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.”


Philip V of Spain

The establishment of a Bourbon prince on the throne of Spain was regarded as the great and final achievement of the reign of Louis XIV. The critics of the regent denounced his failure to act in harmony with that sovereign as the unpardonable error of his administration. It is well, therefore, to consider the character and the policy of the grandson of Louis XIV., who for forty-six years reigned in Spain, exercising an authority uncontrolled either by popular or by aristocratic institutions.

Philip was a youth of seventeen when he was chosen as king of that country by the will of Charles II. Intellectually, he was less developed than befitted his years; of education he had not so much as most boys of ten possess now; in will, in the power to impress himself on men, to control the policy of the great people whom he was called upon to rule, he was deficient to an extraordinary degree; and in all these respects he was much the same when he died, an old man of sixty-three, as when he mounted the throne, a lad of seventeen.

Such a youth was necessarily controlled by those by whom he was surrounded, and Louis XIV. was obliged to give careful attention to their choice, in order to exercise any influence on the affairs of Spain. It was in vain that he wrote his grandson that he must learn to exert his own volition, to be able to say, “I will.” The letters of Louis XIV. to the young king were as judicious as they were kindly, but they were without effect upon the prince to whom they were addressed. Philip continued, however, submissive to the orders which he received. Sometimes he was sullen in his obedience, but he never ventured to disobey his grandfather when the commands were peremptory. He retained also an affection for France and the French, but such a feeling was of small importance in so weak a person. The confidential adviser of his early career wrote: “One could make him sign a league against France with the same facility that he would sign a passport.”

In this feeble character there was one strong passion, but it served only to render the sovereign still more dependent and despicable. He was the most uxorious of men. The most ingenious of comic writers have been unable to portray a condition of marital dependence equal to that of the monarch of the most widely extended empire in the world. The henpecked husband whom we find in fiction appears a man of independent will and fearless character when compared with Philip V. of Spain. His first wife was a woman of sprightliness and capacity. In ruling the kingdom, she found some consolation for a life every moment of which, by day and night, was spent in the society of a taciturn and stupid man. Philip was weak enough to be governed by his wife, and weak enough to be coaxed by others into trying to escape from this subjection. One of the French ambassadors conceived the idea of establishing relations with the Spanish king, of which his female rulers should have no knowledge. Philip sent communications to his grandfather, which were prepared by him and the minister. In these he expressed what he thought were his actual desires. He also sent the ordinary formal letters, which were dictated by his wife, or by Mme. des Ursins when she was in Spain. “Do not put any confidence in the official letters which I shall be obliged to send you, in order not to disturb the peace,” wrote this most weakly of princes.

Louis XIV. had the feelings of a king and of a gentleman, and the spectacle of his grandson confessing that he dared not express his real sentiments, because he was afraid of a disturbance with his wife, was in the highest degree distateful to him. He knew Philip’s character well enough, also, to be sure that this feeble attempt at independence would be short-lived. So it proved. The surreptitious correspondence was discovered. The penalties imposed upon the erring husband are a secret of state, but they were doubtless severe. During the forty years that Philip remained a king, he never again ventured to rebel against the authority of his wives. He now sent a formal recantation of all that he had said in his personal letters, and was forgiven. The correspondence is a curious illustration of the character of those whom the fortune of birth sometimes puts in great places.

In tracing the policy of Philip V. as a ruler, we are naturally obliged to consider the sequence of his wives. His first wife, who was a princess of Savoy, died in February, 1714. In June, he was affianced to a princess of Parma. In September, he was married to her by proxy, and he was greatly distressed at the delays in her journey to Spain. On December 24, she at last reached her impatient spouse. A week later the French chargé d’affaires could truly write, “The queen governs the king despotically.” The authority which she acquired in the honeymoon she never allowed to relax. Her arrival was accompanied by an entire change in the government. She dismissed Mme. des Ursins, without even consulting Philip, and the king dared show no resentment. He earned her favor by implicit obedience to her commands. His life with the new queen was spent in the same manner as with the former one. An existence more monotonous, and apparently more wearisome, could hardly be conceived. It was a perpetual tête-à-tête by day and night, with no variation from the 1st of January to the 31st of December. Sickness of whatever nature was not allowed to be an excuse for separation. Their Catholic majesties rose together, dressed together, rode together, ate their meals together, went to mass together, said their prayers together. The queen was allowed a few moments to herself during her toilet and for her confession. Even that must be brief. The king waited in the next room, and, if he thought that she was occupying too much time in the confession of her sins, he opened the door and called to her. Almost every day the king played at the mall. Three times he went down the long mall in his game, and three times he returned, never more and never less. Though the queen took no part in the sport, she was required to follow him and keep constantly at his left hand. If, in talking with some one, she fell behind even four or five paces, Philip at once turned round and looked at her, and she hastened to resume her place.

Every day, also, the king and queen participated in what was most improperly styled the chase. Hunting, when it requires exercise and skill, and still more when there exists an element of danger for the hunter as well as the hunted, is a sport the manliness of which atones for any appearance of cruelty. It was far otherwise with the butchery which furnished the daily amusement of Philip V. He and his wife were driven to the rendezvous. In the mean time three or four hundred peasants scoured the woods, and drove before them the game of every kind with which these were filled. In due time animals of various sorts began to pass before the inclosure where the king and queen were stationed, and they fired at them as they went by. Nothing came amiss, – boars, wolves, deer, bares, foxes, martins. Some were killed; many more were wounded, and crept off in the woods to die. An hour spent in butchering barnyard fowl would have been quite as enlivening and manly sport, but, such as this was, it furnished endless delight to the Spanish king.  Philip’s religious nature was as narrow and superstitious as we might expect. His confessor was his constant confidant: to him he disclosed the petty doubts and fears which disturbed him; how should he say his prayers on St. Elizabeth’s Day; what ceremonial must he follow on the octave of the dedication of the Holy Trinity; at what moment should he begin fasting; at what moment should he cease praying? Such questions, solemnly reduced to writing, were daily presented to his confessor, and have been preserved for posterity. The confessor, who was a sensible man, told him that it was not alone prayers and penitence which made a saintly king; that, if he would occupy himself with the duties of royalty, he could accomplish more for God’s glory than did many preachers and missionaries. Such advice was unheeded. Philip was in constant fear of dying, and often he insisted on keeping his confessor by him all the night. Frequently he awoke, and at once demanded ghostly counsel on some doubt that had traversed his feeble brain. At one time he was so apprehensive of the administration of a secret charm or poison, that his attendants had endless trouble to induce him to change his clothes or his linen. The description which St. Simon gives of Philip in 1721 does not seem strange, when we consider the life which he had led for twenty years. He was bent and shrunken; his chin projected, his gait was a shuffle, his speech was a drawl, and his appearance imbecile.  Such was the prince to place whom on the throne of Spain half a million Frenchmen perished. The treasury was bankrupt, the fields lay untilled, trade was stagnant, misery was widespread; and all this that a grandson of Louis XIV. might reign at Madrid with as little profit to Spain as to France. What an enormous price to pay, and what a beggarly reward to receive!

