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

The House of Bourbon

"The king is dead; long live the king!" Before Charles II passed away, weak and vacillating as he was, he bequeathed to his subjects a legacy of woe in the unfruitful "Wars of the Succession." Finally, on his deathbed, through the influence of his confessor, and at the recommendation of Pope Innocent II, Charles made a will in favour of Philip of Anjou, grandson of Louis XIV of France. When he received the news of this triumph, for which he had long been scheming, the French king joyfully exclaimed, "The Pyrenees no longer exist!" meaning that from that time France and Spain would be virtually under one sovereign, that sovereign himself. This did not actually come about; but to show how nearly the interests of the two countries were allied henceforth, let us examine the ancestry of the new king.

We have only to note that Philip of Anjou was the grandson of Louis, who himself was in early life married to the Infanta Maria Teresa, daughter of Philip IV, and hence, in natural course, would have claim to the Spanish succession in the event of what had now actually happened—a King of Spain dying without an heir of his own issue. But this event had been anticipated at the time of their marriage, and Maria Teresa had solemnly renounced all claim to the throne of Spain, either for herself or her heirs. This was because a just fear pervaded other nations of the two great monarchies with their dependent territories becoming united under one sovereign. To preserve the "balance of power" in Europe, it was considered necessary that they should be separately governed.

Still, Louis never quite gave up the idea of a scion of the house of Bourbon sitting on the throne of Spain, and he was prepared to sustain that resolve with all the might of his armies. He hardly dared, however, press the claims of the dauphin, his and Maria Teresa's eldest son, but compromised on the son of the dauphin, Philip of Anjou. This was in a certain sense the better policy, for it excited less opposition from other crowned heads; and as it happened, the dauphin died before Louis himself, and Philip long survived him.

The remaining candidate for regal honours, and who was slighted in the award, was Leopold, Emperor of Germany, whose mother was the daughter of Philip III, and who was also descended from Charles V's brother Ferdinand. He at once began a war against Philip in behalf of his son, the Archduke Charles, and, being joined by England and the Netherlands, acting under the "Grand Alliance," Europe was again plunged into the barbarities of senseless warfare.

Philip was seated in 1700, the Alliance was declared in 1701, and then quickly ensued a succession of great battles, with victories at first in favour of the allies, but eventually resulting in favour of the Bourbon King of Spain. It was during these Wars of the Succession, as they were called, that first rose to prominence the great Duke of Marlborough, who, in connection with Prince Eugene, won the famous victory of Blenheim, in 1704. This was followed by the splendid victory of Ramillies, in 1706, and by that of Malplaquet, in 1709. In truth, the allies made Louis repent of ever having undertaken to sustain his grandson on the throne of Spain, especially as at first other victories fell to the portion of the arch-duke, until nearly all eastern and southeastern Spain acknowledged the pretensions of "Charles III," as he styled himself. But though Philip was twice driven from his capital, Madrid; though the rich city of Barcelona was captured by the English, and the Rock of Gibraltar taken by Sir George Rooke, in 1704; though the French empire. itself seemed in danger of annihilation, yet unexpected circumstances intervened to save both Louis and Philip from destruction. That is, by the death of the Emperor Joseph, in 1711, the Archduke Charles received the imperial crown; and as the powers never intended that Spain and Germany should be again united, any more than they could tolerate the union of France and Spain, why, they all "turned right about face" and scampered away from each other as fast as they could. All this fuss about a crown would seem ludicrous, were it not for the sanguinary side of the strife—the ravaged countries, the thousands fallen in battle, the towns and cities burned, the innocent women and children massacred—all, that a certain insignificant, slow-witted hypochondriac named Philip of Anjou might seat himself upon the Spanish throne!

By the Peace of Utrecht, in 1713, he was acknowledged King of Spain and the Indies; but Milan, Naples, the Netherlands, and Sardinia were given to the insatiate Louis XIV. And England, which never yet went into a war without the ultimate object of territorial aggrandizement or material profit of some sort, retained out of the general scramble all her conquests of Gibraltar, Minorca, Hudson Bay and Newfoundland, St. Christopher Island in the West Indies, and Acadia.

Poor Spain, as usual, was plucked of many of her gaudiest feathers; and thus, after thirteen years of warfare, she became blessed with a prince of the house of Bourbon instead of one of the house of Hapsburg; the only difference between the two being that one was French, the other Austrian, and neither with more than a trace of Spanish blood to substantiate a claim to the throne of Isabella and Ferdinand.

Woefully had Spain descended in the scale of nations, and basely had she mingled her blood with foreign elements, until she could no longer claim as a ruler one nearly allied to the proud nobles of Castile or Aragon. She only knew that a degenerate Bourbon had replaced an equally degenerate Hapsburg; but she must have loved the foreigner greatly, for a descendant of the Bourbon sits on the throne of Spain to-day.

In justice to Philip V—to give him his new title—it may be said that Spain has been less wisely ruled than she was by him. The death of his imperial grandfather, in 1715, tempted him to break his pledges at the Treaty of Utrecht and aspire to the throne of France; but England's fleets and the "Quadruple Alliance" soon brought him to his senses, and he abandoned all thoughts of a dual empire.

