THE ORDER OF OUR LADY OF THE CONCEPTION OF VILA VIÇOSA
© Guy Stair Sainty
The fortunes of the Royal House of Braganza and the Kingdom of Portugal have been united for centuries. Indeed, the independence of Portugal, which alone among the Iberian Kingdoms managed to survive permanent amalgamation under the Castillian Crown, is in no small measure due to the determination of successive Braganza princes. When the last King of the Aviz dynasty, Henry I, a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church who had inherited the throne on the death of his childless great nephew Sebastian I, died in 1580, the throne was forcibly assumed by Philip II of Spain. Philip's mother was the elder sister of Cardinal King Henry but, according to the ordinary rules of mixed succession, the throne should have passed to the descendants of the latter's youngest brother, the Infante Duarte, Duke of Guimaraes (died 1540). He had left two daughters, the elder of whom had died leaving a son, Ranuccio Farnese, Duke of Parma, the younger of whom, the Infanta Catherine, was married to João, 6th Duke of Braganza. There was no better claimant to the throne than this Prince, himself the greatest noble in the Kingdom and the head of a family descended directly in the male line from the Aviz Kings; the first Duke of Braganza, Alfonso (1377-1461), was the natural son of João I, King of Portugal by Inès Peres Esteves.
A claim had been put forward, however, by the supporters of Antonio, Prior of Crato (1531-1595), probably natural son of the Infant Luis of Portugal (1506-1555), an elder brother of the Cardinal King who had died without legitimate issue. Antonio was himself unmarried and, being illegitimate, his claim should have been subordinated to that of the descendants of his uncle, the Infant Duarte. The latter's younger but only surviving daughter, the Duchess of Braganza, and her husband were unable to establish sufficient support, and Philip was able to take advantage of the ensuing uncertainty. The Duke of Alba, who had earned considerable fame by his brutal suppression of the uprising in the Netherlands, was sent in with substantial forces, quickly occupying Lisbon (where he died) and formally annexing Portugal to Spain. Antonio, Prior of Crato, was sent into exile in France with a pension.
The union between the two Crowns was a disaster for the Portuguese. Lisbon was treated as a colonial outpost with the Spanish taking full advantage of the huge wealth generated by her overseas possessions. Fighting wars against England and attempting to sustain its rule in the Netherlands, the Spanish immediately imposed huge taxes and duties on Portugal to finance its army and navy. When it seemed that Brazil might be taken over as a Spanish dominion dependent on Madrid, a group of noblemen supported by the Patriarch of Lisbon decided to act. Taking the Regent, the Duchess of Mantua, prisoner and assassinating the Spanish first minister, they proclaimed João, 8th Duke of Braganza (grandson of the Infanta Catherine), as King João IV on 1st December 1640. While a state of war continued between Portugal and Spain until the latter was finally defeated at the battle of Montes Claros in 1665, the Portuguese quickly succeeded in achieving international recognition and control of their colonial possessions. By the Treaty of Lisbon of 1668, Spain finally recognized the independence of Portugal and gave up any further attempt to incorporate her people into the Spanish Empire.
The Dukes of Braganza had first established their residence at Guimaraes but, in 1501 built a substantial Palace in the Italianate style at Vila Viçosa (verdant town) which remained their principal seat. After becoming King in 1640, João IV moved to Lisbon but he and his successors continued to visit Villa Viçosa which became a "royal" town. The penultimate King, Carlos I, actually passed his last night there before returning to Lisbon, where he was assassinated by anarchists in 1908. The late fifteenth century Church of the Augustins (reconstructed in part in 1677) in Vila Viçosa was the place of burial of the Dukes of Braganza. Here the father of the present Duke of Braganza, de jure Duarte II of Portugal (died 1976), was interred in a moving ceremony among the remains of his ancestors.