Philip’s second wife possessed a character as vigorous as his was weak. She was a woman without experience in affairs of state, her mind was narrow and suspicious; but she had an active intelligence, untiring energy, and unusual power of will. Two sons by Philip’s first wife were living. The second wife also had children. There seemed slight probability that they would inherit the Spanish crown, and her energies were occupied in finding thrones and principalities for them elsewhere. For that end she had no more hesitation in involving Spain and all Europe in war than has a tigress in killing a fawn for her cubs. The establishment of the sons of Elizabeth of Parma controlled the politics of Spain for quarter of a century; it wasted many lives, and produced endless disturbance in Europe.

Elizabeth may have been entitled to demand advantages for her offspring as compensation for the existence which she was forced to lead. A lifelong tête-à- tête with such a man as Philip must have been misery equal to that caused by the most refined and ingenious tortures of the Inquisition. In company Philip rarely opened his mouth, and with his wife he would sit for hours in silence. When he did talk, it was of the chase, of his clothes and those of his children. And yet, in order to hold her ascendency, the queen was obliged to keep him always in her view. Sometimes she would not even let him confess in secret. He loved flattery, and she praised him constantly. She lauded his skill at the mall, his presence, his dress; she even told him how intelligent he was, and how great a king. A resolute woman hesitates at nothing. Though Philip’s character was feeble, it was not difficult to induce him to plunge his country into war. He had a certain vague ambition, a desire to be regarded as a powerful king, and he was as unscrupulous as monarchs who possessed greater ability. While he waked his confessor at night to get instructions as to the order of his devotions, he had no regard for the treaties he signed, or the oaths he swore; and he pursued with a stubborn pertinacity his plans for obtaining anything which he desired. His readiness to plunge Spain and France in war to accomplish his purposes, if he had been an able man, would have made him a dangerous man.

In order to conclude the peace of Utrecht, Louis had compelled his grandson to execute a renunciation of his rights as a possible heir to the French throne. It was asserted by those who opposed the treaty then, and by those who have condemned it since, that this renunciation was invalid. When the English ministers demanded it as a condition of peace, Torcy had replied that in France it was a fundamental law that the nearest heir received the throne, not from the preceding king, but directly from God, and that this divine ordi vance no renunciation could affect, and only God could alter. This position was nonsensical, and Torcy knew it quite as well as Bolingbroke. The argument was advanced to make the English desist from a demand to which Louis was reluctant to accede. There was no such law in France. Even if there had been, Bolingbroke’s answer was complete, that, though God gave a prince the right to inherit, there was no law that prevented his surrender of the right; even the most strenuous advocates did not claim that the law of God forbade a king to abdicate. But in France there had never been any positive enactment such as Torcy claimed, nor had there been an immemorial usage which should take the place of written law. If the throne of France by God’s decree must always descend in a direct line, Louis XIV. was an usurper. Carlovingian and Merovingian sovereigns had been dethroned; they had partitioned the territory of France among themselves to suit their own tastes; the Bourbons were not the lawful heirs of those who had once ruled in that land. Even if Louis XIV. was a lawful sovereign, it was certain that Philip V. was not. He was king of Spain by virtue of the renunciation of his father and his older brother. If Torcy was correct, that a prince could not deprive his offspring of their rights by birth, then the infant Louis XV. was manifestly entitled to the throne of Spain as well as of France, and the renunciations by which Philip had been placed on it were contrary to the law of God, and void. Philip had secured his rights in Spain as a compensation for yielding his possible rights in France.

Though the renunciation of the Duke of Anjou was valid by the laws of France, as well as by the laws of common sense and common honesty, yet it was very doubtful whether it would be observed. A similar doubt enveloped every treaty that was made. The fact that sovereigns violated their agreements with facility could be obviated by no skill in the framers of treaties. A humorous diplomat had suggested that to each of the elaborate phrases, in which the renunciation of Philip was couched, should be added the words, “In the same manner as was expressed in the renunciation of Maria Theresa,” in violation of which Philip was now on the Spanish throne.

Louis XIV. regarded the instrument executed by the king of Spain as in all respects valid, and he was distressed when Philip, notwithstanding his scruples of conscience as to fasts and formulas, declared that he would not respect his oaths or his agreements. “I am sure that you regret giving occasion to the charges that you are seeking pretexts to avoid the renunciation to which you have solemnly sworn,” he wrote his grandson.

The only check upon Philip was removed when his grandfather died. He had long regarded the Duke of Orleans with animosity. During the war of the Succession, Orleans for some years commanded the armies in Spain. When Louis XIV. believed that it was impossible that Philip could retain the Spanish throne, Orleans became involved in some indiscreet intrigues, founded on his own contingent rights if Philip were compelled to abdicate. There was nothing in what he did contrary to his obligations to that sovereign, but his conduct was injudicious. Mme. des Ursins conceived a strong dislike for Orleans, and Philip disliked what she disliked. Subsequent events had only strengthened his aversion. At last Orleans obtained the regency, which Philip wanted for himself. He entertained for the regent both hatred and fear. His terrors were increased by the reports of Orleans’s crimes which were sent from Paris. Philip was easily led to believe that the wicked cousin, who had already poisoned his brother, was now seeking an opportunity to poison him.

