Spanish Military Power – First Half of the Eighteenth Century II

Recruitment of Spanish Troops

Despite Philip V’s reliance on foreign troops, his army was largely Spanish, that is, recruited from among his subjects in Spain. This is hardly surprising. Spaniards had long been prized for their endurance, their fighting qualities, and their supposed loyalty as well as for the fact that they were cheaper and less likely to desert than foreign troops. In addition, the loss of the non-Spanish European territories restricted recruiting opportunities in those areas after 1713. In any case, Spanish efforts to recruit abroad were not always welcome: in 1736 the activities of Spanish recruiters in Rome prompted riots there and the expulsion of all Spanish residents. Practical necessity, then, ensured that Spain itself would see much recruiting activity, especially in 1717–20, 1732, and 1735 and again between 1741 and 1748.

Before 1700 recruitment in Spain had been overseen by the Council of War, guided by the Comisario General. However, the War of the Spanish Succession and its aftermath saw important changes in the role of the council, whose executive role largely passed to the newly established office of Secretary of State for War (below), while in 1704 the office of Comisario General had been replaced by that of Director General of Infantry. In the localities, however, recruitment was still largely left to the bodies and officials who had been responsible for it before 1700, namely, the alcaldes, or magistrates, of the numerous settlements inhabited by a largely scattered population, corregidores, and, where they existed, the officials of the Chancillerías and Audiencias, which in Spain as in the Americas were as much administrative as judicial bodies. Briefly, between 1718 and 1721, and, not coincidentally, at the height of Philip V’s first bid for Italian dominion, there was an abortive experiment with intendants, or intendentes, of the army and provinces; but between 1721 and the full-scale reintroduction of a network of provincial intendants in 1749, the only intendants were those of the army, in the three realms of the Crown of Aragon, Majorca, and the other frontier provinces, Andalusia, Castile, Estremadura, and Galicia, plus the intendants who accompanied each overseas expeditionary force (see below). Local recruitment in Spain during the Wars of the Polish and Austrian Successions was thus largely the responsibility and achievement of an older, effective administrative setup.

Most historians of the Spanish military in the eighteenth century have focused largely on involuntary recruitment and the Bourbon state’s imposition of an obligation to serve. There is good reason for this (see below), but it ignores the preference of monarch and ministers for, and the continued importance of, voluntary enlistment, as many men responded willingly to the recruiting captain or sergeant. Evidence of this is provided by both royal legislation and the discharge certificates given to those leaving the army. In June 1745 one Antonio de Plata, a soldier in the Lisbon infantry regiment, was discharged. When he was press-ganged almost three years later in 1748, his certificate was produced by his wife in support of her petition for his release; according to that document, Antonio had enlisted voluntarily in 1736. Volunteers still accounted for the largest number of recruits in the Spanish army towards the close of the War of the Austrian Succession, when recruiting captains were still expected to find men of this type.

Explaining why men in a society which does not appear to have held the soldier in high regard enlisted is not easy, not least because little evidence survives as to why they did so. However, many of the reasons which have been identified for earlier periods no doubt continued to apply in the early eighteenth century: camaraderie, a desire to escape family, village, or town and embarrassing entanglements there, and, not least for those hoping to escape poverty, enlistment money and army pay: in 1731 recruits in Murcia were offered eight and even sixteen pesos on joining up. Enlistment money, pay at a time when wages were falling in real terms, and the guarantee of food in hard times, as in the thirties and early forties, when harvests were poor and mortality rates high, might also attract volunteers. Some others may have been attracted by the fuero militar, the distinctive military jurisdiction or privilege, the proliferation of which triggered occasional confrontations between the civil and military authorities. Such spats necessitated the imposition of limitations by the crown, not least when the fuero was abused, as it had been under the Habsburgs, to cover fraud. Whatever drew them, volunteers could always be found.

A variant on the system of voluntary recruiting just described, in which all the costs of the levy were borne by the king, was the practice whereby the monarch accepted an offer to recruit a company or even a whole regiment from an individual. The recruiter would then bear those costs before the men entered the royal service in return for various benefits, including the right to appoint officers, otherwise a royal prerogative. This privatisation or devolution of recruitment by means of an asiento agreed with a contractor was not entirely new, having been practiced in the Habsburg era. In some respects it simply represented a variant on the so-called military entrepreneurship of an earlier age. It also manifested a venality which was widespread in Philip V’s Spain. For the applicant, or asentista, it often meant buying promotion within the army or a fixed post or both and also offered the prospect of social advancement. Typically, in 1719 D. Felipe Serrano y Contreras, a “reformed” lieutenant colonel of cavalry, offered to raise at his own cost a company of 100 infantry. To fund this operation he sought permission to burden his entail with loans, to the value of 4,000 ducados. Philip V referred the request to the Council of Castile and its adjunct, the Cámara de Castilla, which monitored and protected entails. The Cámara expressed concern, wanting to consult the heir to the entail, whose interests would be affected by the grant. Philip, however, while acknowledging these misgivings, insisted that the petition be granted, immediately, given his urgent need of troops, implying that the demands of war underpinned the assertion, if only briefly and episodically, of greater royal authority, absolutism, at the expense of traditional practices and constraints.

