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Bourbon Spain 1700-1808

Charles II, the product of generations of inbreeding, was unable to rule and remained childless. The line of Spanish Habsburgs came to an end at his death. Habsburg partisans argued for allocating succession to the Austrian branch of the Habsburg dynasty, but Charles II, in one of his last official acts, left Spain to his nephew, Philip of Anjou, a Bourbon and the grandson of Louis XIV. Robert de Clermont had married the heiress of the lordship of Bourbon (Bourbon-l'Archambault, in the modern departement of Allier). This lordship was made a duchy for his son Louis I in 1327 and so gave its name to the dynasty. From this duchy, the nucleus of the future province of Bourbonnais, the elder Bourbons, mainly through marriages, expanded their territory.

The marriage between Louis XIV of France and Maria Theresa of Spain had been intended to secure the world-wide dominion of the House of Bourbon ; and it was succeeded by still more intermarriages among the Houses of Bourbon, Hapsburg, and Savoy especially, bewildering in the intricate relationships which they created. Rather it did secure the continual decadence of that house in body and mind, till, of their three European thrones, their numerous duchies, and vast European and American possessions nothing remained to them but the throne of Spain, a power which had grown decrepit in their hands. There can be no doubt that the personal deficiencies of the members of the family contributed in no small degree to this loss of their formerly overshadowing power, and that those personal deficiencies became marked from the time when the first inception of what was afterwards formulated as the Family Compact was made, in the fatal marriage of Louis XIV and Maria Theresa.

The accession of Philip of Anjou appealed to Castilian legitimists because it complied with the principle of succession to the next in the bloodline. Spanish officials had been concerned with providing for the succession in such a way as to guarantee an integral, independent Spanish state that, along with its possessions in the Netherlands and in Italy, would not become part of either a pan-Bourbon or a pan-Habsburg empire. "The Pyrenees are no more," Louis XIV rejoiced at his grandson's accession as Philip V (r. 1700-24; 1725-46). The prospect of the Spanish Netherlands falling into French hands, however, alarmed the British and the Dutch.

The acceptance of the Spanish crown by Philip V in the face of counterclaims by Archduke Charles of Austria, who was supported by England and the Netherlands, was the proximate cause of the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-14), the first "world war" fought by European powers. In 1705 an Anglo-Austrian force landed in Spain. A Franco-Castilian army halted its advance on Madrid, but the invaders occupied Catalonia. Castile enthusiastically received the Bourbon dynasty, but the Catalans opposed it, not so much out of loyalty to the Habsburgs as in defense of their fueros against the feared imposition of French-style centralization by a Castilian regime.

The War of the Spanish Succession was also a Spanish civil war. Britain agreed to a separate peace with France, and the allies withdrew from Catalonia, but the Catalans continued their resistance under the banner "Privilegis o Mort" (Liberty or Death). Catalonia was devastated, and Barcelona fell to Philip V after a prolonged siege (1713-14).

The Treaty of Utrecht (1713) brought the war to a close and recognized the Bourbon succession in Spain on the condition that Spain and France would never be united under the same crown. The Spanish Netherlands (which become known as the Austrian Netherlands and later as Belgium) and Spain's Italian possessions, however, reverted to the Austrian Habsburgs. Britain retained Gibraltar and Minorca, seized during the war, and received trade concessions in Spanish America. Spain emerged from the war with its internal unity and colonial empire intact, but with its political position in Europe weakened.

Philip V undertook to modernize Spanish government through his French and Italian advisers. Centralized government was institutionalized, local fueros were abrogated, regional parliaments were abolished, and the aristocracy's independent influence on the councils of state was destroyed.

Charles III (r. 1759-88), Spain's enlightened despot par excellence, served his royal apprenticeship as king of Naples. He was one of Europe's most active patrons of the Enlightenment, a period during which attempts were made to reform society through the application of reason to political, social, and economic problems. Despite Charles's attempt to reform the economy, the impact of the Enlightenment was essentially negative. Anticlericalism was an integral part of Enlightenment ideology, but it was carried to greater lengths in Spain than elsewhere in Europe because of government sponsorship. Public charities financed by the church were considered antisocial because they were thought to discourage initiative, and they were therefore abolished. The state suppressed monasteries and confiscated their property. The Jesuits, outspoken opponents of regalism, were expelled. Their expulsion virtually crippled higher education in Spain. The state also banned the teachings of medieval philosophers and of the sixteenth-century Jesuit political theorists who had argued for the "divine right of the people" over their kings. The government employed the Inquisition to discipline antiregalist clerics.

Economic recovery was noticeable, and government efficiency was greatly improved at the higher levels during Charles III's reign. The Bourbon reforms, however, resulted in no basic changes in the pattern of property holding. Neither land reform nor increased land use occurred. The rudimentary nature of bourgeois class consciousness in Spain hindered the creation of a middleclass movement. Despite the development of a national bureaucracy in Madrid, government programs foundered because of the lethargy of administrators at lower levels and because of a background rural population. The reform movement could not be sustained without the patronage of Charles III, and it did not survive him.

Charles IV (r. 1788-1807) retained the trappings of his father's enlightened despotism, but he was dominated by his wife's favorite, a guards officer, Manuel de Godoy, who at the age of twenty-five was chief minister and virtual dictator of Spain. When the French National Assembly declared war in 1793, Godoy rode the popular wave of reaction building in Spain against the French Revolution and joined the coalition against France. Spanish arms suffered repeated setbacks, and in 1796 Godoy shifted allies and joined the French against Britain. Godoy, having been promised half of Portugal as his personal reward, became Napoleon Bonaparte's willing puppet. Louisiana, Spanish since 1763, was restored to France. A regular subsidy was paid to France from the Spanish treasury, and 15,000 Spanish troops were assigned to garrisons in northern Europe. Military reverses and economic misery caused a popular uprising in March 1808 that forced the desmissal of Godoy and the abdiction of Charles IV. The king was succeeded by his son, Ferdinand VII (r. 1808; 1814-33). The French forced Ferdinand to abdicate almost immediately, however, and Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother, was named king of Spain. A large French army was moved in to support the new government and to invade Britain's ally, Portugal, from Spanish soil. The afrancesados, a small but influential group of Spaniards who favored reconstructing their country on the French model, welcomed the Bonapartist regime.

To ingratiate himself with the afrancesados, Joseph Bonaparte proclaimed the dissolution of religious houses. The defense of the Roman Catholic Church, which had long been attacked by successive Spanish governments, now became the test of Spanish patriotism and the cause around which resistance to the French rallied. The citizens of Zaragoza held out against superior French forces for more than a year. In Asturias, local forces took back control of their province, and an army of Valencians temporarily forced the French out of Madrid. The War of Independence (1808-14), as the Iberian phase of the Napoleonic wars is known in Spanish historiography, attained the status of a popular crusade that united all classes, parties, and regions in a common struggle. It was a war fought without rules or regular battlelines. The Spanish painter, Goya, depicted the brutality practiced on both sides.

The British dispatched an expeditionary force, originally intended to occupy part of Spanish America, to the Iberian Peninsula in 1808. In the next year, a larger contingent under Arthur Wellesley, later duke of Wellington, followed. Elements of the Spanish army held Cadiz, the only major city not taken by the French, but the countryside belonged to the guerrillas, who held down 250,000 of Napoleon's best troops under Marshal Nicholas Soult, while Wellington waited to launch the offensive that was to cause the defeat of the French at Vitoria (1813).

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:56:15 ZULU