to normal. However, these advances became the basis for Brazil's future autonomy. This is not to say that all was amenities and progress. A series of political crises began shortly after his arrival with the invasion of Cayenne in French Guiana in 1809 in retaliation for the French invasion of Portugal, serious economic problems, and a painful trade agreement imposed in 1810 by the British, which in practice flooded the small internal market with useless trinkets and disadvantaged exports and the creation of new national industries. The national debt multiplied by twenty and corruption was rife at large institutions, including the first Bank of Brazil, which ended up bankrupt. Also, the court was extravagant and wasteful, accumulated privileges on privileges and maintained a legion of sycophants and adventurers. British consul James Henderson observed that few European courts were as large as that of Portugal. Laurentino Gomes writes that John granted more hereditary titles in his first eight years in Brazil than had been granted in the previous three hundred years of the Portuguese monarchy, not even counting more than five thousand insignia and commendations of the honorific orders of Portugal.
When Napoleon was defeated in 1815, the European powers held the Congress of Vienna to reorganize the political map of the continent. Portugal participated in these negotiations, but given British machinations contrary to the interests of the House of Braganza, Portugal's ambassador to the Congress, the Count of Palmela, counseled the regent to remain in Brazil, as did the powerful Prince Talleyrand, in order to strengthen the ties between metropolis and colony, including the suggestion to elevate Brazil to the condition of a kingdom united to Portugal. The representative of the United Kingdom also ended up supporting the idea, which resulted in the effective foundation of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves on 16 December 1815, a juridical institution rapidly recognized by other nations.
John's mother Queen Maria died 20 March 1816, opening the road for the regent to assume the throne. Though he began to govern as king on that date, he was not immediately consecrated as king; he was acclaimed only on 6 February 1818, with grand festivities. Meanwhile, several political matters came to the fore. The ambitious Queen Carlota Joaquina had begun to conspire against Portuguese interests while still in Europe, and shortly after her arrival in Brazil, she established understandings with both Spaniards and with nationalists of the Río de la Plata region (now Argentina and Uruguay) to try to secure a monarchy of her own, perhaps as a regent of Spain, perhaps as queen of a new monarchy created from Spanish colonies in South America, perhaps by deposing her husband. This made any meaningful marriage to John impossible, despite his show of patience, and only the force of convention had them appear together in public. While Dona Carlota gained many sympathizers, her plots uniformly failed. Despite that, she managed to influence her husband to involve himself more directly in Spanish colonial politics. These efforts led to the capture of Montevideo in 1817 and the annexation of Cisplatina Province in 1821.
During the same period, problems arose in finding a wife for John's heir apparent, the future Pedro I of Brazil. Europe at the time considered Brazil distant, backward and unsafe, so it was not a simple task to find suitable candidates. After a year of seeking, the ambassador Pedro José Joaquim Vito de Meneses Coutinho, 6th Marquis of Marialva, finally secured an alliance with one of Europe's most powerful royal houses, the Habsburgs, emperors of Austria, after seducing the Austrian court with numerous lies, a display of pomp, and the distribution of gold bars and diamonds among the nobility. Dom Pedro married archduchess Maria Leopoldina of Austria, daughter of emperor Francis I, in 1817. The emperor and his minister Metternich considered the alliance "an advantageous pact between Europe and the New World," strengthening the monarchical regime in both hemispheres and granting Austria a new sphere of influence.
Meanwhile, the situation in Portugal was by no means tranquil. Absent its monarch and devastated by the Peninsular War and the consequent mass hunger and enormous exodus of emigrants, the country in practice had become a British protectorate upon the final expulsion of the French. It was administered by Marshall William Carr Beresford, who governed with an iron fist. From the time John ascended the throne, the Portuguese pressed for his return, initiated liberal rebellions, and formed secret societies with the objective of bringing into session the Portuguese Cortes, which had not met since 1698. Similar liberal agitation occurred in Brazil. In 1817, the Pernambucan Revolt broke out in Recife, a republican movement that established a provisional government in Pernambuco and spread into other Brazilian states; it was put down severely. Back in Portugal, the Liberal Revolution of 1820 broke out in Porto on 24 August 1820. A governing junta was set up, with repercussions in Lisbon. It met as the General Extraordinary and Constituent Cortes (Cortes Gerais Extraordinárias e Constituintes), formed a government and convened elections for deputies without bothering to consult King John. The movement gained support from the Island of Madeira, the Azores and reached the captaincy of Grão-Pará and Bahia in Brazil. It led even to an uprising by the military garrison of Rio de Janeiro itself.
