Gateway to the Classics: Story of the Greatest Nations: Spain by Charles F. Horne
Story of the Greatest Nations: Spain by  Charles F. Horne

Spain Under the Bourbons


The Defense of Saragossa.

We now approach the reign of the first Bourbon in Spain. The founder of the historical family of that name, which came in time to possess several European thrones, was Adhemar, at the beginning of the tenth century. The name itself comes from the castle and seignory of Bourbon, in the ancient province of Bourbonnais, in the central part of France. This is not the place to follow the ramifications of the many collateral branches, which were identified with numerous sovereignties, but rather to show how the Bourbons came into the possession of the Spanish throne.

As has been stated, Philip IV. died in 1665. He left three children—Charles, who now became Charles II. of Spain; Maria Teresa, who married Louis XIV. of France, and Margaret, Queen of Hungary. Under Charles the Spanish kingdom rapidly declined, but such was the mighty prestige she had gained during the preceding two centuries that even in her decay she held the respect of other nations. Before his death in 1700, Charles, who was childless, promised the Spanish throne to both Charles of Hapsburg, Archduke of Austria, and Philip of Bourbon, the grandson of Louis XIV. and Maria Theresa.


The last of the Moors expelled by Philip III.

The question of the succession was of the highest importance to other nations, especially to England, Germany, and Holland; for the Spanish crown carried with it the sovereignty of the Netherlands, the Milanese, Naples, Sicily, and the enormous possessions in the New World. If all these went to the French Philip, there was good ground for alarm, since Philip was a mere boy, and it was his ambitious and shrewd grandfather, Louis XIV., who would be the real ruler. Louis was already the mightiest king in Europe, and such an accession to his power might make him irresistible. So most of the Powers of Europe supported Charles of Hapsburg, who was a younger son of the German Emperor Leopold.

You might have supposed that the Spaniards themselves would be allowed some voice in the matter, and, indeed, their Cortes met and offered the throne to the French aspirant, Philip. He was duly crowned as Philip V.; but that did not discourage the allies, who sent Charles into the land with an army of Austrians and English to assert his claim to the crown; while they all together turned against Louis XIV. and attacked him in the "War of the Spanish Succession."

This was the war of Marlborough's victories. Gibraltar was wrenched forever from Spain and became English. At Vigo the French fleets were destroyed, and Toulon was besieged both by sea and land. The French forces in Italy were sent in headlong flight by Prince Eugene, who scared France by his approach to its boundaries. In the midst of these crushing calamities Louis was sorely afflicted by the death of his only son and two of his grandsons, so that the lonely old monarch found that the only one left in the direct line of succession was his infant great-grandson.

An extraordinary complication secured to Philip his doubtful hold upon the throne of Spain. When the war had gone on for more than twelve years, Charles of Hapsburg, through a series of deaths, became Emperor of Germany. Now, if he should become King of Spain also, the "balance of power" would be more endangered than by the choice of Philip of Bourbon. So what did England and Holland do but turn round and ratify the nomination of Philip for the Spanish crown Louis was astonished indeed, and another forceful illustration was given of the criminal foolishness of war. That for the Spanish Succession was concluded by the treaty of Utrecht (1713) and of Rastadt (1714). Louis XIV. died the next year, and that is how Philip V. became the first Bourbon King of Spain.

Philip was born at Versailles in 1683, and married Maria Louisa, daughter of Victor Amadeus. She died in 1714, and he espoused Elizabeth Farnese of Parma, who had no trouble in persuading her husband to commit the government to Alberoni, who was successively made grandee, cardinal, and prime minister. Of Philip, the historian says he was noted for good nature, had few faults and as few virtues, with just and honorable sentiments, but was wholly deficient in energy, with no taste for anything beyond devotional exercises and the chase. He was made to be governed, and was wholly under the control of his talented wife, to whom he could refuse nothing.

