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A Divided Kingdom
The Spanish Monarchy from Isabel to Juan Carlos
By John Van der Kiste
The History PressCopyright © 2011 John Van der Kiste
All rights reserved.
A child queen
By 1808 the star of Napoleon Bonaparte, self-proclaimed Emperor of the French whose mastery over much of Europe had been virtually unchallenged, was beginning to wane. It was the year that he sent troops into Spain, and the British government responded by sending an army into the Iberian peninsula in order to encourage Portuguese and Spanish resistance. In March an uprising in Spain led to the abdication of King Carlos IV, and the throne passed to his son, who ascended as King Ferdinand VII. Within the week Carlos had retracted his abdication, claiming it had been made under duress. Nevertheless Ferdinand was still regarded as the rightful sovereign, until he was forced to abdicate by Napoleon in May, and Carlos was again King. Almost at once Carlos abdicated a second time, surrendering his throne to Napoleon, who proclaimed his brother Joseph King of Spain as José I a month later. Early French victories in the war soon gave way to defeat; after the battle of Vittoria in June 1813 Napoleon was driven out of Spain, and in December that year the Bourbon monarchy was restored with Ferdinand on the throne a second time. With the death of his father in January 1819 he could consider himself secure on the throne at last.
In 1829 Ferdinand lost his third wife, Queen Maria Amelia, born a princess of Saxony. His second wife Isabel, a Portuguese princess, had died in childbirth in 1818, leaving a daughter who lived for only four months. Neither of his first two marriages had produced any surviving children. If he died without issue, the throne would pass to his younger brother Don Carlos. Ferdinand's cruelty, religious intolerance and despotism had made him unpopular, but his brother was disliked even more. Don Carlos, the Spaniards said, was more Catholic than the Pope, and more royalist than the King.
Nevertheless Carlos had his positive qualities. It was said that he was always honest, the only member of the royal family who never broke his word and always paid his bills, and there were many in Spain who would have liked him to succeed Ferdinand on the throne. In 1825 there was a small but unsuccessful rising in his favour, and two years later a body calling itself the Federation of Pure Royalists issued their own manifesto, calling on him to become King. He kept his distance, letting nobody doubt his loyalty to the Spanish crown, if not to his brother. Perhaps he assumed that as his brother's heir, he would inherit the throne before long. With a forceful wife who saw herself as the next Queen of Spain, and three young sons, they would surely see that the Bourbon dynasty remained in safe hands.
At forty-four King Ferdinand was in poor health, and seemed older than his years. Nevertheless he was urged to marry a fourth time in order to produce an heir. In December 1829 he married Princess Maria Cristina of Naples, who was some twenty years younger than him. Like most other royal marriages of the time, it was a strictly dynastic arrangement, for neither partner was really in love with the other. She had already lost her heart to Don Fernando Muñoz y Sanchez, a handsome young officer in the Garde du Corps, who had been in the suite which escorted her to Madrid. Nevertheless by spring the next year she was known to be enceinte, and on 10 October 1830 she gave birth to a daughter. When told that the Queen had just produced 'a robust infanta', the King turned pale.
As next in succession to the throne the baby was accordingly created Princess of Asturias. Christened Maria Isabel Luisa, she was always known in the family by the second name. Any hopes that a baby brother would soon arrive and thus displace her were dashed with the appearance of another girl, Luisa, born in 1832.
In failing health and increasing pain, King Ferdinand knew he was unlikely to have any more children. Determined to ensure that his elder daughter would assume the throne, in June 1833 he first induced the Cortes to set aside the Salic Law which would have debarred her – and any infanta – from the succession, and then to stage a ceremony at the Church of San Jeronimo in Madrid, at which each member would take an oath of allegiance to her as heiress apparent. The proceedings were boycotted by Don Carlos, who saw it as a personal insult as well as the ultimate frustration of his personal ambitions.
