The Great Inca Rebellion – The Siege of Cuzco I

As always, the Spaniards’ first reaction to a disturbance with the Indians was to try to seize the initiative. Hernando sent his brother Juan with seventy cavalrymen – virtually every horse then in Cuzco – to disperse the Indians in the Yucay valley. While riding across the plateau of rolling grassy hills that separates the valley of Cuzco from that of Yucay, they met the two Spaniards who had been with Manco. These had been beguiled by him into leaving when he continued towards Lares, and they were now returning in all innocence to Cuzco, unaware of any native rebellion. The first sight of the magnitude of the opposition came when Pizarro’s men appeared at the brow of the plateau and looked down at the beautiful valley beneath them. This is one of the loveliest views in the Andes; the river below winds across the broad flat floor of the valley, whose rocky sides rise as abruptly as the fantastic scenery in the background of a sixteenth-century painting. The slopes are tightly contoured with neat lines of Inca terraces, and above them, in the distance, the snowy peaks of the Calca and Paucartambo hills shine brilliantly in the thin air. But now the valley was filled with native troops, Manco’s own levies from the area around Cuzco. The Spaniards had to fight their way across the river, swimming their horses. The Indians retreated on to the slopes and allowed the cavalry to occupy Calca, which they found full of a great treasure of gold, silver, native women and baggage. They occupied the town for three or four days, with the natives harassing the sentries at night but making no other attempt to drive them out. The reason for this was appreciated only when a horseman from Hernando Pizarro galloped in to recall the cavalry with all possible speed; for irresistible hordes of native troops were massing on all the hills around Cuzco itself. The cavalry force was harassed continuously on the return journey, but succeeded in entering the city, to the relief of the remaining citizens.

‘As we returned we found many squadrons of warriors continuously arriving and camping in the steepest places around Cuzco to await the assembly of all [their men]. After they had all arrived, they camped on the plain as well as on the hills. So many troops came there that they covered the fields. By day they looked like a black carpet covering everything for half a league around the city of Cuzco, and by night there were so many fires that it resembled nothing less than a very clear sky filled with stars.’ This was one of the great moments of the Inca empire. With their genius for organisation, Manco’s commanders had succeeded in assembling the country’s fighting men and in arming, feeding and marching them to the investiture of the capital. All this had been done despite the fact that the empire’s communications and supply depots were disrupted, and without giving any warning to’ the astute and suspicious foreigners occupying the land. All the Spaniards were taken by surprise by the mobilisation at their gates, and were staggered by its size. Their estimates of the numbers opposing them ranged from 50,000 to 400,000, but the accepted figure by the majority of chroniclers and eyewitnesses was between 100,000 and 200,000.

The great colourful steam-roller of native levies closed in from every horizon around Cuzco. Titu Cusi wrote with pride that ‘Curiatao, Coyllas, Taipi and many other commanders entered the city from the Carmenca side … and sealed the gate with their men. Huaman-Quilcana and Curi-Hualpa entered on the Condesuyo side from the direction of Cachicachi and closed a great gap of over half a league. All were excellently equipped and in battle array. Llicllic and many other commanders entered on the Collasuyo side with an immense contingent, the largest group that took part in the siege. Anta-Aclla, Ronpa Yupanqui and many others entered on the Antisuyo side to complete the encirclement of the Spaniards.’

The native build-up around Cuzco continued for some weeks after the return of Juan Pizarro’s cavalry. The warriors had learned to respect Spanish cavalry on level ground, and they kept to the slopes. The royal general Inquill was in charge of the encircling forces, assisted by the high priest Villac Umu and a young commander Paucar Huaman. Manco maintained his headquarters at Calca.

Villac Umu pressed for an immediate attack, but Manco told him to wait until every last contingent had arrived and the attacking forces had become irresistible. He explained that it would do the Spaniards no harm to suffer confinement just as he had done: he himself would come to finish them off in due course. Villac Umu was distressed by the delay, and even Manco’s son criticised his father for it. But Manco was applying Napoleon’s dictum that the art of generalship is to come to battle with a force vastly superior to the enemy’s. He thought that his warriors’ only hope against the Spanish cavalry lay in overwhelming numbers. Villac Umu had to content himself with occupying Cuzco’s citadel, Sacsahuaman, and with destroying the irrigation canals to flood the fields around the city.

The Spaniards inside Cuzco were suffering just as much anxiety as Manco had hoped. There were only 190 Spaniards in the city, and of these only eighty were mounted. The entire burden of the fighting fell on the cavalry, for the ‘greater part of the infantry were thin and debilitated men’. Both sides agreed that a Spanish infantryman was inferior to his native counterpart, who was far more nimble at this high altitude. Hernando Pizarro divided the horsemen into three contingents commanded by Gabriel de Rojas, Hernán Ponce de León and his brother Gonzalo. He himself was Lieutenant-Governor, his brother Juan was corregidor, and Alonso Riquelme, the royal treasurer, represented the Crown.

At the outset, while the native forces were still massing, the Spaniards tried their tactic of charging out into the thick of the enemy. This met with far less success than usual. Many Indians were killed, but the crush of fighting men stopped the onrush of the horses, and once the Indians saw that the cavalry was thoroughly embroiled they turned on it with savage determination. A group of eight horsemen fighting around Hernando Pizarro saw that it was being surrounded and decided to retreat to the city. One man, Francisco Mejia, who was then alcalde or mayor of the city, was too slow. The Indians ‘blocked his horse and grabbed at him and the horse. They dragged them about a stone’s throw away from the other Spaniards, and cut the heads off [Mejia] and off his horse, which was a very handsome white horse. The Indians thus emerged from this first engagement with a distinct gain.’

This success against cavalry on level ground greatly emboldened the attackers. They moved closer to the city until they were camped right up against the houses. In the tradition of intertribal warfare, they tried to demoralise the enemy by jeering and shouting abuse and by ‘raising their bare legs at them to show how they despised them’. Such skirmishes took place every day, with great courage shown on either side but no appreciable gains.

Finally on Saturday, 6 May, the feast of St John-ante-Portam-Latinam, Manco’s men launched their main attack. They moved down the slope from the fortress and advanced along the steep, narrow lanes between Colcampata and the main square. Many of these alleys still end in long flights of steps between whitewashed houses and form one of the most picturesque corners of modern Cuzco. ‘The Indians were supporting one another most effectively, thinking that it was all over. They charged through the streets with the greatest determination and fought hand-to-hand with the Spaniards.’ They even succeeded in capturing the ancient enclosure of Cora Cora which overlooked the northern corner of the square. Hernando Pizarro appreciated its importance and had fortified it with a palisade the day before the Indian onslaught. But his infantry garrison was driven out by a dawn attack.

If the horse was the Spaniards’ most effective weapon, the sling was undoubtedly the Indians’. Its normal missile was a smooth stone about the size of a hen’s egg, but Enriquez de Guzman claimed that ‘they can hurl a huge stone with enough force to kill a horse. Its effect is almost as great as [a shot from] an arquebus. I have seen a stone shot from a sling break a sword in two when it was held in a man’s hand thirty yards away.’ In the attack on Cuzco the natives devised a deadly new use for their slingshots. They made the stones red-hot in their camp fires, wrapped them in cotton and then shot them at the thatched roofs of the city. The straw caught fire and was burning fiercely before the Spaniards could even understand how it was being done. ‘There was a strong wind that day, and as the roofs of the houses were thatch it seemed at one moment as if the city were one great sheet of flame. The Indians were shouting loudly and there was such a dense cloud of smoke that the men could neither hear nor see one another…. They were being pressed so hard by the Indians that they could scarcely defend themselves or come to grips with the enemy.’ ‘They set fire to the whole of Cuzco simultaneously and it all burned in one day, for the roofs were thatch. The smoke was so dense that the Spaniards almost suffocated: it caused them great suffering. They would never have survived had not one side of the square contained no houses and no roofs. Had the smoke and heat come at them from all sides they would have been in extreme difficulty, for both were very intense.’ Thus ended the Inca capital: stripped for Atahualpa’s ransom, ransacked by Spanish looters, and now burned by its own people.

From the captured bastion of Cora Cora the Indian slingers kept up a withering fire across the square. No Spaniard dared venture on to it. The besieged were now cornered in two buildings facing each other at the eastern end of the square. One was the great galpón or hall of Suntur Huasi, on the site of the present cathedral, and the other was Hatun Cancha, ‘the large enclosure’, where many of the conquistadores had their plots. Hernando Pizarro was in charge of one of these structures and Hernán Ponce de León of the other. No one dared to move out of them. ‘The barrage of slingshot stones coming in through the gateways was so great that it seemed like dense hail, at a time when the heavens are hailing furiously.’ ‘The city continued to burn on that and the following day. The Indian warriors became confident at the thought that the Spaniards were no longer in a position to defend themselves.’

By extraordinary chance, the thatched roof of Suntur Huasi itself did not catch fire. An incendiary projectile landed on the roof. Pedro Pizarro said that he and many others saw this happen: the roof started to burn and then went out. Titu Cusi claimed that the Spaniards had Negroes stationed on the roof to extinguish the flames. But to other Spaniards it seemed a miracle, and by the end of the century it became established as such. The seventeenth-century writer Fernando Montesinos said that the Virgin Mary appeared in a blue cloak to extinguish the flames with white blankets, while St Michael was by her side fighting off devils. This miraculous scene became a favourite subject for religious paintings and alabaster groups, and a church called the Triunfo was built to commemorate this extraordinary escape.

The Spaniards were becoming desperate. Even Manco’s son Titu Cusi felt a touch of pity for these conquerors: ‘They secretly feared that those were to be the last days of their lives. They could see no hope of relief from any direction, and did not know what to do.’ ‘The Spaniards were extremely frightened, because there were so many Indians and so few of them.’ ‘After six days of this strenuous work and danger the enemy had captured almost all the city. The Spaniards now held only the main square and a few houses around it. Many ordinary people were showing signs of exhaustion. They advised Hernando Pizarro to abandon the city and look for some way to save their lives.’ There were frequent consultations among the weary defenders. There was desperate talk of trying to break the encirclement and reach the coast via Arequipa, to the south. Others thought that they should try to survive inside Hatun Cancha, which had only one entrance. But the leaders decided that the only thing to do was to fight back, and if necessary die fighting.

In the confused street fighting the natives were resourceful and ingenious. They evolved a series of tactics to contain and harass their terrible adversaries; but they could not produce a weapon that could kill a mounted, armoured Spanish horseman. Teams of Indians dug channels to divert Cuzco’s rivers into the fields around the city, so that the horses would slip and sink into the resulting mire. Other natives dug pits and small holes to trip the horses when they ventured on to the agricultural terraces. The besiegers consolidated their advance into the city by erecting barricades in the streets: wicker screens with small openings through which the nimble warriors could advance to attack. Hernando Pizarro decided that these must be destroyed. Pedro del Barco, Diego Méndez and Francisco de Villacastín led a detachment of Spanish infantry and fifty Cañari auxiliaries in a night attack on the barricades. Horsemen covered their flanks while they worked, but the natives maintained a steady barrage from the adjoining roofs.

The flat walls of Cuzco’s houses were exposed when the thatch was burned off in the first great conflagration. The natives found that they could run along the tops of the walls, out of reach of the horsemen charging below. Pedro Pizarro recalled an episode when Alonso de Toro was leading a group of horsemen up one of the streets towards the fortress. The natives opened fire with a bombardment of stones and adobe bricks. Some Spaniards were thrown from their horses and half buried in the rubble of a wall overturned by the natives. The Spaniards were only dragged out by some Indian auxiliaries.

With inventiveness born of desperation, the natives evolved another weapon against the Christians’ horses. This was the ayllu, or bolas: three stones tied to the ends of connected lengths of llama tendons. The twirling missile tangled itself around the horses’ legs with deadly effect. The natives brought down ‘most of the horses with this device, leaving almost no one to fight. They also entangled the riders with these cords.’ Spanish infantry had to run up to disengage the helpless cavalrymen, hacking the tough cords with great difficulty.

The besieged Spaniards survived the burning roofs, sling-shots, bolas and missiles of the Inca armies. They tried to counter each new native device. As well as destroying the street barricades, Spanish working parties smashed the flumes along which the natives were diverting the streams. Others tried to dismantle agricultural terraces so that the horses could ride up them, and they filled in the pits and traps dug by the attackers. They even began to recapture parts of the city. A force of Spanish infantry recaptured the redoubt of Cora Cora after a hard battle. In another engagement some cavalry fought its way under a hail of missiles to a square at the edge of the city, where another sharp fight took place.

The brunt of the Indian attacks came down the steep hillside below Sacsahuaman and on to the spur that forms the central part of Cuzco. Villac Umu and the other besieging generals had established their headquarters within the mighty fortress. Indians attacking from it could penetrate the heart of Cuzco without having to cross the dangerous level ground on other sides of the city. Hernando Pizarro and the besieged Spaniards deeply regretted their failure to garrison this fortress. They realised that as long as it remained in enemy hands their position in the roofless buildings of the city was untenable. They decided that Sacsahuaman must be recaptured at any cost.

Sacsahuaman – local guides have learned that they can earn a larger tip by calling it ‘saxy woman’ – lies immediately above Cuzco. But the cliff above Carmenca is so steep that the fortress needed only one curtain wall on the city side. Its main defences face away from Cuzco, beyond the brow of the cliff, where the ground slopes away to a small grassy plateau. On that side the top of the cliff is defended by three massive terrace walls. They rise above one another in forbidding grey steps, casing the hillside like the flanks of an armoured dreadnought. The three terraces are built in zigzags like the teeth of great saws, four hundred yards long, with no fewer than twenty-two salient and re-entrant angles on each level. Anyone trying to scale them would have to expose a flank to the defenders. The regular diagonal shadows thrown by these indentations add to the beauty of the terraces. But the feature that makes them so amazing is the quality of the masonry and the size of some of the blocks of stone. As with most Inca terrace walls, this is polygonal masonry: the great stones interlock in a complex and intriguing pattern. The three walls now rise for almost fifty feet, and excavations by the archaeologist Luis Valcárcel showed that ten feet more were once exposed. The largest boulders are on the lowest terrace. One great stone has a height of twenty-eight feet and is calculated to weigh 361 metric tons, which makes it one of the largest blocks ever incorporated into any structure. All this leaves an impression of masterful strength and serene invincibility. In their awe, the sixteenth-century chroniclers soon exhausted the mighty buildings of Spain with which to compare Sacsahuaman.

The ninth Inca, Pachacuti, started the fortress and his successors continued the work, recruiting the many thousands of men needed to manhandle the great stones into place. Sacsahuaman was intended to be more than a simple military fortress. Virtually the entire population of the unwalled city of Cuzco could have retreated within it during a crisis. At the time of Manco’s siege the crest of the hill behind the terrace walls was covered in buildings. Valcárcel’s excavations – made to mark the four-hundredth anniversary of the Conquest – revealed the foundations of the chief structures within Sacsahuaman. These were dominated by three great towers. The first tower, called Muyu Marca, was described by Garcilaso as having been round and containing a water cistern fed by underground channels. The excavations confirmed this description: its foundations consisted of three concentric circles of wall of which the outer was seventy-five feet in diameter. The main tower, Salla Marca, stood on a rectangular base, sixty-five feet long. Pedro Sancho inspected this tower in 1534 and described it as consisting of five storeys stepped inwards. Such height would have made it the Incas’ tallest hollow structure, comparable to the so-called skyscrapers of the pre-Inca Yarivilca culture along the upper Maranon. It was built of coursed rectangular ashlars, and contained a warren of small chambers, the quarters of the garrison. Even the conscientious Sancho admitted that’ the fortress has too many rooms and towers for one person to visit them all’. He estimated that it could comfortably house a garrison of five thousand Spaniards. Garcilaso de la Vega remembered playing in the labyrinth of its corbelled subterranean galleries during his boyhood in Cuzco. He felt that the fortress of Sacsahuaman could rank among the wonders of the world – and suspected that the devil must have had a hand in its extraordinary construction.