The career of Alberoni was remarkable. It was he who destroyed the last liberties and rights of the Spanish people. In his insatiate ambition he knew no such thing as scruple or honor. To please his mistress, he violated the treaty of Utrecht by invading Sardinia, hoping to re-establish the monarchy of Charles V. and Philip II. This audacious act caused the regent of France to break off his alliance with Spain and to unite with England and Germany. Undismayed, Alberoni pressed the war, even after the Spanish fleet in the Mediterranean had been destroyed by an English one (1719). He angered the French King by patronizing the French Protestants, and stirred the resentment of England by his open friendship for the Pretender; he did his utmost to make Peter of Russia and Charles XII. of Sweden his allies, to drive Austria into a war with the Turks and to incite a revolt in Hungary. Through his intrigues with the French court he actually secured the arrest of the Duke of Orleans, the regent.


Destruction of the Spanish fleet in the Mediterranean, 1719.

By this time, however, the complaints against the firebrand frightened Philip, and he concluded a treaty of peace, one of whose conditions was that Alberoni should be dismissed. It may be doubted, however, whether Philip would have taken this decisive action but for the urging of his wife, Elizabeth, who could no longer stand the arrogance of her late favorite. In December, 1720, the prime minister was notified that he must leave Madrid within twenty-four hours and Spain within five days.

What a striking commentary on human greatness that this man, who had kept all Europe in a turmoil, now did not know whither to turn! He was in that dreadful position of not having a living friend, for every Power hated him, and none more bitterly than the Pope of Rome. Alberoni disguised himself and took a fictitious name, but was arrested in Genoese territory, and on the urgency of the Pope and the Spanish monarch, was imprisoned. He soon recovered his liberty, however, and Innocent XIII. coming to the papacy, all the rights and dignities of a cardinal were restored to Alberoni, who lived to be nearly ninety years old.

Philip's dislike of the vexations of royalty became so intense in 1724 that he abdicated in favor of his son, who died a few months later, and, therefore, does not figure among the Kings of Spain, for the father was obliged to reassume the detested crown, which he held until his death, in 1746. He was succeeded by his son, Ferdinand VI., who proved to be a just and humane ruler. His intelligent energy developed the internal welfare of his country, strengthened the navy, and greatly increased the manufactures. His wise political course placed his brother on the throne of Naples. Since his death occurred in 1759, his reign saw the destruction of Lisbon, Lima, and Quito by earthquakes.

Charles, the brother of Ferdinand, now came to the throne. He was King of Naples, which he surrendered for the crown of Spain at the death of his brother, Ferdinand. Under him there was a considerable revival of commerce and different industries, and could the regenerating process have been kept up Spain might have won something of her former power and prestige. But Charles was called upon to go the way of all flesh in 1788, and was succeeded by his son of the same name, who was forty years old, and one of the most abominable examples of the Bourbon family that has cursed so many nations and peoples.

Manuel de Godoy, Duke of Alcudia, was a handsome youth, who at the age of twenty entered the King's bodyguard at Madrid and became a favorite of the weak King as well as the vicious Queen. She had been the Princess Maria Louisa of Parma. Godoy had honors heaped upon him, and was afterward known as the Duke of Alcudia and the Prince of Peace. In the brief space of four years, he moved up from the rank of a private in the Life Guard to that of prime minister of Spain and Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece.

This wretch became the power behind the throne and the real ruler of Spain. Everybody except the King knew that he was the lover of the Queen, who was shamelessly infatuated with him. In all the trouble that followed, the "poor Prince" was first in her thought, and all her efforts were for his welfare. He was the most unpopular man in the kingdom, and never could have sustained himself for a day but for the shocking passion of his royal mistress, who taught him the art of intrigue, which was the highest of all arts in that wretched country, and showed him how to control the King.

