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Franco-Spanish War / Campaign of 1823 / Bourbon War - 1823

Intervention is a word which was used, particularly since the congresses of Troppau, Laybach and Verona, to express the armed interposition (intervention armie) of one state in the domestic affairs of another. The right of armed intervention had never been so distinctly pronounced, and acted upon, as in modem times, since the congress of Vienna. It was a natural consequence of the Holy Alliance, and the congresses of rulers, or their representatives, assembled to prop the pillars of despotism. Such armed interventions as had taken place in Europe arose from the fellow-feeling of sovereigns, who claim the right of assisting each other against their subjects, and directly contravene the right of independent developement which belongs to the character of a nation.

Although small by recent European standards, the fight was decisive for bringing about the end to the war and for establishing the spirit of the new French Royal army and restoring France to a position as one of the leading world powers. This almost unknown military campaign was conducted by a French army, 100,000 men strong. The army was referred to by the French king as the 'Sons of St. Louis' and was pitted against parts of the regular Spanish army and a numerous militia. The cause of the war was a revolution in Spain in 1820 which brought in a 'Liberal' government and the Spanish parliament, the Cortez, held Ferdinand, the Spanish king, a virtual prisoner. Ferdinand appealed for help from the French who were supported by an army of Spanish Royalists. A few years earlier many of these Royalist volunteers had been France's bitter enemies and had fought Napoleon's generals to a standstill.

In Spain, Ferdinand was scarcely re-established on his throne, before he evinced his desire to restore the old state of things. The Cortes were not popular, they had taxed the people too highly to occasion any regret when that body was dissolved. But the king had promised a new constitution, liberty of the press, and other liberal measures; instead of which he re-established the inquisition, recalled the Jesuits, and revelled, for a time, in the full enjoyment of absolute power; this produced re-action. From 1814 to 1819, there was a succession of contests between him and his ministers, which, in the five years, occasioned no fewer than twenty-five changes in the personnel of his advisers, and led to several conspiracies at home ; whilst the loss of some of the American colonies added to the national feeling against the government.

On the 1st of January, 1820, this feeling took a decided form. Rafael del Riegoan officer who had distinguished himself in the war of independenceat the head of four battalions of the army, proclaimed the constitution of 1812, in the Isla de Leon, of which be took possession. So successful was the movement, that, on the 8th of March, Ferdinand agreed to accept that constitution, and summon the Cortes. The same day he caused a general amnesty to be proclaimed; and, on the 4th, a provisional junta of eleven members was nominated, to carry on the affairs of the government till the Cortes met. In the presence of this body, and of the municipal authorities of Madrid, the king took the oath to the constitution; the inquisition was again abolished; and other liberal measures, including the appointment of constitutional ministers, adopted. For some months tranquillity prevailed.

Then the contest between the friends of absolute government and the constitutionalists commenced afresh, which was heightened by the assertion of their independence by the other American colonies. As the royalists increased in numbers, the constitutionalists became more violent. In 1822, all power had fallen into the bands of the most extreme democrats; and the state of affairs was further complicated by quarrels between the royal guards and the troops of the line. Had Ferdiuand been really honest and sincere, in all probability the discontent might have been allayed without assuming the aspect of revolution; but, whilst professing to govern by the constitution, he intrigued with, and supported, those who were seeking to destroy it. At length, on the 7th of July, things were brought to a crisis, by an attempt made by the guards to get possession of the capital and the person of the king. They were defeated; and the government became still more revolutionary, most of the moderate employes resigning office.

These events led to the establishment, by the French government, of an army of observation, at the foot of the Pyrenees, near the frontier. There were now two parties struggling for the sovereigntythe communeros, as the popular party was styled, who held the king and the government captive in their hands; and the apostolicals, composed of the royalists and clergy.

