by Scott Mehl
King Manuel II of Portugal
King Manuel II of Portugal was the last Portuguese monarch, reigning just two and a half years before Portugal declared itself a republic. He was born Infante Manuel Maria Filipe Carlos Amélio Luís Miguel Rafael Gabriel Gonzaga Xavier Francisco de Assis Eugénio on November 15, 1889 at Belém Palace in Lisbon, the youngest child of King Carlos I of Portugal and Princess Amélie of Orléans. Styled Duke of Beja from birth, Manuel had two older siblings:
- Infante Luís Filipe, Prince Royal (1887) – assassinated with his father in 1908, unmarried
- Infanta Maria Ana (1887) – died at birth
He received a strict education and proved to be a rather good student, studying numerous languages – and becoming fluent at a very young age – as well as history, math, and religion. He also trained on the piano and developed a love of literature and the arts. Manuel was preparing to enter the Portuguese Naval Academy when tragedy struck the royal family, and he found himself unexpectedly on the throne of Portugal.
On February 1, 1908, the royal family was attacked by assassins while riding in a carriage en route to the palace. Carlos was shot only in the arm, but his father was shot in the head, dying instantly, and his brother, Luís Filipe, was also mortally injured and died several minutes later. At just 18 years old, Carlos became the last King of Portugal.
His first act as King was asking for the resignation of Prime Minister João Franco, who he felt was complicit in the killing of his father and brother. He then appointed a new government which he hoped would bring about more unity within Portugal. At first, the new King received a great level of sympathy and support, primarily due to his youth and the tragic circumstances which put him on the throne. He traveled extensively, meeting the Portuguese people in all corners of the country, and receiving warm welcomes at every stop. He also traveled throughout Europe, and particularly the United Kingdom where his father had formed such close ties. Ironically, one of King Manuel’s last foreign trips would be to London in May 1910, for the funeral of King Edward VII.
However, at home, the political climate was shifting, with anti-monarchy sentiments rising quickly. The Republican party gained ground in the Portuguese parliament, and it wasn’t long until before the seized power. On October 4, 1910, what started as a military coup turned into what is now known as the Republican Revolution. The Palace of Necessidades was attacked, forcing King Manuel to flee to the Mafra National Palace where he was joined by his mother and grandmother. The following day, on October 5, King Manuel and his family left on the royal yacht Amélia IV, planning to travel to the city of Porto, narrowly escaping the Republican forces who arrived just as the ship was sailing off. En route, learning that Porto had also fallen to republican forces, the King soon changed their destination to Gibraltar. The Portuguese monarchy had come to an end, and Manuel would live out the rest of his life in exile. The family then traveled to London, where they were welcomed by King George V.
For several years, Manuel was involved with a French actress and dancer named Gaby Deslys. The two first met during Manuel’s visit to Paris in December 1909 and quickly began a relationship. Manuel showered her with expensive gifts, including a pearl necklace valued at $70,000. While their relationship was well guarded in Portugal, it was greatly publicized elsewhere in Europe and the United States. They continued to see each other in London after Manuel’s exile, but the relationship ended in 1911 when she moved to New York.
On a visit to Switzerland in 1912, King Manuel met Princess Augusta Viktoria of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen and was quickly smitten. Augusta Viktoria was the daughter of Wilhelm, Prince of Hohenzollern and Princess Maria Teresa of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, and a second-cousin to Manuel through their mutual descent from Queen Maria II of Portugal. They were soon engaged, and married on September 4, 1913 in the Chapel at Sigmaringen Castle. Following a honeymoon in Munich, they settled at Fulwell Lodge, Manuel’s home outside of London.
In exile, King Manuel continued to support efforts to restore the monarchy in Portugal, however, he insisted that it be done by legal means – through elections, and not by force. He continued to play a prominent role in the relationship between Portugal and the United Kingdom and maintained a close relationship with King George V. During World War I, he offered his services to the Allies in any way he could help, and was given a post with the British Red Cross. At first disappointed that he was not given a more prominent position, he soon threw himself into the job, organizing fund drives and visiting troops and hospitals on the front lines. He also helped to establish several medical facilities, both in France and England, to help support those wounded in the war.
King Manuel II died quite unexpectedly on July 2, 1932 at Fulwell Lodge. With permission from the Portuguese government, his remains were returned to Lisbon on a British cruiser and were received at Commerce Square – the same place his father and brother had been assassinated 24 years earlier. The procession traveled to the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora where The King was interred in the Royal Pantheon of the House of Braganza.