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e-Journal of Portuguese History

versão On-line ISSN 1645-6432

e-JPH vol.11 no.1 Porto  2013


Crown, Empire, and Nation (1807–1834)1 

Miriam Halpern Pereira 2 

2  Professor Emeritus, Lisbon University, ISCTE—University Institute of Lisbon, CEHC. 1649–026 Lisbon, Portugal. E-mail:



Portugal went through one of the most complex periods in its whole history when an informal British occupation followed the French invasions. This provides an interesting case for the study of the evolution of the three main institutions and political concepts involved in the ending of the Old Regime: the Crown, the Empire, and the Nation, each with its own chronology. The main focus of this article is the changing relationships between these concepts during this period, in which the coexistence of old and new institutions is visible and their changing geography appears both as a factor in and as a consequence of this process.

Keywords: Brazil, Crown, Empire, French Invasions, King John VI, Portuguese Liberal Revolution.



Portugal viveu um dos períodos mais complexos da sua história quando às Invasões Francesas sucede a ocupação britânica. Este contexto constitui um caso interessante para o estudo da evolução das três principais instituições e conceitos políticos presentes no final do Antigo Regime: a Coroa, o Império e a Nação e a sua cronologia diferenciada. O eixo central deste artigo reside na análise da mudança na articulação entre estes três conceitos ao longo deste período, em que a coexistência de antigas e novas instituições é visível e a sua geografia mutável surge como factor e como consequência deste processo.

Palavras-chave: Brasil, Coroa, D. João VI, Império, Invasões Francesas, Revolução Liberal Portuguesa


In an already changing world where both American Independence and the French Revolution had led to either reforms or crisis in the Old Regime, the Napoleonic wars served as a catalyst for revolution in Europe and in South America. This major event is what has brought us together here at this meeting. Before 1807, the new ideals had had, largely, an indirect influence on Portugal, as reflected in the formation of an enlightened elite.

The wave of a more profound political change gained momentum at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the whole of Iberia became involved in the Europe-wide struggle, exacerbated by the Napoleonic wars, between the Old Regime and the new liberal society and state. It was in the name of a new society and the fight against despotic monarchies that Napoleon’s troops invaded countries all over Europe, from Russia to Portugal. Underlying all this upheaval were imperial, regional, and personal ambitions that quickly became apparent, as in the case of Portugal and its empire. England headed the coalition against Napoleon, which was, in fact, not entirely antiliberal.

Portugal then found itself in a difficult situation, caught between its loyalty to its traditional ally, England, whose maritime power had been fundamental in the support of the Portuguese Empire, and the fear of the overwhelming military might of Napoleon, by then already allied with Spain. Neutrality, which had long been the preferred choice of the Portuguese government, was maintained until nearly the very end. When Portugal finally complied with both the French blockade and the expulsion of British subjects, it was already too late: Napoleon’s invasion had already been decided on, and the Treaty of Fontainebleau of November 1807 gave this move a formal justification, although the planned partition between France and Spain was never applied. Portugal then entered perhaps one of the most complex periods in its whole history, the informal British occupation, lasting twelve years, which followed the short but very destructive French invasion. Nonetheless, the Crown survived in the hands of the House of Bragança and kept possession of Brazil and the rest of its colonial territories for over a decade. This makes the Portuguese and Brazilian history of this period somewhat different from that of both Spain and the Spanish American colonies, and it also provides an interesting case for the study of the evolution of the three main institutions and political concepts involved in the ending of the Old Regime. These institutions were the Crown, the Empire, and the Nation.

Their chronologies are quite different over the long run of history. The Crown was of course the oldest institution, and the fascinating idea of Nation the newest, on both sides of the Atlantic, at that time. What is interesting is the changing relationships they experienced during this period, when the coexistence of old and new institutions was perfectly visible. Their changing geography also appears as both a factor in and a consequence of this process.

