Gateway to the Classics: Spain: A History for Young Readers by Frederick A. Ober
Spain: A History for Young Readers by  Frederick A. Ober

From Isabella II to Alfonso XIII

"A Daughter of kings: if I were a man I would go to my capital!" indignantly declared Isabella, when the appalling news reached her that the royal army was defeated. But instead, she sought safety in flight, leaving to the successful revolutionists the difficult task of providing a government in place of the one they had overthrown. Distrust and suspicion were rampant, and those who had declared the pronunciamiento  were at their wits' ends what to choose: a democratic monarchy, a constitutional monarchy, or a republic; but during the interregnum the patriot Serrano stepped into the breach. A thankless task was his, as president of the provisional government, though he was assisted by such able men as Prim, Minister of War; Topete, Minister of Marine; Zorilla, Minister of Commerce; Figuerola, of Finance; Ortiz, of Justice; Lopez de Ayala, of the Colonies; and Sagasta, Minister of the Interior.

They were glad to resign, the following year, and subscribe to a constitution which provided for the restoration of a constitutional monarchy.

The constitutional monarchy was very beautiful, as an idea; but while Serrano ruled as "regent for the interregnum," the throne of Spain "went begging about Europe," seeking a royal occupant. General Prim was insistent upon the candidacy of Prince Leopold, of Hohenzollern, a relative of King William of Prussia, at which Napoleon III took alarm; and though the prince promptly resigned his candidature, the French emperor demanded further that Prussia should give a guarantee that she would at no future time sanction his claims. King William refused to give this assurance, and Napoleon made this a pretext for declaring that war against Prussia which ended so disastrously for his empire and for France.

Isabella's brother-in-law, the Duke of Montpensier, as well as Fernando of Portugal, were considered, but rejected for political reasons; and even sturdy old Espartero refused the crown, showing the possession of greater wisdom than the one upon whom it was finally bestowed—Don Amadeo, Duke of Aosta, the second son of Victor Emanuel of Italy.

The reception he received was presaged by the assassination of Prim, in December, 1870; but Amadeo was crowned a few days later, on January 2, 1871, and entered heartily into the duties of his unsought kingship. Two years later, after having been several times the object of assassination and of insults innumerable, he became convinced that modern Spain was different from that Spain which had besought a foreign prince to rule over it in the eighteenth century, and sorrowfully abdicated.

Monarchical rule having failed them, the Spaniards now turned to a republic, as the ideal toward which they had striven through these hopeless, turbulent, and chaotic years. But they did not take into account their inborn reverence for a king, their superstitious faith in the sanctity of the royal office; and so the "republic" had a thorny road to travel, first under Senor Pi y Margall, the first "president of the executive power," lastly under the great jurist, orator, and patriot, Emilio Castelar.

Away back in the time of the regent Christina, that queen was troubled by the dissensions of the so-called liberals, who, split into two parties, the moderados  and the progresistas, impeded whatever advance might. have been possible had the occupant of the throne been inclined toward the people.

So now, the actual arrival of the republic found dissensions among the very "patriots" who should have served it disinterestedly and with fervour. The misnamed republic served but as a bridge for another king to pass over from exile to the throne.

When Prim was dying, mortally wounded by unknown assassins, he whispered to a friend, "I die, but your king is coming!"

The king came, and went; the "republic"' came, and went out in the coup d'etat  of January, 1874, with militarism triumphant, and the administration of the government in the hands of military officers. Their action in putting down anarchy and ending the civil war—for "Don Carlos" had again taken the field, with his Basque retainers, in support of his inalienable "male succession"—would seem to prove that Spain, like Mexico, needed the mailed hand of the military dictator to force it into paths of prosperity and development.

Serrano might have been that dictator; but if he had designs, they did not succeed, for he soon resigned in favour of one who proclaimed himself "the first republican in Europe"—no less a personage than the seventeen-year-old son of Isabella the exile, who was ferreted out by the king-makers and offered the. crown, that a Bourbon might again occupy the throne of his ancestors.