On 30 January 1821, the Cortes met in Lisbon and decreed the formation of a Council of Regency to exercise power in the name of King John. It freed many political prisoners and demanded the king's immediate return. On 20 April, King John convoked a meeting in Rio to choose deputies to the Constituent Cortes, but the following day, protests in the plaza were put down violently. In Brazil, the general opinion was that the king's return to Portugal could mean loss of the autonomy Brazil had gained and a return to its prior colonial status. Under pressure, John tried to find a middle way by sending his son Prince Pedro to Lisbon to grant a constitution and establish the basis of a new government. The prince, however, already leaning toward liberal ideas, refused. The crisis had gone too far and there was no turning back. John named Pedro regent for Brazil in his name and left for Lisbon on 25 April 1821 after a stay of thirteen years in Brazil, a country he would always miss.
The ships bringing John and his court arrived in Lisbon on 3 July 1821. His return was orchestrated in such a manner as not to imply that the king had been coerced, but in fact a new political environment had already been established. A constitution had been drafted, and the king was required to swear loyalty to it on 1 October 1822. It called for him to surrender various prerogatives. Dona Carlota refused to follow her husband in agreeing to this, and thus was dispossessed of her political rights and deposed of her title as queen. Meanwhile, the king lost out in Brazil as well. His son Pedro, opting to stay in that country, led a revolt that proclaimed Brazilian independence on 7 September 1822; as part of this action, he assumed the title of emperor of Brazil. Tradition says that before journeying to Portugal, John had anticipated future events and had said to his son: "Pedro, Brazil will soon be separated from Portugal: if so, put the crown on your head before some adventurer grabs it." According to the memoirs of the Count of Palmela, Brazilian independence had come about through common accord between the king and the prince. In any event, later correspondence between the two shows the prince's concern not to disturb his father. However, Portugal did not officially recognize Brazilian independence at this time.
The liberal constitution to which the king had sworn loyalty was in effect only for a few months. Not everyone in Portugal supported liberalism, and an absolutist movement arose. On 23 February 1823, in Trás-os-Montes, Francisco Silveira, Count of Amarante, proclaimed an absolute monarchy; this did not immediately have an effect, and new agitations followed. On 27 May, the infante Dom Miguel, instigated by his mother Dona Carlota, led another revolt known as the Vilafrancada, with the intent of restoring absolutism. John changed the game by supporting his son to avoid his own deposition (which was desired by the party of the queen) and appeared in public on his birthday alongside his son, who wore a uniform of the National Guard, a military corps that had been disbanded by the liberals, receiving the applause of the militia. The king personally went to Vila Franca to better administer the uprising, ultimately returning to Lisbon in triumph. The political climate was undecided, and even the staunchest defenders of liberalism feared to take a strong stand on its behalf. Before its dissolution, the Cortes protested against any change in the recently approved constitution, but the absolute regime was restored, the queen's rights re-established, and the king acclaimed for a second time on 5 June 1823. John repressed demonstrations against this restoration, deported some of the liberals and arrested others, ordered the restoration of judiciary and institutions more in line with the new political orientation and created a commission to draft a basis for a new charter to replace the constitution.
The alliance with the infante Miguel did not bear fruit. Influenced as always by his mother, Miguel led the April Revolt or Abrilada by the Lisbon military garrison on 29 April 1824. The revolt started on the pretext of crushing the Freemasons and defending the king from threats of death that the Masons has supposedly made against him, but John was taken into custody at the Bemposta Palace, while several of Miguel's political enemies of Miguel's were also imprisoned elsewhere. The infante's intent was to force his father to abdicate. Alerted to the situation, the diplomatic corps managed to enter Bemposta Palace. Those who held the king could not resist such authorities and restored a measure of freedom to the king. On 9 May, on the advice of friendly ambassadors, John pretended to travel to Caxias but, in fact, sought refuge with a British fleet anchored in the port. From aboard the ship HMS Windsor Castle, he sent reprimanded his son, deposed him from command of the army, and ordered him to release his political prisoners. Miguel was exiled. With the defeat of the rebellion, both liberals and absolutists came out into the streets to celebrate the survival of the legitimate government. On 14 May, the king returned to Bemposta, reconstituted the council of ministers and showed generosity to the others who had rebelled. Still, this did not dissuade the queen from further conspiracies. The police discovered another rebellion planned for 26 October, on the basis of which John placed his wife under house arrest in Queluz Palace.