1.      Crown

The Old Regime displayed a remarkable capacity of adaptation to the new times in Portugal: the enlightened despotism running from Pombal to the Prince Regent Dom João did indeed bring about significant changes in different sectors, ranging from government and economy to education and culture. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the State had taken control of the privileged seigniorial orders, which were already partly integrated into the public administration. As the sphere of State intervention grew ever greater, royal power was delegated to a complex institutional system. Economic liberalism was being moderately introduced, thus preceding political liberalism by many years. A group of enlightened reformers were summoned by the Prince Regent to join his government, and the best known of them, Rodrigo Sousa Coutinho, would later follow him to Brazil. A period of economic prosperity marked the whole of the last quarter of the eighteenth century, ending in about 1806. All of this explains why liberalism appeared later in Portugal than it did in Brazil, as Silbert pointed out3 

It was in colonial Brazil that the effects of the American Revolution had earlier led to the development of a critical attitude toward both the Portuguese Empire and the Crown. The conspiracy of the middle classes in Minas Gerais (1789), a separatist movement partly tinged by republican ideals, was followed eleven years later by a revolt of mulatto artisans and merchants in Bahia. Actually, following on from the revolt of the slaves in Haiti, this sequence of events made the discontented middle classes more moderate in the expression of their political aims. The fear that slavery might now begin to be questioned by the negroes was a real one. The different responses of the Portuguese Crown toward both movements (seeking to integrate the conspirators of Minas Gerais—with one major exception, Tiradentes, who was executed—in contrast to the violent repression of the leaders of the Bahia revolt, all of whom were either executed or abandoned along the coast of Africa) managed to calm the expression of discontent. By the turn of the century, the measures taken by Sousa Coutinho had succeeded in producing a fairly stable political situation. Moreover, the plan that he drew up in 1803, just before he left office, would later make a powerful contribution to the future success of the monarchy in Brazil.4 

In fact, the political stabilization of Brazil would become vital for the House of Bragança when it had to move its capital to Rio de Janeiro in 1808. Also, seen from an opposite perspective, the changes introduced by this event would become a fundamental factor in this stabilization.

At the end of November 1807, the Portuguese Royal Court undertook a trans-Atlantic trip and changed its home. That was an event of paramount importance, as it was the first time in European history that a royal person and family had traveled to any part of their empire. In this case, it wasn’t even just a visit, but a real change of residence: Rio de Janeiro became the capital and temporarily replaced Lisbon, which was by then ruled by the French general Junot.

The absolute power of the Crown had not been questioned quite so clearly in Portugal before the French invasions. Since the end of the eighteenth century, there had been various suggestions of sympathy for political liberalism made by different personalities, mainly from the academic and liberal professions, But the first overt project for the introduction of a constitutional monarchy appeared only in 1808, when a minority group addressed Junot, demanding a fairly moderate constitution, similar to the Napoleonic Constitution of Poland and linked to the demand for a foreign “Napoleonic” king. The Napoleonic policy initially enjoyed widespread support among the disciples of Pombal, in other words, among the more open-minded nobility, the highest echelon of the third estate, some magistrates, and half of the University of Coimbra, if Carrion-Nissas, an officer of Junot, is to be believed in his testimony. But the rejection of this constitutional project by Junot and his alliance with the traditional nobility put an end to such expectations for a long time to come.5 

The extent of the support that continued to be enjoyed by the royal power initially seemed quite solid. It can be gauged by the changing attitudes of the people toward the French troops, induced by the contrasting orders issued by the Prince Regent in the winter of 1807 and later in the spring of the following year. As he left Lisbon behind, Dom João ordered the Council of Regents not to resist the foreign troops and to behave courteously toward them. This instruction was thoroughly obeyed, and the Regents even went to greet the French army before its entry into the capital. Six months later, as the situation in Spain and Europe began to change, the Prince Regent declared war on France. Soon afterward, uprisings took place all over the country, held in the name of the Crown and demanding the return of the House of Bragança.

By then, the new geography of power, now centered upon Rio de Janeiro, was beginning to shape a whole new state apparatus.6  A copy of the state from the Portuguese Old Regime was established in Brazil, with its different central offices, central courts, security forces, and so on. One major change was the creation of the new Office of Brazilian Affairs (secretaria de estado de negócios do Brasil), which ceased to be part of the Office of the Navy and the Overseas Dominions (negócios da marinha e dos domínios ultramarinos). The Impressão Régia (the Royal Printing Shop) was rapidly installed, with a brand new typeset that had just arrived in Lisbon from London, not even having been unpacked before being shipped in the company of the Royal Court. The National Library of Brazil was to inherit the rich Royal Library shipped to Rio along with the Royal Court. These are just some of the many details to be noted about this extraordinary trip that make it so hard to believe that it was unplanned. Today it is commonly accepted that it was only the exact date that was delayed until the last minute. At the naval dockyards, the ships had been under preparation since August, for at least the departure of the Infante Dom Pedro, the Prince of Brazil (the title of the heir to the throne) had already been decided.

