Gateway to the Classics: A Child's History of Spain by John Bonner
A Child's History of Spain by  John Bonner

Ferdinand the Seventh

A.D. 1814-1833

Before the French were driven out of Spain, the people had elected a Cortes to frame a new constitution based on popular liberty. The work had been done, and well done. It abolished the Inquisition, and took away the privileges of the nobles. It provided for a king who should govern according to law; and the Spaniards had no objection to Ferdinand being that king.

Ever since he assigned his throne to Napoleon he had been a prisoner in a castle in central France. He was not in close confinement. He could ride and drive through the grounds about the castle, could entertain his friends, and amuse himself at any game he pleased, except playing king. Now that Napoleon appeared to be going downhill, he claimed the throne which he had abdicated five years before. Napoleon said he might have it and welcome.

On March 20th, 1814, he re-entered Spain, and read for the first time the constitution which the Cortes had framed in his absence. It was not to his liking, and he said so. The priests of Catalonia and Navarre said it was not to their liking either. They got crowds of ignorant peasants to shout:

"Down with the constitution! Let us have an absolute king! Long live King Ferdinand!"

On the strength of this expression of public opinion, King Ferdinand issued a proclamation declaring that all the acts of the Cortes, including the framing of the constitution, and the decree abolishing the Inquisition, were null and void, and that everything must be put back on the old footing. Gathering round him a band of soldiers, he marched to Madrid. Most of the members of the Cortes had fled to Cadiz; those who remained he locked up in jail, and afterwards sent to the galleys, or forced to serve as privates in the army. He restored the Inquisition, recalled the Jesuits and gave them control of the schools, and proclaimed that any one who spoke ill of him or of his government should be put to death. The Spaniards began to think they had not gained much by driving out the French.

You will not be surprised to hear that Ferdinand's behavior led to revolts. Riots broke out at Valencia, Barcelona, and Cadiz; while New Castile, Estremadura, and Andalusia began to get ready for rebellion in the old way. The contagion spread and spread from one province to another, from one city to the next, until all Spain was ripe for explosion, and only needed a spark. Then the craven king crept into a corner and issued a proclamation convening the Cortes, and promising to do everything that was wanted by his people, "who have given me so many proofs of their loyalty." This was in March, 1820.


Going to Market.

The Cortes met. Many of its members were taken out of the jails where the king had shut them up. Others were persons whom he had threatened with death. It restored the constitution of 1812, again abolished the Inquisition and expelled the Jesuits; then, as the chief obstacle to good government in Spain was want of money in the treasury, it suppressed all monasteries and convents but eight, and confiscated their property to the service of the State. King Ferdinand at first refused to sign the decree for this, but when a crowd surrounded his palace, and he was told that the troops were of the same mind as the people, he signed it, and ran away to the Escurial.

In the gloomy shades of that dismal abode he planned a coup-d'etat, and secretly appointed a general whom he could trust, named Carbajal, to the post of captain-general, with supreme command of the troops. The Cortes found out what he had done, and sent a committee to the Escurial to warn him. He fell into abject terror, removed Carbajal, and asked the committee if his life would be safe in Madrid. Thither he returned, trembling and quaking; his knees shook so that he could hardly walk up the stairs of his palace, and, with a haggard face, he locked himself in his room. A day or two afterwards, when he tried to drive out, the mob stoned his carriage, and be had to return home.

A time followed when there was really no government in Spain, and Madrid was in the shocking condition to which Napoleon had put an end in Paris. There was a king whom everybody despised. There was a Cortes which was as incapable of governing as the French Assembly had been. There were a number of clubs which undertook to dictate to the king and the Cortes. And above all, there was a mob of brutal, blood-thirsty miscreants whom the troops sometimes fired upon and sometimes sympathized with.

There was a poor half-crazy priest, who wrote a pamphlet against liberty; he was arrested for it, and condemned to ten years' imprisonment. But the mob were not satisfied. They thought he should have been more severely punished. They tore him out of jail, with shouts of "Blood! blood!"

The poor priest, holding a crucifix high above his head, begged his life in the name of the Redeemer.

The mob rushed upon him, and the leader beat his brains out with a hammer.

You may perhaps not be so much shocked at this, when you remember that all mobs are brutal and blood-thirsty. But the newspapers of Madrid applauded the murder of the priest, the Cortes called it a noble deed, and the city rabble formed a club to commemorate it under the name of the Order of the Hammer. Curses were coming home to roost indeed.

In the turmoil a gallant general named Murillo loomed up, and put down mobs with the bayonet wherever he found them. But he could not be everywhere. There was a dreadful monk, who was known as the Trappist, who mustered an army of peasants, and made war upon the army of the Cortes with terrible vigor and savage cruelty. Seville and Cadiz set up a government of their own, and declared war upon the government at Madrid. The Cortes at Madrid ordered its troopers to give no quarter to the rebels. The Junta at Cadiz commanded its troops to kill their prisoners after every battle. The gutters of the cities of Spain ran with blood, and there was no money anywhere to buy food. All this time the miserable king wandered from place to place, wringing his hands, and asking everyone what he should do.

He found out at last. He persuaded the King of France, who hated liberty as much as he did, to send an army into Spain under the Duke of Angoubime. You know how the Spaniards loved the French, and you can fancy how pleased the former were to hear that their old foes had come to keep then in order. The duke, at the head of one hundred and fifty thousand men, swept down through northern Spain, and took Madrid without resistance, king and Cortes having gone first to Seville, then to Cadiz. It did not take the French long to capture the latter place, and then, with every show of respect, they proceeded to restore Ferdinand to his throne. He assured the Cortes and its friends on leaving Cadiz that he bore no malice, and that they could trust to him. But when their backs were turned, he shook his fist and muttered, "They will see they will see!"


A Street Barber operating on a customer.

And they did see. The most gallant and noble-hearted of the popular leaders was General Riego. He was arrested, and put on his trial. The lawyers were such cowards that not one of them dared to defend him. He was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, which in Spain is considered an ignominious form of death. He was stripped of his uniform, and draped in a white cloth, with a cap of liberty on his head. His hands were tied behind his back, and he was set on a hurdle, which was drawn to the place of execution by an ass, while a row of priests marched beside the ass chanting the service for the dead. The gibbet was so high. that Riego had to be hauled up to the scaffold. There the rope was passed round his neck, and as it was cut by the executioner a bystander smote him on the cheek with his fist.

The French troops remained five or six years in Spain, and while they were there there were no more riots. Ferdinand ruled according to his own sweet will. As he grew old, he began to be troubled about the succession to the throne. He had been married three times, but had no children. In 1829 he married once more, the bride this time being Christina of Naples. In October, 1830, she gave birth to a girl-baby, who was christened Isabella. It had at one time been the law that a woman could not reign in Spain; but both Charles the Fourth and Ferdinand had issued what they called pragmatic sanctions, declaring that females could succeed to the throne as well as males.

Against this decision Ferdinand's brother now protested, and bullied the king till he revoked his decree and declared that Carlos was the heir, and not the girl-baby. As soon as Carlos's back was turned Ferdinand changed his mind, as he often did, and said that Isabella was the rightful heir. When Carlos heard of it, he started for Madrid to make the king change his mind once more. Unluckily for the former, before he reached the capital city Ferdinand died, and Isabella was proclaimed. The disappointment of Don Carlos led to a long and bloody war, of which I will tell you something in a future chapter.

There may have been worse kings of Spain than the one whose reign came to a close on September 29th, 1833, but I cannot recall any one of them who did so much injury to his country as Ferdinand the Seventh.

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