The Lisbon Regicide, Commerce Square – Old Terreiro do Paço


The Lisbon Regicide was the name given for the assassinations of King Carlos I of Portugal and his heir-apparent, Prince Royal Luís Filipe(Duke of Braganza), by assassins sympathetic to republican interests and aided by elements within the Portuguese Carbonária, disenchanted politicians and anti-monarchists. The events occurred on 1 February 1908 in the Praça do Comércio along the banks of the Tagus River in Lisbon, commonly referred to by its antiquated name: the Terreiro do Paço (or Palace Courtyard).



The King, Queen and Prince Royal had been on a month-long retreat at the Vila Viçosa in the Alentejo, where they routinely spent time hunting during the winter. The Infante D. Manuel, the youngest son, had returned to Lisbon days earlier to complete his studies. The previous political events had forced King Carlos to cut his retreat short and to return to Lisbon, the royal family catching the train from Vila Viçosa on the morning of 1 February. During their trip the train derailed at the loop near Casa Branca, resulting in an hour’s delay. The royal carriage arrived in Barreiro at the end of the afternoon, and the royal family sailed on the D. Luís to the Terreiro do Paço in the center of Lisbon. On disembarking at theEstação Fluvial Sul e Sueste about five pm, they were met by members of the government including Prime Minister João Franco, Prince D. Manuel and the King’s brother Afonso, Duke of Oporto. Even in a climate of tension the monarch opted to travel in an open carriage, wearing his service uniform as Generalíssimo of the Army to present an air of normality. The two princes wore civilian clothes. According to usual practice the carriage was accompanied by armed police and a mounted cavalry officer, Francisco Figueira Freire.

There were only a few people in the Terreiro do Paço as the carriage rounded the eastern part of the square and the first shot rang out. As reported later, a bearded man had walked out into the road after the carriage had passed; he removed a Winchester carbine rifle hidden under his overcoat, knelt on one knee and fired at the King from a distance of about 8 metres (8.7 yd). The shot struck the king’s neck, killing him instantly; another gunman in the square opened fire at the carriage while onlookers ran in panic. The first assassin, later identified asManuel Buíça (a teacher and former sergeant dismissed from the army), continued to fire. His second shot clipped the shoulder of the monarch, who slumped to the right with his back lying to the left-side of the carriage. Taking advantage of this, the second assassin (Alfredo Costa, a clerk and editor), jumped onto the carriage step and fired at the slumped body of the King from passenger height. The queen then stood and attempted to strike back at him with the only available weapon (a bouquet of flowers), shouting, “Infames! Infames!”(“Infamous! Infamous!”).

The assassins then turned their attention to the Prince Royal, Luís Filipe, who had stood to draw and fire a hidden revolver but was hit in the chest. The bullet (from a small-caliber revolver) did not exit his sternum nor was it fatal; the prince reportedly fired four quick shots at his attacker, who fell from the carriage step. However, when Luís Filipe stood up he became more visible to the attacker with the rifle; the prince was struck by a large-caliber shot which exited from the top of his skull. The young Prince D. Manuel, protected by his mother during the events, tried to stop the bleeding with a handkerchief but it was quickly soaked with his brother’s blood.

As shots continued across the square, Queen Amélia returned to her feet to call for assistance. The Countess Figueiró, Viscount Asseca and Marquis Lavradio jumped onto the carriage to support the Prince Royal. Prince Manuel was hit in the arm, and the coachman was hit in the hand. The assassin Buíça then attempted to fire another round, although it is unclear at whom he was aiming. He was stopped by the intervention of Henrique da Silva Valente, a soldier from the 12th Infantry who had appeared in the square during the commotion. During his brief confrontation with Buíça Silva Valente was shot in the leg, but was able to distract the assassin. The cavalry officer (Francisco Figueira) remounted his horse and fired at Costa, who was then seized by police officers. Buíça, wounded in the leg, attempted to escape but was also captured.




The second assassin Alfredo Costa’s body was retrieved by police and displayed at the local police station.

During the ensuing confusion Alfredo Costa and Manuel Buíça were killed by police, to the detriment of any further investigation. Although wounded, Buica had reportedly continued to struggle. Their bodies were taken to the nearby police station near the city hall, along with other suspects. Sabino Costa, a monarchist worker at a local jewellery store, was mistaken for a third assassin in the crowd and shot twice in the head in the presence of other prisoners.

Coachman Bento Caparica, was able to direct the carriage to the Arsenal das Marinhas (Royal Naval Arsenal) where the King and heir to the throne were officially declared dead in the infirmary; the prince died shortly after his arrival. When D. Afonso finally reached the arsenal, he accused João Franco of responsibility for the tragedy. The Queen Mother, Maria Pia of Savoy was called to the Arsenal. She met with Queen Amélia and desolately cried in French “On a tué mon fils!” (“They have killed my son”), to which Queen Amélia replied “Et le mien aussi!” (“And mine too”).

Believing that the events were part of another coup d’état, the population of Lisbon locked themselves in their homes and the city was deserted. However, the troops were confined to barracks and the situation remained calm.