The Spaniards were now content, for had they not travelled the road of republicanism and found it a failure? tried the rule of a foreigner, and found him wanting? At last they were in possession of their own again! In his veins ran the blood of Isabella the corrupt; but his reputed father was an amiable man, and so was the new king, Alfonso XII, who was proclaimed at Madrid in January, 1875.

The faults, the traits, of Alfonso XII were inherited. Even his death, less than eleven years after his coronation, is said to have been caused by constitutional ills. But, so far as he could, he nobly lived up to his intentions to give Spain peace and renewed prosperity. Six years before the people had shouted, "Away with the Bourbons!" yet here again was a Bourbon on the throne. He could not forget the line from which he descended, nor the treatment his mother, also a Bourbon, had received; yet his reign approached what the people had so long desired. Able ministers assisted him, according to the humour of the hour: first under General Martinez Campos; then under the leadership of Canovas del Castillo; again under the liberal Senor Sagasta. Through all these changes, however, Alfonso preserved the goodwill of his subjects; yet he was the object of the base assassin's aim on three different occasions.

Despite the good offices of imperial match-makers, who would have married him to some great princess of a reigning house in Europe, Alfonso persisted in wedding his own choice. He married his cousin, Marie de las Mercedes, daughter of the Duke of Montpensier—a love-match which death disrupted less than six months later.

Kings may marry, but kings may not mourn; so within another six months he was united to the Archduchess Maria Christina, niece of the Emperor of Austria, who, the story goes, when she had heard of Alfonso's first marriage, was so disappointed that she entered a convent. A child was born and named Mercedes, after the former queen; then yet another daughter; but no male heir to the throne before the death of the king, which occurred on the 25th of November 1885. Whether his death was caused by excesses, as has been sometimes charged, or by his chivalrous insistence upon visiting the afflicted cholera districts of his kingdom, mattered little to the people, who mourned sincerely for their brave young king, cut off in the flower of his manhood, with his great schemes unaccomplished.

For the first time since the death of Ferdinand VII, more than fifty years before, the vaults in the Escorial were opened for the reception of another occupant. In accordance with an ancient custom, when the funeral cortege arrived at the door of the Escorial, the keeper within demanded, "Who would enter here?" One of the attendants answered, "Alfonso XII would enter," and the door was thrown open. Even then Alfonso was not considered as officially defunct, until the lord chamberlain, drawing back the cloth of gold covering his features, addressed him: "Senor, senor, senor," and, receiving no reply, said solemnly: "His Majesty does not answer; then indeed the king is dead!"

The king was dead; to his place succeeded his elder daughter, little Mercedes, Princess of the Asturias, during whose minority the queen-mother reigned as regent. For the seventh time in five hundred years a minor sat on the throne of Spain. The first of whom we have record was Ferdinand IV, at the beginning of the fourteenth century; he died young, and was succeeded by an infant son, Alfonso VI; at the end of that century there was another child-king, Henry III, from 1390 to 1406; and after him John VI, who reigned. from 1406 to 1454; Charles II, who came to be king at the age of fourteen, in 1676; and Isabella, at the age of three, in 1833. Child kings and queens, babes in arms, enthroned in nurses' laps, and unscrupulous regents during their minorities, seem to have been a Spanish evil!

But the child queen Mercedes was not to reign long, for six months after the death of Alfonso XII the queen gave birth to a son, and this posthumous heir succeeded to the throne as Alfonso XIII, while yet unable to understand the fearful dignities that were thrust upon him. He was thus the eighth infant sovereign to rule Spain from the nursery within the past five centuries—perhaps may be the last; for as people, grow older they are supposed to grow wiser; though all rules may have their exceptions, and perhaps the Spaniards are exceptions to all rules!

Still, we can not withhold our admiration from a chivalrous sentiment, however foolish it may seem to sober sense; and when it was suggested to Emilio Castelar, the lion-hearted orator and statesman, that this might be a good time for a re-trial of the republic, he probably voiced the national feeling when he said: "We can not make war against a woman and a child!" That is the unthinking, sentimental side of it; but if the people had been brave enough to have said: "While we do not wish to war against a woman and her child, yet we will set this infant aside until he has shown what manner of man he becomes," would it not have been far less cruel to her and to him, and more to the credit of a nation desirous of keeping peace with a progressive civilization?

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