Dona Maria Amélia was a princess of the Empire of Brazil and a member of the Brazilian branch of the House of Braganza. Her parents were Emperor Dom Pedro I, the first ruler of Brazil, and Amélie of Leuchtenberg. The only child of her father's second marriage, Maria Amélia was born in France after Pedro I abdicated the Brazilian throne in favor of his son Dom Pedro II. Before Maria Amélia was a month old, Pedro I went to Portugal to restore the crown of the eldest daughter of his first marriage, Dona Maria II. He fought a successful war against his brother Miguel I, who had usurped Maria II's throne.
Only a few months after his victory, Pedro I died from tuberculosis. Maria Amélia's mother took her to Portugal, where she remained for most of her life without ever visiting Brazil. The Brazilian government refused to recognize Maria Amélia as a member of Brazil's Imperial House because she was foreign-born, but when her elder half-brother Pedro II was declared of age in 1840, he successfully intervened on her behalf.