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

The Prince of the Peace

A.D. 1788-1851

The eldest son of Charles the Third was an idiot, and had been declared incapable of inheriting the throne. His brother Charles, who had been known as the Prince of the Asturias, succeeded his father in 1788. He was a man of forty, ignorant, devout, and narrow-minded. He had married a dreadful woman, Maria Louisa, who combined all the faults which a queen could possess; she was tyrannical, meddlesome, short-sighted, superstitious, and dissolute.

When Charles came to the throne, Florida Blanca consented to help him with his advice. But the priests did not like the old statesman; they poisoned the king's mind against him, and with the help of the queen they overthrew him. He was dismissed from office, and locked up in a castle where he was left without food, and would have starved had not his brother sent him supplies in secret. King Charles appointed Aranda in his place; but the priests did not like him either, nor did the queen; so he was presently dismissed. Then said Maria Louisa:

"We must make Manuel Godoy prime-minister."

And the dull, stupid king consented. This Godoy was a young man who had served in the life-guards, and was said to be the handsomest man in Spain. The queen had seen him at a review, and had taken a fancy to his face and figure. She had forced her weak husband to create him a duke, and now, before he was twenty-five, she made him prime-minister. Soon afterwards he got another title—Prince of the Peace—because he had made a peace with France, and by that title he was generally known.

He was a young man of good family, and had been well educated, but he had no principle and no control of his passions or his appetites. He married early in life a pretty Spanish girl named Pepita Tudo. When he rose to high favor with the queen, he sent his wife to live in a distant country town, and that was the end of her. He was so handsome, and so dashing, and dressed so beautifully, and rode such prancing horses, that all the girls in Spain were in love with him. Among these was one whose father was an uncle of the king, and likewise a cardinal and an archbishop. Queen Maria Louisa ordered the prince to marry her, which he did without wincing. And this nice party, the pig-headed king and his shameless wife, the wild scape-grace and the cardinal's daughter, all held high revel, and feasted and dressed and rode and hunted as though life were nothing but a frolic, and there were no grave burghers in Madrid to knit their brows at such goings-on.

Just at this time, partly in consequence of the like doings in France, the French Revolution—of which you have read in A Child's History of France—broke out; the French king, Louis the Sixteenth, lost his head, and the French clergy, from bishop to altar-boy, were driven into the highways and byways to earn their bread. The priests of Spain took their part. They had plucked up heart since Charles the Third died, and Aranda and Florida Blanca had been got rid of. Under those statesmen the Inquisition kept quiet; now it began to clamor about its being the duty of good Spaniards to make war upon French atheists and infidels. Priests preached sermons to this effect, and the poor simple Spaniards, never stopping to think that affairs in France concerned Frenchmen and not Spaniards, cried aloud to be led against the French heretics. At Madrid, the fury against the French rose to such a pitch that the blind and the lame, who lived by begging, sent their earnings to government to help pay the expenses of the war.

Godoy was willing to make war on France, or any other nation, or to do anything else which the people wanted, so long as he was let to ride his fine horses, and to eat his gay suppers with the queen and the cardinal's daughter, and the other gay and jovial members of the court. He declared war, set France at defiance, and pretty soon had the pleasure of seeing the Spanish troops soundly thrashed by the French Republicans. The French blood was up, and French soldiers came streaming over the Pyrenees by the thousand, and overran all northern Spain.


A Professional Beggar.

This was not what the priests wanted, or the people either, and they began to bawl for peace as lustily as they had bawled for war, and Godoy said:

"Oh, very well! If you want peace, you shall have it."

And he signed a treaty with France, and went on feasting and frolicking and riding and dancing with the queen and the cardinal's daughter, and the prettiest women in Spain, while King Charles sat gloomily in a corner, reading his breviary and mumbling Aves.

Then disputes arose with England, and Godoy declared war upon that country. The Spanish fleet joined the French fleet, and attacked the British fleets. There was a battle off Cape St. Vincent, and the Spaniards were beaten; there was another battle off Trafalgar, at which the British admiral was Lord Nelson, of whom you have heard, one of the bravest and most skilful sailors who ever sailed the seas; he entirely demolished the allies, and put Spain once more out of conceit with war.

By this time the Spanish people began to hate Godoy. They had never liked the loose and wild life which he led. They were quite aware of the behavior of the court, and of the lavish folly with which a parcel of idle and profligate women squandered money while the treasury was empty and the poor were starving. Pretty soon they had still graver reasons to dislike the prince. It seemed impossible for him and the queen to remain quiet. As if they had not tried one bout with France and been obliged to eat humble pie, they must now try another while Napoleon was away in Germany fighting with Prussia. Godoy summoned all able-bodied Spaniards into the field to fight France. A week afterwards, in October, 1806, Napoleon won the battle of Jena, and for the time made an end of Prussia. Then he read the proclamation of the Prince of the Peace with a grim smile.

"Write me a letter," said he, to one of his generals, "to this Spanish popinjay, and say that I want sixteen thousand of the best troops in Spain to garrison some Prussian forts which I have taken."

Godoy neither ate nor slept till sixteen thousand men were despatched.

"Now," said Napoleon, "write me another letter to this Spanish upstart to say that if Spain dares to trade with my enemy, England, to buy any English goods, or to send any wine or fruit to England, I will grind the Spanish monarchy to powder, and will hang the Prince of the Peace on a gibbet so high that every one shall see him."

Godoy replied that he would rather be dead than trade with the English, that he abominated all Englishmen, especially since the battle of Trafalgar, and that he thought the French were the salt of the earth, and the Emperor Napoleon an angel, who had been sent into the world as a blessing.

At all of which Napoleon smiled more grimly than ever.

King Charles the Fourth and his merry queen nearly died of fright when Napoleon began to threaten. When Godoy came to them and said be had made it all right with the emperor, and that Napoleon and he loved each other a little better than brothers, the imbecile king could not sufficiently reward his wife's friend. He made him generalissimo of the army, lord high admiral of the fleet, protector of commerce, and serene highness. Loaded with all these new dignities, and surrounded by a splendid retinue, all on prancing horses, with trumpets blowing and girls strewing flowers, the prince made his entry into Madrid, as if he had saved his country.

But he had reached the turning-point in his destiny. A French army carne creeping, creeping over the Pyrenees, and wormed its way through the mountains of Galicia and the Asturias into Portugal. The Spaniards knew what this meant. All at once, without any warning, they rose in the night and attacked the favorite's house, set it on fire, set fire to his brother's house, pillaged both of them, and burned them to the ground. Strong men cried with rage when they found that Godoy had escaped them. They wanted to tear him limb from limb with their nails. Think how long they had hated him and swallowed down their hate!

Hardly a day had passed before they caught him. Ah! his story would not take long to tell if, on that day, some brave Spaniards had not interposed between him and the mob, and locked him up in a prison for safe-keeping. So fierce was the fury of the people that the miserable creature cowered and shivered behind the strong stone walls of his prison when he heard the howls and the roar outside. He did not stay long in jail. Napoleon needed a tool to help him plunder Spain. He sent an army to escort the prince to Bayonne, and employed him to assist in the degradation of his country.

After the war in Spain was ended, Godoy lived in Paris, and when Napoleon fell, he found himself pretty lonely. Spaniards would have nothing to say to him, and he was afraid of going out at night for fear of being stabbed in the back. His money ran short. He would have starved if the French government had not granted him a pension of a thousand dollars a year. In 1842, when he was an old man, Spain restored to him some of his estates, and he lived in a sort of splendor till 1851, when he died, far from all those who had loved him.

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