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

The Woman from Naples

A.D. 1838-1540

By the will of Ferdinand the Seventh, his successor was to be his daughter, Isabella, who was less than three years old when he died; and, until she grew up, her mother, Christina, whom the people called "the woman from Naples," was to be regent. To this will Ferdinand's brother Carlos refused to submit, on the ground that, according to his understanding of the law, women could not reign in Spain; he gathered round him a party of friends who were willing to fight for him. He was a narrow-minded, pig-headed, fat-witted Bourbon, who could never quite thoroughly get it through his head that the world moves.

I dare say that he would have cut less figure, but for the temper of the people at the time. In the cities, and among educated Spaniards, the long domination of the Church had disgusted them. The priests were hated and loathed as fiercely as they had once been reverenced. To a mob at Madrid, Seville, or Cadiz, a priest in canonicals was like a red rag to a bull. In Madrid a white-haired old priest in his robes passed a party of workmen.

"Old man," cried one of them, "why do you wear a woman's petticoat?"

"Because," said the graybeard, intrepidly, "I am a priest of God."

"Take that for your God," said the workman, knocking the old man down.


"All the day long I am happy."

The priest rose, wiped the blood from his face, and tendered the other cheek, " Strike there, too," said he to the ruffian; and the crowd, admiring his grit, shouted, "Good for you, father!"

Isabella's reign had hardly begun when cholera, which was then raging all over the world, broke out in Spain. Ignorant people said it was the work of the monks; that they had poisoned the wells. Riots broke out, monasteries were attacked, and the priests murdered by scores, while in the chief cities mobs went round shouting, "Down with the monks!"

On the other hand, in the country parts, and especially in tile pasture country of the north, Navarre, the Asturias, the Basque provinces, and Galicia, where old fashions prevailed, where only one person in eight could read, and there were no books or newspapers, where the peasants wore the garb which their ancestors had worn in the Middle Ages, and tended their flocks and fished the bays just as they had done before the discovery of America, the priests were as strong as they ever had been. The peasants would stand no trifling with the Church, and when they heard from their curas that Don Carlos was a true Christian, who told his beads early and often, and who, if he became king, would probably restore the Holy Inquisition, while the woman from Naples and her friends were little better than infidels, who had robbed the Church already, and were likely to rob it again, they said they were for Don Carlos, and they fought for him in their old, gallant, stupid way.

They were so loyal to their faith that they kept up the war for seven years. Don Carlos did not do any fighting. He preferred to walk the boulevards in Paris, to dine at his clubs in London, to skim the bay of Naples in his yacht with ladies; but he read the accounts of the Basque peasants dying for him with a good deal of interest.

His best general was an old officer of the army whose name was Zumalacarregui. He may remind you of the old fighting monks of crusading times: a hard, cold, iron man, who hardly ever spoke, never did any man wrong, never spared a sinner, or kissed a girl; but who went right on with his work as if there were no such things in the world as love or mercy or tenderness or human weakness. This old warrior won so many battles that the people of Madrid and Seville and Cadiz could not contain their rage, and whenever a crowd assembled shouts arose, "Down with the monks!"

The people of Spain generally were against Don Carlos. It seemed to them mean to try and cheat a little three-year-old girl out of her throne. They got up a good deal of sentiment about sweet little innocent Isabel. I believe the sentiment did not last after the sweet little innocent grew to be a woman; but while she was a baby it was strong. The regent struck back at the priests by laying hands on the property of the regular religious orders. In this way the government fought the Church with its own money.

But the woman from Naples did not make her way into the Spanish heart. Her husband died in September, 1833; in December of the same year she was secretly married to a private soldier named Munoz, by whom she had ten children. The Spaniards said that she was so busy trying to get money for these children that she had no time to think of the kingdom. She made her husband a duke, and spent her days in riding with him, and her evenings in singing and dancing in his company.


A Serenade.

Against the Carlists, as the followers of Don Carlos was called, the queen regent sent a valiant and skilful general named Espartero, a native of La Mancha, and after several years' fighting, he put them down. Then said Christina, "There are some towns here which are giving me trouble about their fueros which I have taken away. Go and put down these people with a little cannon shot and a few cavalry charges."

"Madam," said Espartero, "they may, as you say, be put clown with a little cannon shot and a few cavalry charges. But I will not be the man to put them down. I would rather resign my command,"

Christina promised to restore the fueros. But in a few days she changed her mind, and said that she would not restore them, whereupon Valencia and Barcelona broke out in revolt. Espartero said it was none of his business. Thereupon the regent flew into a temper, and went off to Paris. The Cortes was not distressed at losing her, and appointed Espartero regent in her place. This was in 1840.

He proved an excellent regent, but was not calm-tempered enough to manage the government in such troubled times. Christina intrigued against him, and all the hungry politicians who wanted office and plunder, and to whom Espartero would give neither, worked against him. In 1843, weary of strife, he resigned, and the Cortes declared that little Isabella, who was thirteen, had come of age, and she was crowned queen. Then Christina came back to Madrid, and ruled the country under her daughter's name.

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