The historic ties between Portugal and Great Britain had been cemented by the marriage of João IVs daughter Catherine to King Charles II in 1662. Although the marriage was childless, it bore fruit in other ways - indeed, it was a as a result of this union that the English were first introduced to orange marmalade. When Portugal entered the War of the Spanish Succession on the side of Great Britain, the Methuen Treaty which laid out the terms of agreement provided for lower import duties on Portuguese wines (most notably Port) and enabled the Portuguese to purchase British textiles virtually free of taxes. While this may have contributed to slowing down Portuguese industrialization, it increased earnings from trade and was also reflected in a noticeable British influence on the design of Portuguese furniture. João IV had been succeeded by each of his two elder sons, of whom the first, Alfonso, died in confinement to be succeeded by his brother, Pedro, who had been ruling as Regent. Pedro, who cemented the British alliance, was succeeded by João V, whose grand vision led to the introduction of artists and architects from across Europe and whose support of the Papal crusade against increasing Moslem incursions into South Eastern Europe earned him the title "Most Faithful Majesty".
Despite the enormous Brazilian revenues, João V's expansive plans had proved more costly than planned and, combined with the devastating Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the latter half of the eighteenth century began a period of gradual decline in Portuguese power. His successor José lived in his father's shadow but was fortunate in enjoying the advice of the brilliant Marquès de Pombal, a highly capable Minister who had earned the enmity of the Queen. On the King's death, the succession of his daughter Maria, who had unwisely married her uncle Pedro and was dominated by her mother, led to Pombal's overthrow. This political disaster was soon followed by the death of the King Consort and of the royal couple's eldest son, leaving her only surviving son, João VI to govern in her name.
King João VI was a benevolent Monarch whose good government prevented his country from being overtaken by the revolutionary spirit that engulfed Europe in the last years of the century. His alliance with Britain, however, did not prevent the French from successfully occupying his country and the consequent departure of the Royal Family on a British Warship to exile in Brazil. With the downfall of Napoleon, the King decided against an immediate return to Portugal which was effectively governed by a Regency led by the Anglo-Irish General, Beresford, and the British Ambassador, Sir Charles Stuart. The 1820 risings in Naples and Spain were echoed in Portugal by an attempt to impose a radical, and unworkable, Constitution, forcing the King to return and assume absolute powers. João VI was of liberal inclination, however, and he and his principal Minister, the Duke of Palmela, favored a constitutional system. They were opposed in this by the Queen, and their second surviving son, Dom Miguel, sowing the seeds for a struggle between liberals and conservatives which was mirrored in Spain with the Carlist wars, and led to disastrous schisms in the Royal Houses of Braganza and Bourbon.
When the King returned to Portugal he left his eldest son Regent of Brazil. The secession of Brazil, which already had its own national government, was already inevitable and, on October 12th, 1822, Pedro was proclaimed Emperor as Pedro I. The Portuguese attempted to forestall this but the defeat of their Navy by the Brazilians, assisted by the British Admiral, Lord Cochrane (future Earl of Dundonald), led to the recognition of Brazilian independence three years later, with the provision that the King could retain the title of Emperor until his death.
The Portuguese and Brazilian thrones now being separate, the thorny question of the succession had to be settled. João had suffered the indignity of being overthrown in a coup engineered by his wife (who he had forced into exile) and Dom Miguel, who resented his concessions to the demands of radical politicians. To prevent the latter from succeeding as King, although Dom Miguel was undoubtedly the most popular candidate, João named his younger, unmarried daughter, the Infanta Isabel Maria, as Regent. Immediately upon his death, prompted by the Regent, the Cortes named João's eldest son, the Emperor Pedro I, to be his successor as King.
Pedro had to choose between returning to Portugal as King, or remaining in Brazil which, having just achieved its independence, did not want to lose it again through a personal union of the two Crowns. For Pedro, a liberal and freemason, the comforts of his Brazilian throne provided for an easy decision; abandoning the Crown of his ancestors, he abdicated as King just six weeks later in favor of his eldest daughter, Maria da Gloria, who at the age of seven became de facto Queen. Despite his initial successes as Emperor, Pedro proved to be an increasingly unpopular ruler and, the loss of what was to become Uruguay proved to be a fatal blow to his power. In 1831, he abdicated in favor of his elder son, who became Emperor as Pedro II, while the former Emperor sailed for Europe, never to see his heartbroken son and three younger daughters again.