The Great Inca Rebellion – The Siege of Cuzco II

Manco Inca and other 3 soldiers with Spanish weapons during the rebellion.

The beleaguered Spaniards now decided that their immediate survival depended on the recapture of the fortress on the cliff above them. According to Murua, Manco’s relative and rival Pascac, who had sided with the Spaniards, gave advice about the plan of attack. It was decided that Juan Pizarro would lead fifty horsemen – the greater part of the Spaniards’ cavalry-in a desperate attempt to break through the besiegers and attack their fortress. Observers from the Indian side remembered the scene as follows:’ They spent the whole of that night on their knees and with their hands clasped [in prayer] at their mouths – for many Indians saw them. Even those on guard in the square did the same, as did many Indians who were on their side and had accompanied them from Cajamarca. On the following morning, very early, they all emerged from the church [Suntur Huasi] and mounted their horses as if they were going to fight. They started to look from side to side. While they were looking about in this way, they suddenly put spurs to their horses and at full gallop, despite the enemy, broke through the opening which had been sealed like a wall, and charged off up the hillside at breakneck speed.’ They broke through the northern Chinchaysuyo contingent under the generals Curiatao and Pusca. Juan Pizarro’s horsemen then galloped up the Jauja road, climbing the hill through Carmenca. They somehow broke and fought their way through the native barricades. Pedro Pizarro was in that contingent and recalled the dangerous ride, zigzagging up the hillside. The Indians had mined the road with pits, and the Spaniards’ native auxiliaries had to fill these in with adobes while the horsemen waited under fire from the hillside. But the Spaniards eventually struggled up on to the plateau and rode off to the north-west. The natives thought that they were making a dash for freedom, and sent runners across country to order the destruction of the Apurímac suspension bridge. But at the village of Jicatica the horsemen left the road and wheeled to the right, fought through the gullies behind the hills of Queancalla and Zenca, and reached the level plain below the terraces of Sacsahuaman. Only by this broad flanking movement were the Spaniards able to avoid the mass of obstacles that the Indians had erected on the direct routes between the city and its fortress.

The Indians had also used the few weeks since the start of the siege to defend the level ‘parade ground’ beyond Sacsahuaman with an earth barrier that the Spaniards described as a barbican. Gonzalo Pizarro and Hernán Ponce de León led one troop in repeated attacks on these outer enclosures. Some of the horses were wounded, and two Spaniards were thrown from their mounts and almost captured in the maze of rocky outcrops. ‘It was a moment when much was at stake.’ Juan Pizarro therefore attacked with all his men in support of his brother. Together they succeeded in forcing the barricades and riding into the space before the massive terrace walls. Whenever the Spaniards approached these they were greeted by a withering fire of slingshots and javelins. One of Juan Pizarro’s pages was killed by a heavy stone. It was late afternoon, and the attackers were exhausted by the day’s fierce fighting. But Juan Pizarro attempted one last charge, a frontal attack on the main gate into the fortress. This gate was defended by side walls projecting on either side, and the natives had dug a defensive pit between them. The passage leading to the gate was crowded with Indians defending the entrance or attempting to retreat from the barbican into the main fortress.

Juan Pizarro had been struck on the jaw during the previous day’s fighting in Cuzco and was unable to wear his steel helmet. As he charged towards the gate in the setting sun, he was struck on the head by a stone hurled from the salient walls. It was a mortal blow. The Governor’s younger brother, corregidor of Cuzco and tormentor of Inca Manco, was carried down to Cuzco that night in great secrecy, to prevent the natives learning of their success. He lived long enough to dictate a will, on 16 May 1536, ‘being sick in body but sound of mind’. He made his younger brother Gonzalo heir to his vast fortune, in the hope that he would found an entail, and left bequests to religious foundations and to the poor in Panama and his birthplace Trujillo. He made no mention of the native siege, and left nothing to the Indian woman from whom ‘I have received services’ and ‘who has given birth to a girl whom I do not recognise as my daughter.’ Francisco de Pancorvo recalled that ‘they buried him by night so that the Indians should not know he was dead, for he was a very brave man and the Indians were very frightened of him. But although the death of Juan Pizarro was [supposed to be] a secret, the Indians used to say “Now that Juan Pizarro is dead” just as one would say “Now that the brave are dead”. And he was indeed dead.’ Alonso Enríquez de Guzman gave a more materialistic epitaph: ‘They killed our Captain Juan Pizarro, a brother of the Governor and a young man of twenty-five who possessed a fortune of 200,000 ducats.’

On the following day the natives counter-attacked repeatedly. Large numbers of warriors tried to dislodge Gonzalo Pizarro from the hillock opposite the terraces of Sacsahuaman. ‘There was terrible confusion. Everyone was shouting and they were all entangled together, fighting for the hilltop the Spaniards had won. It looked as though the whole world was up there grappling in close combat.’ Hernando Pizarro sent twelve of his remaining horsemen up to join the critical battle – to the dismay of the few Spaniards left in Cuzco. Manco Inca sent five thousand reinforcements, and ‘the Spaniards were in a very tight situation with their arrival, for the Indians were fresh and attacked with determination.’ Below ‘in the city, the Indians mounted such a fierce attack that the Spaniards thought themselves lost a thousand times’.

But the Spaniards were about to apply European methods of siege warfare: throughout the day they had been making scaling ladders. As night fell, Hernando Pizarro himself led an infantry force to the top of the hill. Using the scaling ladders in a night assault, the Spaniards succeeded in taking the mighty terrace walls of the fortress. The natives retreated into the complex of buildings and the three great towers.

There were two individual acts of great bravery during this final stage of the assault. On the Spanish side Hernán’Sánchez of Badajoz, one of the twelve brought up by Hernando Pizarro as additional reinforcements, performed feats of prodigious panache worthy of a silent-screen hero. He climbed one of the scaling ladders under a hail of stones which he parried with his buckler, and squeezed into a window of one of the buildings. He hurled himself at the Indians inside and sent them retreating up some stairs towards the roof. He now found himself at the foot of the highest tower. Fighting round its base he came upon a thick rope that had been left dangling from the top. Commending himself to God, he sheathed his sword and started clambering up, heaving up the rope with his hands and stepping off from the smooth Inca ashlars with his feet. Half way up the Indians threw a stone ‘as big as a wine jar’ down on him, but it simply glanced off the buckler he was wearing on his back. He threw himself into one of the higher levels of the tower, suddenly appearing in the midst of its startled defenders, showed himself to the other Spaniards and encouraged them to assault the other tower.

The battle for the terraces and buildings of Sacsahuaman was hard fought. ‘When dawn came, we spent the whole of that day and the next fighting the Indians who had retreated into the two tall towers. These could only be taken through thirst, when their water supply became exhausted.’ ‘They fought hard that day and throughout the night. When the following day dawned, the Indians on the inside began to weaken, for they had exhausted their entire store of stones and arrows.’ The native commanders, Paucar Huaman and the high priest Villac Umu, felt that there were too many defenders inside the citadel, whose supplies of food and water were rapidly being exhausted. ‘After dinner one evening, almost at the hour of vespers, they emerged from the fortress with great élan, attacked their enemies and broke through them. They rushed with their men down the slope towards Zapi and climbed to Carmenca.’ Escaping through the ravine of the Tullumayo, they hurried to Manco’s camp at Calca to plead for reinforcements. If the remaining two thousand defenders could hold Sacsahuaman, a native counter-attack might trap the Spaniards against its mighty walls.

Villac Umu left the defence of Sacsahuaman to an Inca noble, an orejón who had sworn to fight to the death against the Spaniards. This officer now rallied the defenders almost single-handed, performing feats of bravery ‘worthy of any Roman’. ‘The orejón strode about like a lion from side to side of the tower on its topmost level. He repulsed any Spaniards who tried to mount with scaling ladders. And he killed any Indians who tried to surrender. He smashed their heads with the battle-axe he was carrying and hurled them from the top of the tower.’ Alone of the defenders, he possessed European steel weapons that made him the match of the attackers in hand-to-hand fighting. ‘He carried a buckler on his arm, a sword in one hand and a battle-axe in the shield hand, and wore a Spanish morrión helmet on his head.’ ‘Whenever his men told him that a Spaniard was climbing up somewhere, he rushed upon him like a lion with the sword in his hand and the shield on his arm.’ ‘He received two arrow wounds but ignored them as if he had not been touched.’ Hernando Pizarro arranged for the towers to be attacked simultaneously by three or four scaling ladders. But he ordered that the brave orejón should be captured alive. The Spaniards pressed home their attack, assisted by large contingents of native auxiliaries. As Manco’s son wrote, ‘the battle was a bloody affair for both sides, because of the many natives who were supporting the Spaniards. Among these were two of my father’s brothers called Inquill and Huaspar with many of their followers, and many Chachapoyas and Cañari Indians.’ As the native resistance crumbled, the orejón hurled his weapons down on to the attackers in a frenzy of despair. He grabbed handfuls of earth, stuffed them into his mouth and scoured his face in anguish, then covered his head with his cloak and leaped to his death from the top of the fortress, in fulfilment of his pledge to the Inca.

‘With his death the remainder of the Indians gave way, so that Hernando Pizarro and all his men were able to enter. They put all those inside the fortress to the sword-there were 1,500 of them.’ Many others flung themselves from the walls. ‘Since these were high the men who fell first died. But some of those who fell later survived because they landed on top of a great heap of dead men.’ The mass of corpses lay unburied, a prey for vultures and giant condors. The coat of arms of the city of Cuzco, granted in 1540, had ‘an orle of eight condors, which are great birds like vultures that exist in the province of Peru, in memory of the fact that when the castle was taken these birds descended to eat the natives who had died in it’.

Hernando Pizarro immediately garrisoned Sacsahuaman with a force of fifty foot-soldiers supported by Cañari auxiliaries. Pots of water and food were hurried up from the city. The high priest Villac Umu returned with reinforcements, just too late to save the citadel. He counter-attacked vigorously, and the battle for Sacsahuaman continued fiercely for three more days, but the Spaniards were not dislodged, and the battle was won by the end of May.

Both sides appreciated that the recapture of Sacsahuaman could be a turning point in the siege. The natives now had no secure base from which to invest the city, and they abandoned some of the outlying districts they had occupied. When the counter-attack on Sacsahuaman failed, the Spaniards advanced out of the citadel and pursued the demoralised natives as far as Calca. Manco and his military commanders could not understand why their vast levies had failed to capture Cuzco. His son Titu Cusi imagined a dialogue between the Inca and his commanders. Manco:’ You have disappointed me. There were so many of you and so few of them, and yet they have eluded your grasp.’ To which the generals replied, ‘We are so ashamed that we dare not look you in the face…. We do not know the reason, except that it was our mistake not to have attacked in time and yours for not giving us permission to do so.’

The generals might possibly have been right. Manco’s insistence on waiting for the entire army to assemble meant that the Indians lost the element of surprise they had preserved so brilliantly during the early mobilisation. It also meant that the professional commanders could not attack while the Spaniards had sent much of their best cavalry to investigate the Yucay valley. The hordes of native militia did not necessarily add much to the effectiveness of the native army. But Manco had clearly felt that as long as his men suffered a terrible handicap in weapons, armour and mobility, their only hope of defeating the Spaniards was by weight of numbers. The heavy, determined fighting of the first month of the siege showed that the Spaniards had no monopoly of personal bravery. Once again, it was their crushing superiority in hand-to-hand fighting and the mobility of their horses that won the day. The only arms in which the natives had parity were projectiles – slingshots, arrows, javelins and bolas – and prepared defences such as breastworks, terraces, flooding and pits. But projectiles and defences rarely succeeded in killing an armoured Spaniard, and the siege of Cuzco was a fight to the death.

Manco could also be criticised for not directing the attack on Cuzco in person. He apparently remained at his headquarters at Calca throughout the critical first month of the siege. He was using his authority and energies to effect the almost impossible feat of a simultaneous uprising throughout Peru, together with the feeding and supply of an enormous army. But the Inca’s presence was needed at Cuzco. Although there were plenty of imposing fighting men in the various contingents, the army lacked the inspiration of a leader of the stature of Chalcuchima, Quisquis or Rumiñavi.

The fall of Sacsahuaman at the end of May was by no means the end of the siege. Manco’s great army remained in close investiture of the city for a further three months. The Spaniards soon learned that the native attacks ceased for religious celebrations at every new moon. They took full advantage of each lull to destroy roofless houses, fill in enemy pits, and repair their own defences. There was fighting throughout this period, with great bravery displayed on either side.

One episode will illustrate the typical daily skirmishes. Pedro Pizarro was on guard duty with two other horsemen on one of the large agricultural terraces at the edge of Cuzco. At midday his commander, Hernán Ponce de León, came out with food and asked Pedro Pizarro to undertake another tour of duty as he had no one else to send. Pizarro duly grabbed some mouthfuls of food and rode out to another terrace to join Diego Maldonado, Juan Clemente and Francisco de la Puente on guard.

While they were chatting together, some Indian warriors approached. Maldonado rode off after them. But he had failed to see some pits the natives had prepared, and his horse fell into one. Pedro Pizarro dashed off against the Indians, avoiding the pits, and gave Maldonado and his horse, both badly injured, a chance to return to Cuzco. The Indians re-appeared to taunt the three remaining horsemen. Pizarro suggested ‘Come on, let’s drive these Indians away and try to catch some of them. Their pits are now behind us.’ The three charged off. His two companions turned half way along the terrace, and returned to their post, but Pizarro galloped on ‘impetuously lancing Indians’. At the end of the terrace the natives had prepared small holes to catch the horses’ hooves. When he tried to wheel, Pizarro’s horse caught its leg and threw him. One Indian rushed up and started to lead off the horse, but Pizarro got to his feet, went after the man and killed him with a thrust through the chest. The horse bolted, running off to join the other Spaniards. Pizarro now defended himself with his shield and sword, holding off any Indians who drew near. His companions saw his riderless horse and hurried to help him. They charged through the Indians, ‘caught me between their horses, told me to grab the stirrups, and took off at full speed for some distance. But there were so many Indians crowding around that it was useless. Wearied from all my armour and from fighting, I could not go on running. I shouted to my companions to stop as I was being throttled. I preferred to die fighting than be choked to death. So I stopped and turned to fight the Indians, and the two on their horses did the same. We could not drive off the Indians, who had become very bold at the thought that they had taken me prisoner. They all gave a great shout from every side, which was their normal practice when they captured a Spaniard or a horse. Gabriel de Rojas, who was returning to his quarters with ten horsemen, heard this shout and looked in the direction of the disturbance and the fighting. He hurried there with his men, and I was saved by his arrival, although badly wounded by the stone and spear blows inflicted by the Indians. I and my horse were saved in this way, with the help of our Lord God who gave me strength to fight and to endure the strain.’

