Joseph King of Spain
After a series of the wildest, most tumultuous, and frantic scenes of which even Spanish history gives any account, Charles IV. abdicated in favor of his son Ferdinand. On the 20th of March, 1808, the new King, Ferdinand VII., was saluted by the acclamations of the people and the soldiers, and received the homage of the Court. One of his first acts was to arrest the hated Manuel Godoy. Murat was then in command of the French troops in Spain, and was about entering Madrid. Junot, with a French army, had taken possession of Portugal. Spain was nominally in alliance with France. England was consequently waging war against Spain. The French troops were in Spain to protect the kingdom from the English.
The young King Ferdinand immediately dispatched the Duke of Pargue to convey assurances of friendship to Murat, and to sound hie intentions. At the same time he sent three of the grandees of Spain to announce his accession to the throne to Napoleon, and to give him renewed pledges of his friendship and devotion. On the 23rd of April Murat took military possession of Madrid. The next day Ferdinand made his triumphal entrance into the metropolis. He was received with bound less exultation, so greatly were the people rejoiced to be delivered from the detestable Godoy. Thus far Napoleon did not recognize the accession of Ferdinand. He however sent the Duke of Rovigo to Madrid to ascertain the circumstances of the abdication. In the mean time the old King, who had retired with the Queen to Aranjuez, wrote a letter to the Emperor, in which be said that he had been forced to abdicate in favor of his son by the clamors of the people and the insurrection of the soldiers, threatening him with instant death if he refused.
"I protest and declare," he said, "that my decree of the 19th of March, in which I abdicated the crown in favor of my son, is an act to which I have been forced to prevent the greatest misfortunes and the effusion of the blood of my well-beloved subjects. It ought consequently to be regarded as of no value."
The Queen also wrote to Murat, entreating him, in the most supplicating terms, to rescue her paramour Godoy from prison, and stating that they had abdicated only to save their lives. While Charles IV. and Caroline were making these secret protestations to Napoleon and Murat, the abdicated King, to lull the suspicions of Ferdinand, was reiterating the public declaration that the abdication was free and unconstrained, and that never in his life had he performed an act more agreeable to his inclinations.
Murat took the old King and Queen under his protection, provided them with a suitable guard, and demanded the liberation of Godoy. Ferdinand, convinced that he could not maintain the throne without the support of Napoleon, sent his younger brother, Don Carlos, to intercede with the Emperor in his favor. While these scenes were transpiring, Savary, Duke of Rovigo, arrived at Madrid. He assured Ferdinand that it was the Emperor's desire to unite France and Spain in the closest alliance. He proposed that Ferdinand should visit Napoleon, that in a personal interview they might the better mutually understand each other. The counsellors of Ferdinand urged the adoption of this measure, as one which would secure the confidence of the Emperor, and which might induce him to give a princess of his family to Ferdinand. Such was the condition of affairs in April, 1808. The great object of Napoleon was to secure a government in Spain whose treachery he need not fear, and upon whose friendly co-operation he could rely. Charles IV., the weakest of weak men, enslaved by long habit, was the obsequious tool of his stronger-minded wife. The Queen, Caroline, sought, at whatever price, to save her lover Godoy. Ferdinand wished to crush Godoy, his implacable foe.
Ferdinand decided to visit the Emperor, and on the 10th of April left Madrid for that purpose. When he reached his frontiers he wrote a very suppliant letter to Napoleon, entreating the recognition of his right to the throne, and pledging his friendship. Napoleon replied that he was ready to recognize the Prince of Asturias as King of Spain if it should appear that Charles IV. had not been compelled to abdicate through fear of his life. By this extraordinary concurrence of circumstances Napoleon became the judge between the father and the son, both of whom had appealed to his decision.