At the end of his reign, King John ordered the creation of a free port in Lisbon, but the measure was not implemented. He ordered further inquiry into the death of his former friend the Marquis of Loulé, but final judgment was never rendered. On 5 June 1824 he granted amnesty to those involved in the Porto uprising, except for nine officers who were exiled. On the same day, the old constitution of the kingdom came back into force, and the Cortes reconvened to prepare a new text. The change of constitution faced several obstacles, mainly from Spain and from supporters of the queen.
Portugal's biggest problems at this time, however, related to the independence of Brazil, which had been the country's largest source of wealth. The loss of Brazil had a great negative impact on the Portuguese economy. An expedition to reconquer the former colony was even considered, but the idea was soon abandoned. Difficult negotiations and consultations undertaken in Europe in Rio de Janeiro with British mediation and pressure resulted in the final recognition of the independence on 29 August 1825. At the same time, the king freed all the Brazilians who were prisoners and authorized trade between both nations. It was agreed that Pedro govern Brazil as a sovereign with the title of Emperor, while John kept for himself the honor of Titular Emperor of Brazil; from this time, he signed official documents as "His Majesty the Emperor and King John VI" ("Sua Majestade o Imperador e Rei Dom João VI"). Brazil was required to pay certain funds that it had borrowed from Portugal. Nothing in the treaty spoke of the succession of the two crowns, but Pedro, still acting as the Prince Royal of Portugal and Algarve, implicitly remained heir to the Portuguese throne.
On 4 March 1826, John returned from the Hieronymites Monastery where he had lunched and retired to Bemposta Palace feeling poorly. He was racked for several days by symptoms including vomiting and convulsions. He appeared to be getting better, but by way of prudence designated his daughter, the infanta Isabel Maria, as regent. On the night of 9 March, he took a turn for the worse and died at approximately 5 a.m. on the 10th. The infanta immediately assumed the internal government of Portugal, and Pedro was recognized as the legitimate heir as Dom Pedro IV of Portugal. Doctors could not definitively determine a cause of death, but it was suspected that he had been poisoned. His body was embalmed and buried in the mausoleum of the kings of Portugal, the Royal Pantheon of the House of Braganza, in the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora. In the 1990s, a team of investigators exhumed the Chinese ceramic pot that contained his bowels. Fragments of his heart were rehydrated and submitted to an analysis that detected enough arsenic to kill two people, confirming longstanding suspicions of assassination by poison.
As a youth, John was a retiring figure, heavily influenced by the clergy, and lived surrounded by priests and attending daily Mass in the church. Nonetheless, Oliveira Lima affirms that rather than being an expression of personal piety, this merely reflected Portuguese culture at that time, and that the king...
"...understood that the Church, with its body of traditions and its moral discipline, could only be useful for a good government in his manner, paternal and exclusive, of populations whose dominion was inherited with the scepter. Because of this, he was repeatedly the guest of monks and patron to composers of sacred music, but none of these Epicurean or artistic demonstrations compromised his free thought or denatured his skeptical tolerance. ... He made more use of the refectory of the monastery than of its chapel, because [the latter] was about observance and in [the former] one thought of gastronomy, and in terms of observance the pragmatic one was enough for him. In the Royal Chapel he more took pleasure with the senses than he prayed with the spirit: andantes took the place of meditations."
He had a great appreciation of sacred music and was a great reader of works about art, but he detested physical activity. He appeared to have suffered periodic crises of depression. An aversion to changes in his routine extended to his clothing: he wore the same coat until it tore, forcing his chamberlains to sew it on his body while he slept in it. He suffered from panic attacks when he heard thunder, staying in his rooms with the windows shut and receiving no one.
