1902 Encyclopedia > Spain > Spanish History - Charles III (1759-88)

(Part 29)


Charles III (1759-88)

Charles III. This event gave the Spanish crown to Charles III., who had ruled the Two Sicilies since 1735. His accession threatened a speedy reversal of Spanish policy. The new king was a true Bourbon, and naturally inclined to the French alliance. He had an old grudge against England for the treatment he had received in the War of the Austrian Succession. He also owed a debt of gratitude to Maria Theresa for enabling him to transfer the crown of Naples to his third son, whereas by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle it ought to have passed to his brother, Philip _ of Parma. In spite of these motives, he hesitated for two years to take a decisive step. Spain was not prepared for war, and Charles had never cordially approved the change of policy at Versailles which had united France with its old rival Austria. But the rapid successes of England under Pitt's administration, and the danger of a vast extension of the maritime and colonial ascendency of that country, soon overcame his scruples. In 1761 the third Family Compact was concluded, and Spain undertook to give active assistance to France unless peace were concluded within a year. Pitt, suspecting the existence of this agreement, proposed an immediate declaration of war against Spain, but he failed to convince his cabinet and resigned. His successors, however, were driven to adopt his policy, and in January 1762 hostilities commenced between the two countries. But Spain only entered the war to share the disasters which France had already begun to suffer. An invasion of Portugal, which had been regarded as a defenceless prey, was foiled by English assistance, and the English fleet captured Martinique and Havana. The Bourbon powers found it necessary to implore peace, and it was fortunate for them that the English government had passed into the hands of Bute, who was eager to diminish the influence of Pitt by terminating the war. By the treaty of Paris (February 1763) England recovered Minorca, extended its colonies in every direction at the expense of France, and rejected all the demands which Charles III. had advanced on behalf of Spain.

In spite of the treaty Charles III.'s foreign policy continued to be guided by jealousy of England, and he clung to the French alliance as the only means by which he could avenge his recent humiliation. In this he was encouraged by his foreign minister, Grimaldi, who was so devoted to France that Choiseul declared himself to be more powerful at Madrid than at Versailles. In 1770 a dispute about the Falkland Islands, from which the English settlers had been expelled by a Spanish force, would probably have led to a renewal of war if a domestic intrigue had not succeeded at this juncture in overthrowing Choiseul. For the next few years a marked coolness grew up between France and Spain, which was increased when Louis XVI. disappointed the hopes that had been formed of his accession and left Choiseul in retirement. Grimaldi, chagrined at the failure of an alliance on which all his schemes were based, resigned office in 1777 and was succeeded by Count Florida Blanca, one of the most distinguished of the able ministers who ruled Spain during this period. The change of ministers made no difference to the policy of Charles III., whose obstinacy was in no way inferior to that of his predecessors. For many years Spain and Portugal had been engaged in disputes about the frontiers of their territories in South America, disputes which were rendered more bitter by the arrogance of Pombal, the Portuguese minister. The death of Joseph I. in 1777 and the consequent dismissal of Pombal enabled Florida Blanca to negotiate the treaty of San Ildefonso, by which Sacramento and the navigation of the Bio de la Plata were ceded to Spain, and a definite boundary was drawn between Brazil and Paraguay on the one side and Peru on the other. This was followed in March 1778 by the conclusion of a perpetual alliance at the Pardo, by which Portugal was attached to the interests of the Bourbon states. These treaties, which Florida Blanca regarded as among the most signal successes of his ministry, came very opportunely to enable Charles III. to resume the schemes that had lain in abeyance since 1763. England was involved in a desperate struggle with the revolted colonies of North America, and this offered the Bourbons the long-desired opportunity for revenge. In 1778 France entered into close alliance with the colonists, and in the next year Spain followed her example. Everything seemed to favour the allies. The Northern powers, irritated by the high-handed way in which England had asserted and exercised her maritime supremacy, formed the " armed neutrality" under the lead of Catherine II. of Bussia. Even Holland, the oldest and most constant ally of England, was involved in the general coalition. England, which had failed single-handed to coerce its own subjects, was now face to face with the whole maritime power of Europe, and was also hampered by domestic and Irish troubles. Spain succeeded in capturing Minorca and laid close siege to Gibraltar. Many of the West-Indian islands were captured from the English, and the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown destroyed the last hope of restoring American dependence. The most confident hopes were entertained of stripping England of the great bulk of its colonial possessions. But in 1782 the tide of success turned. Rodney, by the novel manoeuvre of breaking the line, destroyed the French fleet in the West Indies, while the heroic defence of General Elliott and the opportune arrival of supplies under the convoy of Lord Howe saved Gibraltar from overwhelming odds. The want of unanimity among the allies, each of whom thought only of its own interests, hastened the conclusion of peace in 1783. The treaty of Versailles, by which Spain kept Minorca and obtained the Floridas, was the most honourable which that country had concluded since Cateau Cambresis. But the failure to recover Gibraltar was a bitter disappointment to Charles III., who continued till his death (December 14, 1788) to cherish the scheme of renewing the war, though the growing disorders in France made it more and more certain that he could no longer rely upon the assistance of that country.

