4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
An Excellent and Fascinating Read on an Unusual Subject,
This review is from: Empire Adrift: The Portuguese Court in Rio de Janeiro 1808-1821 (Hardcover)
This excellent book by Patrick Wilcken far exceeded my expectations. This is not meant as a slight to the author, rather I knew little about the subject and bought the book out of simple curiosity. I was well rewarded by an engrossing story written in a very engaging and lucid style which contained many completely new revelations to me, and I would guess, to many readers. The book tells of the forced exile of the Portuguese royal family when Napoleon's forces invaded Portugal and threatened Lisbon in 1807. The family, headed by Regent Dom Joao, moved together with all their courtiers and government to Rio de Janeiro, capital of their enormous colony of Brazil.
By drawing on copious research in the Portuguese correspondence of the time Wilcken has been able to construct wonderfully vivid pictures of the arrival of the royal entourage in Brazil and the life and customs that they encountered. Perhaps the most disturbing are descriptions of the total slave driven economy which was an integral part of everyday life in the colony to a far greater extent than would have been encountered in any British colony or North America. This extended to such an extent that wheeled vehicles were not common, the slaves being used instead to shoulder all burdens, including people. The transformation of Rio de Janeiro into an imperial capital and the unique historical precedent of running an empire from a colony are dealt with very well. The familial intrigues generated by the wayward Queen Regent Dona Carlota and the equally intriguing politics between Rio and Lisbon are related in a very interesting style. The story is told up to and including the return of the, now, King Dom Joao to Lisbon and Wilcken includes a short chapter on subsequent events in Brazil and Portugal. The author also draws interesting comparisons between the coherence of the vast Portuguese colony of Brazil, which clearly survives to the present day intact, and the fracturing of the large Spanish South American colony of Rio de la Plata into the countries of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia. This is generally attributed to the ready acceptance of a constitutional Emperor in Brazil and the long stable rule of Emperor Dom Pedro II.
This book was a joy to read and is enthusiastically recommended to anyone interested in Napoleonic or colonial history or the history of the slave trade.