Nobody, least of all the ailing monarch himself, had any doubt that the throne would soon change hands. Though only 48, the consumptive King Ferdinand was becoming progressively weaker. On 29 September 1833, with Queen Maria Cristina beside him, he died after a severe stroke. Three days later his last will and testament was read. The Infanta was immediately proclaimed Queen, and the widowed Queen Maria Cristina was appointed Regent. Queen Isabel II was recognised as the rightful sovereign by the courts of England and France, while at home her supporters included the government in Madrid, the Liberals in the Cortes, and those in the south and centre of Spain. In the meantime her uncle, Don Carlos, was proclaimed Carlos V, King of Spain, and recognised as sovereign by Russia, Austria and the Vatican.
At home his most fervent partisans were to be found in the north of Spain. The family itself was divided, for among those who regarded him as the true monarch were the Regent's own brother Ferdinand II, King of Naples, who sent him an envoy acknowledging his sovereignty. An uprising in his favour was followed by several small revolts against Queen Isabel throughout the northern provinces. It marked the start of the Carlist wars, which would destabilise the Spanish monarchy for several decades. The First Carlist War lasted over seven years and fighting spanned most of the country at one time or another, although the main conflict centred around the Carlist homelands of the Basque country and Aragon.
In political terms the Spanish Bourbons had split into two opposing factions. The Carlists were the absolutist, legitimist branch, who denied the validity of the Pragmatic Sanction that had abolished the Salic Law; while the Cristinos, the reigning branch, were the constitutional, liberal branch headed by the Queen and her mother. The term liberal, however, was relative, and the Queen's governments were generally just as reactionary as their opponents. As a constitutional monarch, she was obliged to put her trust in whoever headed her government. Even so, the legitimists would see themselves as liberals, with the Carlists staking their claim as the embodiment of conservative values and an adherence to the traditions of the past. George Villiers, a British minister in Madrid, believed that most of the Spanish people were Carlists at heart, ready to embrace absolutism, and haters of liberal governments and institutions. Queen Isabel's position was maintained largely through the support of the army, the Cortes, Liberals and Progressives.
Within a few years politicians would regroup into two broad parties, the progresista (progressive) and the moderados (moderate) parties. As their names suggested, the former were more liberal, even radical, and sometimes hostile to the Church, though not republican apart from a few individuals, while the latter were more conservative, comprising largely the landowners and the aristocracy who feared any threat to the established hierarchy.
On 28 December 1833, three months after the death of King Ferdinand, Queen Maria Cristina and Muñoz went through a secret ceremony of marriage, performed by a village priest who was a friend of the groom. The witnesses at the ceremony were afterwards sent away to different parts of the kingdom, with instructions not to reveal what had taken place. Loath to lose Muñoz, yet with too much respect for the sanctity of marriage to take him as a lover, the widowed Queen was intent on marrying him. Having done her duty in taking, or in letting herself be taken by, a husband who needed a wife solely for reasons of state, she felt she deserved some happiness. Nevertheless, under Spanish law she was required to remain a widow in order to retain guardianship of her daughters during their minority. It was therefore imperative for her to keep her second marriage a closely guarded secret, for otherwise she would forfeit her position as Queen Regent, her allowance and her daughters by her first husband.
Muñoz lived in the palace, ostensibly as the Regent's groom of the bedchamber, and the little white lie of her widowhood was thus maintained. He was also given the title Duke of Riansares. During the next few years two more daughters and two sons were born to the couple, but kept firmly away from the public gaze. All the same, when news of the Regent's marital union to the low-ranking soldier became public, her standing in Spain diminished accordingly; it undermined her position as Regent and gave rise to concerns that she was not genuinely supportive of her liberal ministers and their policies. Eventually the army, the backbone of Queen Isabel's support, and the liberal leadership in the Cortes made a joint demand that she should relinquish her position, and in 1840 the army commander-in-chief, General Baldomero Espartero, replaced her as Regent. He was regarded as something of a progressive in political terms, though at the same time incorrigibly lazy. If anything went wrong, said friends and opponents alike, he took to his bed and stayed there; bed was his answer to every crisis.
