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The Transfer of the Portuguese Court to Brazil was an episode in the history of Portugal and the history of Brazil in which the Portuguese royal family and the court (approximately 15,000 subjects) fled to Brazilmarker and remained there from 1808 until April 26, 1821. The capital of the Kingdom of Portugal was established in the city of Rio de Janeiromarker, in what some historians call a "metropolitan reversal," i.e., a former colony exercising governance over the entirety of the Portuguese empire.

In 1807, as the Portuguese were allies of the United Kingdommarker, the French troops of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Portugal. Prince Regent João (future King João VI), who governed since 1792 on behalf of his mother, Queen Maria I, ordered the transfer of the Portuguese royal court to Brazil before he could be deposed by the invading French army. On November 29, Prince João and his court set sail from Lisbon under the protection of the British Royal Navy, under the command of admiral Sir Sidney Smith. On December 5, approximately halfway between Lisbon and Madeiramarker, Sidney Smith along with Britain's envoy to Lisbon, Lord Strangford, returned to Europe with part of the British flotilla, while Graham Moore continued to escort the Portuguese royal family to Brazil with the ships Marlborough, London, Bedford and Monarch.

On January 22, 1808, Prince João and his court arrived in Salvadormarker, where he signed a law that opened commerce between Brazil and friendly nations, which in this case meant primarily the United Kingdom. This important law broke the colonial pact that, until then, only allowed Brazil to maintain direct commercial relations with Portugal. While officially signed in 1808, the opening of Brazil's ports to British ships had been negotiated in secret in October 1807 by Portugal's ambassador in London, Domingos António de Sousa Coutinho, in exchange for Britain's military support and protection. Britain also gained access to Madeiramarker as a naval base.

On March 7, 1808, the court arrived in Rio de Janeiromarker. In 1815, during the Congress of Vienna, Prince João created the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves (Reino Unido de Portugal, Brasil e Algarves), elevating Brazil to the same rank as Portugal and increasing the administrative independence of Brazil. Brazilian representatives were elected to the Portuguese Constitutional Courts (Cortes Constitucionais Portuguesas). In 1816, with the death of Queen Maria, Prince João was crowned King of Portugal in Rio de Janeiro.

Among the important measures taken by Prince João in his years in Brazil were incentives for commerce and industry, the permission to print newspapers and books, the creation of two medical schools, military academies, and the first Bank of Brazil (Banco do Brasil). In Rio de Janeiro he also created a powder factory, a Botanical Gardenmarker, an art academy (Escola Nacional de Belas Artes) and an opera house (Teatro São João). All these measures greatly advanced the independence of Brazil in relation to Portugal and made the latter's political separation inevitable.

Due to the absence of the King and the economic independence of Brazil, Portugal entered a severe political crisis that obliged João VI and the royal family to return to Portugal in 1821. The heir of João VI, Prince Pedro, remained in Brazil. The Portuguese Cortes demanded that Brazil return to its former status as a colony and the return of the heir to Portugal. Prince Pedro, influenced by the Rio de Janeiro Municipal Senate (Senado da Câmara) refused to return to Portugal during the famous Dia do Fico (January 9, 1822). Political independence came on September 7, 1822, and the prince was crowned emperor in Rio de Janeiro as Dom Pedro I, ending 322 years of colonial dominance of Portugal over Brazil.


  1. Gomes, p. 321
  2. Gomes, p. 97
  3. Gomes, p. 117


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