John's marriage was never a happy one. Rumors circulated that at the age of 25 he fell in love with Eugênia José de Menezes, his wife's chaperone. She became pregnant, and John was suspected of being the father. The case was hushed up, and the young woman was sent to Spain to bear the child. She gave birth to a daughter, whose name is unknown. The mother lived the rest of her life in nunneries and John supported her economically. Historians Tobias Monteiro and Patrick Wilcken write that there are indications that John also had a homosexual relationship as a sexual outlet, given his disastrous marriage, in which he lived apart from his wife, with whom he was together only on ceremonial occasions. His partner in this relationship would have been his favorite manservant, Francisco José Rufino de Sousa Lobato, who, according to these historians, may have regularly masturbated his master. While it may have been out of sheer malice, a priest named Miguel stated that he once stumbled upon the scene and therefore was deported to Angola, but not before leaving written testimony. Regardless of the truth or falsity of the claim, Rufino de Sousa received a variety of honors, accumulating among others the charges of adviser to the king, secretary of the Casa do Infantado, secretary of the Bureau of Conscience and Orders (Mesa de Consciência e Ordens) and governor of the Santa Cruz fortress. He also received the title of Baron and later Viscount of Vila Nova da Rainha.
In the precarious and spare environment of Rio, the king's personal habits were simple. In contrast to his relative isolation in Portugal, he became more personally dynamic and interested in nature. He moved frequently between the Paço de São Cristóvão and the viceregal palace in the city, staying also at times at Paquetá Island, Governador Island, at Praia Grande (the beach at Niterói), and at the House of Santa Cruz. He went hunting and happily slept in a tent or under a tree. He liked the countryside, despite the swarms of mosquitoes and other pests and the scorching heat of the tropics that were detested by the majority of the Portuguese and other foreigners.
In the course of his few years living in Brazil, John ordered the creation of a series of institutions, projects and services that brought the country immense economic, administrative, juridical, scientific, cultural, artistic and other benefits, although not all went successfully, and some were downright dysfunctional or unnecessary, as Hipólito José da Costa mordantly observed. Among these, he was responsible for establishing the Imprensa Régia (the country's first publishing house), the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden the Arsenal de Marinha, the Fábrica de Pólvora (gunpowder factory), Rio's fire department, Brazil's merchant marine, and the charity hospital known as the Casa dos Expostos. He also established various educational programs in Rio, Pernambuco, Bahia and other places, teaching such subjects as dogmatic and moral theology, integral calculus, mechanics, hydrodynamics, chemistry, arithmetic, geometry, French, English, botany and agriculture, among others. He instigated the foundation of various societies and academies for scientific, literary and artistic studies, such as the Junta Vacínica (administering the smallpox vaccine, the Royal Bahiense Society of Men of Letters, the Academic Institute of Sciences and Fine Arts, the Fluminense Academy of Sciences and Arts, the Escola Anatômica, Cirúrgica e Médica do Rio de Janeiro, the Royal Academy of Artillery, Fortification and Design, the Academia dos Guardas-Marinhas, the Academia Militar, the National Library of Brazil, the Royal Museum (now National Museum of Brazil), the Teatro Real de São João (now Teatro João Caetano), as well as recruiting internationally famous soloists and patronizing other musicians of the Royal Chapel, including Father José Maurício, the leading Brazilian composer of his time, supporting also the coming of the Missão Artística Francesa, which resulted in the establishment of the Escola Real de Ciências, Artes e Ofícios, predecessor of the present-day Escola Nacional de Belas Artes of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, of fundamental importance the renewal of teaching and art production in Brazil.
John's policies led to far-reaching economic changes, beginning with the opening of the ports and the abolition of the Portuguese commercial monopolies, with the United Kingdom being the great beneficiary. On the one hand, traders based in Brazil had to face strong foreign competition; on the other, it encouraged the creation of new manufacturing and other economic activities that were previously banned, poor or nonexistent in Brazil. At the same time, he created such high-level administrative bodies as the War Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, and the Ministry of Marine and Overseas; the Councils of State and of Finance, the Supreme Military Council, the Military Archive, the Bureaus of Justice and of Conscience and Orders, the Casa de Suplicação (Supreme Court), the Intendency General of Police, the first Bank of Brazil the Royal Board of Commerce, Agriculture, Factories and Navigation, and the General Postal Administration, as well as bringing Brazilians into administrative and staff positions, which helped diminish tensions between the natives and the Portuguese. He also encouraged agricultural production, especially cotton, rice and sugar cane, opened roads and encouraged the development of inland waterways, stimulating the movement of people, goods and products between regions.