A new favorite had attained to power in Spain, and for four years controlled the destinies of that country. Giulio Alberoni, like so many of those who have reached the highest dignities of the church, was of very humble extraction. He was an Italian, born near Piacenza, and was the son of a gardener. He took orders, obtained the good-will of the Duke of Vendôme, and in 1711, as his secretary, first visited Spain. Two years later he was appointed consular agent for the Duke of Parma, whose subject he was. He used his influence to induce Mme. des Ursins to choose the niece of that duke as Philip’s second wife; and when Elizabeth Farnese had arrived in Spain, and established her wifely authority over her husband, the road lay clear for Alberoni’s advancement. He was of the same nationality as the queen; he had helped her to the position which she held; he enjoyed her entire confidence. He soon became the prime minister of Spain, and exercised in that country a despotic authority. To the rule of a French princess succeeded the rule of an Italian priest. Spain seemed to be unable to supply men from her own soil who could play any part in the state. Alberoni desired to be made a cardinal, and the influence of Spain was exercised to procure him this honor. Clement XI. hesitated. So unfit did he regard Alberoni for the purple, that he said he should undoubtedly burn in hell if he made him a cardinal. Even if the Pope entertained such gloomy apprehensions, he decided to run the risk. In July, 1717, Alberoni was declared a cardinal, and this dignity increased the influence which he already possessed.

Alberoni has often been likened to Dubois. Both had risen from a very humble social position, both were violent and vulgar in their speech and manner, both were eager and unscrupulous in pursuing their own advancement, and both attained the highest dignities of the church and state. The analogy cannot be carried further. Dubois was a man of sagacity; no one considered more carefully than he the condition of the states and the character of the men with whom he had to deal; no one was more adroit in persuading others to adopt his own conclusions. Alberoni possessed the reverse of these qualities.

He has been compared with statesmen like Richelieu and Mazarin; it has been said that under favorable circumstances he might have rebuilt the power of Spain, and accomplished results as brilliant as those effected by the great French cardinals. No comparison could be more inaccurate. The essential quality of a statesman is to recognize what is possible, to abide the fitting hour, to seize the opportunity of to-day and watch for the opportunity of the morrow. But Alberoni was a dreamer. His political schemes were as impracticable as those of his royal master. Like a petulant child, he refused the advantages which he could obtain, because they were not all that he desired. He was always hoping for some mysterious turn of affairs. He devised vast political combinations, which came to naught; he hoped to conquer England with a few thousand ill-equipped troops, to overthrow the authority of the regent by means of a handful of discontented intriguers. He failed in everything that he undertook, becaase he would never recognize that the world was what it was, and not what he wished it to be. Alberoni claimed great credit for himself because he organized in Spain a considerable navy and army, because he did something to rouse that country from its lethargy. But all that he accomplished by his energy he destroyed by his folly.

The cardinal stimulated all the vague, ambitious hopes which agitated Philip’s brain. The plans of the feeble king and his chimerical minister would have required the power of Louis XIV. in his palmiest days to have any chance of accomplishment. All the provisions of the treaty of Utrecht were odious to them, and they were eager to overthrow the arrangement by which, only three years before, the peace of Europe had been made and the crown of Philip assured. Spain must recover her lost possessions in Italy; Gibraltar must be restored; Parma and Tus cany must be secured for the son of Elizabeth Farnese. It would have been impossible for the most powerful state in Europe to obtain such advantages, and they were not likely to be accorded to one of the weakest.

An unfriendly policy towards the regent accorded with the prejudices of Philip and the plans of Alberoni. A new treaty was made with England, by which she secured great commercial advantages. On the other hand, French trade and French merchants were harassed. They were subjected to heavier impositions than when Spain was governed by kings of the house of Austria. The French ambassador remonstrated, but without success. At the same time, engineers were employed to repair the fortifications on the line of the Pyrenees towards France, which had been suffered to fall into decay. Such was the spectacle presented within three months of the death of Louis XIV. to those who believed that ties of blood governed the policy of princes, and that the Pyrenees no longer existed. Orleans sent to Madrid the Marquis of Louville, who had formerly been an intimate associate of the Duke of Anjou, but Alberoni was too wary to allow the king to be exposed to the blandishments of a friend of his youth. Louville was met with letters, purporting to be by Philip’s order, but of the existence of which the sovereign was perhaps unaware, which directed him to return forthwith to France. It was with difficulty that he found a physician to attend him in an illness, such was the apprehension of any relations with a man who was distasteful to the queen and her minister.  Baffled in his attempts to remain on good terms with Philip, the regent joined the Triple Alliance. The assertion in the treaty that this alliance was made to secure the tranquillity of Europe was no idle boast. “Your voyage to the Hague, Monsieur l’Abbé,” said Stanhope to Dubois, when the instrument was signed, “has saved the waste of human life. There are nations who will be indebted to you for their tranquillity, though they do not know it.” In pursuance of a policy that was alike judicious and humane, tho endeavor was now made to adjust the points of contention between Austria and Spain, and to prevent the recklessness of Philip and Alberoni from kindling a European war.