Revival of Spain in the 18th century. The reigns of the first three Bourbon kings form a period of great importance in Spanish history. At the end of the 17th century Spain appeared to be a lifeless century corpse, over which the other powers of Europe could contend at will. In the 18th century men were astounded to see that country rise with renewed vigour to play once more an independent part on the international stage. This revival was due in the first place to the change of dynasty. Another Hapsburg would probably have continued the obsolete policy of his predecessors. The accession of the Bourbons introduced into Spain the methods and ideas of government which had raised France to greatness under Richelieu, Mazarin, and Colbert. The two great problems to be grappled with were the profound depression of trade and agriculture and the fatal wealth and ascendency of the church. Philip V., feeble as he was personally, began the movement in advance even during the Succession War. The abolition of the old provincial independence rendered possible a more regular and centralized government, an increase of the revenue, and the removal of the old impediments to trade between the various provinces. The French officers who accompanied the king gave a new organization and new tactics to the Spanish army. Under the influence of the princess Orsini Philip seemed inclined to attack even the prescriptive privileges of the clergy. His marriage with Elizabeth Farnese saved the hierarchy and diverted his attention to wars of aggrandizement. But these wars were directed by purely political motives; the old Hapsburg idea of a religious propaganda was for ever abandoned. And even during the war the task of internal reform was hindered rather than neglected. The efforts of Alberoni and Patino gave Spain a navy more powerful than that of Philip II. The conquest of the Two Sicilies and the acquisition of Parma, though they brought little direct advantage to Spain, yet gave conclusive evidence that the old lethargy had been shaken off and that the country was capable of exertions and sacrifices which had long appeared impossible. The period of peace under Ferdinand VI. was an inestimable boon to Spain. Taxation was lightened, production was facilitated by the removal of the most crushing burdens, yet at the same time the revenue improved and the chronic deficit of previous reigns was replaced by a surplus. And this prince took a step which no one would have expected from him. The concordat of 1753 was the first vindication of the political interests of Spain against the pretensions of Rome. The crown asserted its right to appoint to all important benefices, and the number of papal presentations was reduced from twelve thousand to fifty-two. The revenue derived by the curia from Spain was proportionately diminished, and the clergy were compelled to recognize their obligations as members of the body politic. This measure was followed by an edict that henceforth papal bulls should not be obeyed until they had received the royal sanction.

