Queluz, a fairy tale palace filled with real life drama

Flamboyant. Extravagant. Frivolous. Once called a “very expensive birthday cake”, this 18th century Rococo summer palace reflected the carefree lifestyle of the Portuguese monarchy of the time, inebriated by the gold and riches brought from Brazil. But things would soon take a turn to the worse, with the Queluz Palace playing a central role. A dead King, a mad Queen, an invading Napoleon, a fleeing royal family and a ruler that would come back to die in the same bed where he had been born.

The palace was never meant to be an official residence as, at the time, Queluz stood quite far from the hustle and bustle of Lisbon. In 1777, Queen Maria and her husband King Pedro III ascended to the throne and dismissed Marquis of Pombal, who had been de facto running the country. Weary from the affairs of the state, the monarchs would often use the Queluz summer palace as a quiet refuge.

When the king died, Queen Maria’s mental health deteriorated and she would spend more and more time at Queluz. In 1794, after a major fire destroyed the royal quarters of the Ajuda Palace, Queluz became the family’s official residence.

The turn of the century would not bear better news. In 1807, supported by the Spanish crown, Napoleon invades Portugal. In a rather questionable move, the Portuguese royal family hastily leaves the Queluz Palace and flees to Brazil. By transferring the crown to one of the Kingdom’s colonies, sovereignty would not be lost but the population would be left to its own devices.

Under the heavy weight of indignity, the fleeing ship carried the King D. João VI, the Queen Carlota Joaquina and their sons to warmer waters. Their eldest, Dom Pedro, born in a beautiful room at Queluz, didn’t let his shielded childhood get in the way of becoming a decisive – albeit controversial – ruler. Through a series of cunning political plays worthy of a Brazilian novela, he would see his son Dom Pedro II become the first emperor of a truly independent Brazil, and his daughter Dona Maria II the Queen of Portugal.

The second part of that plan required him to return to Portugal, a hard thing to do for someone that had fallen in love with Brazil. Once back to this side of the Atlantic, he fought a civil war with his brother Dom Miguel, who had in the meantime ascended to the throne. In 1834, Dom Pedro – supported by the British – and Dom Miguel – supported by the Spanish – clash in a final battle near Tomar.  Overpowered, Dom Miguel retreats to Alentejo and signs a peace treaty that makes Dom Pedro’s daughter the Queen of Portugal.

But, weakened by the rigors of war, Dom Pedro dies of tuberculosis that same year. In his last moments, spent on the very same Queluz Palace bedroom where he had been born, he wrote an open letter to his son and the people of Brazil, urging for the end of slavery:

“Slavery is an evil, and an attack against the rights and dignity of the human species, but its consequences are less harmful to those who suffer in captivity than to the Nation whose laws allow slavery. It is a cancer that devours its morality.”

Jules and Verne *

56 thoughts on “Queluz, a fairy tale palace filled with real life drama

  1. Pingback: In lumina
    1. He was! Portugal had officially abolished slavery in 1761 (by the hand of Marquis of Pombal), but it would take as far as 1869 to completely eradicate it across the empire. Jo, if you can help it, visit Queluz on a sunny afternoon: the gardens light up beautifully and the sun comes rushing into the palace through those tall windows 🙂 – Verne

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  2. Portugal for so many years has been on my wishlist, not only because of its beautiful buildings and palaces, but also because of the past connection with Indonesia. The Portuguese were, after all, the first Europeans who discovered direct sea routes from Europe to the Spice Islands — which are now in modern-day Indonesia. Speaking of Queluz, what an impressive summer palace it really is! Thanks for the brief history lesson about this part of the world.

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    1. Indeed, the Moluccas! The race to find a sea route, the scuffles between Portugal and Spain, the Treaty of Zaragoza… that story alone makes me want to return to Indonesia 🙂 Hope you can make it to Portugal, drop us a line if you do! -Verne

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      1. In 2015 I did a six-month trip across Southeast and South Asia with my best friend to retrace parts of the spice route. I ended up learning a lot more than I expected. We’re thinking of going to the Netherlands and Portugal some time in the future, to finish off what we have started. Really appreciate that, Verne!

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    1. Unfortunate indeed! As in most countries, the actual abolition of slavery lagged intentions by many years. May I take advantage of the fact that you’re Brazilian (I’m going on a limb here, based on your name) to ask a question? I had the impression that, like his father, Dom Pedro II was an abolitionist, but was prevented by the Assembly (which included many landowners) from passing legislation to end slavery. Is the real story more complicated than that?

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      1. No, you are correct. I’m not sure he was abolitionist, because he reigned since 1831. One fear was to lose power, what indeed happend, for abolition was an ideal of republicans. His daughter signed the law in 1888, while he was sick and she was reigning. As ever, Deputies rule more for themselves than to people.

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    1. You know, your blog was a big influence for these posts. We realized that we could take our initial fairly rigid structure – made to take about our round-the-world trip – and use it to talk about other things we love. On next Monday’s post we’ll introduce another one of our passions, hopefully we won’t be testing the patience of our readers too much 🙂 -Verne

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    1. Hi Karlie! Thank you so much for your comment. Portuguese history is very rich in political intrigue and drama, so we have plenty of material to work on! I was peeking at your blog and you have gorgeous photos! Made me want to go back to a lot of those places 🙂 – Jules

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