To try to settle the succession in Portugal, Pedro had misguidedly required that his daughter Maria marry her uncle, Dom Miguel, a marriage that duly took place by proxy in October 1826. Dom Miguel was nominated by his brother as Regent and his appointment as such confirmed by the Cortes on July 3rd, 1827, after he had agreed to submit to the Constitutional charter. Miguel arrived in Portugal on February 22nd, 1828 and four days later received his sister the Infanta Isabel Maria who formally delegated to him her powers. On April 29th following he swore a formal oath of loyalty to the Constitution. The recent defeat by the Brazilians had left, however, a legacy of bitterness and there was a strong argument to invoke the law that had required every dynast to have Portuguese nationality or forfeit his or her right of succession (to prevent a reoccurrence of the union with Spain in 1580). Just five years earlier Pedro had declared war on his own country to establish himself as Brazilian Emperor and the loss of this great dominion was far from being accepted by the majority of Portuguese. Their new Queen, as a Princess of Brazil, was legally a foreign Princess and her establishment as Queen had been brought about by the man who had sustained the Brazilian revolt. Miguel therefore revoked the succession decree of his brother and proclaimed himself King (as next heir by virtue of the total exclusion of the Brazilian line) on June 30th, 1828. Six weeks later, on August 11th, 1828, his assumption of the throne was acknowledged by the Cortes. Miguel repudiated the improper marriage which had been forced upon him and set about improving relations with the Holy See, permitting the return of the Society of Jesus. He was personally popular with the majority of Portuguese, particularly the old nobility and the conservative rural population but the demands for an increasing role in government by the rising middle class led to inevitable conflict when he revoked the Constitutional Charter. Miguel was good-looking and courageous - although his actions in overthrowing the Constitution were bitterly attacked by liberals across Europe, the Tory government of Great Britain was not unsympathetic. The esteem in which he was held by conservative circles in Great Britain may have been in no small part due to his prowess on the hunting field, which had earned him considerable plaudits when he had been a guest of George IV at Windsor. The powers of the Holy Alliance welcomed his re-establishment of conservative Catholic rule and had quickly recognized his government. Meanwhile Maria, who had already left Brazil, was refused permission to disembark in Portugal and landed at Gibraltar. From there she moved on to London, becoming the playmate of the future Queen Victoria, who was almost her exact contemporary.
Pedro now determined to reestablish his daughter as Queen and, with the help of the liberal King of the French Louis Philippe, landed on the north coast, near Oporto. Unable to raise sufficient support from the Portuguese army which was sympathetic to the King, Pedro had to rely on a largely mercenary force. After some bitter fighting, King Miguel's army was unable to resist the foreign invasion and, with the occupation of Lisbon by the forces of the Duke of Terceira, on July 24th, 1833, the conservative government was finished. Queen Maria was immediately recognized by France, Great Britain and Spain (which, with the succession of Isabel II was also ruled by a new liberal government) and Miguel was forced to leave for permanent exile. Pedro, former King and Emperor but now styled Duke of Braganza, became Regent for his daughter, until the Cortes proclaimed her majority on September 12th, 1834, just twelve days before her father's death.
Miguel's formal deposition dates from the convention of Evoramonte on May 26th, 1834, between the representative of the King, Generals Azevedo Lemos and Saldana, and the commander of the liberal forces, the Duke of Terceira, but was never ratified by him. His marriage to his niece, never consummated, was now declared annulled, Maria became Constitutional Queen and Miguel and his descendants were condemned to perpetual exile (this law was not revoked until 1950).