Spain had already taken the first step towards an appeal to the sword. Alberoni constantly declared that the Austrians must be driven from Italy. Such a purpose would have been deserving of sympathy, if the object of freeing Italy from the burden of Austrian occupation had not been to subject her to the incubus of Spanish occupation. Any consideration for national interests, or affinities, or sympathies was unknown to the politics of this period. Such ideas were so foreign to political conceptions that they were not even advanced as pretexts. “They cut and pare states and kingdoms as if they were Dutch cheeses,” wrote Alberoni of the statesmen of the day. “After all,” said the regent to Stair, “what does the nation amount to?” “Very little,” replied the ambassador, “until a standard is raised.” The standard was not raised until late in the century. The Spanish had long been preparing a naval force of considerable strength. It was certain that an expedition was contemplated in some direction, but the real object was concealed, for Alberoni had the faculty of keeping his own counsel. To the Pope he intimated that the fleet would sail against the Turks, so soon as a cardinal’s hat was bestowed on a minister who had it in his power to do good work for the cause of Christ. In August, 1717, the fleet set sail. It did not proceed against the infidels, but nine thousand men landed on the island of Sardinia, which had been ceded to Austria by the treaty of Utrecht. The Emperor was engaged in a war with the Turks, his Italian possessions were scantily garrisoned, and the Spanish captured the island without difficulty.

Thus the war between Spain and the empire was again kindled, and it seemed probable that all the parties to the contest of the Spanish Succession would soon find themselves in arms. The admirers of Alberoni have claimed that he was opposed to commencing hostilities, but was forced to begin war at the express command of the Spanish king. The cardinal’s letters and conversations support this claim. But those who suppose that Philip V. was capable of insisting upon so important a measure, contrary to the wishes of his minister, are ignorant of his physical and mental condition. His health at this period was more infirm than usual, and during the autumn his life was in danger. Alberoni had long been strengthening the Spanish army and preparing a fleet; he was not a man who, like the father of Frederick II., equipped soldiers for the pleasure of looking at them. In June, Alberoni wrote a strong letter declaring that Spain was not ready for war. In this he was sincere. He had not yet been elevated to the cardinalate, and he knew that the Pope would be mortally offended when he discovered that the Spanish expedition was intended for Italian invasion. On July 12, Alberoni was made a cardinal, and early in August the fleet sailed for Sardinia.

The hostile measures taken by Spain increased the desire of England and France to secure the continuance of peace. In September, 1717, Dubois was sent as ambassador to London. His mission was accompanied with important political results; his letters illustrate, also, many of his own peculiarities. He was charmed with England. “There is no other country in the world,” he writes, “where one can see so many pretty women.” He was equally impressed by the populousness of London. The Pont-Neuf, he said, seemed like a solitude in comparison. The abbé was always eager to make friends, and he scorned no means of obtaining their favor. He ordered dresses for many of the ladies of the court. He describes the complexion, the height, the figure, even the color of the hair, of those for whom they were intended; he directs, with anxious attention, the manner in which the trains should be finished. Nor did he give less attention to his larder, that he might furnish pleasure to the husbands as well as to the wives. Perigord truffles were ordered, cheeses from Brie, and marmalades of extraordinary delicacy. His cook fell sick, and he was in despair. The names were sent of candidates for the office, and he criticises them with a severity befitting the gravity of the situation. “You speak of the cook of M. d’Armenonville, but M. d’Armenonville did not understand good living. His brother, the Bishop of Orleans, lived on salsify. It is impossible that a good officer should be turned out from that school.”

A minister who was diligent in small matters did not neglect those of more importance. The regent was earnest in demanding for Spain the advantages which might reasonably content its sovereign. The English sought to reconcile the Emperor to the treaty of Utrecht, against which he had so bitterly protested. The negotiation was long protracted, but at last it was agreed between France and England that the Emperor must acknowledge Philip as king of Spain, and Philip must surrender any claim upon the possessions ceded to Austria; in consideration for this, Don Carlos, Philip’s son by Elizabeth Farnese, should be recognized as heir to the duchies of Tuscany and Parma, and Sicily should be ceded to Austria by the Duke of Savoy, who was to receive Sardinia in exchange. The Spanish must, of course, withdraw their troops from Sardinia and agree to keep the peace.

These terms were reasonable. England and France asked no advantages for themselves; they sought only to preserve the tranquillity of Europe. But an arrangement that was fair to each party was distaste ful to Spain and to Austria. The Emperor proposed an alliance with France, to be purchased by the surrender of Alsace to Germany; he was willing to treat with England, if Majorca and Sicily could be secured for him, without allowing Tuscany to fall to the lot of a Bourbon prince. It was with reluctance that he would agree to renounce the title of king of Spain, though it was as visionary as if he had called himself the king of Jerusalem. Dealing with these unreasonable demands was not an easy task, but it was successfully accomplished.

The secret council at Vienna displayed an unusual amount of sagacity. The minutes of its proceedings recite that, in the hope of getting more by waiting longer, Austria had suffered serious disadvantages at the successive treaties of Nimeguen, Ryswick, and Utrecht. It was thought wise, therefore, not to delay in entering an alliance which secured the fertile island of Sicily in exchange for the barren island of Sardinia. In July, 1718, an agreement was signed between France and England. Austria became a party to it in August, Holland subsequently joined; and it thus became the Quadruple Alliance.

Spain was asked to accede to the terms agreed upon by the four great powers. Even if they had been less favorable, it was useless for her to oppose them. Spain could not have resisted such a combination in the days of Philip II., and it was folly to suppose that she could do so in the condition to which she had fallen under Philip V. But the terms of the treaty were such as could properly have been accepted. The inheritance of the duchies of Tuscany and Parma was secured to a Bourbon prince, the son of the Spanish queen. In their eagerness to avoid war, George I. and his ministers were willing to surrender Gibraltar, which had been captured fourteen years before. Spain could have escaped the humiliation of seeing the English flag over the stronghold where it still floats, almost two centuries later. That country could have pursued her course of material improvement, could have continued to strengthen her army and her navy, until she might have assumed a position in Europe not in all respects inferior to that which she formerly occupied. It was necessary to abandon the dream of reconquering the possessions surrendered by the treaty of Utrecht. But that was only a dream. The increased prosperity of Spain was largely due to the fact that she was relieved from the care of distant provinces which had cost her much and yielded little. It is the conclusive proof of Alberoni’s incompetency that he let this opportunity go by, and wasted the resources which the country had acquired in a hopeless struggle after impossible chimeras.


