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Index |  History |  Highlights |  WhatWhenWhere
Prehistory to Roman
Christians and Muslims
Ferdinand and Isabella
Charles V
Philip II
Dynasty in decline
     The new dynasty
     Family compacts
     Charles IV and Godoy
     Napoleon invades
     Cadiz and the Liberal constitution
     Ferdinand VII
     The Carlist cause
     Basques and Catalans
     Two troubled reigns
     Alfonso XIII

To be completed

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Bourbon dynasty: from1700

Charles II dies in November 1700, leaving the entire Spanish inheritance to a member of the Bourbon dynasty - Philip, a younger grandson of Louis XIV. The resulting European war takes place largely in the Netherlands, Germany and northern Italy. Within Spain itself, where the 18-year-old king arrives in 1701 as Philip V, there is at first relative calm. Philip wins immediate support in the central regions of the kingdom.

But from 1704 the allies (those fighting for the Habsburgs against the Bourbons in this dynastic war) begin to make inroads on the peripheral areas of Spain.


Gibraltar is captured in 1704. In the following year the regions of the north and east (Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia) declare themselves for the Habsburg cause and are occupied by imperial troops - who even advance far enough to seize Madrid for two months during the summer of 1706.

Thereafter the Bourbon forces steadily regain control, starting with a major victory at Almansa in 1707. A succesful campaign in 1710 leaves Philip V in control of the whole of the Spanish kingdom except Catalonia - a region long inclined to independence and doing its best to seize this opportunity.


The eventual terms of the peace, agreed at Utrecht in 1713, confirm Philip V's tenure of the Spanish throne and his rule also over Spanish America (but the Spanish possessions in the Netherlands and northern Italy go to the Habsburgs).

The immediate effect of the change of dynasty in Spain is that the court and government become dominated by French advisers, sent south by Louis XIV to secure his grandson's rule. In many ways this represents an improvement, since French bureaucracy is superior to that of Spain. Moreover the support of outlying regions for the Habsburg cause provides a welcome pretext for centralization, removing the traditional liberties still enjoyed by these medieval Spanish kingdoms.


In other respects the arrival of Philip makes relatively little difference to Spain. Exceptionally religious by nature, he is at ease among the rigours of Spain's Catholicism. During his reign the Inquisition conducts as many as 728 autos-da-fé, imposing on heretics some 14,000 sentences of varying degrees of severity.

In imperial and commercial concerns Philip also follows the policy of his predecessors. Trade with the Spanish colonies is still reserved for Spanish ships, prompting massive smuggling by other maritime powers and frequent skirmishes in the Caribbean - as in the case of Jenkins' Ear, which leads to war with Britain.


Family compacts: 18th century

From time to time during the 18th century Spain attempts an independent foreign policy (even making an alliance with Britain during the 1750s), but for the most part the Bourbon link with France proves a decisive factor. France persuades Spain to join her in a succession of wars during the century, signing agreements which become known as Family Compacts.

The first Family Compact in 1733 and the second in 1743 involve Spain as France's ally in, successively, the War of the Polish Succession and the War of the Austrian Succession. However Spain uses these conflicts, and the resulting treaties, mainly to secure her possessions in Italy.


By contrast the third Family Compact, signed in 1761 in the last stages of the Seven Years' War, proves a costly disaster. Its main result, for Spain, is the loss of Florida.

These events suggest that the Spanish kingdom, dominant in Europe during the 16th and much of the 17th century, is by now playing a minor role. However the Spanish empire in Latin America remains important and intact. Charles III, ruling from 1759 to 1788 with the reforming principles of an enlightened despot, lifts trade restrictions in Latin American ports and achieves spectacular results. European trade with Spanish America grows during the 1780s by several hundred percent.


In the same period Spain is once more engaged in war against Britain (again as an ally of France, this time in support of the American colonies). On this occasion there are certain clear benefits. Minorca is won back from the British in 1782, and Florida in 1783. (Later Florida is sold to the USA in 1819.)

From the 1790s and into the next century the Bourbon alliance involves Spain in yet more wars. But these now prove considerably more dangerous and costly, during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era.


Charles IV and Godoy: 1788-1807

Spain is singularly ill-equipped, in the person of its monarch, to cope with the complex problems arising from the French Revolution and the emergence of Napoleon. In 1788, the year before the revolution, Charles IV succeeds to the throne.

He does so only because his elder brother is considered unfit to rule, but he is himself somewhat feeble - and singularly unable to stand up to his strong-willed wife, Maria Luisa of Parma. (Theirs is the royal family which stares out, gawky and rosy-cheeked, from the canvases of Goya.)


