The Brazilian imperial sarcophagi (from left to right): Princess Imperial Isabel, Emperor Pedro II, Empress Teresa Cristina and Prince Gaston at the Catedral de São Pedro de Alcântara.
Photo (c) Seth B. Leonard.

One hundred years ago, on 14 November 1921, Princess Imperial Isabel of Brazil, Countess d’Eu, died at the Chateau d’Eu in France at the age of seventy-five years-old. The princess was initially buried at Dreux. In 1953, the earthly remains of the princess and her husband Prince Gaston were repatriated to Brazil, and in 1971 they were both buried at the Cathedral of Petrópolis. 

A portrait of Princess Isabel at the Imperial Museum of Brazil in Petrópolis.
Photo (c) Seth B. Leonard.

Born on 29 July 1846 at the Palácio Imperial de São Cristóvão in Rio de Janeiro, Princess Isabel Cristina Leopoldina Augusta Micaela Gabriela Rafaela Gonzaga of Brazil was the second child and first daughter of Emperor Pedro II of Brazil (1825-1891) and Empress Teresa Cristina (1822-1889; born Princess of the Two Sicilies). Isabel had three siblings: Prince Afonso (1845-1847), Princess Leopoldina (1847-1871; married Prince August of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha), and Prince Pedro (1848-1850). Following the premature deaths of both of her two brothers, Isabel became the heiress to her father the Emperor.

The home of Princess Isabel in Petrópolis.
Photo (c) Seth B. Leonard.
The residence of Princess Isabel and her husband Prince Gaston.
Above the door is the couple’s intertwined initials.
Photo (c) Seth B. Leonard.

On 1 October 1864, Princess Imperial Isabel of Brazil married Prince Gaston d’Orléans (1842-1922), Count d’Eu, at Rio de Janeiro. The couple had four children: Princess Luísa Vitória (born stillborn in 1874), Prince Pedro de Alcântara (1875-1940; married Countess Elisabeth Dobrzensky von Dobrzenicz), Prince Luíz (1878-1920; married Princess Maria Pia of Bourbon-Two Sicilies), and Prince Antônio (1881-1918).

A painting of the Princess Imperial taking the oath to become Regent of Brazil in 1870.
Photo (c) Seth B. Leonard.

Due to Emperor Pedro’s bouts of ill health, the Princess Imperial was called to act as Regent of the Brazilian Empire several times. It was during her last regency that Isabel signed the Golden Law in 1888, which completely abolished slavery in Brazil. Due to her act, Isabel became known as “The Redemptress” and she received the Golden Rose from Pope Leo XIII. Another side effect of the princess taking this step was to hasten the downfall of the Empire of Brazil, as conservative factions were not pleased by the abolition of slavery. In 1889, Isabel’s father Pedro II was deposed in a coup by the military, which led to the establishment of the Republic of Brazil. As a result of this, the Emperor and Empress as well as Princess Isabel and Prince Gaston together with their children were compelled to leave the country for Europe. Empress Teresa Cristina died within months of leaving Brazil, and Emperor Pedro II died two months after leaving his beloved people.

The statue of Princess Isabel the Redemptress in Rio de Janeiro.
Photo (c) Seth B. Leonard.

During exile, the Princess Imperial and the Count of Eu settled in France. In 1920, the Brazilian Republic repealed the law banishing the members of the imperial family from the country. Isabel was already too ill to even contemplate a return to Brazil. Fortunately, as written above, the remains of the princess now rest in the nation to which she devoted her life.

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