Gabriel de Rojas received an arrow wound in one of these skirmishes: it went through his nose as far as his palate. Garcia Martin had his eye knocked out by a stone. One Cisneros dismounted, and the Indians caught him and cut off his hands and feet. ‘I can bear witness’, wrote Alonso Enriquez de Guzman, ‘ that this was the most dreadful and cruel war in the world. For between Christians and Moors there is some fellow-feeling, and it is in the interests of both sides to spare those they take alive because of their ransoms. But in this Indian war there is no such feeling on either side. They give each other the cruellest deaths they can imagine.’ Cieza de Leon echoed this. The war was ‘fierce and horrible. Some Spaniards tell that a great many Indians were burned and impaled…. But God save us from the fury of the Indians, which is something to be feared when they can give vent to it!’ The natives had no monopoly of cruelty. Hernando Pizarro ordered his men to kill any women they caught during the fighting. The idea was to deprive the fighting men of the women who did so much to serve and carry for them. ‘This was done from then onwards, and the stratagem worked admirably and caused much terror. The Indians feared to lose their wives, and the latter feared to die.’ This war on the women was thought to have been one of the chief reasons for the slackening of the siege in August 1536. On one sortie Gonzalo Pizarro encountered a contingent from the Chinchaysuyo and captured two hundred of them. ‘The right hands were cut off all these men in the middle of the square. They were then released so that they would go off. This acted as a dreadful warning to the rest.’

Such tactics added to the demoralisation of Manco’s army. The vast majority of the horde that massed on the hills around Cuzco were ordinary Indian farmers with their wives and camp followers – with few exceptions a thoroughly militia army, most of whose men had received only the rudimentary arms drill that was part of the upbringing of every Inca subject. Only part of this rabble was militarily effective, although the entire mass had to be fed. By August the farmers began drifting away to sow their crops. Their departure added to the attrition of heavy losses in every battle against the Spaniards. Weight of numbers was Manco’s only effective strategy, so the reduction of his great army meant that further operations against Cuzco might have to wait until the following year. But Cuzco was only one theatre of the national uprising. In other areas the natives were far more successful.

Antitank Warfare in the Spanish Civil War

German Artillerymen of the Condor Legion prepare to fire a Flak 18 88mm cannon onto Republican lines at the Battle of Amposta during the Spanish Civil War; Catalonia, Autumn 1938.

Italian 47mm M-35 antitank guns were supplied for the use of the Italian Volunteer Corps only.

Spanish troops with a proto-Molotov.

“Out-gunned, out-maneuvered, and hard-pressed, the Spanish had no effective answer to the tank, in desperation they resorted to hand-to-hand fighting”


The Spanish Civil War was the war which produced the “Molotov cocktail,” but Spain also witnessed the first widespread use of antitank weapons, especially guns and most notably the German Rheinmetall 37mm Pak 35/36 and its Russian copy, the Model 1932 45mm antitank gun. These weapons, when skillfully used, proved very effective against tanks. The light tanks were extremely vulnerable to them, and learning from this lesson, production of medium and heavy tanks began in several major European armies. Combat in Spain proved that better armor was needed, even if the main tank contributors—Germany, Italy, and the USSR—did not initially show much haste when it came to making new and more effective tanks.

Since the early days of armored warfare, improved artillery was seen as the quickest solution for antitank defense. In Germany, the Rheinmetall corporation commenced the design of a 37mm antitank gun in 1924, and the first guns were produced in 1928 as the 37mm PanzerabwehrkanoneL/45, later adopted by the Wehrmacht as the Pak 35/36. It made its first appearance during the Spanish Civil War, and the Soviet Army soon upgraded the design to a higher-velocity L/45 Model 1935, while also making a licensed copy of the German gun. However, the Red Army was taught several hard lessons about antitank warfare when many tanks sent to aid the Republican Army were destroyed in combat engagements with German guns.

At the time, the predominant ammunition used against tanks was the armor-piercing kinetic energy shell that penetrated armor by direct pressure, spiking or punching through it. In Spain, the antitank defense of the Nationalists was organized by German Condor Legion officers. The antitank guns were incorporated into a system of obstacles created to stop an armored attack, slowing tanks down, isolating them from the supporting infantry with machine-gun and mortar fire, and forcing them to conduct deliberate head-on assaults with engineer support or to seek a less-defended area to attack. The time thus gained for the defenders meant that Nationalist field artillery could also engage the Soviet tanks.

The only change to German World War I antitank tactics was that an effective antitank weapon was now available to support the defending infantry. However, the Soviet tanks armed with 45mm guns easily destroyed the German light tanks in Spain, establishing an urgent need for antitank guns to be included in mobile tank-led units due to the strong possibility of encountering enemy tanks. To many analysts, the Spanish Civil War reconfirmed the importance of defense over the offensive and of antitank weapons over tanks.

Poorly trained Spanish tank crews among both Nationalist and Republican forces proved undisciplined and prone to attacking heavily defended positions even when equipped with antitank weapons. Tank attacks occurred with little prior reconnaissance and without coordination with supporting infantry and artillery. Too often, tanks made themselves vulnerable to destruction by moving on their own through village streets or remaining on open roads. It was the poor tank tactics that made antitank warfare so successful.

A report presented in Berlin on September 12, 1936, by Lieutenant Colonel Walter Warlimont pointed out that antitank defense was one of the main weaknesses of the Nationalist Army. Consequently, the first German antitank guns came with the first tank shipment the following month, comprising 24 Pak 35/36 37mm guns. An antitank company with 15 guns was formed immediately, with the remaining nine guns kept for training purposes under the supervision of the Drohne group at the German base in Cubas de la Sagra.

A further 28 guns of the same model arrived with the second shipment of tanks in November. With these new guns and four more from the Drohne group, making a total of 32 guns, the Nationalists organized their first three antitank companies. At the end of May 1937, another shipment of 100 37mm Pak 35/36s arrived at Vigo’s harbor for the Nationalist Army, which organized 10 antitank batteries with 10 guns each within the artillery branch, while 50 more guns were delivered in August. On April 14, 1938, the last shipment of antitank guns was received by the Nationalists, with 100 more Pak 35/36s delivered at Cubas de la Sagra, making a total of 352 Pak 35/36 antitank guns supplied to the Spanish Nationalist Army by Germany.

A problem arose when it was established that the antitank gun supplied by the Germans to the Nationalists had a maximum range of 900 meters, whereas the guns in Russian tanks could engage targets at up to 3,000 meters. The Nationalists, under German guidance, were forced to attach at least five antitank guns to each light tank company to provide some effective protection against Soviet tanks. However, the effect was minimal as understanding and coordinating the new tanks and antitank guns proved extremely difficult for the Nationalist forces. Despite much training, and to the dismay of German instructors, Nationalist troops often began shooting wastefully at targets far over 1,000 meters away.

The Condor Legion also made extensive use of the excellent 88/56mm Flak 18 antiaircraft gun in the civil war, where its usefulness as an antitank weapon and general artillery gun exceeded its antiaircraft role. The first four of these guns came to Spain even before the formal organization of the Condor Legion on August 6, 1936, landing with the first shipment of aviation equipment from the Usaramo cargo ship at Seville. They were part of the first heavy air defense artillery battery and arrived with a full complement of men and accessories. The battery was under the command of Luftwaffe First Lieutenant Aldinger, and the guns were to be used in Spain for the first time. The battery was soon combat-ready and was deployed at Seville’s military airfield as protection against Republican raids.

The air defense artillery unit of the Condor Legion was named Flak Abteilung 88 and was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Hermann Lichtenberger, with Lieutenant Colonel Georg Neuffer as second in command and chief of staff. All air defense artillery personnel belonged to the Luftwaffe and not to the Army. Initially, four batteries—16 guns—of Flak 18 88/56mm guns were sent to Spain as air defense artillery for the Condor Legion in 1936, but they were soon used in antitank, antibunker, and even antibattery roles. Further guns were sent later, and more 88mm guns were also supplied to Spanish units. At the end of the war, the Spanish Army took over five batteries— 20 guns—from the total of 71 Flak 18 guns sent for the Condor Legion.

Soviet tank superiority was clearly shown in combat around Madrid, where, by the end of November 1936, the Nationalists lost a total of 28 Panzer Is plus several Italian L3s, resulting in a stalemate. Here, the Spanish People’s Army made the major mistake of not going on the offensive but remaining in a defensive posture. It was here around Madrid where the Nationalist forces employed for the first time in an antitank role, and with great success, their Flak 18 88mm guns. Such was their effectiveness that the Germans later turned the “88,” with some modifications made for ground-to-ground combat, into one of the most dreaded weapons of World War II. The “88” gun literally obliterated T-26 tanks in Spain at the first hit. Luckily for the Republicans, the 88mm guns were not supplied to the Nationalists in large numbers.

Not much is known about the first combat actions of Flak units in Spain, but unconfirmed reports point at 88mm guns entering combat in early 1937 during the fighting around Malaga, when a battery of Flak 18s was assigned to support an infantry column. Bad weather had grounded the main bomber force, but the assault succeeded, mainly because of the concentrated and accurate fire of the supporting 88mm guns.

The Flak 18 guns were deployed mainly to protect airfields and bases used by the Condor Legion. However, the nature of war in Spain, with its wildly fluctuating front lines and the presence of Russian tanks, forced the Germans to employ the Flak 18 guns in a direct-fire role against ground targets. Furthermore, the initial scarcity of Nationalist Spanish artillery and the general low proficiency of its crews soon forced the use of the Flak 18 gun as a direct-fire infantry support weapon. The Flak 88 group fought at the battle of Jarama, in February 1937. The following month, the unit moved northwards and took part in all the battles along the Northern front, where their tasks were divided between antiaircraft duties and field artillery employment. Flak 18 guns took part in the assault against Bilbao’s line of fortifications, the so-called “Iron Belt” (Cinturon de Hierro), and following the battle of Brunete, went north again to contribute to the Santander and Asturias campaign.

Flak 18 batteries were also employed by the Nationalist Army in the Aragon offensive and at the battle of Ebro in 1938, being used for direct fire against pillboxes and indirect fire in the advance towards Barcelona during the final campaign in Catalonia. During the battle of Ebro, Flak 88 batteries took up positions in the neighborhood of the main bridgehead as direct support to the ground forces.

By the end of the war, the 88mm guns had performed far more missions as an antitank and direct-fire field artillery gun than as an antiaircraft gun. In total, German 88mm guns were involved in 377 combat engagements, and only 31 were against enemy aircraft. On the other hand, the use of the 88mm guns in close vicinity to the enemy made them vulnerable to infantry fire. Casualties among the Legion’s 88mm gun batteries in the Spanish Civil War were second only to those of bomber pilots and crews. According to two different sources, which provided information to U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Waite, the Germans alone manned their antiaircraft weapons. No one was allowed within a few hundred yards of them, especially the Spanish soldiers. The French War Department verified that “great secrecy surrounded the operation of these weapons.”

In May 1939, the Flak 88 unit returned to Germany, leaving practically all its equipment in Spain for the Nationalist Army. After the civil war, in 1943, more improved Flak models were sent to Spain—almost 90 88/56mm Flak 36s—and in the same year they were manufactured under license by the Spanish artillery factory at Trubia, near Oviedo, under the name FT 44. These remained in active service with the Spanish Army until the early 1980s.

Italy also sent various antitank guns to Nationalist Spain; however, these were only used by the Italian Volunteer Corps. They were mainly the Breda 47mm Model 35 antitank gun, but there were also some 37mm Models 36 guns, a copy of the German Pak 35/36 made in Italy under license from Rheinmetall.

The Republicans used a similar antitank gun to the German Pak 35/36, the Russian Model 19323 45mm gun. The first shipment of these guns took place on April 29, 1937, when the Republicans received just 15 guns. However, they later received 100 additional guns in May that year, and another 20 in December. In January 1939, the Republicans received through France the last three Soviet guns. The total number of Model 1932 guns delivered to the Republican Army was 138; however, throughout the war, the Republicans received a total of 494 guns of various calibers capable of antitank use. The Soviet Model 1932 45mm gun was a copy of the German Pak 35/36 after the Soviet Union purchased the rights for production from Rheinmetall in 1930 and began a small-scale procurement for the Soviet Army. However, the Soviet General Staff wanted a more “universal” gun able to fire both antitank and high explosive rounds, so the gun was scaled up to 45mm, entering production in 1932, created by Soviet artillery designer Loginov. Towards the end of 1937, the Model 1932 was pushed out by the Model 1937 45mm antitank gun. The new gun had better ballistics, a higher rate of fire, and was more reliable. The new wheels were also made of metal rather than wood (the Model 1932 also received metal wheels in 1937). However, due to insufficient armor penetration against the newest German tanks, it was subsequently replaced by the long-barreled Model 1942.

The Italian M35 47mm gun was a dual-purpose gun able to fire a high explosive round as well as an antitank projectile. It was originally an Austrian artillery piece produced under license in Italy. It was used both as an infantry assault gun and antitank gun, proving to be very successful, especially when equipped with HEAT (High Explosive Antitank) rounds. Due to its shape, the 47mm gun was commonly called the “elefantino” (little elephant) by Italian troops.

The British Major General Fuller wrote an interesting letter published in the London Times following a visit to Spain:

I have referred to the antitank gun several times. On the Nationalist side, the German 22mm gun, mounted on a small wheeled vehicle, has proved to be very useful. It is the gun that I saw in use with the German Army. Other German models are also reported to be in Spain, a 37mm and an Italian 47mm. From all the information that can be gathered, the German antitank gun is a very efficient weapon.

In May 1937, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Lee quoted an article by Liddell Hart, who said that “the defense against tanks has been developed and perfected more quickly and more effectively than the tank itself.” The antitank weapons used in Spain were clearly a threat to the tankers. As Colonel Fuqua, the U.S. Army attaché in Madrid, concluded, an infantryman with an antitank gun had no need to fear tanks.

The British antitank battery was formed within the International Brigades in May 1937 from 40 volunteers and was issued with three Soviet Model 1932 45mm guns, capable of firing both armor-piercing and high explosive shells that, at the time, represented state-of-the-art of military technology. Well led, trained by Russian instructors, and comprising a high proportion of students and intellectuals, they represented somewhat of an elite unit, and quickly became a highly efficient force in the 15th International Brigade.

After cutting its teeth at Brunete in July 1937, the battery was heavily involved in the battles at Belchite in August, where, according to Bill Alexander, the battery’s political commissar, the antitank guns fired 2,700 shells in just two days. During October 1937, the 15th International Brigade took part in the disastrous operation at Fuentes de Ebro, where the new BT-5 tanks were mauled. Initially, the antitank battery was held back from the main battle until the panicked brigade staff ordered it to advance on the Nationalist lines. None of the guns were able to fire and the battery’s second in command, Jeff Mildwater, was injured before the battery was eventually wisely withdrawn.

During the Aragon front retreat in the spring of 1938, the antitank battery was virtually surrounded and forced to fall back swiftly from Belchite, to avoid being cut off. The battery had to destroy one of its guns that could not be moved, while low-flying Nationalist aircraft destroyed another. With the battery no longer in existence, the men were incorporated as riflemen into the British battalion of the International Brigades.

The remark that antitank weapons had surpassed tank development was perhaps the most important conclusion reached about the use of tanks and antitank weapons in Spain. And if the trend was toward heavier tanks trying to overcome the threat of antitank weapons, there was also a trend for more powerful antitank guns.

