On a Monday evening in October 1910, twenty year old King Manuel II of Portugal had been having dinner in Lisbon with the President of Brazil, Hermes da Fonseca, when he was informed that the revolution against his government had begun. The news came as little surprise to Manuel for rumors of an attempt at overthrow by Republican opposition had been in the air for some time. Manuel’s military commanders had already prepared a plan to suppress the rebellion should it arise.
Approximately one hundred years earlier, Napoleon had invaded Portugal to stifle the advance of Portugal’s ally, Britain, during the Napoleonic Wars. Eventually Britain prevailed and the French occupation of Portugal ended. In the ensuing power vacuum, Portugal would undergo the Liberal Revolution of 1820 which would result in the constitutional monarchy Manuel would come to preside over prior to the events of October 1910.
After receiving the official news of the insurrection, Manuel and a small group of officials retreated to his residence, Necessidades Palace, on the edge of the city of Lisbon. His uncle Alfonso, the current heir to the throne, retired to the Cascais Citadel about 20 miles west toward the Atlantic. Meanwhile, his mother and grandmother were safely tucked away in Pena National Palace 20 miles northwest.In the military barracks of Lisbon, the revolt had already started with leaders of the revolution inciting rebellions which brought soldiers of the coup d’état to march on the Rotunda outside the city center.
Out on the Tagus River, rebel forces had triggered mutinies on navy warships, including Cruisers Adamastor and São Rafael. The ships would come to anchor just off the banks of Lisbon’s downtown Palace Square, within striking distance of the remaining loyalist troops and the Necessidades Palace itself where Manuel was residing.At the Palace, Manuel attempted to phone out to his Prime Minister, António Teixeira de Sousa, but the lines connecting to the ministry had been cut by opposition forces. However, the lines to his mother at the palace in Sintra remained intact and he was able to reach her.Manuel’s mother, Queen consort, Amélie of Orléans, played a unique role in the monarchy. She had previously been Queen of Portugal before her husband, Manuel’s father, King Carlos I of Portugal along with her son, Manuel’s older brother and heir apparent, prince Luís Filipe, had been assassinated two years earlier in a precursor to the Revolution by the same revolutionary agitators.The assassination took place in downtown Lisbon at Commerce Square (Praça do Comércio) as the family returned from their country residence, the Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa, greeting the public in an open carriage. Manuel’s father was killed instantly as the attackers opened fire on the carriage and his brother died soon after in the hospital from mortal gunshot wounds. Manuel himself was injured by a stray bullet and his mother used a bouquet of flowers to defend against the gunmen, perhaps saving Manuel’s life as well.
In the aftermath, twenty year old Manuel found himself the King of Portugal and his widowed mother the Queen Consort.One of the main grievances the opposition listed against Manuel’s father was his contentious decision to dissolve the parliamentary Congress and install a moral authoritarian, João Franco, as the head of Portugal’s civil government. Manuel’s mother openly opposed Franco’s appointment, his policies and his dictatorial leadership. One Manuel’s first actions as King was to remove Franco from his position. It was noted however, the large role his mother played in her son’s decision making process and her reputation as an excessive aristocrat would figure into the public opposition to her leading up to the Revolution. Manuel himself took on more liberal policies than those of his father and endeavored to be a king for the people. He even went so far as to commission figures such as Léon Poinsard, a French sociologist, to establish new public policy.In the year before the 1910 Revolution that October, he had also travelled abroad frequently, including to Paris where he met the French actress Gaby Deslys. They quickly started a romance that would include him buying her expensive jewelry and inviting her to visit at Necessidades Palace. They were featured together on the front page of newspapers in Europe and the United States and would continue seeing each other up through the rest of his rule, though she was not there that night at the Palace during the Revolution.
At the Palace, that Monday night, the revolutionary forces begun to attack Manuel’s position. The troops at the Palace were able to ward off the intial attack, but the warships on the Tagus could easily strike from their station, several hundred meters below. Manuel moved out of the main palace to another small house on the estate where the phone lines had not been cut and he was able to communicate with Teixeira de Sousa. At this point, the palace staff removed the state flag, a move which may have provided some doubt to the revolutionaries whether Manuel was still on the residence.