There was one person, however, who did not conceal his detestation of Godoy: that was Ferdinand, the eldest son of the King and the heir to the throne. As a consequence, his parents turned against Ferdinand, who was as tricky and fond of double dealing as they. When the Terror came to France, Godoy found himself in a situation to which he was unequal. Naturally the sympathies of the Madrid court were with Louis XVI., for he was a Bourbon sovereign; but if this sympathy took active form, France was likely to pour her armies over the frontier, and then "the deluge" would come. An alliance with that country would encourage Spanish revolutionists and offend England, who would close communication with the Spanish-American provinces. A policy of neutrality was tried. Godoy attempted the role of peacemaker, and offered immense bribes to members of the Convention to vote against taking the life of Louis. When Louis was guillotined, the Spanish court went into mourning and moved several regiments to the northern border. France replied by declaring war against Spain, in March, 1793, whereupon Spain made an alliance with England, whom she hated. But the French arms were victorious, and Godoy gladly made peace, stipulating that the French rulers should be lenient with the children of the dead King and Queen. No attention was paid to this condition, and the treaty was signed at Basle, in July, 1795. It was in recognition of these "splendid services" that Godoy was made Knight of the Golden Fleece, Grandee of Spain of the First Class and Prince of Peace, with an enormous sum of money thrown in to enable him to maintain himself in a style befitting his exalted rank.


Reception at the court of Charles IV, 1804.

In the following year Spain made an alliance with Holland, which so offended England that she declared war, captured the Island of Trinidad, and destroyed the Spanish commerce with the West Indies. Godoy neglected so grossly to defend his country that a cabal compelled the Queen to dismiss him from his office as prime minister; but no power on earth could dismiss him from her adoration, and it was not long before he came back to the Council Board. By this time the mailed hand of Napoleon Bonaparte made itself felt at Madrid. It would be hard to decide which he despised the most—the weak, vacillating King Charles, the intriguing, shameless Queen Maria Louisa, the incompetent, unscrupulous Godoy, or the truculent Ferdinand, son of the royal couple. He played them one against the other for several years, violating promises, betraying friends, and obeying his own ambitious impulses in a style peculiarly his own. All these people feared the terrible conqueror and did everything to gain his good-will. They allied Spain to France, and at Trafalgar, in October, 1805, the naval power of both countries was annihilated by the English. An alliance on the part of England, Russia, Prussia, and Saxony against France was signed in 1806, and secret treaties were made with Spain and Portugal, by which, when called upon, they were to join the alliance.

Bonaparte came so to detest the Spanish character, and especially the puppets who in turn had control of affairs, that against the advice of his best friends he determined to secure Spain by placing one of his own family on the throne. Prince Ferdinand had every reason to believe that the mighty autocrat would make him king after depriving his parents of power, but in 1808 Joseph Bonaparte, who was ruling in Naples, was brought much against his will to Spain, to assume the crown.

Joseph Bonaparte was about a year and a half older than his famous brother, with whose character his had little similarity. Joseph had no liking for war, was not inordinately ambitious, and strove, so far as he could, to benefit those over whom he was placed, and to make their happiness his chief aim. But like all who came in contact with his resistless brother, he bowed to his imperious will. After the coronation of Napoleon, Joseph was made commander-in-chief of the army of Naples; ruler of the two Sicilies in 1805, and King of Naples in 1806. Many beneficial changes were there brought about by him, such as the abolition of feudality, the suppression of convents, the building of roads, the extinction of banditti, and the establishment of good laws. In consenting to accept the throne of Spain he had stipulated that his reforms should be carried out in Italy, but the promise was forgotten when Murat took his place as King of Naples.

In July, 1808, England made a treaty with Spain, recognizing Ferdinand VII. as King, and sent an army to aid the Spanish uprising. Joseph Bonaparte reached Spain on July 9, and his army defeating the Spaniards at Rio Seco, he entered Madrid on the 20th. Joseph, however, suffered defeat at Baylen, and after a ten days' residence at the capital, was obliged to retire north to Vittoria. The patriots were also encouraged by the Spaniards in Saragossa, which did not surrender until the French stormed the city, street by street, house by house, even church by church, and slew some sixty thousand of the populace.

Joseph possessed only a moderate amount of military ability, and speedily found himself unable to cope with the Spanish insurgents, who seemed to be springing up everywhere. His great brother continually reproved, advised, and commanded him, and it is to be assumed that the elder did the best he knew how, which was not much. He begged his brother to relieve him of his distressing situation, but Napoleon refused.