According to Pedreira and Costa, few Portuguese monarchs have as large a place in the popular imagination as Dom João VI. That image is very varied, "but rarely for good reason. ... It is not strange that the tribulations of his marriage and family life and the references to his personality and personal customs, inviting easy caricature and circulation of an unflattering, if not comic, tradition." The king is popularly shown as indolent, silly and clumsy, subjugated by a shrewish wife, a disgusting glutton who always had baked chicken in his coat pockets to eat them at any time with greasy hands, a version typified by the Brazilian film Carlota Joaquina – Princesa do Brasil (1995), a parody mixed with sharp social criticism. That work had enormous repercussions, but, according to the critical commentary of Ronaldo Vainfas, "it is a story full of errors of all types, misrepresentations, imprecisions, inventions"; for historian Luiz Carlos Villalta, "it constitutes a broad attack on historical knowledge", in contrast to director Carla Camurati's stated intent "to produce a cinematic narrative that would constitute a type of historical novel with pedagogic function and, at the same time, would offer the viewer knowledge of the past and would help, as a people, to think about the present. It does not offer new historical knowledge to the viewer, even if one were to treat history as a novel: it reinforces, in truth, the ideas that the viewers bring, being zero in terms of increased knowledge... In this way, it leads the viewer more to debauchery than to critical reflection on the history of Brazil".
Diverse visual representations of John range from an overweight, oversized, sloppy appearance to a dignified and elegant character. As for historians' portrayals, researcher Ismênia de Lima Martins writes, "If there is agreement among all authors who relied on the testimony of those who knew him closely for his kindness and affability, all the rest is controversy. While some pointed to his countenance of a statesman, others considered him a coward and completely unprepared to govern. In any event, Dom João VI left his indelible mark on Portuguese-Brazilian history, a fact that resonates to the present, through a historiography that insists on judging the king, despite the transformations that discipline experienced over the course of the twentieth century".
In governing, John always depended on strong auxiliaries. Prominent among these were Rodrigo de Sousa Coutinho, 1st Count of Linhares, António de Araújo e Azevedo, 1st Count of Barca, and Tomás Antônio de Vila Nova Portugal, who may be considered the mentors of many of John's most important undertakings, but according to John Luccock: "The prince regent has been various times accused of apathy; to me, he seemed to have greater sensitivity and strength of character than was generally attributed to him by both friends and opponents. He was placed in new circumstances by which he was tested, bowing before them with patience; if incited, he acted with vigor and promptness". He also praised the character of the king, reaffirming his kindness and attention. Oliveira Lima, with his classic Dom João VI no Brasil (1908), was one of the major figures responsible for the beginning of John's large-scale rehabilitation. He researched innumerable documents of the era without finding unfavorable descriptions of the king by Brazilians or by ambassadors and other diplomats accredited to the court. On the contrary, he found many accounts that painted him in favorable colors, such as the testimonies left by the British consul Henderson and the U.S. minister Sumter, who "greatly preferred to address himself directly to the monarch, always willing to do justice, than to confer with his ministers.... deeming him in this matter much more advanced than his courtiers". Diplomatic documents also confirm the breadth of his political vision, aiming to give Brazil an importance in the Americas comparable to the United States, adopting a discourse similar the U.S. doctrine of Manifest Destiny. He asserted his authority without violence, more in a persuasive and affable manner; his conduct of international affairs, although sometimes unsuccessful and somewhat given to imperialist ambitions, in many other ways was far-seeing and harmonious,as indicated by the many actions described above that improved the living conditions of the Brazilian colony.
Nonetheless, the French general Jean-Andoche Junot described him as "a weak man, suspicious of everyone and everything, jealous of his authority but incapable of making it respected. He is dominated by the fathers [that is, priests] and can act only under the duress of fear", and several Brazilian historians such as Pandiá Calógeras, Tobias Monteiro and Luiz Norton draw him in comparably dark colors. Among the Portuguese, such as Oliveira Martins and Raul Brandão, he was invariably portrayed as a burlesque figure until the conservative resurgence of 1926, when he began to find defenders, such as Fortunato de Almeida, Alfredo Pimenta and Valentim Alexandre. It is also certain that many were disaffected with him, that he raised taxes and aggravated the debt, multiplied titles and hereditary privilege, that he could not allay the vast array of internal dissensions or eliminate entrenched administrative corruption, and that he left Brazil on the brink of bankruptcy when he emptied the treasury to return to Portugal.