Unlike Spain, where the Carlist wars continued to divide the country, Miguel's agreement to depart from Portugal left his country at peace for the remainder of the century. He was offered a meager pension as inadequate compensation for the forcible seizure of the Portuguese properties he had been given separately by his father but never accepted the terms imposed by the convention of Evoramonte and maintained his claim to the throne in statements issued on June 20th, 1834, January 1st, 1835 and November 20th, 1835. In 1851 he settled in Germany where he lived in relative simplicity, fathering a son and six daughters by his second marriage to Princess Adelheid of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg. This alliance with a German mediatised house was imitated by his son and heir, Miguel II, who married first Princess Elisabeth of Thurn and Taxis and, following her death, his cousin, Princess Maria Theresa of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg. Miguel I's eldest daughter married the last Carlist claimant to the Spanish Throne, Alfonso Carlos, Duke of San Jaime, while the other six each made great marriages to the Archduke Carl Ludwig, Duke Carl Theodor in Bavaria, Prince Henri of Bourbon-Parma, Count of Bardi, and the Grand Duke William IV of Luxembourg, while the youngest married Roberto I, last reigning Duke of Parma. Miguel II's son and heir, Duarte II, effected a reconciliation with the Brazilian line by his marriage to Princess Francisca de Orléans e Bragança, a great granddaughter of Emperor Pedro II.
Queen Maria II promptly married Auguste de Beauharnais 2nd Duke of Leuchtenberg (eldest son of Napoleon's stepson, Eugène), just one month after the dissolution of her first marriage. Auguste was considered by the Powers to be a satisfactorily impartial candidate but he died the following year of diptheria, without leaving issue. Nine months later, in April 1836, she married for a third time, Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, who was proclaimed King Consort on 16 September 1837. She was succeeded by each of her two elder sons in turn, the younger, King Luis (who died in 1889), was followed by Carlos I, who was to die by an assassin's bullet in 1908, along with his elder son and heir apparent, Luis, Prince of Beira. This brutal crime brought the nineteen year old Manuel II to the throne; after a reign of thirty months he was forced into exile by the revolution of 1910 - the first left inspired revolt which, within half a century, was to transform Europe from a continent dominated entirely by Monarchies (there were only three Republics in 1910, France, Switzerland and San Marino), to one ruled principally by authoritarian dictatorships. King Manuel II died in exile in England on July 2nd, 1932, the last male of his line.
The end of the Constitutional Monarchy and the evident childlessness of King Manuel, led to a healing of the division in the Royal House of Portugal. The Monarchists remained a substantial political force, not least because of the disastrous instability of the Republic which in the fifteen years after the revolution had eight Presidents, forty-four ministerial crises and twenty coups d'états or revolutions. Dom Miguel's heir, titular King Miguel II, had served in the Austrian Army and his castle at Seebenstein was given extra-territorial status by the Emperor Franz Josef in 1881. In 1912 he met King Manuel II at Dover, beginning the process of reconciliation. To alleviate the divisions between his followers and those of the exiled King, he abdicated his rights in favor of his son Duarte on July 31st, 1920. On April 17th, 1922, a pact of reconciliation was signed in Paris by the representatives of King Manuel and the Infanta Aldegonda, Duchess of Guimaraes, a younger daughter of Dom Miguel I, acting on behalf of her fourteen year old nephew, titular King Duarte II, now head of the House of Braganza. King Manuel satisfied the conservative Miguelists by promising to submit the question of the return of church property to the Cortes while the Infanta Aldegonda promised to recommend to the supporters of her nephew that they should accept King Manuel as King and unite under the same national flag.
Dom Duarte's elder half-brother, Miguel (1878-1923), had renounced all his rights to the throne of Portugal and to the succession of the rights of the dynasty following his unequal marriage to Miss Anita Stewart, heiress of a considerable American fortune - there are several Braganzas of this line living in the United States who, quite properly, make no pretension to the royal style or titles. Dom Duarte became sole heir, succeeding his father Miguel II, who had died on October 11th, 1927, as Duke of Braganza. On the death of King Manuel II he was accepted as claimant by all the Portuguese Monarchist groups and became Head of the House and Grand Master of the Order of Vila Viçosa.