The speed and economy involved in this method of raising men had great attraction for the king and some of his ministers, but such offers were not simply rubber-stamped by them. Some bargaining was always necessary, as when, in 1719, the Sicilian duke of San Blas offered 300 cavalry. Sometimes, too, the agreement required subsequent adjustment. In 1748 D. Jayme Torrijos was granted the captaincy of a company in the Lisbon infantry regiment in return for raising 70 men, to be delivered to Badajoz in Estremadura. Upon his arrival in Valencia to recruit the men, however, the captain general of that realm, the duque de Caylus, thought the original destination inappropriate. The distance the recruits must travel was too great, with potential loss through desertion and sickness, and the duke urged instead that Torrijos give his recruits to a captain in the Murcia regiment who already had the king’s commission to recruit in Valencia. Last, units raised privately had to be approved by royal officials before being accepted into the king’s service and pay.

Recruiting in this way was both cheap and speedy and highly attractive at the start of a conflict; it may have been the largest single source of new regiments under Philip V. Between 1718 and 1720, 40 battalions of infantry of 13 companies each, 6 cavalry squadrons of 4 companies, and 40 squadrons of dragoons of 3 companies—a total of 664 companies—were raised by this means. During the War of the Polish Succession, of 20 new regiments levied in 1734–35, just 3 were raised at royal expense; as for the War of the Austrian Succession, privatisation of this sort raised 10 new battalions in 1742.

But voluntary recruiting, despite efforts to make the army more attractive by, for example, reducing the length of service (as in 1741, to three years), did not always yield sufficient men. In these circumstances, compulsion of some sort was the answer. Impressment took various forms. It had long been usual to condemn convicted criminals and other malefactors to the African garrisons, which men were reluctant to volunteer for, and the practice continued. In 1701 penalties imposing presidio service laid down in 1684 for the defrauding of the royal tobacco monopoly were confirmed, in 1724 five men condemned after anti-seigneurial disturbances in Galicia were sentenced to service in an African presidio, and in July 1741 the captain general of Catalonia despatched thirty-four convicts to Oran, condemned to presidio service by the criminal court of the royal Audiencia and by the auditor general of the Army of Catalonia. Other convicted offenders might themselves elect such service as an alternative to prison or have it chosen for them by local communities eager to be free of the threat they posed and the cost of their incarceration. In 1748, following the arrest of one Joseph Madrid for defrauding the king’s salt revenues, his community requested that he and two accomplices serve with the army for four campaigns. The courts supplied a steady trickle of men for the African garrisons and for other, regular units throughout Philip V’s reign. Other criminals might seek a pardon in return for military service.

Another tried-and-tested means of forcible recruitment, one which could claim to be trying to solve the problem of delinquency at a more general level, was the impressment of the rootless poor, as had happened before 1700 and during the War of the Spanish Succession. Roundups of this sort were ordered in July 1717, July 1718, 1732, December 1733, December 1744, and in April and June 1745. Philip’s periodic drives against vagabonds coincided with and were driven by his need for troops for operations in Africa and Italy.

Rounding up of this sort was often designated a levy, or leva, to distinguish it from another method of impressment, the so-called quinta. Originally signifying, as its name suggests, the imposition on communities of an obligation to provide one-fifth of their eligible menfolk, the quinta, another tried-and-tested method, inevitably attracted a monarch needing men for his Mediterranean adventures. A quinta was an integral part of the preparations for the Oran expedition in 1732, and, following its departure, another was expected as part of a larger recruitment drive which would both supply more men for Oran and replace 25,000 men recently despatched to Majorca, Italy, and the other African garrisons. In fact, a quinta of 7,153 men was ordered in December 1732, justified as a last resort on the grounds of the king’s failure to find sufficient volunteers. It is no coincidence that the major eighteenth-century Spanish work on this subject, Francisco de Oya y Ozores’s Tratado de levas, quintas y reclutas de gente de Guerra, was published a couple of years later, in 1734, at the height of the War of the Polish Succession. These two means of the forcible recruiting of men remained the poles around which discussion and practice revolved. In 1741 the president of the Council of Castile, which in some respects spoke for the Castilian towns, vetoed a quinta proposed by the secretary for war, but a forcible levy to raise 7,919 men was ordered in December 1741, as Philip V prepared to intervene in Italy. As the Austrian succession struggle progressed, the need for men meant further drives of this sort. In December 1746 Ferdinand VI ordered a combination of quinta and levy to secure 25,000 men for 1747, the largest such mobilisation throughout this period, more than three times the number of men ordered to be levied in 1741–42.