But to return to my main subject, the duplication of the political and administrative apparatus was soon to become a source of conflict between the Regency in Portugal and the Royal Court in Rio. Due to the military situation, Portuguese affairs were conducted mainly through the Foreign Affairs and War Office, Rodrigo Sousa Coutinho, while routine affairs were conducted through the Brazilian Affairs Office, which of course caused great displeasure to the Regents. Moreover, all overseas affairs were now centralized in Rio, and the Council of Regents did not even have any authority over Madeira and the Azores. In the autumn of 1808, after the removal of the French army, the Portuguese government in Rio hesitated over the type of government to be established in Lisbon, and considered the appointment of a governor, associated with the presence of a member of the royal family. But, faced with a complicated internal situation in Portugal, the British General Dalrymple was not prepared to wait for an order from the Crown and took his own decision to reestablish the Council of Regents, excluding only those members suspected of collaborating with the French (18 September 1808). He also imposed one of the new members (the Bishop of Porto) and had the nomination of other members submitted to him for approval. It was only in January that the Regency was confirmed by Rio, and then its powers were largely reduced, with the Crown fearing the loss of its power. The Regency reacted vigorously to the situation and refused to implement these royal orders.

After nearly a year of conflict between Lisbon and Rio, the Crown gave in by the middle of December 1809 and enlarged the jurisdiction of the Regents. It is interesting to note that in this Royal Act the alleged reason for the change was the Regents having stated that the “subjects” felt that they were reduced to a colonial status, whereas they were accustomed to being the center of the Kingdom. This argument means that public opinion had become a recognized political factor.

After the short French period of Junot, who took over power for himself, with the English occupation another level of power had been created, which superimposed itself on the Council of Regents that it had helped to reestablish. The help of the British Army was of course welcomed, and even the help of a general to reorganize the Portuguese army was asked for. The power gained throughout this period by the English army, in their fight against Napoleon’s power over the Iberian Peninsula, was enormous. All this paved the way for the humiliating convention of Sintra, in which the Portuguese did not even participate. This agreement between the French and English governments not only confirmed the already existing British military power but also permitted their intervention in all matters, financial or administrative, that were related to the war. The Regency, as well as the Portuguese military and administrative authorities, was now clearly in a state of double dependency, upon General Beresford, the British authority in Portgual, in a relationship of proximity and upon Dom João and his ministers sitting in the distant town of Rio. As we have seen, the royal power was questioned at times by its own representatives in Lisbon, who had to face the internal discontent arising from the dual colonial status, with the country being answerable to the Crown in both Brazil and England.

Throughout this period, even before the form of government was in itself questioned, there was a fragmentation of royal power, which reached its climax in 1820. The period that followed the end of the war clearly illustrates this complex situation.

The end of the Napoleonic wars in 1814 did not bring the Royal Court back to Lisbon. The establishment of the Reino Unido de Portugal e Brasil (United Kingdom of Portugal and Brazil) at the end of 1815 (16 December) was followed by the coronation of Dom João VI in Rio at the beginning of 1818 (6 February), one year after the death of Dona Maria I. Received with joy in Brazil, this news was seen as a major disappointment in Portugal. Furthermore, there was no sign of the English returning home or of their being willing to relinquish their power. In spite of the vast delegation of power he had acquired, Beresford met with ever more conflicts of power in his dealings with the Regents and felt the need to have the King clearly redefine his role in Portugal. The Portuguese Crown still had a word to say in Portugal during the British occupation. Beresford was returning from a trip to Rio to have his power reinforced, when he was caught at sea by the beginning of the 1820 Revolution. This brought an end to his Portuguese period.

By then a reverse situation had come about: the Regents informed the King of their recognition of the Cortes, without waiting for his authorization. A new power had appeared on the political scene: the Nation

In Brazil, the power of the Portuguese Crown was generally respected internally, except for the minority revolt of 1817, in the same year as the Gomes Freire conspiracy in Lisbon. Not only were the Luso-Brazilians happy to have a King at hand, but in fact it was clear that from practically all points of view the conditions of the Luso-Brazilian elite had improved, and the widespread republicanism of the eighteenth century was diluted. As Kenneth Maxwell has pointed out, the radical revolutionaries had lost their influence. The initial influence of the American Revolution had been affected by the fears brought about by the slave revolt in Haiti and the unrest in Bahia later on. The monarchy, which had now centered itself in Rio, seemed better suited to an evolution which would not endanger the slavery system. In fact, the coronation of Dom João VI was an extraordinary event: there had never before been a coronation of a European monarch in America.