Ferdinand, with his suite, crossing the frontiers, hastened to Bayonne, and entered the city on the morning of the 20th of April. He was received by the Emperor with distinguished marks of attention and kindness, but not with regal honors. The Prince of Peace, whose liberation Murat had secured, came hurrying on to Bayonne, to plead his cause before the Emperor; and he was followed, in a few hours, by Charles IV. and the Queen. Thus the whole family was assembled at Bayonne. The result of several stormy interviews, in which the King, the Queen, and their son exhausted upon each other the language of vituperation, and in which the enraged old King was with difficulty restrained from a violent personal attack upon his son, the parties all agreed to cede to Napoleon the crown of Spain. Ferdinand first renounced his rights in favor of his father, and Charles IV. transferred the sceptre to Napoleon. The imperial palace of Campiegne, its parks and forests, were placed at the disposition of Charles IV. for himself, his Queen, and Godoy, during his life, with an annual pension of thirty million reals. He was also given the proprietorship of the chateau of Chambord, with its parks, forests, and farms, to dispose of as he pleased. Upon the death of the King, the Queen was to receive a pension of two million reals. The two princes, Ferdinand and Don Carlos, were assigned to the castle of Valencay, its park, forests, and farms, with an income amounting to about half a million dollars.
It is said that Napoleon obtained at Bayonne such developments of the character of Ferdinand that he saw that it was utterly in vain to attempt to make a respectable king of him; one upon whom he could repose the slightest reliance; and he could no longer think of sacrificing the daughter of Lucien to so worthless a creature. Speaking upon this subject at Saint Helena, Napoleon said to Las Casas:
On the 8th of May Charles IV. issued a proclamation to the Spanish nation, informing them that he had ceded the crown to Napoleon, and enjoining it upon them to transfer their homage to him. "We have," said he, "ceded all our rights over Spain to our ally and friend the Emperor of the French, by a treaty signed and ratified, stipulating the integrity and independence of Spain and the preservation of our holy religion, not only as dominant, but as alone tolerated in Spain."
As the throne was thus transferred without any action of the people whatever, Napoleon felt the necessity of obtaining something like a national sanction of the deed, and an expression of the national will in respect to the sovereign who should be placed over them. Murat, at Madrid, announced to the council-general of Castile, to the junta or council of the Government, and to the municipality, that the Emperor desired to know their opinion in reference to the choice of a sovereign from the princes of his own family. All these three bodies united in the expression of the wish that the choice should fall upon Prince Joseph, King of Naples. A deputation of distinguished men was sent to convey this wish to the Emperor. Fortified by these documents, Napoleon, on the 6th of June, proclaimed that the crown of Spain was transferred to his brother Joseph.
Joseph was at that time on the road to Bayonne, not yet knowing the decision of his brother, and in heart very reluctant to assume the crown of Spain. Napoleon rode out from Bayonne to meet Joseph, whom he sincerely loved, and who was so ready to sacrifice his inclinations and his happiness to aid the Emperor in his gigantic plans. The Emperor made the following statement to Joseph as they rode back together to Bayonne:
When they reached Bayonne, Joseph found all the members of the Junta assembled in the chateau of Marrac. He responded vaguely to the address of congratulation the Junta made to him, wishing first to converse with each individual member of that body. The Spanish princes left for Valenccay, and Charles IV. had no partisans whatever. The Duke of Infanta-do and M. Cevallos had been considered the warmest advocates of Ferdinand. They both called upon Joseph, and held a long interview with him. The duke Offered him his services, saying that he had possessions in the kingdom of Naples, and that his agents there had in-formed him of the wonders which Joseph had wrought. "If Joseph," said he, "can be in Spain what he has been in Naples, there is no doubt that the entire nation will rally around him." M. Cevallos expressed the same views. Joseph then saw every member of the Junta individually, nearly one hundred in number. They all, without exception, described the wretchedness into which Spain had fallen, and the apparent facility with which it could be regenerated. Upon one point they all agreed: that it would be impossible to live in peace under either the father or the son; that Joseph alone, sacrificing the throne of Naples that he might ascend that of Spain, would meet the wishes of all parties, and bring back prosperity to the distracted realm.
