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

The Old King and Tile New One

A.D. 1807-1808

King Charles the Fourth had a son who was born in 1784, and whose name was Ferdinand. As he grew to manhood he hated Godoy, at which you will not be surprised; but what may surprise you is that he hated his father and mother quite as bitterly. This Ferdinand wrote to Napoleon in 1807 that Spain was being ruined by Godoy, and would he be so kind as to interfere a little? Nothing could have suited the ambitious emperor better. But he was too wary to answer Ferdinand's letter, and when the Prince of the Asturias—as Ferdinand was called—wrote again to say that lie was old enough to be married, and would the emperor bestow on him the hand of some girl of his family, Napoleon nodded, smilingly, but said never a word.

Ferdinand was so loose a talker that Godoy soon learned all about his letters to France, and King Charles was told by his minister that his son had plotted his death. The old king put himself at the head of his guards, marched to Ferdinand's quarters, arrested him, and locked him up in prison. Charles wrote to Napoleon that he had been saved from a terrible danger, planned against him by his own dear son and heir, and that He was afraid that it was his duty to punish the boy so as to make an example of him.

Two days afterwards Ferdinand begged his father's pardon, and said he was sorry for what he had done. Whereupon the old king wrote that "where a guilty party solicits pardon, the heart of a father cannot refuse it to a son." And Charles and the Prince of the Asturias showed themselves to the people arm in arm, and embraced in public.

By this time Napoleon had made up his mind what to do. He had an army in Portugal; he used it to drive out the royal family, and he bade his General Junot take command of the kingdom. This done, he turned round on Spain, and moved another army into Catalonia. He was going to interfere a little, as the Prince of the Asturias had invited him to do. But all the time he remained King Charles's best friend. On the very day when the French moved on Barcelona, Napoleon sent the Spanish king a present of twelve beautiful horses, with a letter saying that he would call on him soon.

When Charles knew for certain that the French occupied Catalonia, he resolved to follow the example of the royal family of Portugal, and run away to the American colonies. His carriages drove to the palace door, and a strong body of cavalry and artillery was mustered to escort them to Seville, where he intended to take ship. But a mob gathered, surrounded the carriages, filled the air with cries and threats, cut the traces of the horses, and drove the old king back into the palace. In the crowd stood the Prince of the Asturias, cool and sneering.

"Were you going to run away, too?" asked a by-stander.

"Not at all," said he; "I stay with my people." Whereupon the mob declared that Ferdinand was a true Spaniard, and the very man to be king.

That night Charles abdicated, and Ferdinand was proclaimed king. Charles wrote a letter in which he said that his health required rest and a milder climate, that his abdication was made of his own free will, and that his beloved son would govern wisely and well. Two days afterwards he wrote to Napoleon that he had not in the least acted of his own free will, but had been forced to abdicate, and would the emperor please set him back on the throne?

On March 20th, 1808, he told the foreign ambassadors that his abdication was his own choice, and had given him much pleasure. On the following day he wrote to the foreign courts that he had abdicated in order to avoid bloodshed, and that the act was therefore null.


Peasants in the Market-place.

The knavish son of this knavish father was going to be pretty roughly awakened from his fool's d ream. On the day after he became king he called on General Murat, who represented Napoleon at Madrid. Ferdinand went in great state, with a gorgeous staff and a grand escort. Murat stood erect and stern in the centre of the room. The king said he was glad to meet him as the emperor's envoy, and added other pleasant speeches. Murat never opened his mouth. The king made a few more remarks, with a rather forced smile on his lips. Murat did not answer a syllable, but stood like a man of stone, and looked straight before him gravely and frowningly. Ferdinand, after fidgeting with his sword and gloves, had no choice but to go.

It was made known to Ferdinand that the emperor was coming to Madrid, and he was told that it would be but polite to go and meet him. He started forth accordingly, taking care to send word in advance to Napoleon that Spain would give hive every assistance in destroying the independence of Portugal, and making it a French province. Napoleon never answered a word.

When Ferdinand reached Vittoria in old Navarre, near the French border, he was warned that he had better go no farther. Wise old Spaniards bade him beware of putting himself in the power of the emperor. But General Savary, who spoke for Napoleon, said he would let Ferdinand cut off his head if any trouble calve, that Napoleon loved Ferdinand like a brother, and better than most brothers; and the King of Spain crossed the Bidassoa.

Napoleon did receive him like a brother. He threw his arms round Ferdinand's neck, kissed him, and said everything that was sweet and kind and flattering. That day the emperor sent his own carriage to bring Ferdinand to dine with him, received him at the foot of the staircase, and all through the meal paid him the most delicate attentions. Ferdinand went home in high spirits, feeling that the emperor was a true friend. He had scarcely taken his seat in his own parlor when General Savary was announced. The general entered with a severe face, and made a very short speech.

"My master, the emperor," said he, "has made up his mind. You must immediately resign the throne of Spain. He proposes to put one of his own family on that throne."

And afterwards he explained that if Ferdinand gave no trouble, a small throne might perhaps be found for him elsewhere.

Ferdinand was dazed at first; when he collected himself, he said that he had not the least intention of giving up his throne. Then, said Napoleon, we must send for your father.

You will better understand the bitter struggle which was now beginning if I give you some notes of the state of Spain from a book written at this time by the Spanish historian—Vargas Ponce.

He said that Spain had generals enough to command the armies of the world, but no soldiers. There were at Madrid more churches than houses, more priests than burghers, more altars than kitchens. Wax figures of saints lay side by side with robbers and bad women. Religious processions blocked the streets. The courts of law were busy night and day, but justice was not to be had. A judge would sentence a man to death after a trial of twenty minutes, but would take ten years to decide the title to a mule. Every trade was a monopoly; the seller of oil could not sell wine, the seller of meat could not sell salt, the seller of wine could not sell oil or meat or fruit; none of them could sell oats or any article for which he did not hold a license. Nobody cared to have regular work. A true Spaniard slept so many Hours in the daytime, no matter if he had nothing to eat when he waked. He would go hungry to a bull-fight, and when he had not a coin in his pocket he would stand in the street and beg of passers-by.

The proud nobility of Spain which had figured so grandly, as you remember, in the history of the old days, had passed out of notice at this time. Very few of them served in the army, and still fewer in high employments of state. It was thought to be the correct thing for grandees and dukes to wait on the king, to hand him his shirt when be dressed, and to hold his stirrup when he mounted his horse; their wives combed the queen's hair, and handed her her tooth-brush. These duties were all they cared to fulfil. Yet the property owned by the nobles was enormous. They had got much of the land which was taken from the Jesuits, and they did not know how to cultivate it. Most of it lay fallow. They were lazy, ignorant, superstitious, and perfectly contented. No matter what the king or the prime-minister did, they had no objection to make.

It was this condition of Spain and the Spanish people which made Napoleon think he could easily conquer the country and annex it to France. He said to himself that an imbecile king, an ignorant and slothful people, a besotted nobility, and a rapacious Church could not defend the country against his veterans if they were directed by a mind as broad as his. Unluckily for him, and happily for Spain, there was a chord in the Spanish heart which, if touched, could still rouse the people to energy—that chord was impatience of foreign dominion. The Spaniard would starve or beg or go about in rags, but he would not be the slave of the foreigner, and especially of the Frenchman. He was ready to endure the rule of an idiot, so long as he was born a Spaniard; but he would rather die than submit to a Frenchman, however able or virtuous he might be. Napoleon was now going to find this out.

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