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What happened to Portugal’s monarchy?

In the latest instalment of our autumn series, looking at what led to the fall of various monarchies throughout history, Royal Central looks at the end of the monarchy in Portugal.

On a chilly February day in 1908, the King of Portugal and his family were making their way back to their home in Lisbon after a holiday when tragedy struck. Gunmen attacked their carriage, fatally wounding the King. In the confusion, more bullets rained down on them. A gun battle ensued, but by the time officials got the royal carriage to safety, the King was dead, and his heir was in the last moments of his life. The monarch’s younger son would take the throne, but the crown never recovered from the blow suffered that day. A double assassination, a weakened successor and the rise of republicanism led to the fall of the House of Braganza and the end of the monarchy in Portugal.

The Background

The death of Carlos I was the beginning of the end for Portugal’s monarchy (Picture Public Domain, CC, Wiki Commons)

The murders of Carlos I and his eldest son, Luis Filipe, that cold day caused shockwaves around Europe. However, an angry end to the King’s 19-year reign had seemed inevitable for some time, even if the brutality of his death was hard to comprehend. In fact, such was the rising opposition in some parts of Portuguese society to the monarchy that the succession of Carlos’ second son, Manuel, as king in the aftermath of the assassinations only seemed to be delaying the inevitable tumble of the throne.

Carlos had inherited a difficult crown. The House of Braganza had ruled Portugal since 1640 and had seen its power expand throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. But by the early 1800s, the Portuguese Royal Family found itself weakened and based itself in Brazil, part of its empire. In the decades that followed, the thrones of the two countries parted ways leading to power struggles within the ruling house. The kind and clever Maria II had re-established Braganza power in Lisbon. But by the time her grandson, Carlos I, became King of Portugal and the Algarves in 1889, the country was once again facing a crisis.

At the heart of Carlos’ problems was the empire which had once brought Portugal so much wealth. Just a year into his reign, the country was forced to agree to the ‘British Ultimatum’, a series of treaties which ended claims of Portuguese sovereignty in parts of Africa. It was seen as a humiliation for the King while popular unrest grew as the economy wobbled and the country found itself bankrupt.

Strikes and protests took place while the press became more outspoken in its criticism of the monarchy. Republican parties began to gain support while the mainstream political set up of Portugal fragmented and effective government began to disappear. By the time Carlos appointed Joao Franco as Prime Minister in 1906, with sweeping powers that would only be scaled back when the new premier and the King thought it appropriate, he was facing opposition in every quarter, and he knew it. As the King of Portugal signed a decree in the early part of 1908 which would allow his government to send opponents into exile, he called it his death sentence. Soon afterwards, he was proved right.

Killing a King

In fact, his assassins had already made plans to murder their monarch before Carlos put his pen to parchment that fateful day. The fact that the King was talking of death as a real possibility only underlined how fragile he realised his power and position were. The end came on February 1st 1908 as Carlos, his wife Maria Amelia and their two sons rode in an open carriage through the centre of Lisbon on their return from a break at their country retreat.

Carlos I, Amelia and a newborn Luis Filipe of Portugal (Photo Public Domain, Wiki Commons)

As the royal party entered the Terreiro do Paco in the centre of Lisbon, it was fired on by republicans. Carlos was killed instantly, and in the chaos that followed, one of the assassins, Alfredo Luis da Costa, jumped into the coach and attacked Luis Filipe, Prince Royal of Portugal and the man who would be declared monarch as soon as his father’s death was confirmed. As Queen Maria Amelia tried to shield her family with a bouquet of flowers she’d been given, the heir fought back, drawing his own gun, but in the process his movements allowed another assassin to fire at him with a rifle. His younger brother, Manuel, tried to save him, but it was too late. Police shot and killed Da Costa and fellow attacker, Manuel Buica, while other officers and soldiers rushed the carriage to the Royal Naval Arsenal. Carlos I was confirmed dead. His heir, Luis Filipe, died soon afterwards. The blood soaked brother who had tried to save the Prince’s life was now King Manuel II.

The aftermath

The tragic start to his reign would be a shadow of things to come for Manuel who was just 18 and still a student when he became king. He made public declarations that he would not intervene in politics and undertook a wide range of visits across his new kingdom to try and reach out to his subjects. However, political unrest continued, and within two years of his accession, Manuel’s new kingdom had experienced a string of different governments.

Manuel II, Last King of Portugal (Photo by Augusto Bobone – Leiloeira São Domingos, Public Domain, Wiki Commons)

Growing agitation bubbled into revolution in October 1910. A military coup turned into wider rebellion and Manuel’s official residence, the Palacio das Necessidades, was bombarded. The King fled, hoping to make it to the northern city of Porto on the royal yacht, Amelia IV. With him were his mother and grandmother, but soon after they left, they found out Porto had fallen to the revolutionaries. They were forced to divert to Gibraltar. Manuel headed to the UK – and exile.

The last days of monarchy

There were attempts to restore the throne in the early years of Manuel’s exile although the King became increasingly anxious about the impact of the efforts would have on the future of his country. He insisted that the crown could only be restored at the will of the people.

Manuel, meanwhile, married and settled in Twickenham, where he set about trying to help his country and his new local community wherever he could. He also met other members of his royal dynasty to discuss where the right to rule the country should pass as he and his wife, Augusta Victoria, had no children.

There was no concrete resolution to that question when Manuel died suddenly, at his home in Fulwell Park, on July 2nd 1932. He was buried in Lisbon. The crown has never been restored. Now, over 100 years since the violent deaths of Carlos I and Prince Luis Filipe and the short and tumultuous reign of Manuel II, those momentous events remain the last acts of the Portuguese monarchy.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.