Whatever the king's character may have been, the importance of his reign for a remarkable spurt of development for Brazil and, indeed, for the very unity of that nation is incontestable. Gilberto Freyre affirms that "Dom John VI was one of the personalities who had the greatest influence over the formation of the nation.... he was an ideal mediator.... between tradition – which he incarnated – and innovation – which he welcomed and promoted – during that decisive period for the Brazilian future". As Laurentino Gomes puts it, "no other period of Brazilian history testifies to such profound decisive and rapid changes as the thirteen years in which the Portuguese court lived in Rio de Janeiro". Scholars such as Oliveira Lima, Maria Odila da Silva Dias, Roderick Barman and the aforementioned Laurentino believe that had John not come to the Americas and installed a strong central government, probably the large territory of Brazil, with important regional differences, would have fragmented into several distinct nations, as occurred with the vast neighboring Spanish colony. This opinion was shared by the British admiral Sir Sidney Smith, commander of the squadron that escorted the Portuguese ships as the fled to Brazil.
Recent biographies try to separate fact from legend and counter the folklore of ridicule that had formed around King John and which lacks documentary basis. Lúcia Bastos warns that even today we need to be careful to place certain matters in their historical context, such as the question of corruption, noting that although there were enormous costs and clear abuses, at that time there was no clear separation between the public treasury and the monarch's private accounts, and in the logic of the Old Regime "the king is the owner of the state... of which the distribution of spoils forms part: the king is the dispenser of justice and spoils". In the words of Leandro Loyola, "from the new research a ruler emerges who had his limitations, but who encountered a totally adverse situation and survived it, despite governing a small, poor, decadent country such as Portugal at the beginning of the 19th century." Before dying on Saint Helena, his most powerful enemy, Napoleon, said of him: "He was the only one who deceived me." José Joaquim Carneiro de Campos, Marquis of Caravelas, praised him in the Brazilian Senate on the occasion of John's death, saying, "All of us who are here have many reasons to praise the memory of King John VI, we all ought to be grateful, for the benefits he gave us: he raised Brazil to a kingdom, provided well for all of us, treated us always with great affection, and all Brazilians are obligated to him."
John married Carlota Joaquina of Spain (25 April 1775 – 7 December 1830) in 1785 and had several children:13 May 1767 – 11 September 1788 His Highness the Infante Dom João
11 September 1788 – 15 July 1799 His Royal Highness the Prince of Brazil and Duke of Braganza
15 July 1799 – 20 March 1816 His Royal Highness the Prince Regent
20 March 1816 – 7 September 1822 His Most Faithful Majesty the King of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves
7 September 1822 – 29 August 1825 His Most Faithful Majesty the King of Portugal and the Algarves
29 August 1825 – 10 March 1826 His Imperial and Royal Majesty the King of Portugal and the Algarves, Emperor of Brazil
The official styling from his accession was:
By the Grace of God, John VI, King of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves, of either side of the sea in Africa, Lord of Guinea and of Conquest, Navigation and Commerce of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and India, etc.
With the independence of the Kingdom of Brazil, his style changed to:
By the Grace of God, John VI, King of Portugal and the Algarves, of either side of the sea in Africa, Lord of Guinea and of Conquest, Navigation and Commerce of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and India, etc.
When Portugal recognized the independence of Brazil, he became titular Emperor and was styled:
By the Grace of God, John VI, Emperor of Brazil, King of Portugal and the Algarves, of either side of the sea in Africa, Lord of Guinea and of Conquest, Navigation and Commerce of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and India, etc.
As King of Portugal, João VI was Grand Master of the following Portuguese Orders: Order of Christ
Order of Saint Benedict of Aviz
Order of Saint James of the Sword
Order of the Tower and Sword
He was a recipient of the following foreign honors: Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece
Knight of the Order of the Garter
Knight of the Order of the Holy Spirit
Knight of the Order of Saint Michael
Knight of the Order of the Black Eagle
Knight of the Order of St. Andrew
Knight of the Order of Alexander Nevsky
Knight of the Order of the Elephant
Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour
Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary
Grand Cross of the Order of Leopold
Knight First Class of the Order of Saint Anna
Grand Cross of the Order of the Netherlands Lion
Grand Cross of the Order of Charles III
Grand Cross of the Order of Isabella the Catholic
Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Louis