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

Spain in Our Day

A.D. 1868-1890

When Isabella had been got rid of, without bloodshed, the best and wisest public men of Spain met in Madrid to decide how the kingdom should be governed. For the moment, authority was placed in the hands of Marshal Serrano, General Prim, Senor Sagasta, and Senor Zorilla, who were all honest men, well thought of by the public. When the Cortes met, Serrano was made regent, and then the question arose who should be king, for it was agreed that the Spanish people were not sufficiently educated in politics to carry on a republic.

Several gentlemen were proposed. There was Louis Philippe's son, the Duke of Montpensier, who was always ready to take anything that offered. There was Leopold of Hohenzollern, a rather hungry German, who quite fancied the idea of being king. The people preferred Espartero, but that wise old statesman had had enough of public life, and positively refused to accept a throne in the place of the olives and oranges he loved to raise. Others were mentioned, but at last the choice fell upon Amadeo, the second son of King Victor Emanuel of Italy. He also refused the crown, not once, but twice and thrice; but the Spaniards persisting, he finally accepted.

He was sworn in on January 2, 1871. He was a tall, open-faced young man, as honest as the day, meaning to do right, and intending to allow no one to swerve him from what he believed to be right. His idea was that Spaniards should govern Spain through their representatives in the Cortes, and that he had no right to set his will over theirs.

But he had not the least notion of allowing any party to use him. He did not believe in the show or flummery of royalty. He walked the streets alone, dressed like any other gentleman, and he was as ready to chat with a poor man who was in rags as with a grandee of Spain.


The Great Square at Madrid.

This did not suit the blue-blooded Spaniards, who were sticklers for dignity and display. Nor did the simple, lady-like behavior of the queen please the noblewomen of Spain; they thought a queen should be something grand and overpowering. Both the nobles and their wives began secretly to sneer at the king; they called him a Savoyard, because his grandfather was King of Savoy—Savoyard, in French slang, having the same meaning as huckster or beggar. Taught by this example, the rabble of Madrid shouted after him "Savoyard" in the streets; and one day they shot at him as he passed with the queen in his carriage.

He could not manage the Cortes. Those who had voted to make him king, thought he should favor them; he said the King of Spain should have no friends and no enemies, but should use his authority equally for the benefit of all. So, gradually, all parties worked to make him trouble; and be, without the least regret, resigned the throne on February 11th, 1873, having occupied it a little over two years.

Then a republic was proclaimed, and the executive power was placed successively in the hands of Pi y Margall, who held it five weeks; Nicolas Salveron, who lasted about as long; Emilio Castelar, who ruled a few weeks longer; and Serrano, who had been regent before. Finally, on December 31st, 1874, the republic was abolished, and Don Alfonso, son of Isabella, a young man of seventeen, was elected king.

He had been well educated by a bright and good woman, Madame Calderon de la Barca, and had never seen much of his mother. He was a brave, frank lad, who, when they offered him the throne, answered that he had no objection to try what he could do. If the Spaniards got tired of him, he hoped they would tell him so, and he would step out as Amadeo had done.

He reigned until he died on November 25th, 1885. His reign was quiet, and every one loved him. In all his eleven years of power he made no serious mistakes, and the intriguing politicians of the Cortes gained nothing by quarrelling with him.

When he first became king, he married his cousin, Marie Mercedes, daughter of the Duke of Montpensier. It was a genuine love match, and Alfonso's heart was broken when she died, six months after the marriage. The Spaniards insisted on his marrying again. This time his wife was Mary Christina of Austria, who outlived him. She is now regent, during the minority of her son Alfonso, who will presently be King of Spain.


How they thresh grain in spain.

Within the past twenty-five years great changes have taken place in Spain. The vast domains of the Church have passed into private hands, and in many cases are being intelligently tilled. Railroads have been built in every direction, and with this help the people of each province have been made acquainted with their neighbors 361 in the others. There has been a surprising revival of trade and industry. The Spanish people, who had been stationary for a century, have begun to increase in numbers. The courts now generally administer even-handed justice. There is an excellent police, and crime is pretty generally punished. Good roads have been made in the country parts, and the streams have been bridged. Common schools have been established everywhere, and the law obliges Spaniards to send their children to them. In the towns there are excellent universities. Newspapers are published in all the cities, and books are printed which it will do you no harm to read. Steady efforts are being made to put an end to the race of beggars. The brigands have been wiped out.

Take the prospect altogether, and you can hope that a new day is dawning for Spain, in which that country shall be as famous for the virtues of its people and the prosperity of their homes, as it is for the beauty of its scenery, the exquisite charm of its climate, and the loveliness of its women.

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