By the time Charles inherits the throne, his wife has already taken as her lover an impoverished aristocrat, Manuel de Godoy, who is a member of the royal bodyguard. Ambitious and ruthlessly self-serving, Godoy is by 1792 a field marshal, a duke, the first secretary of state and the real power in the land.

In 1793 Spain joins the first alliance of Europe's monarchies against republican France, but with little military success. A French army advances into Spain, and in 1795 Godoy makes peace in the treaty of Basel. For this his grateful king creates him Principe de la Paz (Prince of the Peace). In reality it has been a costly climb down. Santo Domingo is ceded to France, though never in fact handed over.


A year later, with the 1796 treaty of San Ildefonso, Spain meekly changes sides and becomes an ally of France. This brings the enmity of Britain and a succession of disasters - the loss of Trinidad (1797) and of Minorca (1798), and defeat for the Spanish navy off Cape St Vincent (1797) and at Trafalgar (1805).

The events of 1797-8 lead to a brief decline in Godoy's prestige, with the result that Spain's feeble ceding of Louisiana to Napoleon in 1800 cannot be laid to his account. But he is back in power by 1801. Six years later, in a deal with Napoleon by which he hopes to secure for himself a large slice of Portugal, the much hated Godoy surpasses himself and brings catastrophe to his country.


Spain and Portugal: 1807-1809

In October 1807 Napoleon decides that the only certain method of securing the Continental System is a French occupation of Portugal. He despatches an army for the purpose and summons Spanish envoys to Fontainebleau.

In a treaty signed at Fontainebleau, on October 27, the partition of Portugal is agreed. France is to have the central section, including Lisbon and Oporto. The Algarve in the south will go to Godoy, the Spanish king's unscrupulous chief minister. The north will be granted to the young duke of Parma in return for his valuable kingdom of Etruria (or in plain terms Tuscany), which will be ceded to France.


Even before the treaty is signed a French army has entered Spain on its way to Portugal - where its imminent arrival near Lisbon causes panic. The royal family and court decide to flee for safety to Brazil, taking with them (to Napoleon's fury) the gold and silver of the national treasure. A Portuguese fleet, accompanied by a British squadron, sails from the mouth of the Tagus on 29 November 1807. The vanguard of the French army enters the capital city the next day.

It will be fourteen years before the return to Lisbon of a Portuguese monarch. But the French are to have only a very short tenure. Their intrusion launches the Peninsular War. Before a year is out, the British are in the city.


Meanwhile the French are stirring up further trouble for themselves elsewhere in the Iberian peninsula. Troops move from France into northern Spain, ostensibly to support their colleagues in Portugal but looking alarmingly like an army of occupation. In February 1808 they seize Barcelona. In mid-March a force under Murat moves south towards Madrid.

This news causes Godoy to persuade his king, Charles IV, to follow the Portuguese example and flee to Latin America. But on the way south an outraged patriotic mob corners the royal party at Aranjuez. They escape with their lives only when it is agreed that Charles will abdicate in favour of his son Ferdinand, and that the hated Godoy will be imprisoned and brought to trial.


The new king immediately spoils his own chances by returning to Madrid, reaching it on March 24 - just one day after Murat has arrived and captured the city.

There follows a typical piece of power play by Napoleon. Both kings of Spain, father and son, are invited to Bayonne - just over the border in France - and are there persuaded, by a combination of trickery and duress, to abdicate in favour of Napoleon's choice for the Spanish throne. He has already selected his brother Joseph, who at present is king of Naples (a dignity now to be transferred to Murat). This is politics at its most cynical. But just a few days earlier a much more significant event has occurred in Madrid.


On May 2 a French platoon is escorting a coach containing the youngest son of Charles IV. A furious mob attacks them. The soldiers disperse the crowd with some rounds of shot, whereupon the whole of Madrid erupts in an explosion of popular rage. More than thirty French officers and hundreds of soldiers and civilians are killed or wounded before order is restored.

Murat reasserts French authority with brutal reprisals, but the event provokes a spirit of passionate resistance (famously captured in Goya's painting of a street execution, entitled 3 May 1808). This spirit spreads rapidly through Spain.


Instead of the docile monarchy of recent years, Napoleon is now confronted on his southern border by a popular uprising. His brother Joseph arrives in Madrid on July 20 to enjoy his new dignity. Two days later a French army is defeated by insurgents in Andalusia, at Bailén, with the loss or capture of some 17,000 men. By the end of the month King Joseph (nominally of Spain and the Indies) has abandoned his new capital city, withdrawing for safety's sake 150 miles northeast beyond the Ebro river.

Spain takes its place, with Portugal, as one of the theatres of the Peninsular War - which will last six years and be a constant drain on Napoleon's resources.