After she had made an abortive attempt to reclaim power, Maria Christina retired permanently to exile in France after 1844, and France remained her primary residence for the rest of her life. Espartero remained Regent for only two years, for in 1843 he was turned out by a military and political pronunciamento led by Generals O'Donnell and Narvaez. They formed a cabinet led by Joaquin Maria Lopez, and the government persuaded the Cortes to declare Isabel Queen.
In personality Queen Isabel was a good-natured young girl, precocious in manner if not very clever, impetuous and wilful. Untidy and lazy in general, her table manners were almost nonexistent, and she regularly spilt food down the front of her clothes. As she could scarcely be bothered to dress or undress herself, it took four servants to dress her every morning, a process which normally took over an hour. She could barely read and showed no interest in books, her handwriting was appalling, and her education had been lacking; as her mother once complained, those around her made no effort to induce her to study, lest they should lose her favour. It was said that she only liked toys and dogs. With her lack of interest in exercise she rapidly put on weight, and from early childhood she suffered from ichthyosis, a skin disease that resulted in her body, especially her head and limbs, being covered with dry, scaly, fishlike skin. It was an affliction which never ceased to trouble her.
All the same, early in life she cultivated an air of queenly dignity, inherited from her mother who impressed on her the importance of deportment. She had a warm smile and a ready laugh which often disarmed people; she was warmhearted and generous by nature, and as she had no idea of the value of money she could be impulsively generous to those in need.
To supervise her and her sister Luisa during their adolescent years and in their mother's absence, Espartero appointed a governess, Countess Espoz y Mina. Agustin Arguelles became the Queen's official guardian, and Quintana her tutor. Mina was impressed by the girls' 'confiding openness' and their affectionate nature. Quintana became very fond of them as well, though he found them very young for their age, as nothing had ever occurred to train their attention to any specific subject. They were too easily distracted, he saw; even so, they learned to read and write, and to do simple arithmetic, and could speak, translate and write French to a reasonable standard. They also acquired a rudimentary knowledge of music and geography. 'Their understanding is clear and unimpeded, without any vice or fault in their faculties; so that when they seek to fix attention, and give their interest to showing what they have really learnt, there is no exercise in which they do not succeed marvellously. But the lack of attention and interest is a grave inconvenience with which we have to struggle at all times.'
During the first months of Espoz's appointment occurred what the young Queen would always refer to as 'that awful night', 7 October 1841. She was having a singing lesson with her master Valldemosa at the Palacio Real when their peace and quiet was disturbed by the noise of shouting, clashing steel and then a volley of shots from the outer courtyard. Her ladies immediately got up and bolted all the doors and windows of the royal suite. As Countess Espoz ran towards the young sovereign's apartments, she saw a gang of armed men moving upstairs to attack the police guard drawn up on the landing. Further shots rang out before she reached the apartments where she found the girls, still very upset and bewildered, wanting to know whether the men were rebels, and Queen Isabel screaming, 'Do they want me?' After further shooting the commotion died down, as the palace guard managed to hold out against the rebels, who fled during the night.
The man responsible was General Diego de Leon, a partisan of Queen Maria Cristina. An adversary of Espartero, he had decided to kidnap Queen Isabel. There had recently been an uprising in northern Spain on behalf of Queen Maria, and a junta, or political council, had been established in Bilbao in her name. Leon had intended to take the young Queen away to the protection of the junta, and probably to demand the return to Spain of Queen Maria Cristina. He and several of his fellow conspirators were condemned to death, leaving the Regent shocked and in tears. She refused to say whether she had been implicated in the move or not. Leon's wife, the Marquesa de Zambrano, personally came to see Queen Isabel and begged her to spare her husband's life. The Queen asked her not to cry, 'or you will make me cry too', and assured her that he would be saved. Dismissing the woman, she then sent for Arguelles and asked him to persuade Espartero to pardon Leon. But it was to no avail, for he and five other officers had been shot the previous day.