Siege of St Sebastian, 1719

PLAN De la VILLE et du Chateau / et PORT du St: SEBASTIAN / Ataqué par les Anglois dan les du Moy Maÿ / l’Anné 1719
Milazzo, 1718

PLAN / de la ville & chateau de / MELAZZO / avec le Camp des Imperiaux, les ouvrages / & Retranchements des Assiegés. Et le / Camp des Espagnols, leurs attaques & / Trenchées 1718
Siege of Messina, 1718


The offers of the allied powers were met with the gasconade which was so common in Spanish diplomacy. His master, said Alberoni, would lose forty crowns before he would agree to terms so humiliating: rather than consent to them, he would die fighting, sword in hand. Nancré, the French ambassador, urged the acceptance of conditions which were for the true interests of Spain. “Nancré has vomited out his proposals,” wrote Alberoni. “They were scandalous enough to be worthy of an Englishman.”

Undisturbed by the combination already formed against him, the cardinal now attacked, without notice or provocation, a nation with which Spain was at peace. The Spanish proceeded, with utter unconcern as to consequences, to seize anything they wanted, no matter to whom it belonged. Sicily had been ceded to Savoy by the treaty of Utrecht. In August, 1718, a Spanish fleet sailed to that island, 30,000 soldiers landed, and the principal towns were easily captured. Such an invasion seemed so extraordinary that it was universally believed that a secret alliance had been made between Philip and the king of Sicily. It was not the fact. When Victor Amadeus found himself deserted by his former allies, he sought to form a combination with Spain, but the plans of Alberoni were too chimerical to attract him. The invasion of Sicily now drove him into the Quadruple Alliance. It was rarely that the house of Savoy made a treaty by which it lost. To exchange fertile and populous Sicily for rocky and barren Sardinia was a bad bargain, but Victor Amadeus saw that resistance was impossible. He never forgave those who had framed the alliance, and found his only consolation subsequently, when the three men most responsible for it – Stanhope, Dubois, and Orleans – died suddenly, and without opportunity to save themselves from perdition by obtaining absolution for their sins.

The invasion of Sicily compelled the allies to resort to force. An English fleet sailed under Admiral Byng, with orders to resist any infraction of the neutrality of Italy and the provisions of the treaty of Utrecht. His instructions were communicated to Alberoni. The cardinal treated the English fleet as he treated everything that conflicted with his desires: he paid no attention to it. With true Spanish hauteur, the Enlish minister was informed that the Chevalier Byng might execute the orders that he had received from his master. He proceeded to do so without delay. On the 11th of August, Byng attacked the Spanish off Cape Passaro. A few hours were sufficient to destroy the fleet with which Alberoni had expected to rule the Mediterranean. The visions of Italian conquest were dissolved as soon as the were brought in contact with realities.

Alberoni still persisted in a desperate struggle, trusting to fortune to come to his aid. He had hoped that Charles XII. of Sweden would invade England in behalf of the Stuart cause. The death of that erratic sovereign put an end to such plans, and the cardinal decided to revive the projects of Philip II. and undertake the conquest of England himself. In 1719, a fleet of twenty-four sail, mostly transports, was dispatched to conquer the greatest maritime power of Europe. A storm off Finisterre dispersed the new Armada, and saved it from the defeat which awaited it.

In December, 1718, England formally declared war upon Spain, and Stanhope demanded of the regent to do the same. Orleans had bound himself to this by the provisions of the Quadruple Alliance, but he was loath to take the step. He desired the regency to be a period of peace, and a contest with Spain was in the highest degree unpopular in France. The coterie which cherished the traditions of Louis XIV. regarded a war against his grandson as an impious and a fratricidal measure. Orleans had already lost the popularity which had attended the beginning of the regency, and he did not wish to increase the illfavor with which his administration was regarded.

The measures adopted by Philip and Alberoni removed all difficulties from his path. Though the hopes which greeted the reforms promised by the regent had been disappointed, the thought of any revolt against his authority could only be entertained by discontented visionaries. Orleans’s power was as firmly established as if he had been king instead of regent, and, after sixty years of implicit obedience to the sovereign, the idea of open resistance was foreign to the community. The great body of the population desired peace and tranquillity, and cared little whether the regent made an alliance with England or with Spain, whether he chose Dubois or Maine as his adviser.

The discontents of a little clique were enough, however, to excite the hopes of Alberoni, and some harmless vaporing was dignified with the importance of a dangerous conspiracy. The Duke of Maine had been deprived of the rank bestowed on him by the fondness of Louis XIV. A very small portion of the community took any interest in his fortunes, and he was the last man to become the leader of an insurrection. Not only was he dull and inert, but he was suspected, and not unjustly, of a lack of physical courage. Among a nation where courage was highly esteemed, and was almost universally possessed, there could be no more fatal defect in a man who aspired to become a leader. To do Maine justice, he had not the least aspiration for such a rôle.

His wife was a more energetic character. Their chateau at Sceaux had long been a centre for society and literature. Its mistress amused herself with a constant succession of fêtes. Plays were acted, poets recited verses, courtiers turned compliments, ladies exercised their charms. The duchess founded an order called the Honey Bees, to which those distinguished by fashion or by wit were delighted to be admitted. Fontenelle was one of the ornaments of her little court. The first president of the Parliament there displayed his talents as a courtier, which. atoned for his lack of any talent as a judge. This charmed existence was broken in upon by the political misfortunes of the Duke of Maine. His wife abandoned the part of a delightful hostess for the more serious one of a political conspirator. She was better fitted for the former rôle than the latter. A few nobles of small importance joined in conferences where little was done except to abuse the regent. The Prince of Cellamare was then Spanish ambassador at Paris. The relations of his master and of the Duke of Orleans were unfriendly, and those who were offended with the regent naturally sought the counsels of the ambassador. The Duchess of Maine and some of her associates conferred with Cellamare. He seems to have estimated the conspirators at their just weight, but he reported their plans to his government. Alberoni attached to them an undue importance, and he directed the minister to continue the consultations. The cardinal hoped that a few uninfluential intriguers, without definite plans, and without means of executing what plans they had, could overthrow the regent and bring France again into close alliance with Philip.