These assurances, which were given to Joseph by all the members of the Spanish Junta assembled at Bayonne, that his acceptance of the throne would calm all troubles, assure the independence of the monarchy, the integrity of its territory, its liberty, and its happiness, roused his generous enthusiasm. "He yielded," writes his biographer, "sacrificing his dearest interests to the hope of doing good to a greater number of people, and decided to accept the crown which was offered him. He considered it his duty to occupy the most dangerous post. Virtue, not ambition, led Joseph to Spain."
The Emperor wished to introduce into Spain the same advanced principles of popular liberty which Joseph, by the Constitution, had conferred upon Naples. With that object he convoked at Bayonne, on the 15th of June, a Spanish assembly, called the Constitutional Junta. This Congress was to consist of one hundred and fifty persons of the most distinguished orders in the state, though but about one hundred were actually convened. A large number had already assembled when Joseph reached Bayne. They hastened to welcome him. Many of them, however, afterward proved his most inveterate enemies. The Duke of Infantado, addressing him in the name of the grandees of Spain, said,
The deputation of the Royal Council of Castile said to the new King: "Sire, your Majesty is a branch of a family destined by Heaven to reign. May Heaven grant that our prayers may be beard, and that your Majesty may become the most happy King in the universe, as we desire for him in the name of the supreme tribunal of which we are the deputies."
Even the Inquisitor, Don Raymond Estenhard, organ of the councils of the Inquisition, declared in their name "that they were full of fidelity and of affection; that they offered their prayers for Joseph, who was charged to govern the country, that he might find happiness in his own heart by contributing to the happiness of his subjects, and that he might elevate them to that degree of prosperity which might be expected from him, particularly when aided by the genius and power of his august brother, Napoleon the Great."
The Duke of Pargue, at the bead of a deputation representing the army, gave the same assurances of homage and support. Even Ferdinand wrote Joseph a letter of congratulation, dated Valenccay, June 22. It was as follows:
The Constitutional Junta of Spain commenced its session at Bayonne on the 15th of June. Ninety-one members were present. A constitution was presented very much resembling that which had been conferred upon Naples. It was discussed and voted upon with perfect freedom. Finally, on the 7th of July, it was accepted as amended by the signature of all the members; "considering," as the act said, "that we are convinced that under the regime which the Constitution establishes, and under the government of a prince as just as the one whom we have the happiness to possess, Spain and all its possessions will be as happy as we can desire it to be."
The Constitution being accepted, Joseph appointed his ministry and constituted his court; placing all the important offices in the hands of distinguished Spaniards. On the 9th of July Joseph left Bayonne and entered Spain, accompanied by the members of the Junta, many grandees of Spain, his ministers, and the officers of his household.
Many have reproached Joseph for having accepted the crown. But it should be remembered that when he arrived at Bayonne, the treaty of abdication by the Spanish princes had already been signed. An assemblage of Spanish notables met him there, and entreated him to accept the crown, to rescue Spain from ruin. There seemed to be no dissent from the opinion that his presence would be the signal of peace and harmony, that it would calm agitation, and unite all parties. In a word, they declared that it was the only way to rescue the country from anarchy, and from those calamities which menaced its entire ruin. The intelligence of the nation exulted in the change, as promising a new era of equality and prosperity.
On the 20th of July Joseph arrived in Madrid. There were about eighty thousand French troops in Spain. Much to Joseph's surprise and disappointment, he found, all over the kingdom, in the provinces, insurrection rising against him. These scattered bands soon amounted, it was estimated, to one hundred and fifty thousand men. The fanatic monks, alarmed in view of the changes which had been effected in Naples, were very active in rousing the peasantry to resistance. The British Government, which was then at war with Spain because it was the ally of Napoleon, instantly espoused the cause of the insurgents, and contributed all its energies of fleet and army and money to drive Joseph out of Spain.