On the international scene, on the whole, as long as the commitments with the British government were respected, everything went well. In the military and political situation of Europe and Portugal in 1807, the departure of the Royal Court was made possible only by the support of Britain and its navy. Such support came at a high political price, imposed by the British government in the convention of November 1807, negotiated in London by the ambassador Domingos Sousa Coutinho. Though either side never signed this convention, it was in fact fully implemented. In exchange for the guarantee given to the House of Bragança by the British government, namely that the Portuguese Crown would remain in their hands whatever happened in the future, two main conditions had been settled.7 

Britain had imposed the opening of a port in Brazil on the island of Santa Catarina—not all Brazilian ports—as well as the signing of a treaty of trade and navigation in the future. Of course, the opening of at least one port was necessary for the survival of the Brazilian economy. It also responded to very clear interests: those of the British merchants and those of the slave landowners. Added to this was the treaty of 1810, signed in the name of free trade but imposing unequal and asymmetrical conditions, which we will analyze further on. These two measures brought an end to the Portuguese monopoly of Brazilian trade.

Consequently, preserving the rights of the House of Bragança and keeping Brazil in its hands led to the break-up of the Luso-Brazilian Empire by creating a division between Brazilian and Portuguese interests, at both the political and the economic level. This brings me to the second part of my paper, which deals with the idea and the reality of Empire in the Portuguese context.

2. Empire

After Vasco da Gama’s voyage, the King of Portugal was named the “King of Portugal, Algarve, Lord within and beyond the sea (d’aquém e d’além mar) in Africa, Master of Guinea, and of the conquest, trade, and navigation of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and India.” It was a “seaborne empire,” as Charles Boxer8  so cleverly named it, designed to control the main routes of trade and navigation. The imperial structure that spread over such a vast area of the world took a variety of shapes. Nor could it be otherwise. The control by a small country over so many different points situated worldwide could only be managed through a flexible administration, adapted to each particular case. There were two main types of administrative structures. A network of feitorias and fortalezas and other lighter forms of connection, such as the Capitães de viagem, spread along the coast of West Africa, the Indian Ocean, and East Asia. Then there were the more classical forms of territorial occupation linked to agricultural colonization, such as the Atlantic Islands and later on Brazil. In fact, Goa and its territories represented a transition from the first to the second. The State of India was followed by Brazil later on, and both had a special status: they were both ruled by a high-ranking officer, named vice-rei (viceroy).9 

Brazil became the main part of the Portuguese Empire in the seventeenth century, as the whole system of Asian trade and navigation began to come apart, falling partly into the hands of other European competitors. So much so that in 1735, some years before even the birth of Napoleon, Luis da Cunha, a reputed diplomat, made a visionary observation and suggested that the King of Portugal should establish his Court in Brazil and become the emperor of the West, thus gaining better control of the Empire’s great wealth. He claimed that Rio was a suitable place for the capital, since the climate was quite moderate.10 

The role played by the generation of 1790 has been highlighted by Kenneth Maxwell as crucial in the idea of the Luso-Brazilian Empire. In many ways, its roots date back to Pombal, and particularly so in one aspect, namely the integration of Luso-Brazilians into the State apparatus, where they were given high-ranking positions. Rodrigo Sousa Coutinho played a major part in this, continuing to promote the trend already set up by Pombal of sending students from Brazil first to Coimbra and then to Montpellier, and then appointing them to the administration.

In this way a new, well-integrated Luso-Brazilian elite was created, which was to become a central axis of the imperial structure. Coutinho had a group of them sent to Brazil to study different aspects of government, including the mining industry. By 1798, based on the information thus compiled, he was ready to outline his general policy for the empire. He was conscious of the need to adapt the administration in Brazil and the other dominions to the new times in order to maintain them under the Crown’s power. Otherwise, he wrote, if reduced to itself Portugal would become a province of Spain. Reform in order to avoid revolution was central to his political thinking. He therefore advised that the empire should be regarded as being composed “of provinces of the monarchy, all possessing the same privileges and honors, all united under the same administration.”11  He also proposed different fiscal and financial measures, including the abolition of duties on internal trade in Brazil and the reduction of the royal tax of one fifth of the gold that was mined. But he only managed to abolish the salt monopoly and to have the mining and manufacture of iron permitted, measures that responded to previous demands of the Luso-Brazilian traders.

