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

King Joseph

A.D. 1808

General Murat lost no time in obeying the emperor's orders to send King Charles and his wife to Bayonne. Napoleon met Charles at the foot of the stairs, and supported him as he climbed them, on which the old doting king cried to his wife:

"See, Louisa, he is carrying me."

Next day they settled down to business, and Napoleon easily persuaded the weak old man to assign to the emperor his rights to the throne of Spain, in consideration of a palace and a fat income. But Ferdinand was still obstinate. The emperor threatened him, his father bullied him, but he stuck to his determination not to give away his throne. Napoleon had resolved to have it. But he wanted to get it under cover of a regular transfer from Ferdinand. He was much embarrassed, and was revolving plans in his mind, when news came that there had been a brush between the French troops and the mob at Madrid in which some lives had been lost. This gave the emperor his cue.

He bade the king and his wife pour willies of red-hot abuse at their obstinate son. But he stayed obstinate in spite of the names they called him. Napoleon roared at him, shaking his fist in his face, and screaming that the French blood which had been shed at Madrid put a new face on the matter. He stamped on the ground, and in round words bade Ferdinand choose between cession and death.

Of course, after this, there was nothing to be done except to yield. On May 10th, 1808, Ferdinand signed away his throne in exchange for a castle in France and six hundred thousand francs a year. As soon as he had signed, he, his father and his mother, were carried as prisoners to a castle in the heart of France, and kept there till the end of the war.

Then Napoleon appointed his brother Joseph, who had been King of Naples, King of Spain, without so much as asking the Spaniards what they thought about it. Joseph was a mild, kindly gentleman, who cared much more about books and pictures than kingdoms; he begged his brother to let him alone and choose some one else. But Napoleon was one who insisted on being obeyed. Joseph had to yield, and he prepared to take possession of his kingdom.

Meanwhile, Murat, who was in command at Madrid, managed to bring about a conflict between his army and the mob, and slaughtered the latter in the most cruel way. The poor Spaniards had no arms and no discipline; the French mowed them down with grape-shot, and raked then with musketry fire when they escaped into the side streets. Murat said he did this to give the Spaniards a lesson, so that they should trouble the French no more. The lesson had precisely the opposite effect.

In every province of Spain, from the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean, the people rose against the invader. They formed in each province what they called a Junta, which was a standing convention of the leading people of the province; these conventions mustered in the fighting men, and armed them as they could. England, which was at war with France, sent them arms, ammunition, and clothing; with these, small armies were equipped and prepared to act together.

Meantime, King Joseph, with a strong force at his back, crossed the Pyrenees and entered Madrid. Orders had been given that the people should decorate the city as usual on the entry of a king; that tapestries should be hung from the windows, peals of welcome rung on the church-bells, and cheers given by the crowd. Joseph was disappointed. There were few people in the streets, and they did not cheer; nothing but dirty old rags hung from the windows, and the church-bells tolled mournfully.

Upon the very day when the new king met this chilling reception at the capital, an old Spanish soldier named Castanos fell upon a French army under General Dupont, at a place called Baylen, at the foot of the Sierra Morena, and utterly defeated it. Dupont surrendered with twenty thousand men. Castanos had agreed that the prisoners might return to their own country. But many of them were Swiss and Poles and Germans; they enlisted in the Spanish armies. The others, I am afraid, were attacked by the furious Spanish peasantry on their way home, and never reached France. In this Spanish war—where one people were fighting for conquest and the other for liberty—there was very little mercy shown on either side.

As soon as King Joseph got the news of the battle at Baylen he packed his trunk and left for home. Madrid was no place for him. It was beginning to thunder all round.

On June 15th, 1808, the French General Lefebvre, at the head of a fine army, marched up to the famous old town of Saragossa, which had stood so many sieges, and sumŽmoned it to surrender. As it had only an old wall for all defence, he did not expect to have to fight. But the old blood which had flowed in the veins of the Saragossans a thousand years before still ran red and hot; they bade him come and take the town if he wanted it. He made a dash at the wall and was beaten back; then he sent for reinforcements and invested the place.

For nearly two months he bombarded Saragossa, until nearly every house was battered down, and the people had to sleep in their cellars. But they defended every house and every wall, even when the French had got into the place, and at last, raging at losing so many men and making such little headway, Lefebvre resolved to raise the siege. On the morning of August 14th, when the Saragossans got up to renew the dreary fighting, they saw the enemy in a distant dust-cloud marching away up the river.

It was at this siege that Augustina, the Maid of Saragossa, made herself famous. She was a canteen girl, who carried wine and lemonade round to the soldiers during the bombardment. Noticing that one gun was silent, the gunner having been killed, she leaped to his place, and served the gun to the end of the day, aiming and firing it herself. For this the Government of Spain made her a lieutenant, and gave her a pension.

"Ye who shall marvel when you hear her tale,

Olt! had you known her in her softer hour,

Marked her black eye that mocks her coal-black veil,

Heard her light, lively tones in lady's bower,

Seen her long locks that foil the painter's power,

Her fairy form with more than female grace,

Scarce would you dream that Saragossa's tower

Beheld her smile in danger's Gorgon face,

Thin the closed ranks, and lead in glory's fearful chase.

"Her lover sinks—she sheds no ill-timed tear,

Her chief is slain—she tills his fatal post,

Her fellows flee—she cheeks their base career,

The foe retires—she heads the sallying host,

Who can appease like her a lover's ghost?

Who can avenge so well a leader's fall?

What maid retrieve when man's flush'd hope is lost?

Who hang so fiercely on the flying Gaul,

Foil'd by a woman's hand, before a batter'd wall?"

This was a bad beginning for the French conquest of Spain. But the man who had planned that conquest was not one to abandon his projects because of checks at the start. The Emperor Napoleon concentrated two hundred thousand French veterans under some of his best generals, and flung them into Spain. On November 8th he followed them himself, and from that time, for several years, the Spaniards won no more victories. Soult and Victor destroyed the Spanish armies in the northwest. The army of Aragon and Catalonia was scattered. Saragossa was besieged again, and though it was heroically defended by General Palafox, a pestilence broke out in the garrison, and it had to surrender. The English, who had landed armies in Portugal and Spain to oppose the French, were forced to re-embark them; the only competent general they had, Sir Arthur Wellesley, who afterwards became Duke of Wellington, having been recalled, and Sir John Moore, who had commanded them, having fallen in the battle of Corunna.

On December 2nd, 1808, Napoleon appeared before Madrid, and summoned it to surrender. It could not help itself. It opened its gates. Napoleon was very angry. He scolded the Spaniards sharply.

"What!" said he, "I give you a king of your own, an excellent king, my brother Joseph, and you are not satisfied. If you give me any more trouble, I will give you no king at all, and will govern you as a French province."

You see, nothing could convince this man that he did not own the earth.

The Spaniards submitted, and for five years Spain was ruled by Joseph, who was nothing but a clerk of Napoleon's.

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