These intrigues continued for some months. A few persons signed papers assuring Philip of their devotion and of their willingness to serve him. The young Duke of Richelieu agreed to betray the town where he was stationed to the Spanish king. He began his long and disgraceful career by conduct, the baseness of which was equaled by the folly. The conspirators had little idea of what they wanted to do, and no idea whatever of how they were to do it. Proclamations were indited, in Philip’s name, demanding a session of the States General of France. That body, it was believed, would depose Orleans from the regency, would renew the alliance between France and Spain, restore to Maine his forfeited rank, and assure to Philip his rights to the French throne. The only thing in which the plotters showed any real zeal was in discussing the verbiage of Philip’s proclamations. The habitués of Sceaux, who were pretending to be conspirators, were only fitted to debate questions of grammar, and to amplify the resonance of a phrase. On these idle schemes Alberoni continued to build his hopes. “Do not leave Paris,” he wrote Cellamare, “without having set fire to all the mines.” “They are mines without powder,” replied the ambassador.

These intrigues did not escape the vigilance of Dubois. He was warned of their existence in the summer of 1718, but he was in no haste to expose them. Copies of many of the papers were furnished him by an unfaithful employee of Cellamare. In December, two gentlemen were sent to Spain with various documents of the conspirators. At Poitiers they were arrested and the papers seized. Immediately after this the official residence of Cellamare was entered; his letters were taken possession of by the French government; he was himself arrested, and was afterwards sent out of France under a strong guard. He protested against this invasion of his sacred character, but the letters which had passed between him and Alberoni, and which proved that the Spanish minister and ambassador were encouraging plots against the head of the French government, showed that Cellamare had forfeited the immunities to which his office entitled him.

The arrest of those who were involved in these transactions soon followed. The Duke of Maine had no part in the intrigues of his wife, and knew nothing of them. He was, however, taken into custody, and he displayed the greatest pusillanimity. He was arrested at Sceaux and carried to Dourlens. During the long journey he hardly spoke, but uttered frequent sighs and sobs. At each church which was passed, he bowed profoundly, crossed himself, and muttered his prayers. At his prison at Dourlens he occupied him- self in praying for deliverance, and when he heard any sudden noise his face became of a deathly pallor. After a time he was released, but it was long before he would have anything to do with his wife, for fear that her unquiet disposition would again involve him in similar peril. She was also arrested, as were many of her confederates. All, with one accord, sought to obtain forgiveness by turning state’s evidence, and endeavoring to implicate others.

“I would have given my blood to save you,” wrote the Abbé Brigault to some of his associates whom his confessions involved, “but you know the obligations of religion. . . . I cannot hope for absolution unless I tell the whole truth. I must follow the lights of my faith.” All were, perhaps, influenced by the same motives. The Duchess of Maine wrote Orleans that even liberty would be insupportable, unless she could be assured of again enjoying his friendship. Orleans contented himself with the terror and humiliation of the unfortunate intriguers. After a few months’ imprisonment, all were released without further punishment.

The exposure of the conspiracy satisfied the purposes of Dubois. The French people were justly indignant that the Spanish prime minister had encouraged plots against the head of the government. The party of the old court and the advocates of Philip V. were plunged in confusion. In January, 1719, war was declared against Spain. In answer to this, proclamations in the name of the Spanish king were published in France, exhorting the people and the Parliaments to resist the tyranny of the Duke of Orleans, to summon the States General, and to check a fratricidal war. They produced no effect. The French army was placed under the command of the Marshal of Berwick, the bastard son of James II. He was a man who recognized no obligations but those of a soldier. He conducted the campaign against Philip with the same ability that he had formerly displayed in behalf of that monarch.

Philip still cherished the delusion that the hearts of the French people were unalterably attached to the grandson of Louis XIV. The fleurs de lis were painted on the Spanish banners. A proclamation invited the French soldiers to join the Spanish army, and assured them that Louis XV. would approve their conduct when he should attain his majority. Neither officer nor soldier in the French ranks heeded this appeal. Philip seems really to have supposed that his appearance would dissolve the French army; when he discovered his illusion, he fell into a deep melancholy, and left the queen to excite the ardor of the Spanish troops.

The advance of the French met with few obstacles. They overran Spain with little more resistance, wrote one of their officers, than the Spanish themselves had met with in the conquest of Mexico two hundred years before. In the mean time the Austrians with superior forces encountered the troops that had been landed in Sicily, and the English ships cruised along the defenseless shores of Spain. Even Philip and his wife began to realize the folly of the contest which they had excited. A final endeavor was made to draw Orleans from the alliance. Philip suggested a scheme by which, while his own son should succeed to the French throne if Louis died, Orleans should be consoled with the formation of a new kingdom for himself, to be taken from France, and to consist of Burgundy, Alsace, and French Flanders. Great Britain was to be parceled in like manner; the Pretender would have Scotland and Ireland, while George must be content with England. This proposition was one of the last schemes devised while Alberoni remained prime minister. Certainly a man who could invent and propose plans so chimerical had no claim to be called a statesman.

The disasters which had attended Alberoni’s measures weakened the influence which he had once possessed. The allies declared that his dismissal must be the price of peace. His unbounded ambition had been the sole cause of the war, wrote Stanhope, and unless he was removed there could be no certainty of permanent tranquillity. The Duke of Parma advised his niece to dismiss the cardinal, and Philip yielded to these suggestions. Alberoni had been a visionary, but only a visionary could please such masters. He had at least been zealous in their service, and he was now treated with harshness. He was ordered to leave Madrid in eight days, and Spain within three weeks. He never again returned, and in his wanderings in Italy he was long pursued by the animosity of his former masters. He revenged himself by telling the truth about them. Philip, he said, was an uxorious bigot, and the queen was a firebrand who would kindle the flames of war through the civilized world. Both the Pope and the Spanish king were eager to deprive Alberoni of his cardinalate, but the common interest of the cardinals always prevented the degradation of any one who had been clothed with that dignity. Alberoni even contemplated the possibility of being a candidate for the papacy. “There are two obstacles,” he said; “I am only fifty-five, and I have not the reputation of being a fool.” At one conclave he received ten votes, but, whether he was too young or too wise, he failed of an election.