In an article sent by American Lieutenant Colonel Lee to the Military Intelligence Division in the spring of 1937, Liddell Hart had argued that light antitank weapons had the advantage of being easily shifted from location to location and quickly brought up to the front lines. Other sources observed that antitank defense needed to be coordinated and that antitank guns were only part of the defensive plan. The U.S. Army attaché in Paris, Lieutenant Colonel Waite, commented that antitank weapons worked most effectively when they were used in combination with obstacles.

All tanks employed in Spain often faced antitank weapons that could immobilize or destroy them at any moment. The tank, that was supposed to return maneuver and offense to the battlefield, was countered with modern antitank weapons that gave the advantage back to the defense. To overcome the threat of antitank weapons, military attachés, observers, and their sources stressed the need for tanks to be employed en masse, not as separate weapons or in small groups. They also recommended that tanks be combined with infantry, which could hold the ground gained, and with artillery and aviation, that could protect the tanks by destroying or suppressing enemy antitank fire.

Although little technical data about antitank and antiaircraft weapons was gathered, there was general agreement on antitank weapons being effective in meeting their enemies in Spain. However, with the trend toward heavier tanks, there was an implied corresponding trend toward more powerful antitank weapons, as has been mentioned. With clouds of war gathering all over Europe, some countries looked to Spain to see what, if anything, they could learn. Unfortunately, most of the lessons were misleading, especially those relating to tanks being defeated. The issue seems to have been that whereas the designers of tanks saw clearly that they had to improve armor and gunnery, those whose specialty was antitank weaponry were quite happy with what they had achieved and took few active steps to improve anything. Such thinking was to work to the detriment of the German Wehrmacht when World War II began, as the Pak 36 was no longer as effective.

Regarding the war in Spain, when expectations about tank performance was not met, it was concluded that circumstances were so specific to the Spanish situation and its kind of war that battles fought there were unlikely to provide useful lessons for most European armies. Others, who had their predictions fulfilled, pointed to specific incidents as evidence that the testing ground of war had proven them right. Nowhere was this more apparent than regarding the efficacy of antitank weaponry. Officers who did not like the tank argued that combat in Spain clearly demonstrated the superiority of antitank guns over tanks. Tanks in Spain had proven themselves as less than the decisive force that some battles of World War I had promised, while antitank weapons now had an advantage in development over tanks.

Yet while the war on the ground was similar in its trenches and infantry battles to World War I, it was also a signal of changes to come in a future European war. Each country was confident that it had in service an adequate antitank defense. Yet, by 1939–40, before a year had passed, each was to find how over-optimistic these predictions had been, how vulnerable troops were, and how poorly the designers had prepared for the onset of the German blitzkrieg.

Spain in the Nineteenth Century I

When France and Great Britain went to war in May 1803, Carlos IV and Godoy hoped to remain neutral despite treaties with Napoleon. Great Britain, however, became suspicious of a Spanish naval buildup, accused Spain of providing haven to French warships, and imposed restrictions on Spanish maritime commerce. In October 1804 a British squadron intercepted the Spanish treasure flotilla off Cadiz, sank one of its four ships, and captured the treasure. Spain called it piracy and in December declared war on Britain. In October 1805, off Cape Trafalgar, British Admiral Horatio Nelson shattered a combined French-Spanish battle fleet, ending Spain’s long history as a naval power. Shocked, Godoy considered switching sides to save Spain’s overseas empire.

Opposition to Godoy took shape around Fernando, prince of Asturias and heir to the throne, who turned twenty in 1805. Insinuations about the relationship of his parents and Godoy made Fernando an implacable enemy of the favorite. Many saw him as Spain’s only hope for the future, and Napoleon began to use Fernando against Godoy when he learned of Godoy’s double-dealing with Britain.

To Napoleon Fernando revealed his contempt for his parents and Godoy. Recently widowed, he sought a Bonaparte bride. Carlos got wind of Fernando’s dealings in late 1807 and had him arrested on charges of plotting to seize the throne. Facing his parents at the Escorial, Fernando groveled and begged their forgiveness. Napoleon denied that there had been any plot.

Stuck to dealing with Godoy, Napoleon whetted his ambitions. Following victories over Austria, Prussia, and Russia, Napoleon asked that Spain assist him against Portugal. Portugal refused to subscribe to his continental system, by which no European state would do business with Great Britain. In the 1807 Treaty of Fontainebleau, Napoleon and Spain agreed to divide Portugal into a sovereign principality of the Algarve for Godoy, already rich and well married, and a kingdom of Lusitania for the Bourbons of Parma.

Spain gave safe passage to a French army, which marched into Portugal. The Portuguese royal family fled to Brazil. During the winter, French reinforcements entered Spain and took up quarters. By March 1808, 100,000 French troops were in the peninsula. Despite the inevitable incidents between soldiers and civilians, many Spaniards hoped that Napoleon intended to give a Bonaparte bride to Prince Fernando and rid Spain of Godoy. When French troops garrisoned Spanish citadels, such as San Sebastian, Pamplona, and Montjuich (which dominates Barcelona), they had second thoughts. Then Napoleon made new demands on Spain, including the cession of the provinces north of the Ebro in exchange for Portugal. Alarmed, Godoy ordered the Royal Guard and Madrid garrison to Aranjuez, where the king and queen were in residence. Napoleon feared the king and queen might flee to Spanish America, and he commanded his warships bottled up at Cadiz after Trafalgar to stop them. He rushed Marshal Joachim Murat into Spain at the head of a large force, instructing him to keep his men in line and not antagonize the Spanish population.

At Aranjuez rumors spread that the royal family would leave for America and that Fernando would not go willingly. Ugly crowds, egged on by hostile courtiers, gathered round the royal palace and on the night of March 17-18 exploded into violence. Mobs stormed Godoy’s residence. Godoy barely escaped. Found by guardsmen, he was battered and locked up. The terrified king dismissed him from office. Prince Fernando took charge. On March 19, Carlos IV abdicated, and the mob acclaimed the prince as King Fernando VII. The people had spoken. A riot became a popular revolution.

On March 23, Murat entered Madrid. Fernando VII made his entry the next day. He established a new government with his supporters and ordered Jovellanos freed from prison. At the same time, he suspended the sale of Church property, which the pope had reluctantly sanctioned, to the delight of the clergy and ordinary folk. But Murat would not recognize Fernando as king until he heard from Napoleon.

Napoleon decided to remove the Spanish Bourbons and place his older brother, Joseph Bonaparte, on the Spanish throne. Unaware of Napoleon’s design, the abdicated king and queen of Spain begged Napoleon’s mercy and asked him to free Godoy. They would concede Spain to Fernando but said nothing nice about him. Napoleon summoned them and Fernando to meet with him at Bayonne. Leaving a Regency Council in Madrid, Fernando journeyed north and found that he had become a popular hero. He also noticed the presence of French troops everywhere. Many warned him not to continue, but sweet words and veiled threats from Napoleon had him in Bayonne by April 21. Napoleon greeted Fernando, but that night Fernando learned that Napoleon wanted him to abdicate. Pressured by Napoleon, Fernando yielded the throne back to his father. Carlos had already agreed that for the good of Spain the throne would go to Joseph Bonaparte, who thus became King Joseph of Spain. Napoleon settled pensions and residences in France on the Spanish Bourbon family. Freed, Godoy joined his benefactors. Carlos and Maria Luisa eventually retired to Italy, where they died in 1819. Godoy would die in Paris in 1851. Fernando, a captive in France, bided his time and kept all his resentments alive.

With the news from Bayonne and the presence of French troops everywhere, the Spanish population grew restless. Riots erupted here and there, despite the admonitions of nervous authorities to maintain order. On May 2, a serious riot broke out in Madrid and reached its climax when French cavalry charged a mob in the Puerta de Sol, which Francisco de Goya, in Madrid at the time, later immortalized on canvas. Murat punished the rioters with wholesale executions on May 3, an event Goya immortalized with terrifying power on a second canvas. Both are in Madrid’s Prado Museum.

A month after the executions, Napoleon proclaimed Joseph king of Spain and the Indies and summoned an assembly of Spanish notables to Bayonne to draft a constitution. Joseph managed to collect a cabinet headed by Ur- quiio. Many well-intended or duty-bound civil servants and a few grandees and. nobles accepted Joseph. Some were reformers who hoped that Joseph would provide the enlightened leadership they found in neither Carlos IV nor Fernando VII. Some were rank opportunists. All would be branded afruncescados (frenchified).

But many reform-minded Spaniards refused service under Joseph. Men coerced to support the new regime or journey to Bayonne defected as soon as they had the chance. Jovellanos claimed poor health. If people at the top, who knew the vapidity and ineptitude of the royal family, wavered over whether or not to accept Joseph as king, the larger population did not. Within weeks most of Spain was in a state of armed insurrection against the French. In each province or region, local authorities, leaders, and clergymen assembled in juntas to proclaim their loyalty to Fernando VII and defy the French. They ordered troops raised, and units of the regular army rallied to them. Mobs lynched officials who supported Joseph or did not oppose him. The clergy harangued against the atheistic French and called on their flocks to rebel for God, Spain, and king. The junta of Seville, headed by former royal minister Francisco de Saavedra, proclaimed itself the supreme junta for Spain and the Indies. The junta of Asturias sent a delegation to their old enemy, Great Britain, in search of help. On June 15, Great Britain announced that it would aid “Spanish patriots.”

The French army controlled the road to Madrid, along which the “intruder king” Joseph proceeded with a military escort. He arrived to a sullen welcome and was solemnly proclaimed king on July 25, the feast of Santiago. Before the month ended, he was on the road again, retreating north. In Andalusia, a French force of 20,000 men had been surrounded at Bailen by Spanish regulars and angry peasants and forced to surrender. The French had brutally sacked Cordoba, and the Spaniards paid them back in kind. The savage war without quarter had begun, involving men, women and children, civilians and soldiers, mutilation and butchery, which Goya would depict in gruesome detail in his etchings The Disasters of War (Desas- tres de la guerra).

As the Spanish army of Andalusia marched on Madrid, another French army was repulsed at Valencia. Zaragoza and Gerona heroically resisted terrible sieges, with local men and women fighting alongside soldiers. The French warships bottled up at Cadiz were forced to surrender. The local juntas agreed to a national Central Junta, headed by Floridablanca and assisted by Jovellanos, who proclaimed their loyalty to Fernando VII.

Napoleon summoned his veterans and in November stormed into Spain at the head of 300,000 men. He and his marshals swept the outnumbered and disorganized Spanish armies, and an allied British army, from the battlefields. At the beginning of December, he entered Madrid and restored his brother Joseph to the throne of Spain. The Spanish armies, beaten in the field, withdrew to remote areas and joined with local patriots as guerrilleros to wage the little war, the guerrilla, that would prove Napoleon’s undoing.

In early 1809 Napoleon turned the war in Spain over to his marshals and returned to Paris to face war with the Austrian Empire. The marshals completed the conquest of Andalusia and confined the Central junta to Cadiz, protected by the guns of the British navy as well as Spanish troops and ships. The French held Barcelona and took Zaragoza and Valencia, but the countryside remained hostile. The government of King Joseph held sway over little more than central Castile. He abolished the Inquisition, limited the power of the Church, and talked reform. The overwhelming majority of Spaniards rejected him, calling him “Pepe Botellas” (Joe Bottles, for his drinking) or simply “Pepito” (Little Joe).

What seems decisive in the struggle between the Spanish people and a French army of occupation that numbered more than 200,000 men was the activity of the Anglo-Portuguese army that recovered Lisbon. Commanded by the duke of Wellington, it prevented the French marshals from cowing the civilian population into submission. In 1810 Wellington invaded Spain with 50,000 men, which rallied the scattered Spanish armies. When the French concentrated their more numerous forces to meet Wellington and Spanish regulars, the guerrilleros struck. The French marshals lacked enough men to meet the threat of an invading army and at the same time post small units everywhere to deal with guerrilla warfare. For them communication remained ever precarious. The guerrilleros butchered stragglers and ambushed small detachments and supply columns. Napoleon later referred to the situation as his “Spanish ulcer” that never seemed to stop hemorrhaging. Spain bled, too, and while it battled Napoleon, it began to lose control of its overseas empire. Great Britain, which supplied Spain’s armies and?uerrilleros with munitions, also sent arms to those in Spanish America who advocated independence.

With Fernando VII in captivity, the lines of government became blurred. Many called for the Cortes to be summoned. Several eighteenth-century Spanish historians, following the lead of French political theorist Montesquieu, came to see the Cortes as the embodiment of the sovereignty of the Spanish nation and regarded absolute monarchy as a usurpation of power by kings. Spain had developed its representative Cortes in the Middle Ages and achieved its pinnacle of historic glory during the constitutional reign of Ferdinand and Isabella. According to these historians, the defeat of the comuneros in 1521 by Charles V proved the death knell of Spanish liberty. The Habsburg and Bourbon kings imposed absolute monarchy on Spain and started the decline that led to the tyranny of Godoy, the disgraceful spectacle at Bayonne, and the Napoleonic conquest. The Cortes should draft a suitable constitution for Spain. To legitimize the summoning of the Cortes, the Central junta ceded its authority to the Regency Council appointed by Fernando. The Cortes that assembled at Cadiz to draft a constitution proved to be reformist in line with Cadiz itself, a seaport open to the world and dominated by middle-class merchants. Of 303 delegates, almost a third were clergymen, and another third were civil servants or soldiers. Some 60 were lawyers, and only 14 were titled noblemen. For provinces unable to elect delegates because of the French occupation, substitutes were appointed by authorities in Cadiz. Substitutes were also appointed for the American colonies. The majority of the delegates who gathered in the besieged and crowded city, with enemy forces arrayed across the bay, were what we would call intellectuals and activists, men with big ideas not al ways shared by others. Spain enriched our political vocabulary with the word liberals to describe them. The liberals in turn branded their opponents as serviles, servile supporters of the old order.

The assembled Cortes rejected seating by estates, clergy, nobles, and commoners and sat as a single chamber, like the French National Assembly of 1789. Only one nation in the world had a written constitution at the time, the United States. Spain would become the second, the first in Europe. The Constitution, completed in 1812, embodied the pet schemes of reformers. It placed sovereignty in the Spanish nation, not the king, and provided for a unicameral legislature. The crown retained only limited veto power. It provided for virtually universal manhood suffrage, limited by a process of indirect elections. Crown ministers, while needing the confirmation of Cortes, could not sit in it. Central direction and uniform regulations were stipulated for municipalities, although provincial councils could advise on local affairs. The old guilds and special privileges for nobles were abolished, along with the seigneurial jurisdictions and noble and Church entails. While Catholicism remained the state religion, and heresy a crime, the Inquisition was abolished. Rights of expression and assembly were recognized. Subsequent regulations overhauled the old tax structure and established direct levies on business and property. Outvoted conservative and traditionalist members of Cortes were not happy with the new Constitution. Many clergymen wondered if things had gone too far.

In 1812, Wellington defeated the French at Salamanca and briefly occupied Madrid. That year Napoleon met defeat in Russia. Needing men to make up his losses, he recalled troops from Spain. In 1813 Wellington’s army and Spanish forces pushed the French north. At the end of May, King Joseph and his court abandoned Madrid. They were overtaken by Wellington in June at Vitoria and thrashed. Joseph fled to France. What Spaniards call the War of Independence came to an end.