How did it work? The king and his ministers having decided upon the number of men required, the total was broken down into provincial quotas which bore some relationship to demographic capacity. The largest quota in the quinta levy ordered in December 1732, for example, was that assigned the populous Galicia, 878 men, or just over 10 percent of the total number the levy was intended to yield. In Old Castile, by contrast, the province of Burgos, with a much smaller population, was expected to give 367 men, or just under 5 percent of the total, and the city of Burgos, the assembly point for the quotas of that province and for those of Toro, Palencia, Soria, Avila, Segovia, Salamanca, and Valladolid, just 19 men. Quotas remained fairly constant. In December 1741, following Philip V’s decision to impose another quinta, of 7,919 men, the province of Burgos was asked for 400 men and the city itself just 17, a proportionate increase on the number requested towards the slightly smaller overall levy of 1732. Individual quotas were communicated to the provincial officials responsible for their implementation. In December 1746, for example, the intendant of Galicia was informed of that realm’s share (1,181) of the 25,000 men Ferdinand VI hoped to find, and he in turn assigned quotas to the realm’s seven principal cities. The intendant would also contact the local magistrates. The magistrates oversaw the lottery, or sorteo (below), which was increasingly the method used to identify those who should fulfil the community’s quota, and arranged for the men selected to be sent to the assembly point. Captains would then escort the men to the ports where they embarked for their destination.

It was rarely so simple in practice. Quinta levies were unpopular with those called up, and observers were often pessimistic about their likely yield. In 1726 the introduction of quintas provoked riots in Catalonia. Their unpopularity was one reason they were not the first resort of the king and his ministers, who often justified other measures to raise men on the grounds of their reluctance to impose a quinta. Those who could exploited any relevant privileges to avoid being taken. In December 1732 the town of Solera in Cuenca, which was expected to find 76 men, successfully petitioned for exemption from both quintas and levas, pleading its obligation to maintain the royal sheepwalk along which the flocks of the Mesta moved. The following year one of the directors of the tobacco revenues, D. Jacobo Flon, complained that the corregidor of León had included in the sorteo employees of the tobacco monopoly, despite a royal order exempting them. The king ordered the release of any of these men who had been levied and who had been employed in the monopoly fifteen days before the publication of the quintas. Reflecting the unpopularity of levies of all types, new grants of privilege in these decades frequently included exemptions from them.

Not all claims of exemption succeeded. In December 1741 the corregidor of Burgos demanded 3 men of the town of Torrecilla of a total of 82 men assigned the district, or partido, of Logroño. In response, the magistrates of Torrecilla pleaded a royal exemption, granted for ten years, from January 1735, but to no avail. Those unable to plead a privilege sometimes simply fled. Some of those unlucky enough to win this lottery purchased substitutes, resulting in accusations of collusion by officials. In 1735, following an extensive investigation, charges were prepared against the prince of Campoflorido, the captain general of the realm of Aragon, the intendant, and others responsible for the execution of the quintas of 1733–34 there. The charges included allowing those who had been selected in the lottery to buy themselves out. Others who were forcibly levied might be rescued by more violent means: in 1733 a diplomatic incident was triggered when the Dutch ambassador’s servants forcibly freed men who had been impressed in Seville.

Not all resisted, and many fugitives were recovered or replaced, to an extent that although the yield of the forced levies was sometimes poor they did contribute large numbers of men to the various expeditions to Africa and Italy. In January 1742, for example, the corregidor of Burgos delivered up 180 quintados of that province, almost half of its quota of 400 men, who then left for Barcelona and Italy. Two weeks later D. Joseph López Colmenero, the captain of the Burgos infantry regiment, led another 142 quintados to Barcelona, so that just 78 men remained to be found to meet the quota. A week later, the recruiting captain D. Joseph Alberto Bonnet reported the arrival from Soria of 71 men, although he had to dismiss seven of them as ineligible or incapable. From the announcement of the quinta in December 1741 it had taken less than two months for Burgos to raise 96 percent of its quota. Burgos was by no means exceptional, as other cities and provinces too fulfilled their quotas, even if belatedly. Quotas might even be exceeded: in January 1748 Juan Francisco de Urdainz despatched 109 men from Salamanca, more than the 100 demanded from that city and its district. Not surprisingly, local magistrates involved in quintas and levies cited their services and their success when petitioning for royal favours.


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