That evening the Queen Mother, the Dowager Queen Mother and new King (Manuel II of Portugal) remained under guard in the Palácio das Necessidades in fear of a further attempt on their lives. In a macabre follow up, the bodies of the deceased were transported to the Palace in two carriages as if still alive; the head of King Carlos was slumped on the shoulder of his brother Infante D. Afonso, now the new Prince Royal. No autopsies were performed, and the bodies were embalmed under the supervision of royal physician Thomaz de Mello Breyner, a task made more difficult by the nature of their injuries.




The states and kingdoms of Europe were revolted, due to King Carlos’ popularity and the manner in which the assassination was planned. Newspapers around the world published pictures (some based on false descriptions and exaggerations) with the defiant Queen Amélia wielding a bouquet of flowers. In London, the newspapers exhibited photographs of the coffins covered in flowers with the headline, “Lisbon’s shame!”[22] The British king Edward VII (a friend of the assassinated king and heir) said, “They murdered two gentlemen of the Order of the Garter in the street like dogs and in their own country no-one cares”!

The Illustrated London News published a number of photographs of the funeral procession and accompanying ceremonies, commenting on the apparent indifference of crowds lining the streets.

The new monarch requested the resignation of João Franco’s government for not safeguarding the royal family (which allowed the “elevator conspiracy” and its unpopular policies. Although the prime minister realized his policies had made him a target, he was never aware that the monarch was also targeted by dissidents. Presiding over the Council of State on the afternoon of 2 January, with his hand on his chest and wearing his military uniform, the young monarch confessed his inexperience and lack of preparation in requesting aid from his loyal ministers.

The young king demanded the resignation of João Franco and the formation of coalition government (later known as the Acclamation Government), presided over by the independent Ferreira do Amaral. The new prime minister included in his cabinet members of the Regenerator and Progressive Parties, formally ending the administrative dictatorship and reverting parliament to normality. Ferreira do Amaral abandoned the positions of the former king; he annulled dictatorial measures, liberated political prisoners, provided amnesty for marines involved in the 1906 revolt and consenting to republican demands. These included permissions for pilgrimages to the tombs of the assassins (which at one point numbered approximately 22,000 people), an event organized by the Associação do Registo Civil(Association of the Civil Registry).

The king was present at the council ministers’ meeting which enacted these measures, and which appointed the Marquês de Soveralambassador to Britain. Close to the royal family, the marquês also voted for the resignation of João Franco’s government. Resuming his functions in Britain, however, he saw Edward VII in London and said, “Well, what kind of country is that, in which you kill the King and Prince, and the first thing to do, is ask for the resignation of the Prime Minister? The revolution has triumphed, isn’t it true”? Later the Marquês noted, “It was then that I understood the error that we had committed”.

Ironically, at his resignation João Franco told the republicans that they alone were responsible for the collapse of the administrative dictatorship. Initially hesitant, the republicans proposed a pact between them and the regime; later, at their national congress in Setúbal (24–25 April 1909) they decided to forcibly seize power. The initial hesitation was due to the party’s structure; the Republican Party was a collection of disenfranchised interests, political movements and dissident groups. Some Republicans were sincerely shocked by the regicide, even if it meant regime change. Rural conservatives were afraid of the effects of such actions on their British allies. However, the Republican Party could not turn its back on its supporters: the youth of Lisbon, already indoctrinated by the party’s propaganda. Consequently, although the Party dutifully condemned the act publicly its leadership supported its base. Magalhães Limawould later declare to the press in Paris, “I am pleased; yes, very well pleased, for my country, to which a little calm will be restored” (repudiating any responsibility for the assassinations on the Republican Party).





An extensive two-year enquiry was held on the events in 1908, initially presided over by judge Alves Ferreira and later by José da Silva Monteiro and Almeida de Azevedo. During this period, evidence was provided to indict members of the Carbonária who were intent on weakening the monarchy. The investigation was concluded on 5 October, and the trial was scheduled to begin on 25 October. In the meantime, new suspects were discovered: Alberto Costa, Aquilino Ribeiro, Virgílio de Sá, Domingos Fernandes and others who were in refuge in Brazil or France; two were killed by the Carbonária to silence them.

The process was in vain; after the proclamation of the PortugueseRepublic, judges Juiz Almeida and Azevedo delivered their report toJosé Barbosa (their superior). He in turn sent it to Afonso Costa (Minister of Justice for the Provisional Government), by whom it was lost. It is known that the exiled King Manuel II received a copy of the report from the judges, but these were stolen from his residence during a robbery shortly before his death in 1932.


The end of Monarchy


The assassination of King Carlos and the Prince Royal was the effective end of a constitutional monarchy in Portugal (later confirmed by the 5 October 1910 revolution). The regime functioned for another 33 months with growing agitation and demands for reform (although considerably less than in the future FirstRepublic). It cannot be denied that the weak and permissive attitude in the Government of Acclamation was an incentive for the Republican Party to attempt another coup. The assassinations did not change the system of government; instead, they delayed the change.




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