When war broke out in Europe in the first years of the nineteenth century, Coutinho’s appreciation of the European situation led him in 1803 to advise the Prince Regent to establish the seat of the monarchy in Brazil. Like Luis da Cunha seven decades earlier, he also thought that “Portugal was not the best and most essential part of the monarchy.”12  Of course, this view met with strong opposition in Portugal.

But events took over and the Crown took up residence in Rio. Maxwell has pointed out that the preexistence of a plan to change the administration in Brazil, drafted by Rodrigo Sousa Coutinho, was essential for the successful implantation of the monarchy during the first years of its existence there. However, the opposite was not the case. Portugal did not benefit at all from the changes in the imperial structure. On the contrary, some criticism appeared, even in the Luso-Brazilian press.

Through the voices of two Luso-Brazilians, José da Silva Lisboa and Hipólito da Costa, we can see quite different reactions to the liberal measures introduced with regard to international trade. José da Silva Lisboa, responsible for the Mesa da Agricultura e Comércio (Board of Agriculture and Trade) in Bahia when the King arrived, and later becoming his counselor, was chosen to write the draft of the Act of 1808, whereby all the ports of Brazil were opened to trade with all countries, thus bringing an end to the colonial monopoly of Portugal, a move that was considered imperative at that time. Soon afterward, he published Observações sobre o comércio franco do Brasil—the first book ever printed in Rio, at the new Impressão Régia – faithfully supporting Adam Smith’s theories and justifying this measure, and he spent the next years praising the treaty of 1810 and other measures introduced by Dom João in the name of free trade. The benefits of implementing a new basis of international trade seemed to him unquestionable for the development of Brazil, and he believed it would also be beneficial for Portugal.13 

Although he was also an apologist for free trade, Hipólito da Costa considered it necessary for free trade to be tempered by some degree of protectionism, so that he was moderate in his appreciation of the Prince Regent’s foreign economic policy. His knowledge of the United States and England, where Sousa Coutinho had sent him to meet with merchants and industrialists and understand the changes taking place in those countries, gave him a different view of reality. After a brief return to Lisbon, where he was accused of masonic activity and imprisoned by the Inquisition, he established himself in London, where he became the editor, in exile, of one of the main liberal newspapers, which was widely read on both sides of the Atlantic. Even before the Anglo-Portuguese treaty was ratified in 1809, he had pointed out the risks of a treaty between a strong country and a small one. In his review of Silva Lisboa’s writings published in Correio Braziliense, he made two main observations, as Cardoso has recently reminded us.14  The first of these concerns was the role of free trade in the development of the United States, but he also recalled the importance that some protectionist measures had as well (referring to the lower duties that were levied on merchandise transported by national ships).

The second observation concerns the lack of reciprocity in the conditions established for Brazilian merchants in England and those of the British in Brazil. In fact, the treaty banned the main products of Brazil (sugar, coffee, and any other products similar to those produced in the English colonies) from entry into England and its empire, except for the purposes of re-exportation. Of course, such activity was in itself vital at that time.

Both the opening of the ports to all nations and the signing of the treaty were moves that were widely accepted in Brazil at that time, as they meant that the conditions for Brazilian exports and re-exports to London were improved (and later on from there to other countries). At the same time, the low duties imposed on industrial products did not directly hurt its economy, due to the fact that industrial production was practically nonexistent at that time. It was the treaty of alliance, with its clause on slavery, that was to prove most displeasing for Luso-Brazilians.

In Portugal, however, where factory owners and merchants were badly affected by the privileged conditions afforded to English interests, the treaty was strongly criticized. Clearly, Portuguese economic interests had been completely sacrificed by the Regent and his ministers. Not only had political power been largely transferred to the English, but so had the control of the trade circuits. A sign of the reversal that was taking place is the fact that Portuguese merchandise was taxed at 1 percent more than British goods when entering Brazilian ports. Another humiliating condition was that any change in the Portuguese tariff system required the consent of the British merchants. Shortly after the signing of the treaty, the Portuguese merchants’ club in London began to publish a newspaper with the clear aim of sustaining Portuguese interests, as distinct from those of the colony of Brazil. O Português, edited by the London exile Rocha Loureiro, was published regularly until well after the revolution of 1820.15 

The situation was so unfavorable to Portuguese industry that the 30 percent tax on woolen goods, imposed after the Methuen treaty and included in the treaty of 1810, now seemed to be a desirable protective measure, as compared with the general tax of 15 percent on all industrial products. But even this difference was abolished by a royal decision of 5 May 1814, taken against the advice of the Treasury Council (Conselho da Fazenda).16 Eastern trade was also redirected to Brazil, from where it would then be re-exported to Europe (alvará of 4.2.1811).17 

Not surprisingly in this context, the measures taken by the Prince Regent to introduce a more flexible legal structure for the development of industry and agriculture in Portugal were to prove totally ineffective (Law of 1809 and Reform of the forais [charters] in 1810), and as a matter of fact, so was the freedom granted for the establishment of industry in Brazil, where the treaty was only renounced in 1844.