Fernando VII had spent the war in comfortable captivity. With his uncle and younger brother Don Carlos, he whiled away the time playing cards. Until the end he hoped for a Bonaparte marriage, expressed adulation of Napoleon, and addressed Joseph Bonaparte as king of Spain. Though aware of the insurrection on his behalf in Spain, he remained noncommittal. In March 1814, Fernando returned to Spain to be welcomed as the “desired one” (el deseado) and conquering hero. After nearly six years of savage war, Spain was economically destitute and its government bankrupt. With its American colonies asserting their independence, the treasure of the New World that had provided the eighteenth-century monarchy with a fourth of its income no longer crossed the Atlantic to Spain. The lucrative American market was also largely lost.

Surrounded by an entourage of traditionalists, many of whom like himself had spent the war in French confinement, Fernando avoided accepting the Constitution of 1812, which seemed too full of revolutionary ideas. The regular elections for the Cortes of 1813 returned many delegates opposed to it, who voiced their objections. As Fernando progressed from Gerona to Barcelona, he heard crowds of ordinary people cheer, “Long live the absolute king!” “Restore the Inquisition!” and “Down with frenchified liberals!” Persuaded by their priests, they identified the misery and suffering of the wars years with the new ideas spawned in the Enlightenment, realized by the French Revolution, and brought to Spain by Napoleon. When Fernando visited devastated Zaragoza, only General Jose Rebolledo de Palafox, the hero of its two sieges, spoke in favor of the Constitution. All others had reservations. Near Valencia, Fernando received a delegation of conservative members of the Cortes assembled in Madrid who equated the Constitution with anarchy. They favored a return to absolute monarchy, with a traditional Cortes based on the three estates, whose purpose would be only to ensure that the monarch ruled justly. When the president of the Regency Council, Luis de Borbdn, archbishop of Toledo, formally presented the Constitution to his cousin Fernando, Fernando refused to swear to it. The captain general of Valencia, Francisco Elio, who had battled independence movements in South America, cheered Fernando as absolute monarch and publically denounced the Constitution.

Fernando needed no more prodding. By the declaration of Valencia of May 4,1814, he labeled the Constitution of 1812 as the work of a subversive minority and declared it null and void. All who continued to support it would be guilty of lese majesty. He promised he would not be a despot and would summon an old-fashioned Cortes. He soon resurrected the Inquisition and restored the economic privileges and right of entail of the great landowners, though not their juridical powers over their domains. In Madrid the captain general of Castile put leading liberals under arrest before the king arrived to the wild welcome of the mob. If Fernando’s vulgar personal style alienated the serious-minded, it endeared him to ordinary folk. Once in his capital, Fernando purged the government not only of afrancescados who had served Joseph but also of liberals, often under the guise of saving money. Junior army officers, many of them heroes of the War of Independence, found their careers threatened as financial straits forced the reduction of the swollen army. Many were demoted and others put on half pay. The pay of both the bureaucracy and armed forces was often in arrears.

At the Congress of Vienna, where Europe’s great powers made peace after years of war, Spain was virtually ignored, despite its valiant role in the defeat of Napoleon. Statesmen wrote it off as a bankrupt third-rate power in the process of losing its empire. To save his empire, Fernando mobilized what forces he could to suppress the independence movements that engulfed Spanish America. The Constitution of 1812 put the colonies on equal footing with the mother country, though it still envisioned a centralized regime based on Spain and a closed commercial system on the old mercantilist model. But the colonial leaders of each of the viceroyalties, presidencies, and captaincies-general of Spanish America had seized control of their own destinies, aided and abetted by British commercial interests and the ideals and interests of the United States. The reduced Spanish navy ferried reluctant army units across the Atlantic in vain. By 1825, all that remained to Fernando were Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam.

The effort to prevent Spanish-American independence demanded more resources and manpower than war-ravaged and depressed Spain could provide. Too many army officers had been demoralized by Fernando’s purges and embittered by arrears in pay and shortages of equipment. Employing the rhetoric of European Romanticism, they postured as forgotten war heroes, talked of government ineptitude, and dreamed of a more liberal regime. Among the men under their command, few wanted to be shipped across the Atlantic, to fight and die in malarial jungles. In 1820, a disgruntled expeditionary force refused to embark at Cadiz and, led by its officers, marched on Madrid. Major Rafael Riego spoke for the mutineers through a pronunciamento, a proclamation against the corruption of government and for the restoration of the Constitution of 1812. Other garrisons, along with urban militia units made up of former guerrilla fighters, quickly joined in the pronunciamento, and Fernando caved in. Liberals returned to government, though many had become more moderate since 1812 and wished to modify the Constitution. Fernando would not cooperate and referred to liberal ministers as “jail-birds,” as he had imprisoned many of them in 1814. Through his agents he furtively searched for support both in Spain and abroad.

The liberal government again abolished seigneurial rights and the Inquisition and brought religious orders under closer state regulation. Church lands owned by monasteries were put up for sale, and efforts were made to get the huge government debt under control. Finally implemented was the reorganization of Spain into fifty-two provinces, including the Balearics and Canary Islands. The new government also faced peasant unrest over the enclosure and sale of common lands and a strike by textile workers against the introduction of new machinery. Nineteenth-century liberal economics, with its stress on free markets, proved at odds with peasants’ desires to keep much land in common pastures and woods and craftsmen’s fears of competition by machines.

Liberals who had not become moderate thought the government too cautious and demanded further reforms. Called exaltados, they met in the Masonic lodges of provincial capitals and won local support by protesting against recruiting and further prosecution of the war in America. The exaltados wanted further tax reform, universal manhood suffrage, greater regulation of religious orders, and the expropriation of the Church’s remaining lands. As jobs were scarce, political patronage and promotion in the armed forces became part of the game. Exaltado influence was strong with the urban militias, whose members came mainly from the ranks of shopkeepers, artisans, and low-paid professionals. In the elections of 1822 the exaltados won control of the government and promptly moved against the Church, beginning by throwing the restored Jesuits out. Moderates became alarmed and serviles talked of taking up arms, winning strong support among the devout peasants of northern Spain. Incipient civil war began to spread in the northern countryside, and violence and murder marred urban political life. In regard to the Church, the urban mob was volatile, sometimes for the clergy, sometimes against. In July, the Guards Regiment in Madrid defied the government and rallied to the king. Though pleased, Fernando failed to act. Loyal regulars and the Madrid militia crushed the Guards’ rising. Their chief, Colonel Evaristo de San Miguel, formed a yet more radical and anticlerical government.

Spain in the Nineteenth Century II

XIX century Carlists Wars – Augusto Ferrer Dalmau

Developments in Spain inspired liberal unrest in the Italian peninsula, Portugal, and elsewhere, and the conservative statesmen of Europe took notice. The Russian Empire, the Austrian Empire, the kingdom of Prussia, and the kingdom of France, with its restored Bourbon king Louis XVIII, formed a Quadruple Alliance to uphold the old order. Louis XVIII mobilized an army, the Hundred Thousand Sons of St. Louis, about 60,000 veteran French soldiers, and prepared to intervene. Attempts to work out an agreeable compromise with San Miguel failed. Disgusted moderates abandoned him, while the royalist cause grew ever stronger in the north. As Madrid became unruly, the government withdrew to Seville, dragging Fernando with it. In April 1823, the French marched into Spain. They maintained discipline and paid for their supplies. The royalist north welcomed them, and Spanish regional captains general who, as General Pablo Morillo put it, preferred a government based on men of property rather than a “hallucinated minority,” came to terms with the invaders. San Miguel’s government retreated to Cadiz, the king in tow, and the French followed. In September, the government surrendered in return for amnesty.

Restored to authority, Fernando established a traditionalist authoritarian regime. Supported from the pulpit, it restored order and proved popular with most. Despite the pledge of amnesty, repression proved brutal. The government was purified of liberals, and the army, under French supervision, was reorganized. Yet ridding the government and army of liberals was easier said than done, since too many civil servants and junior officers were at least moderate liberals. The chief stumbling block to liberal reform had been its anticlericalism, which made enemies of even liberal churchmen. The promotion of liberal ideas through the periodical press could not compete with thunder from the pulpit in reaching a population of whom three fourths were illiterate.

Fernando persisted in his pragmatic absolutism, which proved most effective in fiscal reform, and the increased taxation of the rich to pay government debts. The survival of moderates and liberals in government posts, because of their competence, bothered extreme royalists, who increasingly gathered around the childless king’s brother, Don Carlos. Royalist irregulars called Volunteers, who rallied to Fernando in 1823, wanted places in the army that had been denied them by the professionals, whether conservative or liberal. In 1827 “aggrieved” royalists rebelled in Catalonia and were crushed.

The revolution of 1830 that brought Louis Philippe of Orleans to the French throne as the “bourgeois king” triggered several abortive liberal risings in Spain that served chiefly to provide the liberal cause with martyrs. Spanish clericals and conservatives grew more attached to Don Carlos, whereas their opponents put their hope in the new queen, Maria Cristina of Naples. Aged twenty-three, she had won the heart of the older king. After some wavering, Fernando issued a Pragmatic which declared that her child, whether daughter or son, would succeed to the throne. The tradition of the House of Bourbon was the Salic law-that only a son could succeed to the throne. Maria Cristina had two daughters, Isabel and Luisa. When Fernando VII died in 1833, Isabel, aged three, became Queen Isabel II, and her mother, Maria Cristina, regent. In opposition, Isabel’s uncle. Don Carlos declared himself to be King Carlos V.

The regent soon replaced Fernando’s last chief minister, conservative Francisco Cea Bermudez, with moderate Francisco Martinez de la Rosa, a onetime “jailbird.” He presided over the drafting of the Royal Statute of 1834, a sort of constitution bestowed by the crown. It provided for a twochamber Cortes, with an upper house that resembled the English House of Lords with archbishops, bishops, grandees, and titled nobles, plus designated appointees; and a lower chamber of deputies, to be elected indirectly by a restricted electorate. Its functions were consultative, and the ministers remained responsible to the crown. No bill of rights was included. The liberal direction of Spain was paralleled in Portugal and encouraged by Britain and France. They joined with Spain and Portugal in a new Quadruple Alli ance to preclude foreign interference. Whereas many moderate liberals were satisfied, other liberals were not, and in the provincial capitals the Progressives, the heirs of the exaltados, began to dominate the political debate. The differences of Moderates and Progressives would be played out against the background of the Carlist Wars.

Don Carlos, a vain, closed-minded man, soon had followers in arms, chiefly in the Basque Country, Navarre, Aragon, and rural Catalonia. These were regions where the Church was strong and with significant populations of poor but proud smallholders, regions that enjoyed historic privileges which seemed threatened by the centralizing policies of impatient liberals. Their battle cry proclaimed God, king, fatherland, and regional privileges (fueros). Conservative soldiers, former guerrilleros, and sometime bandits formed the core of the Carlist forces. While Don Carlos announced that their commander in chief was the Virgin of Sorrows, their best general was a professional soldier and hero of the War of Independence, “Uncle” Tomas Zumalacarregui. He drove government forces from the countryside of Navarre and the Basque Country but lacked the heavy equipment necessary to conquer the well-garrisoned and liberal capitals of Bilbao, San Sebastian, and Pamplona. When Don Carlos arrived in Spain in 1835, he pressured Zumalacarregui to assault Bilbao. The assault failed, and Zumalacarregui died of wounds. The First Carlist War sputtered on until 1840. Both sides massacred prisoners and terrorized civilians. Attempts at compromise based on the betrothal of Queen Isabel II to Don Carlos’s son, Carlos Luis, count of Montemolfn, foundered on Don Carlos’s intransigence. In 1837 the Carlists paraded to the outskirts of Madrid, but found no popular support and withdrew. By 1839, on the northern front the government arrayed 100,000 men and 700 guns, under General Baldomero Espartero, against the Carlists’ 32,000 men and 50 guns, under Rafael Maroto. A professional officer, Maroto knew his side had no chance; so with Espartero he signed the compromise of Vergara, which allowed the Carlists to lay down their arms, and the regular officers who had served Don Carlos to return to the army without loss of rank. This gave the Spanish army a notoriously high ratio of officers to men. By 1840 the war was over. Don Carlos fled to France, where he settled at Bourges, under the gaze of an unfriendly French government.

‘While their future depended on the defeat of the Carlists, the politicians in Madrid wrangled over revenues and constitutional questions. The task of finding money to meet war costs went to an energetic banker of Cadiz and London, Juan Alvarez Mendizabal. His enemies noted that he was both a Jew and a Freemason. Early in 1836 he rammed through a measure that had profound consequences: the disamortization (release from mortmain, a kind of entail), appropriation, and sale of all Church lands that did not di rectly support parishes, hospitals, or schools. For an idea long around, the moment had come. Mendizabal and his allies hoped that the chief beneficiaries of disamortization would be members of the middle class, who would purchase Church lands and become wedded to the liberal cause in order to keep them. For the Church hierarchy it was the last straw. The bishops broke irrevocably with liberalism and privately put their hopes on the Carlist side. Rome refused to confirm many of the Spanish crown’s episcopal nominees, and half of Spain’s dioceses were soon without bishops. As Church wealth dwindled, perhaps one-third of Spain’s clergy renounced their vows and quit.

The disamortization of Church lands formed part of the liberal economic program to encourage increased agricultural productivity through greater private entrepreneurial activity. The common lands of the former Church domains were also privatized, which led to more peasant unrest and several violent insurrections over the following thirty years. The same environmental and technological constraints that had always affected Spanish agriculture persisted, and the new patterns of ownership led to no marked increase in productivity.

In elections under the Royal Statute of 1834, the Progressives got the edge in the municipalities, and the unruly urban militias they dominated demanded the restoration of the Constitution of 1812. Demonstrations in Madrid in August 1836 caused the sergeants of the Royal Guards at the summer palace at La Granja to confront the regent over the matter. Faced with the “Sergeants’ Revolt,” she agreed to accept it and made it the business of the Cortes to undertake the necessary revisions. In 1837 she promulgated a new Constitution that provided a Cortes with a senate, appointed by the crown from lists submitted by designated provincial electors, and a Congress of Deputies, for which 4 percent of the male population could vote.

Dominated by Moderates, the Cortes gave the central government tighter control over Spain’s municipalities in 1840. Progressives took to the streets and rioted. Much of the tinder for riot and unrest was provided by office seekers. In Spain, as in the United States at the time, the spoils system reigned. The party that won power dismissed officeholders of the losing party and rewarded its own followers with their jobs. Government jobs had long been the chief aspiration of ambitious university graduates in a Spain that produced more lawyers than engineers, physicians, or scientists. Called pretendientes, those out of office became a fixture on the Spanish scene. Depending on family support to eat, they conspired and agitated to restore their party to power. With the transfer in 1836 of the University of Alcala to Madrid, as the Universidad Central, university students joined the politically restless elements of the capital.

To restore order, the regent in desperation appointed General Espartero as prime minister. The first of the political generals who dominated Spanish politics for the next two dozen years, he was the son of a carter of La Mancha and identified with the Progressives. Given his humble origins, he also made clear that the army provided a career open to talent. When Espartero and the regent differed, he used the need to end disorder to coerce her into yielding the regency to him. Maria Cristina’s position was already compromised by her marriage, soon after Fernando’s death, to Augustin Munoz, a sergeant of the Guards, whom she had her daughter make a duke and grandee. Maria Cristina and Munoz departed for France.