Fortunately, the country as not yet entirely drained of its resources; its people had still a little vitality remaining, and after a; reign of forty-six years Philip left his kingdom in rather better condition than he had found it. Having still half the world tributary to that kingdom, the colonies of America, continually pouring into the Spanish treasury the golden products of mine and; soil, the country needed only peace to enable it to recuperate. This period of rest it found,. during the reign of Philip's successor and son, Ferdinand VI, who entered upon the kingly state at the death of his father, in 1946.

As so frequently happens, the best king has the shortest reign, and Ferdinand lived but thirteen years after falling heir to the, crown. But these were years of tranquility and progress, during which impoverished Spain deigned to take stock of her own resources and did not go abroad to rob her neighbours. Internal improvements were carried out, roads and canals built, agriculture fostered, oppressive taxes equalized, ship-building and foreign trade encouraged. The nucleus of a navy was gathered, and at the end of this reign it consisted of more than eighty frigates and ships of the line, valued at sixty million dollars.

Strange as it may seem, the Church was the greatest enemy of the people—at least, of the people's material welfare. In the time of Ferdinand VI it had a revenue of three hundred and fifty-nine million dollars, which was greater than that of the state, and there were one hundred and eighty thousand clerical or non-producing people connected with it. The king did not interfere with its liberties, but he took steps to limit the power of the Pope, so that indiscriminate appointments were prevented; and he hindered the work of the Inquisition so much that it had but ten victims during his reign, as against one thousand during the reign of his father, and was at last, almost starved out!

By the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, in 1748, the War of the Austrian Succession, into which Philip V had been drawn, was brought to a close and the heroic Maria Theresa confirmed in her rights. And though there was danger of trouble with England, over the "asiento," it was obviated by concessions from Spain to the former's great advantage. This asiento—literally a contract—was a special agreement by which the ships of England were entitled to trade to a certain extent with Spanish colonies, those of other nations being prohibited, especially in negro slaves from Africa.

The Seven Years' War, which broke out in 1756 between Prussia and England on one hand, and Austria, France, and Sweden on the other, was a severe strain upon Spain's neutrality, for both sides sought her aid. Ferdinand, however, wisely abstained from war, even though Pitt, the great English minister, offered him back Gibraltar, to reconquer which Spain had fought desperately and besieged in vain, with the assistance of the French. He still remained neutral, and Gibraltar yet rears its defiant crest under the folds of Britain's flag.

Ferdinand's beloved consort died in 1758, and, unlike his father in similar circumstances, he did not console himself with another, but sincerely mourned the good Barbara of Portugal, and was faithful to her memory until his own demise the following year. Altogether, Ferdinand's reign was in such beneficent contrast to others which had preceded it that we could wish it had been prolonged. It was to his able ministers, Ensenada and Carvajal, that the country was indebted for so much; but as the king would have been held accountable had they been evil counsellors, so he is entitled to credit for following their advice.

And so, when his successor and brother, Charles III, took possession of the throne, he was most agreeably surprised to find—what had not occurred before since Isabella's time—a surplus in the treasury! To be sure, much of it, if not all, was due to the fact that the national debt had not been paid for many years; but still the credit of it belongs to the frugal Ferdinand. When Charles III came to the throne, in 1759, he brought with him an invaluable experience of a twenty-five-years' reign as King of Naples. In the main, he followed in Ferdinand's footsteps, yet in 1762 he joined with France in the "family compact," by which the Bourbons engaged to support each other against all others, and this precipitated the war with England, in which, as usual, Britain came out with the lion's share of territory. Havana in Cuba, Trinidad, Manila, and the famed Acapulco galleon with three million dollars, besides other immense booty estimated at fifteen million dollars, fell into the hands of the English. By the treaty of peace, 1763, Spain got back her principal ports only by ceding Florida to the English, and the valuable rights for cutting logwood on the Honduras coast, while France gave up Canada, the Louisiana territory east of the Mississippi, and several islands in the West Indies.

Charles had able ministers in the persons of Squilaci, Grimaldi, Campomanes, and the Count de Aranda, under the last of whom was consummated the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spain, in March, 1767. Their order was suppressed by Pope Clement XI, in 1773. Succeeding Aranda came Don Jose Morino, afterward Count of Floridablanca, as prime minister. He was in power when the American colonies of Great Britain declared their independence, and, like France, sided with the colonies—not because of love for them or sympathy with their aims, but because of an apparent opportunity offering for striking a blow at England through her colonial possessions.

An insurrection in Peru, guided by the Inca, Tupac Amaru, had to be crushed, but Spain joined with France in a desperate attempt to retake Gibraltar, and in naval demonstrations, with the customary results: that they were repulsed from the Great Rock, and their fleets destroyed or scattered, particularly in the West Indies. In 1783, at the Peace of Versailles, at which the independence of the United States was established, Florida and Minorca were restored to Spain, but the loss her navy had sustained was irreparable.

In 1786 a peace was declared between Spain and Algiers, by which thousands of Spanish captives were released from slavery, and the piratical incursions from which the coast country had long suffered were ended. Two years later Charles III passed away, at the age of seventy-three, having done much to earn the gratitude of his country.

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