The Power of the Centre: The Transfer of the Portuguese Royal Court to Brazil (1807–1821) and the Construction of Imperial Space

Gerstenberger, Deborah

Threatened by an advancing Napoleonic army, the Portuguese court, along with a 15,000 men entourage, fled from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro in 1807. This transfer is unique in European history: for the first and only time a colonial power relocated its empire’s capital to a colony. Henceforth, Portugal was governed from America and was effectively a colony of Brazil. The debates about the king’s whereabouts, held on both sides of the Atlantic after the Congress of Vienna in 1815, finally pointed back to the Old World. In 1821 João VI had to return to his native country due to the European elites’ pressure. Brazil gained independence in 1822 under his son Pedro I. Why could Rio not sustain its status as the capital of the Portuguese empire? When and why did fractures in the struggle for the “right” spatial order appear and which role did the question about the centre of the empire play? The PhD project by Deborah Gerstenberger was funded by the German Research Foundation Research Training Group (GK 1261): “Critical Junctures of Globalization”. It was supervised by Matthias Middell and has been successfully completed in 2010 (thesis defence in January 2011).