With Espartero regent and Progressives once more in control of the Cortes, the number of men enjoying the franchise was doubled. A pronunciamento by Moderates in the Basque Country was quickly squelched, and Basque privileges were curtailed. Concern over a swing to the right in Barcelona led to a more radical Progressive rising and the establishment of a popular junta, with budding labor unions involved. Unruly mobs dismantled part of the royal citadel erected by Philip V, and the Barcelona junta challenged the liberal doctrine of free trade and called for protectionism. Then tax riots broke out, and by the end of 1842, order had collapsed. Angry, Espartero refused to compromise with Barcelona, turned his artillery on the city, then stormed it.

Many Progressives abandoned Espartero in disgust and joined the Moderates. When their coalition won control of the Cortes, Espartero dissolved it. All over Spain disgruntled garrisons and municipalities pronounced against him. Moderate General Ramon Narvaez returned from exile in France and engineered Espartero’s fall. Rather than make Narvaez regent, his rivals had the Cortes declare Queen Isabel II to be of age, a year early since she was only thirteen. But Narvaez would dominate the government for most of the next ten years.

Spain’s economy began a slow expansion with the restoration of order in most of the country, which was maintained by the newly established paramilitary Civil Guard. Growth was more pronounced on the periphery: Catalonia and Valencia on the Mediterranean, western Andalusia, and the Basque Country. Old and New Castile remained poor, and Madrid seemed bloated by contrast. Also poor were Aragon and Galicia; Extremadura and rural Andalusia were the poorest of all. By midcentury, Spain’s population neared 15 million, an increase of more than 3 million since 1800.

Spain’s political elite, centered on Madrid and including the court, the politicians, the army, the bureaucracy, and the press, now fussed about the queen’s marriage. The Church hierarchy was not out of the picture, though it was still offended by its loss of landed wealth and the restrictions placed on religious orders. Great Britain and France also had ideas. Isabel II, with her mother remarried and exiled to France, grew up spoiled, indulged, overweight, and sensual. To every candidate for her hand objections sprouted. What seemed most logical, her marriage to the Carlist heir, Mon- temolfn, foundered on his claim that he was already King Carlos VI. In the end she married the least objectionable candidate, her first cousin Don Francisco de Asfs, son of her uncle, the duke of Cadiz. Aged twenty-four, Don Francisco de Asis was a fastidious army officer whose sexual relations with the queen derived from his sense of duty. Many attributed her unhappy situation to duplicitous French diplomacy. When Britain objected to a French proposal that she marry a son of King Louis Philippe, his son, the manly duke of Montpensier, married her sister, the Infanta Luisa. Suspicion grew that the French hoped Isabel and her ascetic consort would be childless and that Montpensier’s offspring would succeed to the Spanish throne. Isabel II and Don Francisco de Asis soon lived in separate quarters, but she bore four daughters and a son who survived early childhood and, despite questions regarding their paternity, were accepted as legitimate. Notoriously she took many lovers, mostly macho army officers. Although most regarded her behavior as scandalous, they admitted her marriage was unhappy.

Following Isabel’s marriage in 1846, a Carlist rising surfaced in Catalonia on behalf of Montemolin. Called the Second Carlist War and fueled by peasant unrest, it peaked in 1848 but was quelled by 1849. Coping with it brought Narvaez back to power in late 1847. In 1848, a year of revolution in much of Europe (which cost King Louis Philippe his throne in France), he kept a firm grip on the political life of Spain and sent an expeditionary force to Rome in 1849 to support the pope against revolutionaries there. In 1851 a coalition of disgruntled Moderates and ultraconservatives forced him from office once more. They were aided by court cabals that included Francisco de Asis, who found his niche in government through intrigue. The new government of Antonio Bravo Murillo dismissed the Cortes, which had a splendid new palace, and attempted to rule by decree, influenced by developments in France where Napoleon III seized power.

The more liberal Moderates joined with the Progressives in opposition. Financial scandals associated with the building of Spain’s first railroads and involving much foreign capital touched the court and engulfed the queen mother and Munoz, whom Isabel had allowed back to Spain. As the government fell into confusion, unrest spread. On June 30, 1854, General Leopoldo O’Donnell, at the head of an army column at Vicalvaro outside Madrid, pronounced against the government. In Madrid rioting erupted and raged for four days. In desperation, Isabel called the popular Espartero from retire ment. He revived the urban militias, a mainstay for the Progressives, and restored order. An election in which 700,000 Spaniards cast votes returned a Cortes dominated by Progressives, who drew up the Constitution of 1855. Sovereignty was, as in 1812, placed in the nation, which would be a constitutional monarchy with a two-chamber Cortes. It broadened civil liberties, although it slightly narrowed the franchise and reserved the Senate for the well-to-do. The new Cortes passed legislation that privatized yet more Church lands and favored free trade. Although it addressed complaints of the poor over taxes, in particular the consumos levied on basic consumer goods, it continued to restrict labor union activity.

Anxieties about Espartero’s Progressive regime caused the queen to replace him arbitrarily with General O’Donnell, a Moderate who embraced the politics of reconciliation developed by journalist and historian Antonio Canovas del Castillo. While most Progressives went along, riots in Madrid and ‘Barcelona required the use of armed force. When O’Donnell suspended the Constitution, popular clamor forced the queen to bring Narvaez back to power. In 1858, differences with her brought Narvaez’s resignation. O’Donnell returned and, through a blatantly rigged election, brought his party of reconciliation, dubbed the Liberal Union, into control of the Cortes. Elections were often dominated by the rich and influential of each region, eager for government patronage and favor, but no one had previously so successfully orchestrated the outcome. It was no mean feat for local political bosses, called caciques (a term for a Caribbean Indian chief), to deliver the votes of a relatively extensive electorate, which required a wide range of controls that ran from bribery to intimidation.

Secure with the Cortes, O’Donnell dazzled Spain with military successes abroad. A short, triumphant war in Morocco in 1859-1860 brought Tetuan and its vicinity under Spanish control. Spanish and Filipino troops fought alongside the French in Viet Nam in 1859-1863 to prevent the repression of Christianity, although they left the colonization of Viet Nam to France. In 1862 Spanish troops joined the French in Mexico to force the repayment of debt claims. However, General Juan Prim, commander of the Spanish expeditionary force, refused to participate in the French overthrow of President Benito Juarez and their installation of Maximilian of Austria as emperor. Over petty incidents the revived Spanish navy fought the War of the Pacific (1865-1866) against Chile and Peru and bombarded Callao and Valparaiso.

In Spain, O’Donnell’s virtual one-party rule bred too much opposition from all sides and led between 1863 and 1865 to his replacement by others, lastly Narvaez. Student demonstrations and clashes with soldiers in 1865 brought Narvaez down and O’Donnell back to power. Constitutional issues, sniping by an unrestrained press, and the alienation of devout Catho- lies after O’Donnell extended diplomatic recognition to the new kingdom of Italy, which the pope opposed, kept unrest alive. He tried to placate the Progressives, who found a new hero in General Prim, by enlarging the electorate. He posted Prim to distant Asturias. However, in June 1866, a military conspiracy inspired by Prim came to a head at the San Gil Barracks near Madrid’s Royal Palace, when officer conspirators lost control of the ranks. Several officers were shot and mutineers took to the streets. Bloody fighting ensued against forces loyal to O’Donnell. After losing over 200 dead and wounded, some 500 mutineers surrendered. Seventy-six were executed by firing squad. When O’Donnell refused to execute more, the queen summoned Narvaez to power. O’Donnell died the next year, a bitter exile in Biarritz.

An economic downturn in 1866-1868 kept all the currents of unrest alive. Narvaez struggled to maintain order but died in April 1868. Faced with a budget crisis, the new prime minister, Luis Gonzalez Brabo, a civilian who had been Narvaez’s right-hand man, trimmed military expenditures, which turned both army and navy against him. He ordered the more political generals to the Canaries and Balearics. In defiance, Admiral Juan Topete, hero of the Pacific War and naval commandant at Cadiz, sent warships to return the generals. Joined by Prim and General Francisco Serrano, Topete then issued a pronunciamento. The main opposition parties-the Liberal Unionists, Progressives, and Democrats (formed from the ranks of the Progressive left) banded together, while Serrano led mutinous troops north from Andalusia and Prim raised the banners of revolt in the Levant and Catalonia. As government forces marched against the rebels, Queen Isabel II and her court undertook a trip from La Granja to San Sebastian. At Alcocea, near Cordoba, Serrano defeated the government’s army and marched into Madrid. There he and Prim proclaimed the overthrow of the Bourbon monarchy to cheering throngs. Receiving the news at San Sebastian, Queen Isabel II fled with her husband, her children, and her current lover to France, where her onetime lady-in-waiting, Eugenie de Montijo, was empress of the French, as wife of Napoleon Ill.

The revolution of 1868 brought Spain to a seeming crossroads.


Italian members of the Corpo Truppe Volontarie which assisted Franco’s forces throughout the war. They wear mounted troops’ bandoliers, and most are armed with the M1891 Carcano carbine with a permanently attached folding bayonet.

The first foreign armour to enter service with the Nationalists were five Italian CV 3/35 tankettes, which arrived at the port of Vigo on 26 August 1936 accompanied by ten Italian crewmen to serve as instructors. This would be the most numerous type of AFV employed by the Italian corps in Spain, but – armed with two 8mm machine guns, and with a maximum armour thickness of 15mm – it proved quite inadequate when faced by the Republic’s Soviet-supplied T-26 tanks with 45mm guns.

The most important Nationalist Air Corps fighter type was the Italian Fiat CR. 32, of which seven squadrons were in service by August 1938. These two machines are `3-60′ and `3-62′ (type number – individual aircraft number), which served with Escuadrilla 2-E-3 during the Brunete campaign in summer 1937. By the end of hostilities 20 Nationalist pilots had been credited with five or more aerial victories; the topscoring three were Joaquin Garcia Morato (40 kills), Julio Salvador Diaz Benzumea (25), and Manuel Vazquez Sagistazabal (21½), all of whom won the great majority of their victories while flying the CR. 32.

By far the most important foreign support received by the Nationalists came from Fascist Italy; this would total some 78,000 men, about 750 aircraft and 150 armoured vehicles. Unlike the German armed forces, the Italians had recent combat experience from their invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in October 1935-May 1936. On 12 December 1936, after the failure of Franco’s attempts to capture Madrid, Mussolini decided to send complete Italian ground units to Spain, and the first 3,000 men of the Missione Militare in Spagna arrived on 23 December. By the end of January 1937 some 44,000 Italians were in Spain, mostly members of the militarized Fascist Party `Blackshirt’ militia (Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nationale, MVSN). On 17 February the expeditionary force was renamed the Corpo Truppe Volontarie, CTV; commanded by Gen Mario Roatta, in March it numbered more than 50,000 men.

The CTV initially consisted of four small divisions. The 4th `Voluntarii Littorio’ (`Lictor Volunteers’) Infantry Division was composed of Army volunteers organized as in a regular Royal Army formation, which had two infantry regiments each of three battalions, an artillery battalion with three batteries, plus a mortar and an engineer battalion. The other three divisions and an independent infantry brigade group were from the MVSN: infantry divisions designated 1st `Dio lo Vuole’ (`God Wills It’), 2nd `Fiamme Nere’ (`Black Flames’) and 3rd `Penne Nere’ (`Black Feathers’), plus the independent Grupo `XXIII de Marzo’ (`23rd of March’). An MVSN regiment (legion) had only two battalions (cohortes) each 670 strong. The CTV also had a battalion of armoured cars and light tankettes, and a corps artillery of ten field regiments and four AA batteries. It was motorized throughout, but the artillery was obsolete. In February 1937 the light armour was amalgamated with some motorized infantry and artillery into a Raggruppamento Reparti Specializzati (`Group of Specialist Units’, RRS).

In early February 1937 the 1st MVSN Div took part in the successful Nationalist attack on Malaga. In March, at Mussolini’s complacent insistence, the CTV was committed to another offensive near Madrid, at Guadalajara; this failed, however, with heavy losses among the MVSN divisions. The 3rd `Black Feathers’ Div was absorbed by the 2nd `Black Flames’ Div in April; Gen Roatta was replaced by Gen Ettore Bastico, and thereafter the CTV would not carry out operations independent of the Nationalist high command.

Many Italians served thereafter in mixed Italo-Spanish `Flechas’ (`Arrows’) formations, providing the officers and technical personnel while the majority of the rank-and-file were Spanish. From April to August 1937 the first of these mixed brigades, named `Flechas Azules’ (`Blue Arrows’), took the field in Extremadura. The second, `Flechas Negras’ (`Black Arrows’), fought in the Basque country on the Biscay front, supported by the `23rd of March’ and 11th Artillery groups. There, in August, the CTV played a successful part in the offensive against Santander; they were then transferred to the Aragon front.

In September 1937 the `23rd of March’ Group was redesignated as a division, and in October this was amalgamated, with the 1st `God Wills It’ and 2nd `Black Flames’ divisions, into a new consolidated `XIII di Marzo – Fiamme Nere’ MVSN division. In October 1938, with the repatriation of many time-expired personnel, this formation would in turn amalgamate with the `Littorio’ Div, leaving the CTV with a single consolidated Army/Blackshirt formation designated Assault Div `Littorio’, of two infantry regiments with support units. This fought in Catalonia from 23 December 1938 to 8 February 1939.

In March 1938 the Italo-Spanish `Black Arrows’ brigade had been committed to the Aragon offensive towards the Mediterranean coast, and by November it had been enlarged to divisional status. The `Blue Arrows’ mixed brigade provided the nucleus for two other mixed Italo-Spanish divisions named `Blue Arrows’ and `Green Arrows’, which in 1939 also took part in the final offensive in Catalonia, alongside the all-Italian `Littorio’ Assault Division.

In all, some 78,500 Italian volunteers served in Spain, at a cost of 3,819 killed and about 12,000 wounded.


In the summer of 1936, many Spanish generals revolted against the country’s Republican government. They asked Italy and Germany for military support. Mussolini did not like the idea very much, but he saw it as an opportunity to outmaneuver France. From the Italian point of view, France appeared to have a peculiar ability to act in a way that drew the ire of other countries. In those years, not only did Italians view French attitudes as hostile toward Italy, but also premier Leon Blum made two policy errors, which further alienated Italy. The first was a FrancoSpanish pact. Spain allowed French troops transit through Spanish territory to reach North Africa in case of war against Italy. The second was his announcement of sending weapons, ordnance, and men to support the Spanish Republic.

Mussolini did not care about Spanish affairs, but if French intervention rendered Spain a sort of French protectorate, or strategic ally, Italy could find both the exits from Mediterranean closed to Italian shipping. Suez was owned by a French-British company. The Straits of Gibraltar were passable because Spain owned the African side, despite British possession of Gibraltar. What if France indirectly controlled that side as Britain controlled the European one? This could pose a threat to Mussolini’s strategic interests. Italian foreign minister Galeazzo Ciano convinced Mussolini to commit the Regio Esercito for the OMS-Oltre Mare Spagna (Overseas Spain)-operation.

The Italian Military Mission arrived first in Spain to coordinate with General Francisco Franco. Then the Regia Aeronautica sent him a squadron of twelve bombers. On August 4, 1936, Italian aircraft attacked and swept the loyal Republican Spanish fleet out of the Straits of Gibraltar. Then Italian and recently arrived German aircraft transported Spanish colonial troops from Africa to Spain. Italian military support gradually increased. Technicians, tanks, and specialists were sent to Franco as volunteers. He lacked modern weapons and used them not for training his troops, but directly in combat. Italian light tanks played a basic role in smashing the enemy front at Navalcarnero, on October 21. Three days later, Italian military advisers had to fight in Borox. Italian light tanks met Russian-made tanks for the first time and won. Just as the Spanish nationalists and Falange (the Spanish conservative-right party) received support from Italy and Germany, the Republic, which was dominated by Socialists, Communists, and anarchists, received substantial aid from the Soviet Union.