At approximately 9 p.m., Manuel received word from city officials that he should evacuate the palace as there were renewed threats of a heavy bombardment from the Adamastor and São Rafael. Upon hearing this recommendation, Manuel instead decided to take a stand rather than flee: “I will remain. The Constitution doesn’t appoint me an other role than to be killed. Go if you want.”
Shortly after, loyal reinforcements from the neighboring parish of Queluz arrived, prepared to attack the naval position. However, with the main activities of the revolution taking place near the city center at the Rotunda and around Rossio Square, they were diverted to assist with efforts there.As a result, Manuel with limited protection at the Palace overnight.
Tuesday morning, the government and rebel troops remained at an impasse in fighting at the Rotunda with small skirmishes having taken place, but neither side prevailing the larger battle. By midday, however, the Adamastor and São Rafael restarted the bombardment of the palace. Manuel at last became convinced to evacuate, following advice to use the Mafra National Palace about 20 miles to the northwest and closer to the sea. Manuel decides his best option is to consolidate his forces at Mafra before heading to the northern city Porto where the monarchy would make its stand.
With his remaining troops, they set off for Mafra. About 5 miles outside of Lisbon, at the parish of Benfica, Manuel released the troops to join the fight in the city with the troops at the Rotunda. Manuel was counting on previously arranged support support from the Practical School of Infantry to defend the royal family; however, they would soon learn that,owing to the holidays, only about 100 of the 800 soldiers were present for duty, a force insufficient for a proper defense. Additionally, the Palace troops Manuel set free at Benfica would opt not go on to fight at the Rotunda and Rossio Square.
Fighting in the city had tilted in the favor of the rebels, as they received support from the ships bombarding the government troops from the Taga. The government troops were severely demoralized in the face of opposition forces and the prospect of shelling from warships on the river. Some were overheard heard to say they might not continue to oppose the rebellion.
That night, in a last effort to keep maintain control of the city, staunch loyalist Henrique Mitchell de Paiva Couceiro rallied a mobile unit to ascend the hills above the city to the Castro Guimarães Garden by Torel Palace under the cover of night. There they would attacks the rebel forces from above. At daybreak on Wednesday, when opposition forces by the Rotunda opened fire and revealed their position, Paiva Couceiro and the soldiers at Torel battered the rebel soldiers below, For a time, the opposition was in disarray and the battle swung in the government’s favor. However, it was not enough to prevent the Republicans to take the square as the departure of Couceiro’s unit had weakened the remaining government troops strength even further. By 9 a.m. that morning, the Republican revolution had succeeded with victory being proclaimed in the city center.
At Mafra, news arrived to Manuel and his team of officials that the Republican flag was flying in Lisbon. If the revolutionary forces reached him and his family, there was certain risk of capture. Manuel was still adamant on going to Porto, but the revolution had quickly spread throughout the countryside and he had little in the way of a military escort. Around this time, hearing that the King was at Mafra, Commander Castelo Branco employed the royal yacht Amélia (name after Manuel’s mother, by his father Carlos), to rescue Manuel’s uncle from the Citadel in Cascais and anchorage off the coast of nearby Ericeira. From Mafra, Manuel, still determined to go to Porto, and his party including mother and grandmother would got to Ericeira to escape. They reached the village just before the revolutionary forces and were able to persuade a local fishing boat to transport them out to the yacht as locals watched Manuel and his family escape to sea.
Once on board, Manuel was still determined to go to Porto. He quickly drafted a note to Teixeira de Sousa and sent it back with the fishing boat. It read:
My dear Teixeira de Sousa, forced by the circumstances I find myself obliged to embark on the royal yacht “Amélia”. I’m Portuguese and will always be. I have the conviction of having always fulfilled my duties as King in all the circumstances and of having put my heart and my life on the service to the Country. I hope that it, convinced of my rights and my dedication, will recognise this! Viva Portugal! Give this letter all the publicity you can.
— D. Manuel II
Manuel then met with his advisers and the captain Commander Castelo Branco. The captain, taking into account he had the entire royal family in his charge, overruled Manuel’s wishes to go to Porto, which he thought likely would have been overtaken by the revolution. Instead, they set sail for Gibraltar where the first stage of the family’s exile would begin, before arriving in London. It was the last Manuel would see of Portugal, though his body was buried there after his death in 1932.