The consequences of the end of the colonial monopoly over trade and the change in the relationship between Portugal and Britain were immediate and catastrophic. The trade balance, which had been positive until 1810, entered into a state of profound disequilibrium. In 1811, British exports to Portugal were 13 times greater than Portuguese exports. The Brazilian market was invaded by British goods, and this trend remained unchanged over the following years, in spite of a slight recovery after the war ended.18 

Royal policy was regarded with growing concern, as the situation did not improve after peace was established in Europe. The power of the Crown began to be questioned in Portugal, as Dom João VI remained in Rio and the colonial system was disrupted.

3. Nation

Two questions will be considered now in the third part of this article, concerning the idea of Nation. The first question relates to the chronology and content of the attitudes adopted toward the foreign occupant in the two different periods: the French occupation and the British presence. The second question relates to the connection between nationalism and liberalism.

The first conflict between Portuguese and French was one of popular origin: it began when the Portuguese flag was replaced by the French one at the top of Saint George’s Castle in Lisbon, on 13 December 1807. As time went by, different measures taken by the French wounded the religious sentiments of the people, such as the bans on the use of church bells, Christmas festivities and the celebration of Carnival, and the lodging of troops in convents. The emergence of nationwide uprisings coincided with religious festivities in June and July of 1808.19 

Although the popular movements in Portugal and Spain did develop mimetically, and there are indeed some links between them, on the whole they each took a quite different course. Most uprisings in Portugal, even when they were of popular origin, came about easily under the local leadership of the rural aristocracy and clergy. The clergy played a major role in shaping the ideology of these uprisings, giving this movement the content of a crusade in defense of the King and religion, with its enemies being identified as impious people. Anti-Semitism was thus revived and associated with Jacobinism or collaborationism with the French. A secret pact of loyalty toward the monarchy of divine right was sustained in the proclamations, as well as the right to resist an external tyrant. In contrast to this relatively conservative movement, in Spain the Juntas gave way to a revolutionary movement, resulting in the Cortes of Cadiz. Nothing similar happened in Portugal, but in the south (Beja and Vila Viçosa), where uprisings did not benefit from the leadership of the local aristocracy and clergy, the peasants had to seek the support of Spanish generals from Badajoz and Seville. Furthermore, the Juntas did not always succeed in containing the outburst of popular discontent, as was the case with Porto and the whole northern region of the country during the spring of 1809. The dramatic assassination of the officer Bernardim Freire de Andrade by the people of Braga is a major example of the disorder that reigned at that time and the lack of confidence in the ruling class’s capacity to withstand the French army. In such a context, the ruling class largely welcomed the help provided by the British army in fighting the French and establishing authority.

It was mainly after the end of the war that the discontent in Portugal acquired different political overtones. What had previously seemed temporary, resulting from the threat of a new foreign invasion, now appeared to have become permanent and was no longer justified in peaceful times. There were no signs of the king coming back, and the coronation of Dom João VI in Rio proved to be a deceptive event in Portugal. Neither was there any sign of the British wanting to leave. The treaty of 1815, signed in Vienna, didn’t even allow for the revision of the treaty of 1810 before the period of fifteen years had elapsed since its signature. It was then that a clear perception was formed of the disastrous position of Portugal, which was now seen to be strangely dependent on both the Brazilian part of the newborn Reino Unido and Britain. The exiled press played a major role in the expression of nationalism and liberalism, two sentiments that were now closely linked with one another.20  In the name of the Nation, criticism was leveled at both the Crown and Britain.

Although the revolution of 1820 was the result of an elitist movement brought about by a small masonic structure, the Sinédrio, composed of military and civil members, its success and the work of the Congress in 1821–22 awakened in the population a widespread hope of change in their lives, accompanied by a strong desire for political participation. The widespread petitionary movement that expressed itself in the 1820s was a clear sign of the profound involvement of people from different strata in political life from all over the country, from North to South.21  A very significant type of document was the memórias that were offered to the Soberano Congresso, identifying problems and suggesting measures for their solution. Such a widespread petitionary movement was an entirely new event, and can only be compared to more recent phenomena in Portuguese contemporary political life. It very clearly demonstrated the emergence of a strong and widespread sense of citizenship for the first time.