Italian armored forces acted as the Spanish Nationalists’ vanguard and reached Madrid University during the tenacious battle for the capital. The Italian General Staff realized this was no more matter of training the Spanish and, with Mussolini’s direction, increased its military involvement by committing forty thousand more men. “Who asked for it?” Franco curtly asked Lieutenant Colonel Emilio Faldella, chief of the Italian Military Mission, although he did not refuse them.

The CTV-Corpo Truppe Volontarie (Corps of Voluntary Troops)-arrived in Spain. It was composed of four light divisions supported by a large heavy artillery contingent-the Artiglieria Legionaria (Legionnaire Artillery)-and an air component, the Aviazione Legionaria.

Thousands of pages have been written to demonstrate that the CTV were anything but volunteers and that Italy’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War was unpopular; they are largely wrong. Although it is true that the first three thousand men sent to Spain in December originally applied to go to Ethiopia as civil laborers, it is also true that, according to archival documents, a lot of people asked to volunteer for Spain. The Army Archive contains many reports about it. For instance, L’Aquila Military District received hundreds and hundreds of applications. Campobasso Military District suddenly received more than one thousands volunteers.  

Why such large participation in this civil war? There were two central reasons. The first was propaganda. News from Spain, more or less enhanced by state propaganda, depicted a terrible situation in Spain. The horror of the war being waged against the clergy, with monks and priests being tortured and shot, nuns raped, churches destroyed, and sacrilege committed, all played upon the Italian public. For a Catholic country such as Italy, these horrors were enough to encourage a sort of “crusade,” as the Nationalists called the war. The second reason was money. Each volunteer received a 300-lira enlistment bonus, 20 liras daily pay, and an additional 3 pesetas daily pay from the Spanish Nationalist government. It was a lot of money for the lower classes, especially in a period of high unemployment, even if the Fascist government did not admit it.  

General Mario Roatta commanded the CTV-under the name Mancini, because officially Italy was not involved. They fought successfully at Malaga and Motril in February 1937.

On the Republican side, a lot of volunteers were coming from everywhere to fight Fascism. George Orwell from England, Ernest Hemingway from the United States, and, incidentally many Italians, too, who composed a battalion. Italians were present on both sides, but Franco did not like it. When he thought that strategic suggestions from Rome were becoming too intrusive, he sought to reduce their presence, yet events convinced him otherwise. On February 15, 1937, he asked the CTV to launch an offensive on Guadalajara within a month. Three days later, however, after a victorious Republican counterattack, Franco asked Roatta for immediate intervention. It was the turning point.

On March 8, 1937, Italian troops attacked along the Carretera de Francia, the route from the south to Madrid, Saragossa, and France. Snow and ice pelted the advancing troops, and bad weather over Nationalist airfields prevented any air support for the Italian offensive. On the Republican side, good weather did not restrict Republican aircraft from providing air cover. Moreover, when the Republicans counterattacked, the Nationalists gave no support to the Italians. Despite these circumstances the CTV initially advanced 22 miles, lost 12, and then held the remaining 10 miles. But they failed to reach their objectives, and the battle had to be considered a loss. After this, Franco did not accept Italian strategic advice.

Republican propaganda exploited this victory: No pasara`n-They will not pass! Mussolini was so angered by this propaganda that he determined to commit greater forces to the war. Italian troops increased in quality and quantity and Mussolini finally admitted official involvement on October 20, 1937. His admission also ended the grotesque “piracy” in the Mediterranean. Since the early days of the civil war, merchant ships en route to Spain had been sunk by “mysterious” submarines. The Regia Marina, did not admit responsibility, but it was well known. After a League of Nations initiative, the Regia Marina together with German Kriegsmarine, the British Royal Navy, and French Marine Nationale participated in antipiracy control in the Mediterranean and along Spanish coasts.

The Italian and German secret services in the Black Sea and Dardanelles observed Soviet ships carrying supplies and ordnance to Spain. Italian submarines acted accordingly and “pirates” sank the ships. But it was thanks to the operations against piracy that the Royal Navy was able to decipher the Regia Marina’s secret codes. This would become a problem for the Italian navy in a few years.

On land, Italian forces fought on all Spanish fronts. The Legionnaire Air Force, as the Regia Aeronautica was called in Spain, lost 175 pilots in combat. Troops were used in the north; and Legionnaire Artillery support played a fundamental role in the campaign in the north. Italian troops took part in seizing Bilbao, and the following battle of Brunete was won with the decisive role of the Aviazione Legionaria: It destroyed 100 enemy aircraft, and its close air support halted enemy counterattacks. Italian troops later attacked and, on August 26, seized Santander. When Italian tanks reached the center of the city, Nationalist supporters acclaimed them, crying, “Han pasado! Han pasado!”-they passed! After that battle, General Ettore Bastico was recalled to Rome. In fact, Franco protested because Bastico allowed many military and local civilian Republican officers to seek refuge on British ships. It was not the first time Italians acted differently from Spaniards. Italian troops considered Republicans as prisoners of war. The Nationalists did not. In the early days of the war their military courts sentenced prisoners to death. A first Italian formal protest made little impact. When Italian headquarters protested again, the Nationalists replied that they were being more careful about who was sentenced to death: they acquitted up to 30 percent of the total!

Further operations proved decisive for the war in northern Spain. Franco’s troops were hard-pressed near Huesca in December and were saved by the Legionnaire Artillery and Air Force. In March, Italian troops fought in Catalonia. They took Huesca and marched to the mouth of the Ebro. By the time they reached the sea they had lost 3,000 men, taken 10,000 prisoners, and captured three cities and fifty towns. The Spanish Republic was now cut in two.

The war ended on April 1, 1939. Italian support had clearly been decisive. Mussolini presented Franco with all the vehicles and heavy weapons used by the CTV. He did so because it was cheaper to leave them instead of shipping them back to Italy, but as it was the spring 1939, it was the worst possible time to give such a present to anyone. Italy would sorely miss the heavy equipment

San Martín (c1579)

San Martín was a fine example of Portuguese shipbuilding skills. Note the bonaventure mast, set well in-board and not requiring the precarious stern-boom fitted on Henry Grace à Dieu.

This painting by Charles Dixon (1872–1934) of the action between San Martín and Ark Royal in the Channel is indicative of how the English ships were smaller and handier than the massive Spanish vessels. Both were the flagships of the combating fleets.

Though built as a Portuguese man of war, San Martín achieved fame as a ‘Spanish galleon’, the victorious flagship in the Battle of Terceiro (1582) against France, but less fortunate as flagship of the Great Armada sent against England in 1588.

In 1580 Portugal was annexed to Spain and its naval strength was combined with Spain’s, including some fine ships of the galleon type. The Portuguese naval tradition was a strong one and the clean, simple lines of San Martín, with its two gun decks, exemplify the best warship design of 1570–80, and make an interesting comparison with those of ‘Great Harry’, which was still something of a floating castle rather than a fighting ship.

Evidently San Martín was better than anything Spain currently had, as it was very quickly given the status of capitana general, or flagship. On 15 July 1582 it led the fleet at the Battle of Terceiro, off the Azores, when the Spanish, commanded by the Marquis of Santa Cruz, defeated a 60-ship French fleet. This was the first fleet action between ships of the galleon type, and 10 French ships were sunk without claiming a single Spanish one.

Spanish Armada

Carrying so many guns, San Martín was purely a fighting ship, and had no further active deployment until May 1588, when a huge fleet was assembled for the invasion of England. Again San Martín was the headquarters ship, carrying the Duke of Medina Sidonia and his staff. The story of the Armada’s failure, against a combination of English tenacity and ill weather, is well-known. In the context of the history of the battleship, San Martín provides a lesson which may not have been so apparent at the time. The Spanish galleons were warships intended to engage in close combat and their guns were not effective at other than close range. Although generally smaller, the English ships had guns of greater range and could bombard the Spanish from a distance without risking being boarded by enemy soldiers.

San Martín, in an hour-long duel with the Ark Royal on 1 August and another with Triumph on the 4th, was holed beneath the waterline and was rescued by the intervention of other ships. After a few days partial respite, battle was joined again on the French side of the English Channel from 8 August, off Gravelines, and San Martín fought a fierce rearguard action against numerous English ships, including Sir Francis Drake’s Revenge, while the rest of the fleet moved northwards along the Dutch coast. This was a close action, but not so close that the galleons could grapple their fast-moving opponents, board them and force them to surrender. By 9 August it was obvious that the Armada was not able to command the sea and bring its invasion force to land. Its return to Spain round the stormy coasts of Scotland and Ireland left many ships wrecked. San Martín was one of the 67 which got home, out of over 130 ships, reaching Santander on 23 September.

The lesson was that the quality of guns and gunnery was important: not merely an extra but potentially decisive in a battle on the open sea. This was not necessarily palatable to seamen brought up in the old grappling and boarding tradition. The technology of cannon casting, and of the missiles fired – solid iron balls – was to change only slowly and gradually, and two hundred years later ships armed with far more and heavier guns would still seek to get alongside an opponent and storm its decks with armed men. But the value of cannon had been clearly shown.

The galleon

The galleon was a large ship, typified by a narrow length-to-beam ratio, a lower freeboard (deck height above waterline) than was usual and a square stern. It was not built as high at forecastle and sterncastle as preceding ships, and had three, occasionally four, masts. The deck extended in a pointed beak over the bow. The aim was to produce a fighting platform that was faster and easier to work than the high-built warships typical before 1575. Gun-decks were built-in and usually held the latest models of cannon. The English Revenge (1577) carried 2 demi-cannon, 4 cannon-periers, 10 culverins, 6 demi-culverins and 10 sakers, apart from smaller guns. All the major seafaring countries built galleons: England, France, Holland, Spain, all with similar features but varying in size, type of armament and even rig: the term (first used in English around 1529) is not a precise one in ship-design.

Size, strength and manoeuvrability

Ark Royal, the flagship of the English Admiral, Lord Howard, was of 629 tonnes (694 tons) burthen compared to San Martín’s 907 tonnes (1000 tons), but carried four masts and 38 guns, including four 60-pounders, four 30-pounders and twelve 18-pounders. Like most of the other English ships, it was more manoeuvrable than the bigger Spanish vessels, but despite superior gunnery, the English fleet did not have the power to destroy the massive galleons. Size and strength counted for something, too. After September 1588, San Martín must have been in poor condition, badly in need of repair and refitting. The war was not over, and the Spanish had to regroup and reform their naval forces against attack from England, France and the Netherlands. All effective craft must have been kept in action, or quickly restored, but San Martín’s subsequent fate is unknown.



Length 37.3m (122ft 3in); Beam 9.3m (30ft 9in) Displacement 907 tonnes (1000 tons)

Armament: 48 heavy guns, plus light pieces

Rig: 3 masts, square rig (possible 4th stern mast)

Complement: 350 seamen and gunners; 302 arquebusiers and musketeers

A Potential Invasion of Great Britain’s Home Islands – 1779

Combat between the French frigates Juno and Gentille against the English ship Ardent and the English frigate Fox, August 17, 1779. (Château de Versailles)

Each new war expends a great deal of effort to undo the results of the previous one. D’Estaing could not return to the American coast until he had carried out orders to recover territory in the Caribbean lost by France to Great Britain in the Seven Years’ War and to acquire equivalent new territory from Great Britain. In an attempt to capture Barbados, one of the largest British wealth generators, in June 1779 d’Estaing sailed in strength, his twenty-four ships of the line incorporating the de Grasse, Vaudreuil, and La Motte-Picquet squadrons. They carried 5,500 marines; among them was Lafayette’s brother-in-law Noailles, finally getting into the action—ostensibly on behalf of America—that he, Lafayette, and Ségur had long ago imagined.

The winds were unfavorable to invading Barbados so d’Estaing went after Grenada, at the southern end of the Lesser Antilles, French until 1763. His marines stormed Grenada’s Hospital Hill, overwhelming the outnumbered locals and causing the desertion of many slaves to the French ranks. In the notice of the feat sent to Sartine, d’Estaing recommended Noailles for the Croix de Saint-Louis, one of France’s premiere medals for military valor.

Admiral Byron, upon learning of the recapture of Grenada, sailed to counter d’Estaing. A large-scale battle ensued. The British seized the weather gage, but the French, maneuvering smartly, were able to severely damage six British vessels, one limping into port with “ninety-five Holes intirely through her Sides,” as a newspaper account put it. The day’s action was later deemed the greatest setback for the Royal Navy since 1690, for d’Estaing had also taken the Grenadines, a chain of small islands between Grenada and St. Vincent.

He then headed to defend Guadeloupe, French since 1763. Byron’s fleet had already occupied that island’s harbor and could not be easily dislodged or lured out to fight by the French insultingly parading their ships just outside the anchorage, all flags flying. D’Estaing shifted to another of his missions, to ferry convoys of merchantmen to a point in the Atlantic from which they could cross to Europe untroubled by privateers. This duty, too, Versailles had dubbed essential, since the merchantmen’s cargoes would translate into the most important annual infusion of treasure to the treasury.

Only after shepherding those convoys could d’Estaing set sail for America. He was returning to the United States because he felt morally obligated to do so, not because of orders, since Sartine had directed him to come back to Europe, if possible conquering along the way Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. D’Estaing interpreted his instructions to mean that he could voyage near the coastal United States, where he knew he might bump into the enemy and aid the ally. D’Estaing tried to excuse in advance, to Sartine, a dalliance in America by suggesting that “if we only go [to Savannah and Charleston] and show ourselves, this will produce an effect which I believe will be of the greatest importance.”

But he thought he could do more. “There is every reason to believe,” Washington had written Gérard in a letter for forwarding to d’Estaing, that in Georgia the admiral “would with great facility capture & destroy the enemy’s fleet & Army.” And d’Estaing was also influenced by a missive from a former musketeer who was now the leader of his paid troop in South Carolina: “It is necessary to defend [this area] against its enemies and against itself. All is in lamentable condition, few regular troops, no assistance from the North, a feeble and ill-disciplined militia, and a great lack of harmony among the leaders.” Thus summoned and enticed, d’Estaing departed on August 16, 1779, for Savannah, with twenty ships of the line, seven frigates, other troop transport ships, and 3,500 troops.


Just then, a potential invasion of Great Britain’s home islands was taking shape in the English Channel. It had been awhile in coming. Lafayette had learned of an invasion in the late winter, at Versailles, perhaps from Louis XVI as the returned prodigal and his king hunted together, or from Marie Antoinette, who was quite taken with the marquis and liked to trade in secret information. But the precise plans for the grand invasion were taking so much time to come to fruition that Lafayette suggested to Maurepas he first attempt small-scale raids of England with a highly trained force of fifteen hundred. Lafayette’s model, then the talk of Versailles, was a similar-size French force known as Lauzun’s Legion—for its leader, a nobleman of equally distinguished lineage, the Duc de Lauzun—which had just wrested Senegal from British control.