The new sovereign had entered Madrid without being greeted with any signal demonstrations of enthusiasm. In accordance with the established etiquette of the realm, he was received at the foot of the grand stairs of the palace by the nobility of the country, and was proclaimed king in the public squares and principal streets of Madrid with the accustomed ceremonies upon the advent of a new sovereign. Intensely occupied with the cares of his new government, Joseph did not, for some time, fully comprehend the perils which menaced him.
Step by step he was led on, as he quelled here and there a popular insurrection, until he found himself involved in a stern war with the great mass of the Spanish peasantry, with all the priesthood fanning the flames of opposition, and the British Government energetically co-operating with purse and sword. It would require volumes to describe, with any degree of minuteness, the tremendous struggle. Napier has performed that task in his immortal work upon the Peninsular War.
Joseph soon awoke to a full realization of the peril of his position. On the 13th of July he wrote to the Emperor from Burgos at three o'clock in the morning, "It seems to me that no person has been willing to tell the exact truth to your Majesty. I ought not to conceal it. The task undertaken is very great. To accomplish it with honor will require immense resources. Fear does not make me see double.
"In leaving Naples, I have indeed yielded my life to the most hazardous events. My life is of but little consequence. I surrender it to you. But in order not to live with the shame attached to failure, great resources are requisite in men and money. I am not alarmed, in view of my position. But it is unique in history. I have not here a single partisan."
Again, on the 19th, he wrote, "It is evident that we have not the soil, since all the provinces are in insurrection or occupied by considerable armies of the enemy."
On the 28th of July he wrote, "I have no need to inform your Majesty that one hundred thousand men are necessary to conquer Spain. I repeat it, that we have not a partisan, and the entire nation is exasperated, and decided to sustain with arms the part which it has em braced."
"All my Spanish officers except five or six have abandoned me. The disposition of the nation is unanimous against that which has been done at Bayonne."
On the 6th of August he wrote, "Your Majesty recommends me to be happy. Never have I been so tranquil and so well, and so indefatigable; and if I have occasion to envy in your Majesty a superior genius which has always enabled him to command victory, I have that in common with all the world. But I have no need to envy any person for composure and tranquillity of soul. And I must avow that I find that adversity enables me to experience a sentiment which is not without a certain charm; it is to be above adversity."
The Emperor endeavored to cheer his despondent brother with hopeful words. On the 19th of July be wrote him, "I see with pain that you are troubled. It is the only misfortune which I fear. You have a great many partisans in Spain, but they are intimidated. They are all the honest people. I do not the less admit that your task is great and glorious. You ought not to consider it extraordinary that you have to conquer your kingdom. Philip V. and Henry IV. were obliged to conquer theirs. Be happy. Do not permit yourself to be easily affected, and do not doubt for an instant that every thing will end sooner and more happily than you think."
Again, on the 1st of August, Napoleon wrote, "Whatever reverses fortune may have in store for you, do not be uneasy; in a short time you will have more than one hundred thousand men. All is in motion, but it must have time. You will reign. You will have conquered your subjects, in order to become their father. The best of kings have passed through this school. Above all, health to you and happiness, that is to say, strength of mind."
On the 3rd of August the Emperor again wrote, "You can not think, my friend, how much pain the idea gives me, that you are struggling with events as much above what you are accustomed to, as they are beneath your natural character. Tell me that you are well, in good spirits, and are becoming accustomed to the soldier's trade. You have a fine opportunity to study it."
General Junot, with a small French force, at that time held possession of Portugal. The Cabinet of Saint James offered to the Spanish Junta at Seville to send an army of about thirty thousand men to co-operate with the Spaniards in their struggle against the French. For some unknown reason the offer was declined, and the troops were sent to Portugal. These British troops, acting in vigorous co-operation with the Portuguese, greatly outnumbered the French, and, after a severe battle at Torres Vedras, Junot capitulated at the Convention of Cintra, and his army re-embarked, and was transported to France. This event added greatly to the embarrassment of Joseph. Junot had afforded him much moral and even material support. Now Junot was driven from the Peninsula, and a British army of over thirty thousand men, under the ablest officers, and flushed with victory, was on the frontiers of Spain, ready in every way to co-operate with the Spaniards.
