Louise Mitchell Meredith Read was born in Portsmouth on 11 September 1816, the daughter of John Read, a distant relation of George Read, who was one of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence of the United States. Becoming bankrupt as a result of an unwise decision to take a brother-in-law as a partner in his trading business in India, her father sought assistance from his brother, William Harding Read, who was for 30 years the British consul-general in Ponta Delgada on São Miguel Island in the Azores, having made his money as one of those sharing the spoils from the capture of a Spanish ship laden with gold and silver. William immediately appointed his brother as vice-consul. However, on the voyage to the Azores, John Read's ship was wrecked and all hands were lost, leaving his wife penniless. William paid the passage for her and her three children to the Azores and he and his sister-in-law would eventually marry.
During the Portuguese Civil War (1828-34) between the supporters of the two brothers Dom Pedro and Dom Miguel, António Bernardo da Costa Cabral, from a relatively poor noble family in Fornos de Algodres in the Beira Alta was a supporter of the liberal Pedro, who had set up a Government-in-Exile in the Azores. Visiting the Azores, Cabral was invited to William’s home, where he met Louise. They married in August 1834, and had five children.
Costa Cabral led Liberal forces in the defeat of a Miguelista rebellion in the Azores. This gave him sufficient prestige to be elected to the Portuguese parliament, representing the Azores, and the couple and their first son moved to Lisbon in 1835. In 1838, he was appointed General Administrator of Lisbon. Also in 1838, following the nationalisation of the assets of religious orders in Portugal, he purchased part of the Convento de Cristo in Tomar, which he turned into a mansion. The couple’s prestige continued to grow and in 1840 Queen Maria II and King Ferdinand II agreed to be their third child's godparents.
In five years, Read, at the age of 24, had made the transition from being a young English girl with an uncertain future to a hostess of Portuguese royalty and nobility. However, all was not plain sailing, as there were rumours, spread by his political enemies, that her husband was having an affair with the Queen, although it seems likely that the relationship was more of an amitié amoureuse. There were also frequent attacks in the press alleging that Cabral was corrupt.
Costa Cabral first served as prime minister from 1842 to 1846. In 1845 the Queen and King visited Tomar, staying for four days, and on this occasion, he was made Count of Tomar. However, in 1846, a famine caused the Maria da Fonte uprising. This caused Cabral to flee to Spain and, a few troubled months later, Louise and their four children joined him in Madrid. The government appointed him ambassador to Madrid, possibly to keep him away from Portugal, and the couple’s last son was born in that city. Queen Isabel II of Spain became his godmother and Louise received a set of diamonds from her. She was also made a member of the Royal Order of Maria Luísa.
They returned to Lisbon in 1849 and Cabral was prime minister again until 1851. In 1859, he went with his family to be ambassador to Brazil, staying for two years. They then retired to Tomar, where Read, who found life outside Lisbon boring, occupied herself by planting grapes. She recruited a winemaker from France and produced a high-quality wine, which she called Château Thomar. In 1870, Cabral was appointed as Portugal's ambassador to the Holy See in Rome, at that time the country's most prestigious diplomatic appointment. Read was kept active as a diplomatic hostess, always ensuring that Château Thomar was on the menu. In 1875 she was made an honorary lady-in-waiting to Queen D. Maria Pia. Louise Mitchell Meredith Read, Marchioness of Tomar, died in Rome on 5 February 1885.
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