Franklin, not privy to the grand invasion plans, was enthusiastic about the modest Lafayette caper, and added a most important element: “Much will depend, on a prudent & brave Sea Commander who knows the Coasts, and on a Leader of the Troops, who has the Affair at Heart,” he wrote to Lafayette as prelude to recommending John Paul Jones, then upgrading the old ship that Jones had renamed in Franklin’s honor the Bonhomme Richard. Jones told Lafayette: “I shall expect you to point out my Errors when we are together alone with perfect freedom. Where men of fine feeling are concerned there is seldom misunderstanding.” It was in regard to this mission that Jones had recently boasted to Chaumont, “I wish to have no connection to any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way,” a sentiment likely to flutter the heart of a Lafayette. The marquis wanted Pierre Landais to accompany them, having developed a high respect for the captain when together they had quelled the mutiny aboard the Alliance, and he also wanted the fast-sailing Alliance. The French navy lent an additional complement of ships. But Chaumont warned Jones, “You shall not require from [these extra] vessels any services but such as will be comfortable with the orders that [their captains] shall have,” which included making no changes to the French vessels’ crews or armaments, since those captains must be fully “answerable to those who have armed them.”

On May 22, Lafayette’s part of the adventure ended, and for the best reasons. As he explained to Jones, the king had reassigned him to a larger command in a full-scale invasion of Great Britain, scheduled for summer. Jones quickly redefined his mission and on June 19 departed Lorient in the Bonhomme Richard with the Alliance and the rest of his train. Problems began immediately, as Landais steered his ship into Jones’s, and more arose when it became apparent that the Bonhomme Richard was too slow. Changes at sea to the rigging and ballast added a half knot to its speed, but not enough to allow Jones to give proper chase to two British convoy escorts. As he wrote to Franklin, the British “courage failed, and they fled with precipitation, and to my mortification outsailed the Bonhomme Richard and got clear.”

The much larger invasion mission was experiencing even greater difficulties in getting to the point of weighing anchors. Even before the signing of the Aranjuez treaty, Vergennes had tried to hurry military preparations for the grand armada and the invasion of Great Britain, despite not wanting such an attack. It became an essential part of the deal with Spain, and so after the signing he redoubled his efforts, keenly aware that for the invasion to succeed it must take advantage of two rapidly closing windows: The combined Bourbon fleets’ superiority over the British navy, which would be eclipsed within six months by the frenetic pace of British capital shipbuilding, and the six weeks of relative calm weather that the English Channel experienced in the early summer, which would dissipate with the onset of an annual series of harsh storms on August 1.

Initial plans called for the French to sail first, from Brest, in early May, to meet up in Spanish waters with the Spanish fleets by midmonth, and then to spend a couple of weeks perfecting joint maneuvers before in June all moved toward the English Channel and from there made a rapid strike; the expedition was not a “question of a guerre de campagne [an extended campaign] but only of a coup de main [a surprise attack].”

Among the many factors affecting the attack’s potential success was the presumed willingness of the Irish to throw off the British yoke and join with the invaders. Bancroft, sent to assess that possibility, returned with the disappointing news that the prospect of a Franco-Spanish invasion had driven the Irish back into the embrace of Great Britain. No help could be counted on from that quarter.

Naval delays of the armada were initially due to Carlos III’s insistence that military officers in both realms not be made aware of negotiations before the treaty was signed. Additional delays resulted from the Spanish admirals’ resistance to having the French fleet guide their actions, and from Spain’s ships being far less ready for battle than those of France. A military aide to Montmorin toured the ports where the Spanish ships were being readied, and his assessment was dismal: crews recruited from convicts; old Scottish cannons that few knew how to maintain; poor-quality supplies from Russia; flimsy hemp from the Netherlands; and admirals either over the hill or known to be irresolute.

Delays mounted when Spain categorically refused to sail until war had been declared, something that could not occur prior to the completion of the time-honored sequence of delivering an ultimatum, having it rejected, and then withdrawing ambassadors. The Madrid government wasted time accumulating a list of grievances for the British to reject and then dallied in its deliverance. Finally Vergennes realized that Madrid would not hand over that list unless and until the French fleet had left Brest.

Then it was the French fleet causing the delays: D’Orvilliers told Versailles that he was unable to sail in May because of an incomplete upgrade to the Ville de Paris, from ninety guns on two decks to one hundred ten on three, necessary to counter the largest British ships. On June 4 the French fleet finally sailed, and six days later reached the rendezvous off Spain’s Atlantic Coast, but during the next six weeks the Spanish fleets did not join them. The discouraging delay was attributed partly to the weather but more to the Spanish admirals’ distaste for the French. Then, too, Spain decreed it necessary to wait not merely for the list of grievances to be delivered and rejected in London but for the news of the rejection to travel to Madrid and then to the port and the ships. Moreover, Spain’s prime target for invasion had shifted: It was much more interested in a joint Franco-Spanish attempt on the island of Gibraltar. That action began on July 11 and involved fourteen thousand Spanish troops and fifteen warships.

On d’Orvilliers’s ships, during six weeks under the broiling sun off Spain’s western coast, pestilence broke out—smallpox, dysentery, and scurvy, made worse because there were no surgeons; in the haste to depart Brest they had been left behind. Some 12,000 of the 23,750 men aboard became seriously ill, and there were many deaths. Then d’Orvilliers discovered that the Spanish ships did not have the agreed-upon signals to enable him to direct them during a battle.

As for the army of invasion, by July its 31,000 French soldiers had been distributed into dozens of camps in Normandy, with embarkation positions at Le Havre and Saint-Malo. De Broglie did not like the altered invasion plans and had refused to lead it. After his departure that army, nominally under the command of a seventy-four-year-old marshal, was actually led by Rochambeau, whose warrior single-mindedness provoked Lauzun to write that he “talked only of feats of arms, and demonstrated positions and executed movements out-of-doors, indoors, on the table, or on your snuff-box if you took it out of your pocket; without an idea outside of his profession, he had a marvelous grasp of that.”

Everyone in the nobility wanted in on the invasion, even the Chevalier d’Éon, who offered to ditch his petticoats and again don a military uniform—a violation of the conditions that had let him return to France as a female. That request was denied, just as his earlier one, to serve in America, had been. Lafayette advised Vergennes that he was providing “twenty million to support the paper currency, ten million to pay for an expedition, and ten to pay the interest on a general repayment” of the loan floated to buy supplies for the invasion.

Near the end of July a series of gales blew sails to shreds and kept the fleets from the Channel. Vergennes wrote to Montmorin: “Blackness overwhelms me.… What a wonderful opportunity is slipping from our grasp, without anyone being to blame! England, without resources or allies, was on the point of being taught a lesson; success seemed within our grasp … but the elements are arming themselves against us and staying the stroke of our vengeance.”

“The disunion of the two parties who divide the Congress increases and exasperates each other more and more. They lose on both sides the points of view of discretion and moderation,” Gérard was writing to Vergennes just then from Philadelphia. He had been recalled, but before returning home the emissary was determined to settle America’s peace terms. The Lee-Adams faction continued to insist on Newfoundland’s fisheries being included on the list, and to threaten that the New England states would leave the confederacy if they were not. Gérard cautioned Congress that the fisheries were not a part of the Franco-American pacts. When he queried Vergennes on the matter, the foreign minister’s response was quite tough:

1) that the King is actually the only guarantee of the Independence of the thirteen United States; 2) that this guarantee is only eventual as regards their possessions; 3) that the United States have no actual right to the fisheries; 4) that the King neither explicitly nor implicitly contracted an obligation to let them participate in them; 5) that they can have a share in them only insofar as they assure themselves of them by arms, or through a future truce or peace.

On July 24, after both Samuel Adams and R. H. Lee had left the deliberative body, Congress voted to omit the fisheries from the list of conditions for peace but, as Henry Laurens suggested, to make them essential in postarmistice discussions.


In mid-August the sizable Franco-Spanish armada entered the western end of the English Channel, expecting to engage and conquer the British Home Fleet and clear the way for the invasion. D’Orvilliers wrote to the ministry: “The combined [fleet] is at present anchored in calm waters within sight of the tower of Plymouth.… It is most important to hasten the battle, particularly as the condition of the French ships is worsening daily, as regards both the disease running rampant in them and the small quantity of water and rations they possess.”

While the land troops waited for the armada to do its work, Franklin dispatched to Le Havre his seventeen-year-old grandson, William Temple Franklin, bearing the ceremonial sword commissioned by Congress for Lafayette; Temple wanted some military glory for himself, and Lafayette obliged, attempting to obtain Franklin’s consent for the boy to be his aide-de-camp during the invasion. In another letter Lafayette advised, regarding a feeler Franklin had received to go to London to negotiate a peace, that the offer would result in nothing because “whatever is prudent for [the British] to do, they will omit; and what is most imprudent to be done, they will do it.” He could have cited as the latest evidence of this that the British had passed over experienced, aggressive commanders to appoint as the new head of the Home Fleet Admiral Charles Hardy, sixty-five, who had not been to sea in twenty years.

And that, despite London having been aware of French and Spanish invasion designs since early spring and having obtained such specific information as the names of troop unit commanders, the number of troopships, the quantity of stores aboard them, and the main targets, Portsmouth and Plymouth.

The British preparations were almost as inept as the French and Spanish. Lord North had sent the information about the French-Spanish plans to George III in a locked box; the king had lost the box’s only key, and a locksmith had to be summoned to break it open. Once the king read the materials in the box and understood the danger from the combined fleets of France and Spain, he offered to take active command of the British forces on land during the invasion.

That proved unnecessary. No large-scale invasion of the British Isles took place. Nor did any climactic sea battle, although the combined French and Spanish fleets did get into the Channel and sail about in late August and part of September, when, infrequently, they could best the wind. Fogs contributed to the absence of action. On several occasions, the Franco-Spanish fleet and the British one narrowly missed each other. As significant a contributing factor was the commanders’ timidity. A tough observer aboard Hardy’s flagship wrote of him, in words that could also be applied to the French and Spanish admirals in this endeavor, “He means to take as small a share of responsibility upon himself as possible … to procrastinate as long as he can and when he is obliged to act he will make Ministers responsible for the consequence if he fails.”

The largest armada assembled since 1588 for invading Britain came to naught—at a cost to France of one hundred million livres, much more than had been expended to aid the American rebels. Lafayette, summing it up in a letter to Congress, acknowledged that the Franco-Spanish invasion of Great Britain had failed, but at least it had “exhausted England and detain’d at home forces which would have done much mischief in other parts of the world.”

The big invasion produced nothing, but John Paul Jones’s was still in the offing, though it had been delayed. In June and July, while the Bonhomme Richard was being repaired in Lorient, Jones had taken on additional hands, including former British sailors, and had to put down a potential mutiny by some of them. He also became ill. In early August, Sartine had dispatched Chaumont to the port to hasten Jones’s departure—and to meddle in the captains’ willingness to obey Jones’s commands. On August 9 Jones quickly left dockside and on August 14 passed the outer anchorage with the Bonhomme Richard, the Alliance, two French privateers, and three other French warships.

Once the small squadron was out of the harbor, one French privateer decided not to continue. Jones was powerless to halt his defection. The remaining six ships proceeded toward the Irish coast, taking several merchantmen. Problems cropped up everywhere, from Landais, whose ship fired at Jones’s, from the polyglot crew—the Irish members stole the flagship’s barge and rowed themselves ashore—from the desertion of another French naval vessel, and from the veering off of the second French privateer after capturing a prize and wanting to get it into port.

Jones, at odds with Landais, nonetheless continued to take merchantmen and menace the coast. “Not a day passed but we are receiving accounts of the depredations committed by Paul Jones and his squadron,” according to a letter that soon appeared in the London Evening Post. Jones then landed at Leith, Edinburgh’s seaport, aiming to exact a two-hundred-thousand-pound ransom in exchange for not burning the town, which was defenseless; but when the wind died suddenly Jones and his captains decided to return aboard and row themselves away, lest they be caught by the Royal Navy. Similar attempted raids and narrow escapes followed until September 22, when off the Yorkshire coast Jones spotted a fine target, a convoy of forty merchantmen. Able to seize some of them immediately, Jones learned that they were being guarded by two Royal Navy vessels, the larger being the Serapis, listed as forty-four guns but that Jones believed had between forty-six and fifty, mounted on two decks. In the ensuing fight off Flamborough Head, Serapis’s cannons ripped through the Bonhomme Richard so thoroughly that it was close to foundering, causing the British captain to ask Jones if he had struck his colors; he famously replied: “I have not yet begun to fight.” Ramming his ship into the Serapis, Jones then had his men grapple on, and they fought the British hand to hand in one of the most sanguinary close encounters of the war, which left nearly three hundred of the six hundred men dead. An exploding American grenade ignited gunpowder kegs and put Serapis’s cannon out of action. Its captain surrendered just in time for Jones to transfer into it with what remained of his crew and their prisoners, which he did because the Bonhomme Richard had become unstable.

A painting by William Gilkerson of the battle between the Continental Navy frigate Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis, Beverley R. Robinson Collection, US Naval Academy Museum.

An isolated victory, Jones’s feat was militarily insignificant, but in a season in which the larger invasion of Great Britain and the Franco-Spanish armada had come to such utter failure it was a notable success. The feat transformed John Paul Jones into a hero and it justly celebrated his crew, which included many French sailors as well as those of a dozen other nationalities.


Among the British reactions to the Franco-Spanish near-invasion were doubling the size of the militias, eliminating many loopholes through which young Britons had been able to avoid military service, and making conciliatory overtures to Ireland to abate rebellion, including the easing of exclusionary practices against Catholics. In France the combination of Franklin, Adams, and finance minister Necker—Protestants all—began to advocate for similar elimination of second-class treatment of Protestants, and progress was made on that front.

Liberalizing in France had repercussions in America. It assisted congressional supporters of the Franco-American alliance by stripping from the anti-Gallicians the use of the canard that they intended to take over America and force Catholicism on its citizens. The anti-Gallicians found another opening when it became necessary to dispatch a plenipotentiary to Madrid. Jay was nominated, but the antis kept bringing up various objections that became confabulated with the Silas Deane/Arthur Lee impasse and took time to resolve. Finally Jay was approved, Lee was dismissed from his previous post, and Deane was offered a payment of $10,500, which he rejected as an attempt to buy him off for a few cents on the dollar.

In October 1779 Jay and his wife embarked for Spain on the same ship returning Gérard to France. Jay had decided that because of Lee’s poor reception by Madrid he must now approach Spain gingerly, going first to Paris and from there applying for entry. Once at sea, a storm necessitated changing course; in the argument over whether to head for the Caribbean or reattempt a more direct crossing, Gérard and Jay disagreed, and finished the voyage as less than friends.

“I don’t know what can be done regarding America,” Vergennes wrote Lafayette in the fall of 1779 at Le Havre, where the marquis had remained. “Our plans can no longer be unilateral; they require a preliminary agreement. It is obvious that the concern for America’s welfare requires that troops be sent, but that alone would not be doing enough.” He added a complaint about the Americans: “We hope they will have exerted themselves more than they have done up to now.” He excepted from this complaint the John Paul Jones victory, and the one at Stony Point that, he noted with pride, had been led by Lafayette’s colleague and friend Fleury.

Shortly Fleury returned to France and at Lafayette’s urging completed a memo of his time with the Continental forces, to which he appended comments on what should be done next. It echoed Vergennes in contending: “America is in a state of crisis that is alarming but not hopeless,” and went beyond the minister in its insistence that France could best prevent the states’ reconciling with Great Britain by “sending arms, clothing, money, or more assistance.”