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King Fernando II of Portugal

King Fernando II (29 October 1816 – 15 December 1885) was an Austrian lord who married into the Portuguese nobility and ruled Portugal with his wife, Queen Maria II, between 1837 and 1853. King Fernando II was a champion of the arts and shunned politics leaving his ministers to deal with the daily running of the country this is why he is commonly referred to as the Artist King. His lasting legacy, that most visitors to Sintra will explore, is the wonderful Pena Palace.

King Fernando II was born as Ferdinand August Franz Anton to parents of high nobility in the present day Germany / Austria region with his family lands covering large areas of Slovakia. As with much of the ruling class of the 19th century he was related to many of the great houses of Europe including Queen Victoria (first cousin) and King Leopold I of Belgium (nephew).

Ferdinand Becomes Royalty

Ferdinand was not the initial choice of husband for Queen Maria II. Her first wedding was when she was only 15 to Auguste, Duke of Leuchtenberg but he died suddenly only 2 months after their wedding day. Within 8 months of her first wedding Maria was betrothed to Ferdinand and they wed on the 1 January 1836. Also at this point of time Ferdinand’s name seems to have changed in the records of history and became the Portuguese version of Ferdinand, Fernando but he would not be called Fernando II of Portugal for a further year.

Many old Portuguese laws developed to keep Portugal as an independent nation and prevent invasion directly or subtly from its larger neighbor, Spain. One of these ancient constitutional laws prevented a male who marred into the Portuguese royal family being able to name himself king until there was a healthy heir to the Portuguese throne. The law also continued that if the Queen died before the husband he would lose the title of king and it would pass to their heir. Both of these stages of the Portuguese law applied to King Fernando II; he became King in 1837 after the birth of their son Pedro and the title of King passed to Pedro with the death of Queen Maria II in 1853.

The Rule of King Fernando II

King Fernando II’s 16 year rule (including 2 years while he was the regent) were considered as good, stable and prosperous years for Portugal after the devastating Portuguese Civil War or the Portugal Liberal Wars (1828 to 1834) that tore the country apart. Privately Fernando and Maria formed a happy relationship and they were both able to work together to resolve the issues that faced the country.

Maria had an astonishing 11 pregnancies during each King Fernando II ruled the country but his style preferred leaving the daily running of the country to his ministers. Fernando’s true passion was for his art and this encouraged a renaissance period in Portugal which promoted thinkers and artisans. During his rule he constructed the stunning Pena Palace providing only a whimsical description to the chief architect in 1838 that it must reflect an opera. The Pena palace once constructed remained as his official residence until his death.

Queen Maria II died in 1853 during the birth of her eleventh child and Fernando acted as the regent until his eldest son Pedro became an age suitable to rule the country. The remainder of Fernando’s life was away from the pressures of political life and lived an almost secretive life in the Pena Palace. He shunned two offers of the Greek and Spanish thrones, interesting declining the Spanish thrown because the Spanish leader could not guarantee independence for his beloved Portugal.

He remained an avid support of the arts including opera and this is where he meet his second wife Elise Hensler. Elise Hensler was a Swiss opera singer who was fluent in 7 languages who at 24 captivated Fernando and they married in June 1869. Their marriage was again a happy one but produced no children. Fernando died at the age of 69 on the 15 December 1885 and his tomb lies next to his first wife Queen Maria II in the Pantheon of Braganza in the São Vicente de Fora, Lisbon.

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