Cadiz and the Liberal constitution: 1810-1814

By 1810 French forces establish control over most of north and central Spain. The leaders of the nationalist opposition withdraw to relative safety in the south, in Cadiz, where they set up a newly elected Cortes. It is a radical body in that it accomodates for the first time delegates representing the Spanish provinces in Latin America. And it provides the first clash between the two great rival political allegiances of the 19th century, Liberals and conservatives - though in Spain at this time they are identified as Liberales and Serviles.

The Liberales easily prevail in Cadiz, and in 1812 the Cortes passes a thoroughly liberal constitution.


The constitution of 1812 combines elements from Britain's constitutional monarchy with a strong dash of the idealism of the American and French revolutions. Suppressing the remnants of feudalism in Spain and abolishing the Inquisition may be popular measures, but steps beyond this - particularly any designed to reduce the role of the church in Spanish life - are less likely to please the people. The Cadiz constitution is considerably more radical than most in Spain would wish.

When the events of 1814 permit the return of the king, Ferdinand VII, the condition imposed by the Cortes is his acceptance of the constitution of 1812.


Ferdinand VII: 1814-1833

Safely back on his throne, Ferdinand VII, supported by the reactionary mood in the country, reneges on his promise to the Cortes. He restores absolute rule and savagely persecutes his liberal opponents. But in doing so he provokes a chain reaction.

His behaviour alienates many royalists in Latin America and thus hastens the liberation movements which are already under way. But when Ferdinand then proposes to send an army across the Atlantic to suppress the rebellious colonists, with enthusiastic support promised by fellow rulers in the Holy Alliance, the indignation in Spain is enough to prompt another successful liberal revolution in January 1820.


Ferdinand now finds himself the prisoner of a liberal faction which forces him once again to accept the constitution of 1812. This time his appeal for help to the Holy Alliance is on his own behalf. Help duly arrives in 1823, in the form of an army from France. Within weeks Ferdinand is freed (he has been taken to Cadiz as a prisoner of the Cortes). After the affront of these three years, Ferdinand's persecution of the liberals is even more vindictive. It continues until his death in 1833.

The extreme swings of Ferdinand's reign set a violent precedent for Spain in the 19th century. It is a time of ceaseless struggle between rival royal lines, the regions and the centre, liberals and conservatives .


The Carlist cause: 1833-1876

The split within the Spanish royal family derives from the fact that Ferdinand VII has only a daughter, Isabella, who is a child of three when he dies in 1833. For most of his reign it has been assumed that he will be succeeded by his brother, Don Carlos. Carlos is even more reactionary in his views than Ferdinand, so the conflict between the two branches of the family becomes associated also with a political division within Spain.

The ancient tradition of Castile is that women can inherit (the first Isabella being a notable example), but the Salic law is adopted in an act of 1713 and is then discarded again in a less authoritative pragmatic sanction of Charles IV in 1789.


Each side can therefore claim some legal justification in the first Carlist war, which breaks out in 1833 and lasts for six years. Descendants of Don Carlos (each called Carlos in succeeding generations) keep their dynastic claim alive through a succession of abortive uprisings in the mid-19th century and another full-scale civil war in 1872-6.

This second Carlist war takes place after the end of the reign of Isabella II, whose inheritance of the crown at the age of three has sparked the Carlist reaction. Both the regency (the regent being Isabella's mother Maria Cristina) and the reign of the adult Isabella have also seen chaotic clashes between the royal tendency towards absolute rule and the rival demands of liberal and conservative factions.


In a mounting atmostphere of discontent, a naval mutiny in Cadiz in 1868 finally sparks a nation-wide revolution. Isabella II abdicates and withdraws to France with her 10-year-old son Alfonso.

The Cortes, assembling in 1869, votes for a continuation of the monarchy under a different monarch. The Carlists naturally have their own candidate, but the wish of the majority is for a king outside the Bourbon dynasty. The crown is offered first to a Hohenzollern (an action which sparks the Franco-Prussian war of 1870) and is eventually accepted by an Italian prince - Amadeo, younger son of Victor Emmanuel II.


Amadeo's arrival in December 1872 prompts the Carlists to take up arms again, with the result that the unwelcome prince abdicates two months later, in February 1873. But the Cortes, disgusted for the moment with all royal pretensions, now declares a republic.

The result is civil war. In the general chaos the republic stands no chance. In 1874 a military coup restores order and the crown is offered to the young son of Isabella II, at this stage a schoolboy in England. He returns to Spain in January 1875, as Alfonso XII. It is another year before the Carlist uprising is suppressed. But the return of a Bourbon king to the throne greatly weakens the Carlist case.