The work of reform, thus tentatively commenced under Philip V. and Ferdinand VI., was carried still further by Charles III., whose reign is regarded with more pride by the Spaniards than any other since that of Philip II. Charles had served an apprenticeship in the art of government in Naples, where, with the help of his minister Tanucci, he had successfully grappled with evils similar to those from which Spain was suffering. He would have been a prince quite after the heart of the 18th century if he had not retained too large a share of the superstition of his family. He shared to the full that conception of the rights and duties of monarchy which inspired the reforms of Frederick the Great and Joseph II., and his allegiance to the church was fortunately counterbalanced by his desire for absolutism. His greatest work, the expulsion of the Jesuits, would never have been carried out if he had not been persuaded of its political necessity. The order had already been driven by Pombal from Portugal and by Choiseul from France, when Charles III. was convinced that a riot in Madrid, provoked by the financial measures of Squillaci, had been promoted by the Jesuits. This conviction overpowered all scruples; the fathers were promptly removed from the country, and Spain joined the other Bourbon courts in demanding that suppression of the order which was finally decreed by Clement XIV. in 1773. The Rubicon once crossed, Charles's ministers urged him on in the path of ecclesiastical reform. The increase of lands in mortmain was restricted; the number of monasteries was diminished; and the Inquisition was compelled to moderate its procedure and to subordinate its independence to the royal will. For the papal jurisdiction was substituted a national court, the Rota, established at Madrid.

These measures, of which the importance in a country like Spain can hardly be over-estimated, were accompanied by others no less notable for the development of trade and agriculture. The colonial trade was freed from the old restriction which compelled it to pass through Cadiz, and other ports were opened for its reception. Native manufactures were encouraged in every way, and a famous ordinance in 1773 endeavoured to remove the old prejudice against trade by declaring that the engaging in industrial occupations should not involve any loss of rank or its privileges. Internal communication was facilitated by the construction of canals. Agriculture was revived by the removal of the old prohibition against enclosures,— so long maintained by the selfish influence of the Mesta, —by the planting of trees in the arid deserts of central Spain, and by the rapid growth of population, which rose in the course of the century from 5,700,000 to 10,541,000. These measures, which are only selected from a large number tending in the same direction, are to be credited to three ministers, whose names reflect its chief lustre upon Charles III.'s reign. D'Aranda, who succeeded the Italian Squillaci as finance minister, was an Aragonese noble who had imbibed the spirit of philosophical speculation from France. He was the first layman who presided in the council of Castile, and he introduced into the Spanish administration a liberal tendency quite opposed to the traditions of the country. His views, however, were not congenial to the king, and, after completing his work with regard to the Jesuits and the Inquisition, he retired to the embassy in Paris and was succeeded by Campomanes. The latter was not only a distinguished statesman but also one of the foremost representatives of Spanish literature. He was one of the earliest students of political economy, and many of the most enlightened measures for the relief and encouragement of trade are to be assigned to him. But his administration, which aimed at educating the people to a share in political life, was almost as alien to the wishes of Charles III. as the liberal and anti-clerical schemes of DAranda. A far more congenial minister was found in Florida Blanca, whose aim was to promote the material interests of Spain by the supervision of an internal despotism, who stopped the attack on the church when its subordination was secured, who supported the economic reforms of Campomanes, but would only carry them out by a rigid bureaucracy, and who conciliated the king by falling in with his foreign policy even when it conflicted with the national welfare.

Meritorious as Charles III.'s reforms were, it would give a false impression to represent them as completely successful. The regeneration of Spain was by no means accomplished, and many of the abuses which had been growing for centuries survived the attempt to effect their annihilation. One of the chief causes of this failure was the corruption and ignorance of the lower officials. The reforming impulse was confined to the educated classes, and made little impression upon the bulk of the people. It was of little use to devise the most enlightened measures when there was no efficient machinery to carry them out. Many of the most promising reforms remained mere paper schemes. The methods employed, too, were not always the best calculated to obtain their end. The state took too much upon itself, and attempted to discharge functions which would have been better left to local enterprise. Boads were constructed on a magnificent scale, but only too often in directions where they were not wanted, and they remained almost unused. Thus the debt was increased without any improvement of the revenue. The return of Charles III. to a military policy imposed serious burdens upon the country, and it would have been better to have prolonged the peace of Ferdinand VI.'s reign, inglorious as it appeared to an ambitious king. Undoubtedly a great advance was made, but equal exertions would have produced a greater result in any other country. The population of Spain remained to a great extent sunk in sloth and superstition. Much might be hoped from a steady persistence in ameliorative measures, but unfortunately the work of reform was interrupted just at the moment when success appeared to be within reach.

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