The foundation of the Militar Ordem de Nossa Senhora de Conceição de Vila Viçosa (as it was originally called) by João VI in Rio de Janeiro on 6 February 1818, confirmed on September 10th, 1819, was intended as a particular honor for those who had distinguished themselves by their loyalty to the Royal House in the war against the Bonapartist occupying forces. The town of Vila Viçosa had been associated with the House of Braganza for more than three hundred and sixty years, Alfonso, 1st Duke of Braganza, having been invested with the Lordship of Guimaraes and Vila Viçosa in 1450. The lordship was elevated to a Marquessate in 1455 and was the second most ancient title of the dynasty after the Dukedom of Braganza itself, created in 1442.
Unlike the Orders of Christ, of Saint Benedict of Aviz, and of Saint James of the Sword, which had been founded as Religious-Military Orders and later secularized, the Order of Vila Viçosa was closer in structure to the Order of the Tower and Sword. The latter Order, although claiming an ancient foundation, had actually been established by João VI in 1808 to take precedence as the premier Portuguese chivalric institution. With the overthrow of the Monarchy, the new Republican government initially suspended all the Portuguese Military Orders but later reinstated them as Republican institutions, with the exception of the Order of Vila Viçosa and the Order of Saint Isabel (for ladies). It was thus perfectly appropriate for Duarte II's son and successor, Dom Duarte III, present Head of the Dynasty, to reestablish the Order of Vila Viçosa (dormant since 1910) on December 8th, 1983. This Order was associated both by its name and history most closely with the Royal House, and was an appropriate choice as the principal dynastic Order.
The first nominations as Grand Cross were of Don Juan de Borbón, Count of Barcelona, father of the present King of Spain, Don Carlos de Borbón-Dos Sicilias, Duke of Calabria, Head of the Royal House of the Two Sicilies, and the Archduke Otto of Austria, Head of the Imperial House of Habsburg-Lothringen. Subsequent nominations as Grand Cross included Crown Prince Victor Emmanuel, Duke of Savoy, and Crown Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia, as well as Dom Duarte's brothers, Dom Miguel, Duke of Viseu (Chancellor of the Order) and Dom Henrique, Duke of Coimbra. The Order was originally limited to twelve Grand Crosses, forty Commanders and one hundred Knights, with the provision for the award of extranumerary Grand Crosses. It is still given sparingly and is in the personal gift of Dom Duarte as head of the Royal House. The Portuguese government has tacitly accepted his right to award this Order and it is worn by Portuguese citizens without restriction.
The special position of the Duke of Braganza and his family is almost unique among formerly regnant Houses, shared only perhaps by the Duke of Bavaria. Many Portuguese regret the disastrous years following the revolution of 1910 and look with envy at the situation of their Iberian neighbour, where dictatorship was succeeded peacefully by a restored Monarchy. The relatively benign Portuguese dictator, Salazar, had provided much needed stability after the failure of the Republic and his replacement by a left wing government and years of socialism led to much dissatisfaction.
Thus, despite the increasing moderation of the republican régime, there is still considerable sympathy for the Monarchist cause; many recognize that it was the Monarchy which made it possible for Portugal to achieve and sustain its independence from Spain. It was also the Braganza Kings whose dynastic alliances considerably advanced the country's commercial and trading relationships and who addeded considerably to the beautification of Lisbon and its environs - a legacy which has contributed substantially to the modern tourist industry. Today, therefore, Dom Duarte is treated with enormous respect and his recent wedding to a Portuguese noblewoman was an occasion for national celebration, the ceremony receiving the kind of national television coverage that would be expected of a reigning Monarch. Dom Duarte, after serving in the Portuguese Air Force, has concentrated on running his estate and has also dedicated himself to advancing the spread of Christianity, particularly in Russia where for many years he has sponsored the dispatch of Bibles. He has wisely avoided associating himself with any particular political party so, should there be a call for a restoration of the Crown, he can provide the same impartial leadership as is given by his slightly older cousin in Madrid.