Espartero was sure that Queen Maria Cristina had been behind the conspiracy. She had already bribed General Narvaez to raise Andalusia against Espartero, but as the rising was a failure he returned her money. When Don Salustiano Olozaga, the Spanish ambassador in Paris, called on the Dowager Queen a few days later and she innocently asked him what was happening in Spain at the time, he told her that he found the question very strange, as he thought that Her Majesty was better informed than anyone else.
In order to strengthen his authority, particularly against those who were still agitating for the Regent's return, Espartero decided he ought to appear in public more often with the Queen. In 1843 he asked her to open the new session of the Cortes for the first time. She did not make a good impression. Spectators considered that she looked rather gauche, and lacked grace; her movements were too abrupt. She made a less favourable impression than her younger sister, whose smile seemed warmer and less forced, and whose curtsy was far more graceful. Thus Espartero's position was still vulnerable. After further revolts and instability he decided to dissolve the Cortes, and General Narvaez landed at Valencia with a small force and proceeded to march on Madrid. Espartero fled to England, leaving the way clear for the General.
Nevertheless the people decided that they did not want a military dictatorship. Instead, the Cortes decided to declare Isabel legally of age. On 8 November 1843 the 13-year-old Queen was driven in state to her assembly, and seated on the throne. The President of the Cortes brought her the Bible, and the text of the royal oath. Placing her right hand on the book, she swore by God and the Holy Gospel 'to preserve the constitution, and cause it to be observed'. It was hardly surprising that at her tender age she looked a little puzzled as she repeated the words, 'If I should act contrary to what I have sworn, or to any part of it, I ought not to be obeyed.'
Those who had expected that such action would usher in a period of stability in Spain were to be disappointed. Olozaga was appointed Prime Minister. He shared Espartero's liberal politics, and was resented by the conservative courtiers surrounding the young Queen. Encouraged by General Narvaez, they decided that Olozaga would have to go. Seven weeks after Isabel had been declared of age, Olozaga decided to dissolve the Cortes. He had foreseen that the conservatives would not look kindly on his programme of reforms. In secret he prepared a decree for the dissolution, and on 28 November he took it to the palace for the Queen to sign. He entered into her presence, she received him alone, and he only stayed for fifteen minutes. According to the halberdiers who saw him leave, when he reappeared he looked rather pleased with himself as he closed the door behind him.
Next morning the Marquesa de Santa Cruz asked the Queen what decrees she had signed the previous night. The Queen replied that she did not remember exactly, but thought it was a decree dissolving the Cortes. With horror, the Marquesa told her that she had just signed the death sentence of the monarchy. The Queen was thoroughly frightened, as the Marquesa went to tell the partisans of Narvaez what had happened. When Olozaga heard that his political enemies were making their way to the palace, he went there too and asked a gentleman-in-waiting, the Duke of Osuna, to send the Queen word that he was bringing her some important despatches. The Duke kept him waiting, then came back to say that the Queen refused to see him. While he waited in the antechamber, he overheard some of the other gentlemen there discussing in a hushed voice what he took to be some interesting rumour, so he told the Duke that it was vital he should be able to see the Queen as a matter of urgency. The Duke left and returned a few minutes later with the message that Her Majesty had just dismissed him as Prime Minister. If he returned to the ministry, he would find her signed decree confirming the matter. He was also asked to return the decree of dissolution she had signed for him the previous night.
Excerpted from A Divided Kingdom by John Van der Kiste. Copyright © 2011 John Van der Kiste. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
1. A child queen,
2. 'Destitute of honest and able friends',
4. 'King Macaroni',
5. 'A young and unprejudiced monarch',
6. 'He had so longed for a son',
7. 'The smallest quantity of King',
8. 'An awful danger',
9. 'Neutrality was a murderous risk',
10. 'He tires of everything',
11. 'Always such a gentleman',
12. 'Better to be dumb than to stammer',
13. The last days of the republic,
14. 'We are all monarchists now',
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a good book about the history of the monarchy in Spain, from Queen Isabel II up to the present king Juan Carlos I. Van der Kiste does a good job in detailing a family not very well covered today. An easy and interesting read.