Though Alberoni had been dismissed, Philip still persisted in his extravagant claims. He was informed that he must take what was secured to him by the treaty of the Quadruple Alliance, and he decided to accept. Once again he swore to the renunciation of his possible rights to the French throne. As he never for a moment intended to observe his oath, this did not disturb him. He was, however, strenuous in his demands for Gibraltar. The English replied that they had offered Gibraltar to obtain peace, but the offer was no longer in force after Philip had gone to war and been defeated. It was at last agreed that this and other debated questions should be referred to a congress of the various powers to be held at Cambray. “The congress,” said Dubois, “will occupy half its session in regulating questions of etiquette, and the other half in doing nothing, and then some unforeseen event will bring it to an end.” That was precisely its history. The various plenipotentiaries wasted several years doing nothing, and in 1725 Spain and Austria made a treaty of alliance, and arranged between themselves the unsettled questions of the Spanish Succession.

While Spain was forced to remain at peace, much to the advantage of the country, and much to the discontent of its sovereign, France witnessed the development of new commercial and financial systems, which attracted the attention of the world, and which have still a curious interest for posterity.

ALARCOS, 19 July 1195

Lying between Christian Toledo and Muslim Cordoba, the plains around Calatrava were strategically crucial during the decades on either side of 1200. That is why the Knights of Calatrava had fortified the site and constructed other castles in the region. In 1195, caliph al-Mansur won a victory at Alarcos, and seized the fortresses; but in 121 2 the combined forces of Christian Spain turned the tables at Las Navas de Tolosa. This was to prove a decisive point in the progress of the Reconquista. From now on the Muslim states were militarily outmatched.


The arrival of the Almohads in the 1140s had thrown the Christians back on the defensive. In these circumstances, their kings were quite happy to sponsor Muslim buffer states. Sayf ad Dawla, the independent king of Saragossa, took Murcia and Valencia in 1146, but died soon afterwards. His successor in the region was Ibn Mardanish – ‘king Wolf – who although a Muslim spoke Spanish and used Christian troops and equipment. He survived until 1172 at Murcia, dying deserted by his Christian allies. The Military Orders now played the greatest role in frontier warfare, as the Knights of Calatrava illustrate.

They had been established in 1156 to protect Toledo and guard the route south. Alfonso VIII of Castile (1158-1214) recognized the strategic importance of the ‘Campo de Calatrava’ and was an enthusiastic patron. By 1174, he had granted them rights to every castle captured from the enemy, one-fifth of his future conquests, and one-tenth of royal revenues. The king of Aragon also rewarded them for the capture of Cuenca in 1177, with Alcañiz castle, to help advance his borders further south of the Ebro. In 1182, the Order was further strengthened by a pact with the rival Knights of Santiago, reinforced in 1188.

In 1190, the Almohad caliph, al-Mansur, responded to truce-breaking Castilian raids by bringing a large invasion force from Africa to Cordoba. In June, Alfonso VIII mustered at Toledo and then advanced to Alarcos, where he was constructing a town. In early July, his reconnaissance force was annihilated at Salvatierra. Al-Mansur then outmaneuvered the Christians and inflicted a heavy defeat upon them at Alarcos. As a result, the Knights lost Calatrava and many other castles. When the Almohads followed up by attacking in the Tagus valley, the Order’s Master made the daring decision to occupy Salvatierra, now deep in Muslim territory (1196). While Alfonso VIII made a truce with the Ahmohads, Peter II of Aragon (1196-1213) went on the offensive, and gave the Knights strong support in the Ebro valley area.

The battle

A large force of Almohades under Abu Yusuf Ya’qub al-Mansur defeated a much smaller Castilian army under Alfonso Vlll. The Moslems drew up with their first line made up of Andalusian cavalry on the right and Almohades . on the left and centre (the latter comprising the army’s veterans), with a second line of African troops arrayed in close order, mostly bow-and javelin-armed. ln addition there was a reserve division several thousand-strong which included Negro guardsmen.

Alfonso’s 8,000 cavalry broke through the centre of the Moslem front line at their third charge, but the gap thus created was dosed behind them and, disorganised and unsupported by infantry, they were surrounded by the Almohade archers and cavalry of the second line and decimated by volleys of arrows and javelins. Even Alfonso’s rearguard, which he led into the fray in a last desperate effort, was unable to retrieve the situation. After this the Moslems’ front line rallied and made a general advance against the Castilian infantry who, without the support of their cavalry, were rapidly routed with heavy losses. Some made a stand in a pass between La Zarzuela and Darazutan but were killed or taken captive. Others, including Alfonso himself and the Master of Calatrava, escaped to the castle of Guadalherza, while yet others took refuge in Alarcos, which the Almohades subsequently captured.

20-25,000 Castilians were reputedly killed or taken captive in the battle, the Master of Santiago being amongst the dead, while legend has it that the Moslems lost only 500 men.


The major victory in a pitched battle against the army of Alfonso VIII of Castile at Alarcos was followed by a series of highly profitable raids on Christian territory, as at Trujillo and even before the walls of Toledo and, less successfully, at Madrid and Guadalaljara. Muslim allies were also present when a Christian coalition invaded Castile. Taken together, these sorties, in their effect and in geographical scope, were the high-water mark of Almohad power.

By 1198 al-Mansur clearly felt it was time to return to Marrakesh and see to the less exciting aspects of running his empire. Upon returning, however, he suddenly took ill and, in 1199, died. Al-Mansur had been a more serious military man than his father, and his successes against his foes in al-Andalus (and elsewhere) reflect that. But for him as for all the Almohads, it is worth putting all this military activity in context. As with the Saljuqs and Ayyubids in the east, jihad was just one aspect of a broader attempt on the part of the Almohads to reform society and legitimize their state. Al-Mansur’s campaigns thus went hand in hand with the administrative reforms he enacted from Marrakesh and pious gestures such as building programs, fortification of cities, and, most notably, putting on trial in Cordoba the famous (or perhaps infamous) philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd), whose teachings had led to accusations of heterodoxy on the part of some of the Andalusi religious classes. Who could reject a caliph who policed orthodoxy, buttressed justice in his kingdom, and kept the predations of the infidels at bay?