These movements in Spain had attracted the attention of all the other governments of Europe, and more especially of those of France and England. Nor were the people of either country inattentive to the course of events. In both, there were those who sympathised with the men who were fighting, as was supposed, for liberty, and the constitution; but there were also those who thought, that the communeros, or constitutionalists, had put themselves in the wrong by many of their acts, and who were desirous of seeing the monarchy restored to a more independent position; though in England, there were none who had any faith in Ferdinand. It was in France, however, that the greatest interest was taken in the progress of the liberals, for there it threatened to produce the greatest danger; and the government was soon made aware of the extent of the evils against which it had to guard.

As the intelligence of the movements in Spain was received, the popular mind throughout France became greatly agitated. "Every audacious step of the revolution at Madrid was applauded, and proposed to the imitation of the French army. The most vehement speeches of the orators in the Cortes, the most violent articles in the revolutionary journals, were the subjects of enthusiasm in Paris; every triumph of the anarchists at Madrid over the throne or the clergy was publicly celebrated as triumph by the French revolutionists. Spain," it was thought, by the count d'Artois, and his friends, "was on the verge of a republic; and a republic proclaimed on the other side of the Pyrenees could not fail to overturn the Bourbons in France.

In England, there was a strong feeling against French intervention in the affairs of Spain; the other powers were decidedly against the spread of revolutionary principles, and the overthrow of legitimate governments. All the powers, England excepted, were anxious that France should send an army into Spain to put down the revolutionary movement, and support Ferdinand on the throne. The views of the prince Metternich and M. de Montmorency completely coincided; and the influence of the Austrian statesman was in other ways, very influential both with the French minister, and his royal patron, the count d'Artois.

The king closed the discussion, by saying " Louis XIV levelled the Pyrenees; I shall not allow them to be raised again. He placed my family on the throne of Spain; I cannot let them fall. The other sovereigns have not the same duties to fulfil. My ambassador ought not to quit Madrid, until the day when 100,000 Frenchmen are on the march to replace him."

All classes are represented as demanding hostilities; and the conduct of the Spanish government was such as to afford every prospect of their demand being complied with. He was supported by the public opinion of France, notwithstanding the effect on the Bourse, and on commerce, produced by the apprehensions that peace would be interrupted.

On the 28th of January, the session of the French chambers was again opened in the Louvre. The king was wheeled into the hall, as on former occasions; and he delivered a brief, but highly-important speech. "We enter upon the year 1823," he said, "with a balance of forty millions over the credits allotted for the past year. France owed to Europe the example of a prosperity, which people cannot obtain without a return to religion, to legitimacy, to order, j and to true liberty. France offers this salutary example at present; but divine justice permits, that, after having so long inflicted upon other countries the terrible effects of our discords, we should be ourselves exposed to the danger which similar calamities have produced in a neighboring country".

There was an animated debate on this address, which was carried by 202 to 93. It was presented to the king on the 9th of February, amidst a scene of the greatest excitement, created by the number of members who attended; and the enthusiastic acclamations with which, when the document was read, many of its strongest passages were received. The address in the peers was also carried by a large majority. A moral contagion, it was contended, was resulting from the existing state of things. The revolutionists of Spain were in correspondence with the revolutionists of France, and were exciting her soldiers to revolt. These circumstances compromised the essential interests, and endangered the security of France, and fully justified the war.

The French populace had always been fond of war, till they have begun to feel its effects in their own persons; and the movement of troops, the bustle and excitement attendant upon the preparation for the invasion of Spain, and the national ardour which was roused by the prospect of winning back that glory and prestige of which their troops had been deprived, by the issue of the last war with that country, completely diverted the thoughts and attention of the people from the chamber of deputies.

