1808: The Flight of the Emperor: How a Weak Prince, a Mad Queen, and the British Navy Tricked Napoleon and Changed the New World

Laurentino Gomes, trans. from the Portuguese by Andrew Nevins. Lyons, $28.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7627-8796-8
Incapable of fending off Napoleon, Portugal’s Prince Regent João —ruling since 1799 in the stead of his demented mother—bluffed France with promises of surrender while signing a secret agreement with Britain to secure safe passage to Brazil for João and his entire court, comprising up to 15,000 people. On November 29, 1807, the fleet set sail from Lisbon, leaving Portugal at the mercy of Napoleon (who once declared João “the only one who tricked me”). During the 13 years that João reigned in exile from Rio de Janeiro, Portugal lost one-sixth of its population—half a million people—due to emigration, starvation, or in battle. Meanwhile, “the idle, corrupt, and wasteful” royal court stayed financially afloat by levying taxes on Brazilians and granting titles in exchange for donations from wealthy colonists—many of them slave traffickers. Nevertheless, the weird king (he had a “crippling fear of crustaceans and thunder” and had a valet regularly masturbate him) raised Brazil to the status of a kingdom in union with Portugal, improved infrastructure, reorganized the government, promoted the arts, and essentially began the process of decolonization. Despite Nevins’s awkward translation, Gomes’s (1822: The Prince Left Behind) account is fascinating. Illus. and 2 maps. Agent: Jonah Straus, Straus Literary. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/08/2013
Release date: 09/01/2013
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