This roused Napoleon. He was the last man to recoil before difficulties. He had the honor of his arms to avenge, and his policy to justify by success. Never before, in the history of the world, was there such a display of energy, sagacity, and power. He well knew that all dynastic Europe was hostile to those principles of popular liberty which were represented by his name, and that, notwithstanding the obligations of treaties, they were ever ready to spring to arms against him whenever they should see an opportunity to strike him a fatal blow.
Napoleon at once ordered eighty thousand veteran troops of the grand army from the north to assemble at Bayonne. He hastened to Erfurt to hold an interview with Alexander to strengthen their alliance, and to prevent, if possible, a new coalition from being formed against him while absent with his troops in Spain. The Spanish insurgents, as they were called—for they had no established government—were everywhere triumphant. The French army was driven out of Madrid, and, in a state of great destitution, was standing on the defensive. Joseph and all his generals were thoroughly disheartened, and were only anxious to devise some honorable way by which they could abandon the enterprise. The priests, with a crucifix in one hand and a dagger in the other, had traversed the realms of Spain and Portugal, rousing the religious fanaticism of the unenlightened masses almost to frenzy. Charles IV., his Queen, and Ferdinand had all been intensely devoted to the interests of the Church. The French were represented as infidels, and as the foes of the Church. The whole nation was roused against them. Even the women took an active part in the conflict, periling their own lives upon the field, and inspiring the men with the courage of desperation. The English, victorious in Portugal, were now welcomed into Spain. They lavished their gold in paying the Spanish armies. Their fleet was busy in transporting supplies. To all Europe the position of Joseph seemed utterly hopeless.
On the 25th of October, Napoleon, on the eve of leaving Paris for Spain, said, at the opening of the Legislative Corps:
In the mean time Joseph, struggling heroically against adversity, and exceedingly embarrassed by the false position in which he found himself placed, received many consoling messages of confidence and affection from prominent men in the Spanish nation. We present the following extract from a letter addressed to him on the 2nd of September, 1808, by M. M. Azanza and Urquijo, as a specimen of many others which might be quoted:
"We do not doubt that your Majesty contemplates, with deepest grief, the disasters with which Spain is menaced, by the obstinacy of those people who will not know the true interests of the realm. But at least no one is ignorant that your Majesty has done and is doing every thing which is humanly possible to avoid such calamities for his subjects. The day will come when they will recognize the benevolent intentions and paternal kindness of your Majesty; and they will respond to it by testimonies of gratitude and of fidelity which will fill with contentment the noble heart of your Majesty."
The almost supernatural power of the Emperor was never more conspicuously displayed than in the brief, triumphant, overwhelming campaign which ensued. He wrote to Joseph from Erfurt, "I leave to-morrow for Paris, and within a month shall be at Bayonne. Send me the exact position of the army, that I may form a definite organization by making as little displacement as possible. In the present state of affairs, we may conclude that the presumption of the enemy will lead him to remain in the positions which he now occupies. The nearer he remains to us the better it will be. The war can be terminated in a single blow by a skillfully-combined manoeuvre, and for that it is necessary that I should be there."