Together these petitions and memórias, addressed to the different parliamentary committees, give us a very complete picture of the crisis of the Old Regime, which had most definite political, institutional, social and economic aspects, and, in that sense, they can be compared to the French Cahiers de Doléances.

The emergence of both the concept of the Nation and a sense of citizenship were also revealed in the attitudes shown toward the country’s international position. There was a strong demand for changes to at least some of the terms of the 1810 treaty, and the delegates responded to this: the 1 percent differential was abolished and the terms of the Methuen Treaty were renegotiated, despite some fairly strong opposition on the part of British diplomacy.

Among the nine major parliamentary committees created by the Congress, one was concerned with the question of Brazil. This was, of course, a major issue at that time. The first liberal revolution in 1820 can be defined as having been both nationalist and colonialist in its intentions. Changing Portugal’s position in the Reino Unido was a vital question, but it implied a reversal of the position that had been adopted by Brazil. If, at that time, the liberals saw Brazil as an inseparable part of the nation, which would benefit as much as they themselves would from a fresh application of the principles of equality and freedom, at the same time they tried to change the nature of the existing institutions in order to once again submit Brazil to the central government of Lisbon. The view coming from Brazil was exactly the opposite.22 

The separation of Portugal and Brazil was a very complex process, with each party wishing to dominate the other, in the name of a union that had been rendered null and void, but whose underlying ideal was slow to die away on both sides of the Atlantic, even more so on the Portuguese side. The treaty of 1825 brought an end to the Portuguese aim of regaining a privileged commercial position in Brazil, in exchange for the recognition of independence. The British clearly waited for this recognition to take place before accepting the revision of the 1810 treaty, thus excluding Brazil from this process. But Dom João VI died before the revision of the 1810 treaty, then under negotiation, could be settled, and so it remained unchanged for another decade.23  For the next eight years, a fierce political battle was waged between absolutists and liberals, leaving this and other questions unresolved.

The readjustment of Portugal’s position in Europe and the world after the independence of Brazil only occurred after the liberal revolution of the 1830s. The first step was the reform of State and Society, in which Mouzinho da Silveira played a fundamental role. As he put it so clearly and repeatedly, it had been the conquistas that had supported the structure of the Old Regime. Once they were gone, the whole structure had to be reorganized. Lying at the root of his reforms was the need to find new financial resources for the State, but their scope was in fact much wider. They involved the whole society of the Old Regime. Reforms, some of which had been envisaged in the 1820s but then postponed, were now seen as inevitable. The Liberal State and Society in Portugal then came into being.24 

Changing the old Anglo-Portuguese treaty continued to be one of the main objectives of the strong nationalist movement of the 1930s. It was essential to implement a new and modern tariff, a measure that was already prepared but had been blocked by the treaty. Fruitless negotiations led to the treaty being unilaterally renounced by Portugal in 1836. This had become the main banner of nationalism during this period, associated with strong criticism of Britain, which continued to remain a target throughout the nineteenth century.


The beginning of the crisis of the Old Regime in Portugal and its empire was induced by one main external cause, the conflict between France and England. The new geography of power within the Luso-Brazilian Empire and in the triangular relationship between Portugal, Brazil, and England led to the collapse of the economic foundations of the Old Regime. If political factors lay at the origin of the crisis of the Old Regime, the economic evolution that followed deepened it and made it imperative that there should be a profound change in both society and state. The abolition of the Old Regime, which began in 1820, took over a decade to be completed, through a sequence of political and social conflicts. As a result, Crown and Nation, now bereft of the Luso-Brazilian Empire, came to share power following the guidelines established in a constitutional text that lasted for over seven decades. By then, the construction of a new African-based empire, initiated in the 1830s, was already changing Portuguese economic and political life.



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Received for publication: 16 December 2012

Accepted in revised form: 4 April 2013

Recebido para publicação: 16 dezembro 2012

Aceite após revisão: 4 abril 2013



1  Tradução de John Elliott.

3  Silbert, Portugal na Europa oitocentista, chapter 1.

4  Maxwell, Naked Tropics: Essays on Empire and Other Rogues, 109–44.

5 Silbert, Do Portugal de Antigo Regime ao Portugal oitocentista, 35–84; Pereira, “A crise do Estado de Antigo Regime: alguns problemas conceptuais e de cronologia.”

