Teresa Cristina of the Two Sicilies

Teresa Cristina
Head and shoulders sepia photograph showing an older woman with gray hair and wearing a dark lace dress
Teresa Cristina at age 54, 1876
Empress consort of Brazil
Tenure30 May 1843 – 15 November 1889
Born(1822-03-14)14 March 1822
Naples, Two Sicilies
Died28 December 1889(1889-12-28) (aged 67)
Porto, Portugal
Burial5 December 1939
St. Peter of Alcantara Cathedral, Petrópolis, Brazil
SpousePedro II of Brazil (m. 1843)
Full name
Teresa Cristina Maria Giuseppa Gaspare Baltassare Melchiore Gennara Francesca de Padova Donata Bonosa Andrea d'Avelino Rita Luitgarda Geltruda Venancia Taddea Spiridione Rocca Matilde[1]
HouseBourbon-Two Sicilies
FatherFrancis I of the Two Sicilies
MotherMaria Isabella of Spain
ReligionRoman Catholic
SignatureCursive signature in ink

Dona Teresa Cristina (14 March 1822 – 28 December 1889), nicknamed "the Mother of the Brazilians",[2] was the Empress consort of Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil, who reigned from 1831 to 1889. Born a Princess of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in present-day southern Italy, she was the daughter of King Don Francesco I (Francis I) of the Italian branch of the House of Bourbon and his wife Maria Isabel (Maria Isabella). It was long believed by historians that the Princess was raised in an ultra-conservative, intolerant atmosphere which resulted in a timid and unassertive character in public and an ability to be contented with very little materially or emotionally. Recent studies revealed a more complex character, who despite having respected the social norms of the era, was able to assert a limited independence due to her strongly opinionated personality as well as her interest in learning, sciences and culture.

The Princess was married by proxy to Pedro II in 1843. Her spouse's expectations had been raised when a portrait was presented that depicted Teresa Cristina as an idealized beauty, but he was displeased by his bride's plain looks upon their first meeting later that year. Despite a cold beginning, the couple's relationship improved as time passed, due primarily to Teresa Cristina's patience, kindness, generosity and simplicity. These traits also helped her win the hearts of the Brazilian people, and her distance from political controversies shielded her from criticism. She also sponsored archaeological studies in Italy and Italian immigration to Brazil.

The marriage between Teresa Cristina and Pedro II never became passionately romantic, although a bond based upon family, mutual respect and fondness did develop. The Empress was a dutiful spouse and unfailingly supported the Emperor's positions and never interposed with her own views in public. She remained silent on the topic of his suspected extra-marital relationships—including a liaison with her daughters' governess. In turn, she was treated with unfailing respect and her position at Court and home was always secure. Of the four children Teresa Cristina bore him, two boys died in infancy and a daughter of typhoid fever at the early age of 24.

She, along with the remaining members of the Imperial Family, was sent into exile after a coup d'état staged by a clique of army officers in 1889. Being cast from her beloved adopted land had a devastating effect on Teresa Cristina's spirit and health. Grieving and ill, she died of respiratory failure leading to cardiac arrest little more than a month after the monarchy's collapse. She was greatly loved by her subjects, both during her lifetime and afterwards. She was even respected by the Republicans who overthrew the Empire. Despite having had no direct impact on Brazil's political history, Teresa Cristina is well regarded by historians not only for her character and irreproachable behavior, but also for her sponsorship of Brazilian culture.

Early life


Teresa Cristina was the daughter of the then-Duke of Calabria, who later became King Don Francesco I (Francis I) of the Two Sicilies. Through her father, she was a member of the House of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, also known as Bourbon-Naples, the Italian branch of the Spanish Bourbons. She was a descendant of France's "Sun King", Louis XIV in the male line through his grandson, Don Felipe V (Philip V) of Spain.[3] Teresa Cristina's mother was the Infanta Doña Maria Isabel (Maria Isabella), daughter of King Don Carlos IV (Charles IV) of Spain, and a younger sister of Doña Carlota Joaquina—who was the wife of King Dom João VI of Portugal and the paternal grandmother of Teresa Cristina's future husband.[3]

Born on 14 March 1822 in Naples,[4] Teresa Cristina became an orphan when her father died in 1830. Her mother is said to have neglected her after marrying a young officer in 1839.[1] Historiography has long asserted that she was raised in lonely isolation, in an environment of religious superstition, intolerance and conservatism.[1] It has also described Teresa Cristina as a soft and timid character, unlike her ruthless father or her impulsive mother.[3] She has even been depicted as unassertive, and accustomed to be satisfied in whatever circumstances she found herself.[5]

Some historians have more recently held to a modified view of both the Neapolitan Bourbon court as a reactionary regime and of the extent of Teresa Cristina's passivity. Historian Aniello Angelo Avella states that the maligned interpretation of the Neapolitan Bourbons traces its origin to perspectives generated during the 19th century il Risorgimento (Italian unification) following the 1861 conquest of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies by the Kingdom of Sardinia.[6] Teresa Cristina is revealed in her personal papers as a strong-headed character. She "was not a submissive woman but instead a person who respected the roles imposed by the ethics and values of her own times."[6]


A half-length painted portrait of a young woman with light brown hair, small mouth, petite nose, very small waist, and large, widely spaced eyes. In the background is a drawn drape revealing a bay with an erupting volcano behind.
The portrait of Teresa Cristina that enticed Pedro II to accept the marriage proposal

Upon learning that the young emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro II, sought a wife, the government of the Two Sicilies offered the hand of Teresa Cristina.[7] It also sent Pedro II a painting that greatly embellished the princess, which prompted him to accept the proposal.[8] A proxy wedding was held on 30 May 1843 in Naples, Pedro II being represented by his fiancée's brother Prince Leopold, Count of Syracuse.[9][10] A small Brazilian fleet composed of a frigate and two corvettes[11][12] departed for the Two Sicilies on 3 March 1843 to escort the new Empress of Brazil.[13][14] She arrived on Rio de Janeiro on 3 September 1843.[15] Pedro II immediately rushed to board the ship and greet his bride. Upon seeing this impetuous gesture, the crowds cheered and guns fired deafening salutes.[16] Teresa Cristina fell in love with her new husband at first sight.[17]

The 17-year-old Pedro II was, for his part, clearly and greatly disappointed.[18] His first impressions were only of her physical flaws—and of how much her appearance differed from the portrait which had been sent to him.[17] Physically, she had dark brown hair[19] and brown eyes,[19][20] was short, slightly overweight, walked with a pronounced limp and, while not ugly, neither was she pretty.[21] According to historian Pedro Calmon, Teresa Cristina had no true limp, but her odd way of walking was instead the result of bowed legs causing her to lean alternately right and left as she walked.[11] Pedro II's high expectations were crushed, and he allowed his feelings of revulsion and rejection to show.[17] After a short interval, he left the ship. Perceiving his disillusionment, she burst into tears, lamenting that "the emperor did not like me!"[22] Although a proxy marriage had already been performed, an extravagant state wedding was held on 4 September at the cathedral in Rio de Janeiro.[23]

Although the marriage had been strained from the beginning, Teresa Cristina continued striving to be a good wife. Her constancy toward fulfilling her duty, along with the birth of children, softened Pedro II's attitude. The two discovered shared interests, and their concern for and delight in their children created a sense of family happiness.[24] That they were sexually active and compatible is witnessed by the series of pregnancies which ensued. After the birth of their first son in February 1845, the Empress bore children in July 1846, July 1847, and July 1848—named Afonso, Isabel, Leopoldina and Pedro, respectively.[25]

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