The single blow Napoleon contemplated would unquestionably have annihilated his foes, but for an inopportune movement of Marshal Lefebre. As it was, it required three or four blows, which were delivered with stunning and bewildering power and rapidity. On the 29th of October Napoleon took his carriage for Bayonne. Madrid was distant from Paris about seven hundred miles. The rains of approaching winter had deluged the roads. He soon abandoned his carriage, and mounted his horse. Apparently insensible to exposure or fatigue, he pressed forward by night and by day, until, at two o'clock in the morning of the 3rd of November, he reached Bayonne. He found that his orders had not been obeyed, and that the troops, instead of being concentrated, had been dispersed. Instantly, at the very hour of his arrival, new life was infused into every thing. He seemed by instinct to comprehend the posture of affairs, to know just what was to be done. Orders were issued with amazing rapidity; couriers flew in all directions. Barracks were erected; the troops were reviewed; unexecuted contracts were thrown up; agents were sent in every direction to purchase all the cloths in the south of France; hundreds of hands were busy in cutting and making garments; and at the close of a day of such work as few mortals have ever accomplished, Napoleon leaped into his saddle and galloped sixty miles over the mountains to Tolosa, on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. Here he indulged in an hour or two of rest, and then galloped on thirty miles farther to Vittoria. He encamped with the Imperial Guard outside of the city.
The Spaniards have always been accused of a tendency to vainglorious boasting. The trivial successes which they had attained, in alliance with the English, quite intoxicated them. "We have conquered," they said, "the armies of the great Napoleon. We will soon trample all his hosts in the dust. With an army of five hundred thousand indignant Spaniards we will march upon Paris, and sack the city. The powers of Russia, Austria, and Prussia have fallen before Napoleon; but Spanish peasants, headed by the priests and the monks, will roll back the tide of victory." Such was the insane, boasting.
Napoleon was, at the same time, the boldest and the most cautious of generals. He ever made provision for every possible reverse. Stationing two strong forces to guard his flanks, he took fifty thousand of the elite of his army, and plunged upon the centre of the Spanish troops. Such an onset none but veterans could withstand. There was scarcely the semblance of a battle. The Spaniards fled, throwing down their arms, and leaping like goats amidst the crags of the mountains. Pressing resistlessly forward, Napoleon reached Burgos on the night of the 11th. Here the Spaniards attempted another stand upon some strongly intrenched heights. A brief conflict scattered them in the wildest confusion, defeated, disbanded,. leaving cannon, muskets, flags, and munitions of war.
Onward he swept, without a check, without delay, crushing, overwhelming, scattering his foes, over the intrenched heights of Espinosa, through the smouldering streets of the town, across the bridge of Trueba, choked with terrified fugitives, through the pass of Somosierra, in one of the most astounding achievements which war has ever witnessed, till he led his victorious troops, with no foe within his reach, into the streets of Madrid. He commenced the campaign at Vittoria on the 9th of November, and on the 4th of December his army was encamped in the squares of the Spanish metropolis. Europe gazed upon this meteoric phenomenon with astonishment and alarm.
The Spanish populace had been roused mainly by the priests. In their frenzy, burning and assassinating, they overawed all who were in favor of regenerating Spain by a change of dynasty. It is the undisputed testimony that the proprietors, the merchants, the inhabitants generally who were rich, or in easy circumstances, and even the magistrates and military chiefs, were quite disposed to listen to the propositions of the Emperor. But overawed by the populace, who threatened to carry things to the last extremity, they dared not manifest their sentiments.
As the French army took possession of the city, order was immediately restored. The theatres were re-opened, the shops displayed their wares, the tides of business and pleasure flowed unobstructed along the streets. Numerous deputations, embracing the most wealthy and respectable inhabitants of Madrid, waited upon the Emperor with their congratulations, and renewed their protestations of fidelity to Joseph. The Emperor then issued a proclamation to the Spanish nation, in which he said,
"I have declared, in a proclamation of the 2nd of June, that I wished to be the regenerator of Spain. To the rights which the princes of the ancient dynasties have ceded to me, you have wished that I should add the rights of conquest. That, however, shall not change my inclination to serve you. I wish to encourage every thing that is noble in your exertions. All that is opposed to your prosperity and your grandeur I wish to destroy. The shackles which have enslaved the people I have broken. I have given you a liberal constitution, and, in the place of an absolute monarchy, a monarchy mild and limited. It depends upon yourselves whether that constitution shall still be your law."