Basques and Catalans: 1833-1913

Strong support for the Carlist cause, from 1833 onwards, comes from the northern regions of Spain at either end of the Pyrenees - in Navarre, the homeland of the Basques, to the west, and in Catalonia to the east.

Throughout Spanish history these two regions have been much involved with neighbouring France. Life on the border, linked with each side but identifying with neither, results in a passionate sense of regional independence. Pride in a separate identity is symbolized in the fueros ('local laws'), which descend from the customs of the medieval kingdoms but are treasured now as badges of individuality within the unified nation of Spain.


A shared hostility to the central government of the kingdom makes the Basques and the Catalans support the Carlist cause in the mid-19th century. But when Carlism effectively collapses, after the end of the second Carlist war in 1876, the separatist tendency in northern Spain loses none of its intensity. It becomes, as it has remained, a central feature of Spanish political life.

A Basque Nationalist Party (Partido Nacionalista Vasco) is founded in 1894. In Catalonia there are electoral successes for the Regional League (Liga Regionalista) in 1901 and to a greater extent for Catalan Solidarity (Solidaridad Catalana) in 1907. Catalan aspirations are also reflected in deliberate links between the Catalan language and politics (see Language and nationalism).


Political action is accompanied by a great deal of violence on the streets. There are serious riots in 1902 in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, and in 1909 it takes three days of street fighting before an uprising in the city is suppressed.

In 1912 the central government offers a conciliatory measure of devolution to Catalonia. The four Catalan provinces are to be classed as separate 'commonwealths' (mancomunidades), sharing a certain degree of administrative autonomy. The measure is passed in 1913, but not before the prime minister proposing it, José Canalejas, has been assassinated by an anarchist. Regionalism is only one of Spain's many problems.


Two troubled reigns: from1875

The last two reigns of the 19th century are politically tense. When Alfonso XII comes to the throne in 1875, there is already a vigorous socialist movement in the country (Spain is one of the earliest members of the First International, joining in 1869). The situation is further complicated from 1872, when half the Spanish socialists defect from Marx and adopt the anarchist principles of Bakunin.

The result is increasing violence in Spanish political life. There are attempts on the life of the king in 1878 and again in 1879, an abortive republican uprising in 1883, and an anarchist assassination in 1897 of the Conservative prime minister, Antonio Cánovas del Castillo.


Cánovas is the instigator of the system known as 'made' elections, by which the result is contrived with the king's agreement so that Conservative and Liberal administrations alternative in office. The intention is to achieve stability, but it has the effect of tarnishing political life with an aura of corruption.

The young king enjoys a somewhat higher reputation than his ministers. But he dies in 1885, three days short of his twenty-eighth birthday, leaving two daughters. A son, born six months posthumously, succeeds him as Alfonso XIII. The regency is entrusted to the infant's mother, a second Maria Cristina.


Alfonso XIII: 1886-1923

The reign of Alfonso XIII is complicated by many long-running internal problems - separatism, continuing anarchy (there is a notorious attempt on the lives of Alfonso and his bride on their wedding day in 1906), and the difficulty of curbing the Spanish church (relations with the Vatican are entirely severed from 1910 to 1912). But even more significant during the reign are difficulties abroad.

The Spanish-American war of 1898 results in total defeat and the loss of the last remnants of Spain's empire. The outbreak of World War in 1914 reveals the dangerous split at the heart of Spain, with the nation's increasingly strong left-wing favouring the allies while the church and army are mainly pro-German.


On this occasion the split brings an advantage to Spain. The government and the Cortes are unanimous, in October 1914, in insisting upon Spanish neutrality. This is successfully maintained througout the war, in spite of the fact that German submarines sink sixty-five Spanish ships in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

But the longest lasting problem for Alfonso and his frequently changing governments is Morocco. Spain has held territory on the north Moroccan coast around Ceuta since the 16th century, but in the late 19th century there is increasing pressure on this enclave from Berber tribes. A Berber defeat of the resident Spanish forces in 1894 causes a crisis which is only averted by a treaty with the sultan of Morocco.


In 1911 there is a clash with the imperial ambitions of the French, who are pressing westwards from Algeria. A Spanish army lands at Larache and moves east, but direct confrontation is averted by a Franco-Spanish agreement in 1912.

Spain remains neutral during World War I, so the next major crisis for the country occurs in 1921 when, with the direct personal encouragement of Alfonso, a Spanish army is sent to Morocco to cope with guerrilla activities by tribesmen. The result is a humiliating defeat in a battle at Annual, to the southwest of Melilla. Heavy losses in men and equipment are followed by the suicide of the Spanish general. The government in Spain falls, but much blame attaches to the king in person. The event contributes to the emergence of Spain's first 20th-century dictatorship.


This History is as yet incomplete.


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