In now taking the field, for the first time since the campaign of Waterloo, France did so upon a scale which showed that she was still, notwithstanding the disastrous occurrences of that period, a great military power. Ninety-one thousand fine soldiers were collected at Bayonne, and divided into four corps; the first commanded by marshal Oudinot; the second by count Molitor; the third by prince Hohenlohe; the fourth by marshal Moncey, duke of Castigliano. Of these corps, the first was destined to cross the Bidassoa, and take the direct road to Madrid. The second, supporting the left flank of the first, was to advance by the pass of Roncesvalles, and the valley of Bastan, to Pampeluna. The third was to secure the rear and the communications of the first, and protect its right flank. The fourth was to operate in Catalonia. There was also a reserve, composed of a division of the guard, and two divisions of cavalry, under general count Bordesoul.

The French troops who crossed the Pyrenees were part of a newly forged army, taken from the debris of Napoleon's old regiments augmented with newly raised conscripts and many inexperienced officers drawn from emigrs and the old nobility who had returned to France after the Battle of Waterloo. However, it was led by battle-hardened former Imperial officers and was placed under the overall command of the king of France's nephew, who was also in line for the throne of France.

When the French invaded Spain in 1823, when a forest of foreign bayonets bristled in the fields of Spain, there was no significant resistance. General Armand Guilleminot received the important post of major-general in the French army, at the express desire of the duke of Angoulme, but against the will of the duke of Belluno, then minister of war, who desired the place for himself. In this capacity, he directed the whole campaign, from April 7 to the liberation of king Ferdinand (October 1, 1823), who rewarded him with his order.

The final and crucial battle came with the taking of the forts on the island of the Trocadero (31 August 1823), a small fortified island within the harbor of Cadiz. It was completely invested on the 24th; bombarded till the 31st ; and, on the morning of that day, was carried by assault. The Cortes then sent general Alava to treat with the duke dAngoulme, who refused to enter into any terms till the king was at liberty. On the 20th of September, a French flotilla, of two ships of the line and two frigates, bombarded the fort of Santa Petri, on the margin of the bay. The fire was so destructive, that the fort surrendered; and, on the 23rd, a fire was opened from it and the Trocadero, on the city. The effect of this bombardment (so terrible to the inhabitants of Cadiz), and the revolt of the regiment of San Marcial, which was with difficulty subdued by the militia of the city, convinced the Cortes of the inutility of a longer resistance. That body, on the 28th of September, declared itself dissolved; the king sent to inform the duke dAngoulme that he was at liberty.

This campaign has been characterised as "one of the most remarkable recorded in history;" as, in "less than six months, with the loss of no more than 4,000 men, either by sickness or the sword, and with an expenditure of only 200,000,000 f.," the French forces "had subdued and pacified I Spain, delivered the king, arrested the march of revolution, and stopped the convulsions of Europe." Some think this a misplaced praise; for whilst, in principle, the war was unjust, and, in fact, unnecessary, not one of the objects set forth by the duke d'Angouleme, and which he pledged himself to achieve viz., a complete amnesty, and liberal government was attained. "It also surrendered up Spain to the incurable tyranny of Ferdinand, without putting an end to revolutions; and it substituted the barbarities of popular absolutism for popular anarchy." Nor did it establish the influence of France in Spain, as events subsequently proved.

The people were gratified by the sight of a neighbouring country occupied by their armies; the shame of defeat seemed to be in some measure wiped away; and the administration became more popular on account of that very measure, which could not but have excited universal execration, if any accurate ideas of liberty had been incorporated with the public opinion, or if a love of liberty had formed any part of the national sentiment. The success of the ministers, in excluding their adversaries at the election of the deputies in the preceding year, had reduced the formal and apparent strength of the opposition almost to nothing; and though violent declamations against their plans were still heard from the few anti-ministerial orators who had a seat in the popular chamber, the self-called patriots found few to join in their tirades either in the assembly, or in the country at large.

In fact, the war, politically, was a failure; and, in a military point of view, it brought little real honour to the French arms, because, except at Cadiz, no resistance, worthy of the name, was offered to the progress of the troops. Had it never been undertaken, it would probably have been much better for both countries.

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Page last modified: 18-12-2018 18:42:43 ZULU