Sir Arthur Wellesley, afterward the Duke of Wellington, landed on the 5th of August with an auxiliary force at Mondego Bay. Immediately he opened the Peninsula War and defeated the French at Roliza and Vimiero, but he was recalled to England. In November, Napoleon entered Spain and assumed command of the one hundred thousand men Ney had marched thither. He was repeatedly successful, and early in December recaptured Madrid. Then he departed to guide his followers in the war with Austria.

Sir John Moore at this time commanded the English forces in Spain, which were much inferior in numbers to those of the French. Moore was driven backward until he reached Corunna, on the 11th of January, 1809, and his troops withdrew from Spain. The native Spanish troops were quite unequal to meeting the French in open battle, and the struggle for independence sank to a mere guerrilla warfare. In the latter part of the following April, General Wellesley arrived once more in Portugal and at once began vigorous operations. The French were soon driven from Oporto, and Portugal fell into the possession of the British.


An episode of the siege of Saragossa.

A number of causes united to aid the English. The several French armies holding Spain worked disjointedly, Napoleon was compelled to withdraw large levies to assist him in his other continental wars, he himself could not remain in Spain to direct operations, and the Spanish and Portuguese guerrillas fought viciously against their oppressors, the French. By the display of masterly generalship, Wellesley succeeded after four admirably conducted campaigns in driving the French from the Peninsula, the most important battles being the storming of the French strongholds at Badajoz and Ciudad Rodrigo, and the battle of Salamanca (1812). Salamanca was fortified by the French, who turned its many churches and convents into batteries. Sometimes fighting and church services went on together, for the brave Spanish priests refused to abandon their altars. Napoleon sent his brilliant and trusted Soult to stop the British from entering France; but he failed, and, early in 1814, the long contest ended in the complete success of the English arms.

When Napoleon was a prisoner at St. Helena, he was fond of philosophizing over the amazing events of his career and explaining the policy which controlled him at certain crises. Referring to the incidents that culminated in the Spanish war, he said:

"It was that unhappy war in Spain that ruined me. The results have irrevocably proved that I was in the wrong. But there were serious faults in the execution of my plans. One of the greatest was that of having attached so much importance to the dethronement of the Bourbons. Charles IV. was worn out. I might have given a liberal constitution to the Spanish nation, and charged Ferdinand with its execution. If he had put it in force in good faith Spain would have prospered, and put itself in harmony with our new institutions. If he failed in the performance of his engagements, he would have met with his dismissal from the Spaniards themselves. The unfortunate war in Spain proved a real wound,—the first cause of the misfortune of France. If I could have foreseen that that affair would cause me so much vexation and chagrin, I would never have engaged in it. But after the first steps taken in the affair, it was impossible for me to recede. When I saw those imbeciles quarrelling and trying to dethrone each other, I thought I might as well take advantage of it to dispossess an inimical family, but I was not the contriver of their disputes. Had I known at the first that the transaction would have given me so much trouble, I never would have engaged in it."

After his Russian disaster Napoleon saw that it was impossible to hold the Peninsula, and he recalled Joseph and offered to reinstate Ferdinand VII. on the throne. The latter returned to Spain on the 14th of March, 1814, and was received with every expression of affection and loyalty. The fact that he had been the unrelenting enemy of Godoy, and had suffered at his hands, was sufficient to make all like him, and great things were hoped from his rule. But unfortunately for Spain the character of Ferdinand had undergone a complete change, or rather his true character had developed. Ingratitude, "the basest of all crimes," controlled him, and caring nothing for the sacrifices his people had endured in his cause, he became an uncompromising absolutist. Before he reached Madrid, he refused to swear to the liberal constitution adopted by the Cortes in 1812, though he promised to grant a good one in its place.

The perfidy of Ferdinand disgusted Europe. He began a furious persecution of all who were suspected of holding liberal opinions, and imprisonments, executions, and confiscations of property turned the kingdom upside down. Liberty of speech was denied; the fearful Inquisition with the hideous rack was restored. The tyrant exiled those whom he did not choose to torture to death, and, in short, became a modern Nero. In 1820 the worm turned, and a formidable uprising forced Ferdinand to restore the constitution of 1812. The French Government, however, interfered, and absolutism was re-established, in 1823.