Al-Mansur was succeeded by his son al-Nasir, who, aside from successfully capturing Majorca from its Muslim lords, was not the warrior his father was. Although he came to power in 1199, al-Nasir engaged in no activity against the Franks of al-Andalus until 1211. That at least was a small success at Calatrava in retaliation for Christian raids over the previous years in the Levante. But this triumph was overshadowed by a defeat-perhaps the most significant of all-in 1212. It was in that year that King Alfonso VIII of Castile, assisted by a coalition of Christians from Spain and beyond, marched south to revenge himself against al-Nasir and to reclaim lands and strongholds that had been lost to the Almohads in previous years. Al-Nasir preferred to wait and see, perhaps hoping that scarce supplies would force the Christians to withdraw, as had happened so often in the past. While the Almohad army encamped in waiting at a place called al-‘Iqab, Alfonso marched on them by an unexpected route and, on July 16, caught them unawares. Confounded, it seems, by divisions within the Muslim forces, the caliph fled almost as soon as Alfonso arrived, and the Almohad army was routed. As the chronicler al-Marrakushi (d. 1270) put it, “The main reason for this defeat was the divisions in the hearts of the Almohads. In the time of [the caliph al-Mansur] they drew their pay every four months without fail. But in the time of this [caliph, al-Nasir], and especially during this particular campaign, their payment was in arrears. They attributed this to the viziers, and marched to battle bearing this grudge. I have heard from several of them that they did not draw their swords nor train their spears, nor did they take any part in the preparations for battle. They fled at the first assault of the Franks, having intended to do so from the start.” As it happened, supply problems did vex Alfonso, and he was not able to build upon this victory; the major Muslim cities of the area, Cordoba, Granada, and Jaen, remained safe. But the damage was done. Al-Nasir shipped back to Marrakesh, where, in 1213, he was killed by one of his own men. The Battle of al-‘Iqab, or, as it is known in the West, of Las Navas de Tolosa, would emerge as one of the most decisive engagements ever fought on the Iberian Peninsula and marked the end of Almohad power.

After al-‘Iqab, Almohad collapse came swiftly.

Almohades’ Christian mercenaries

The Murabits’ briefera ofsupremacy ended with the fall of Marrakesh in 1145 and the death of their last amir, Tashulin ibn Ali (1143-45), at the hands of a new Berber religious sect, the Almohades (ai-Muwahhidun, ‘unitarians’). This movement bad been founded by a chieftain’s son named Ibn Tuman who, claiming in 1121 to be the Mahdi prophesied by Mohammed, succeeded in uniting the Masmuda Berbers of the Atlas Mountains against the puritanical and (he argued) heretical Murabits, who were anyway the traditional enemies of the Masmudis. They commenced guerilla actions against the Murabits in 1121 and, although these initially met with only limited success, they were nevertheless able to undermine the structure of the Murabit state and increase the disaffection felt by the over-taxed and poorly governed Moroccan populace. Under Ibn Tuman’s successor Abd al-Mu’min (1130-63, proclaimed Caliph in 1133), Almohade control was established throughout North Africa by 1147 and extended to Moslem Spain in 1149, most of which was soon subdued by an army of just 30,000 men.

The composition of the Almohade army fundamentally differed little from that of the Murabits, consisting of Masmudis and other Berbers (the Zanata and Marinids being specifically mentioned on many occasions) plus Arabs, Ghuzz, Sudanese and the inevitable corps of Christian mercenaries, the so-called ‘Militia Christiana’.

The Almohades’ first Christian mercenaries were probably inherited from the Murabits, appearing in Abd al -Mu’min’s army by 1147 (in fact, it may even have been Christian mercenaries who actually admitted the Almohades into Marrakesh in 1145). Referred to as the Banu Farkhan or Ifarkhan, they were soon regarded with the same respect as they had enjoyed under the Murabits, ironically being held in higher regard and paid at considerably higher rates than were the mercenaries in Christian Spanish armies. Under Abu Yusuf Ya’qub al-Mansur (1184-99) a Castilian knight, Pedro Fernwdez de Castro, commander of 100 mercenary cavalry, even became ‘Captain-General’ of the Almobade forces in Spain and was in the army that defeated the Christians at Alarcos. After 1169, however, Christian mercenaries are not recorded in the Maghreb itself until 1228, when Caliph Abu’l Ula al-Ma’mun, in exchange for the surrender of territory in Spain, was allowed to hire allegedly 12,000 Castilian cavalry (or, more credibly, 500 according to a Moslem source) from King Ferdinand Ill for use against the pretender Yahya. These provided the core of the Almobade army until at least 1236, and the Christian mercenary who killed the Marinid amir Mohammed Abu Marraf in battle in 1244 was perhaps one of their number. The last mention of Christian mercenaries in Almobade employ, by now predominantly Castilians and Catalans, dates to 1248 when, following the death of Abu Sa’id during his attack on Zayanid-held Tlemcen, some defected to the Zayanids while others went over to the up-and-coming Marinids. The Zayanids of Tlemcen, in fact, had been hiring Christian troops since c. 1236, when they reputedly numbered 2,000 men. Others probably switched their allegiance to the Zayanids’ overlords, the Hafsids of Tunis, who are known to have been employing Christian mercenaries by c. 1249. In Hafsid employ they were chiefly Catalans, part of their salary being paid directly to the Aragonese royal treasury while the King of Aragon actually had the right to appoint and dismiss their commander (called the alcayt, from Arabic al-qa’id). In both Zayanid and Hafsid employ it was these Christian mercenary cavalry, along with Negro infantry, who provided the royal bodyguard.