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.