It was during this period of turmoil in Spain that her American colonies seized the opportunity to free themselves from her long oppression. Paraguay, which revolted in 1810, was the first to secure its independence, a fact due to its isolated position. Mexico rebelled in the same year under the leadership of two priests, Hidalgo and Morelos; and the first national congress which assembled in 1813 declared the independence of the country, which was not gained, however, until after years of fighting, civil war, anarchy, and no end of bloodshed. Ecuador declared itself independent in 1820, and two years later united with New Granada and Venezuela to form the republic of Colombia, under Simon Bolivar. So it went to the end, until Spain at last was left with only the islands of Cuba and Porto Rico on the American continent, and those were to be wrested from her before the close of the century.

Ferdinand VII. was married four times. His first wife was a princess of Naples, alert, intriguing, and a bitter enemy of Godoy; his second, a Portuguese princess and a cousin, was mild, kind, and loving; the third was much the same. None of the three bore him any children. The third wife died in May, 1829, and four months later a marriage contract was signed with Christina, a sister of his third wife, and niece of Queen Marie Amelie, wife of the French King, Louis Philippe. You cannot forget what sort of woman the mother of Ferdinand was. Well, Queen Christina was just as bad. I would say worse, but that seems hardly possible, for both sank to the lowest depth of degradation.


The storming of Badajoz.

We are told that after his fourth marriage there came a noticeable change in the character of Ferdinand. He was fitful in his impulses, continually indulging in whimsical acts, and, after alarming those about him, would switch off and frighten those whom he had just pleased by his conduct. Once he had shown a fondness for public business, but now he felt an aversion for it. He hated to show himself in public, and became more and more subject to the strong-willed Queen. He weakened physically as well as mentally. His hands trembled, he was languid, sighed a great deal, became listless, and sank into melancholia.

When it became known that she was soon to become a mother, the Queen set to work to induce King Ferdinand to sign an abrogation of the law of succession. This law declared that so long as there was a male heir to the throne, no matter how remote, no female should succeed to it. When Ferdinand was asked to sign the abrogation, he flared up and swore he would never consent; but the wily Christina persevered and gave him no rest until his signature was attached to the important decree. The law that had prevailed for a hundred and twenty years became of no effect.

The promulgation of this decree caused profound excitement throughout the kingdom. Note what it did. Under the old law, if Ferdinand died without male issue, the crown would pass to his brother, Don Carlos, and to his male descendants. Naturally Don Carlos vigorously protested against a change, and all the male members of the family did the same, prominent among them being the father of Queen Christina, who was King of Naples. The protest was joined by the Bourbons of France, and even by Louis Philippe, at that time Duke of Orleans.

Of course, if the child when born should prove to be a boy, all this made little difference; but lo! it was a girl, as was the second and only remaining child born to the royal couple. The former was Isabella, who first saw the light on October 10, 1830, and at once crowded Don Carlos out of his right as heir to the throne. Now, to show the vacillation of Ferdinand. In September, 1832, he abrogated his law permitting females to inherit the crown, and restored the old law of 1713. About two months later, he alleged that he had been taken by surprise and deceived into doing this in order to prevent civil war, and on the last day of 1832 he reversed his abrogation. The miserable creature was in such a bodily and mental state, and so completely under the influence of his wife, that it is hard to censure him for playing the weather cock. He died September 29, 1833.

Queen Christina had now to maintain the position of her infant daughter, Isabella. You can readily bear in mind the distinction between the most prominent parties of Spain. The repeal of the ancient law caused all the trouble. But for that repeal, Don Carlos would have become the successor to Ferdinand, and the crown would have passed to his male descendants. Those descendants still to-day claim the crown, and their adherents are Carlists. Their representative at present is the grandson of this Don Carlos, who was the disinherited brother of Ferdinand VII.

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