6  For more information on the reorganization of the state apparatus in Brazil and Portugal, see Martins, Governação e Arquivos D. João VI no Brasil,and Cardoso, “A abertura dos portos do Brasil em 1808: dos factos à doutrina,” 11–18. For Brazil, see also Belotti in Silva, “O império luso-brasileiro 1750–1822.”

7  See Alexandre, Os sentidos do Império: questão nacional e questão colonial na crise do antigo regime, 214–19, for an analysis of the negotiations on the convention and the two future treaties. In the draft version of the future treaty on trade and navigation, drawn up by Domingos de Sousa Coutinho, the Portuguese ambassador in London, the treaty was conceived as being a temporary affair and included only Brazil, and not Portugal. The treaty was in fact meant to be temporary, in order to take account of the war situation. Negotiations between Rodrigo Sousa Coutinho and Strangford proved to be quite lengthy, having begun in August 1808.

8  Boxer, The Portuguese Seaborne Empire.

9  See Maxwell, Naked Tropics: Essays on Empire and Other Rogues, esp. 137–41, and Silva, A Cultura luso-brasileira, for most of what follows.

10  Cunha, Instruções políticas, 366.

11  D. Rodrigo de Sousa Coutinho, Memória sobre o melhoramento dos domínios de Sua Majestade na América (1797-8), in Textos Políticos Económicos e Financeiros, Tomo II, 47.

12  Ibid, 48.

13  "A abertura dos portos do Brasil em 1808: dos factos à doutrina,”on both this debate and Hipólito da Costa’s review of the writings of J. S. Lisboa. For more information on Hipólito da Costa, see Almeida, “O intelectual Hipólito José da Costa como pensador económico.”

14  Cardoso, A economia política e os dilemas do império luso-brasileiro (1790–1822).

15  Rocha Loureiro’s former Correio da Península (1809-10), where he had expressed his sympathy toward the Spanish constitution of 1812, had been suspended in Lisbon (Boisvert,Un pionnier de la propagande libérale au Portugal—João Bernardo da Rocha Loureiro: 1778–1853: Notes biographiques; Boisvert, Le premier périodique libéral publié au Portugal: Correio da Península ou Novo Telégrafo (1809–1810)). On this newspaper, see Pereira et al. (1982, vol. 1).

16  Pereira, Das revoluções liberais ao Estado Novo, 35–36.

17  Alexandre, (1992), 16.

18  Macedo, O bloqueio continental. Economia e guerra peninsular; Ribeiro, As relações comerciais entre Portugal e Brasil segundo as balanças de comércio 1801–1821; Alexandre, “Um momento crucial do subdesenvolvimento português: efeitos económicos da perda do império brasileiro.”

19  On these uprisings, see Alexandre, “Um momento crucial do subdesenvolvimento português: efeitos económicos da perda do império brasileiro”; Silbert, Portugal na Europa oitocentista, and Vicente, Um soldado na guerra peninsular: Bernardim Freire de Andrade.

20  Memoriais a D. João VI (João Bernardo da Rocha Loureiro), edition et commentaire; Alexandre, Os sentidos do Império: questão nacional e questão colonial na crise do antigo regime, 415–20.

21  On this petitionary movement, see Silbert Le problème agraire portugais au temps des premières Cortès libérales (1821–22); and Pereira, A crise do Antigo Regime e as Cortes Constituintes de 1821-1822: estudo e documentos .

22  “A ‘guerra das penas’: os impressos políticos e a independência do Brasil,” andCorcundas e constitucionais: a cultura política da independência (1820–1822); Alexandre, “O nacionalismo vintista e a questão brasileira: esboço de análise política,” and Os sentidos do Império: questão nacional e questão colonial na crise do antigo regime; Silva, “O império luso-brasileiro 1750–1822,” 2; Silva, A Cultura luso-brasileira; Thomaz, Brasileiros nas Cortes Constituintes de 1821–22; Calasans, Os vintistas e a regeneração económica de Portugal; and Viana, Apontamentos para a história diplomática, vol. 2: (A emancipação do Brasil)(a selective bibliography chosen from the huge bibliography on the subject, centered only on the transitional years before the political breakdown of the Luso-Brazilian Empire).

23  See Pereira, A crise do Antigo Regime e as Cortes Constituintes de 1821-1822: estudo e documentos,chapter IV, on the negotiations of this treaty, which was in force from 1824 to 1842.

24  Pereira, Mouzinho da Silveira, Obras; Das revoluções liberais ao Estado Novo.

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