1902 Encyclopedia > Spain > Spanish History - Charles IV and the French Revolution

(Part 30)


Charles IV and the French Revolution

Charles IV. The death of Charles III. and the accession of Charles IV. were contemporary with the outbreak of the French Revolution, which was destined to exercise a decisive influence over the fortunes of the adjacent peninsula. Florida Blanca, who continued to hold office during the first three years of the new reign, found it impossible to continue his policy. The revival of Spain could only be effected by the restoration of its naval and colonial ascendency at the expense of England, and for the carry-ing out of this scheme the support of France was imperatively necessary. But the French alliance rested upon the relationship between the two branches of the house of Bourbon, and the Family Compact ceased to exist when Louis XVI. was deprived of power by his subjects. Of this conclusive evidence was given in 1791. Some English merchants founded a settlement at Nootka Sound on the west coast of America, which provoked an indignant protest from Spain. But the French national assembly refused to send any assistance, and Florida Blanca was compelled to conclude a humiliating treaty and to give up all hope of opposing the progress of England. This failure was attributed by the minister to the Revolution, of which he became the uncompromising opponent. The reforms of Charles III.'s reign were abandoned; all liberal tendencies in Spain were suppressed; and the Government set itself to restore the old lethargy under absolute rule from which the country had been gradually awakened. The movement of reform had made so little progress among the mass of the people that reaction was really easier than progress. But Florida Blanca was not content with suppressing liberalism in Spain; he was eager to avenge his disappointment by crushing the Revolution in France. He opened negotiations with the emigrants, urged the European powers to a crusade on behalf of legitimacy, and paraded the devotion of Charles IV. to the head of his family. This bellicose policy, however, brought him into collision with the queen. Maria Louisa of Parma, a woman whose real abilities were perverted to the gratification of sensual lusts, was unwilling to allow the minister to share her ascendency over the feeble mind of her husband, and she feared that the outbreak of war would diminish the revenues which she squandered in self-indulgence. She had already removed from the ministry Campomanes and other supporters of Florida Blanca, and had compelled the latter to restrict himself to the single department of foreign affairs. Early in 1792 she completed her task by inducing Charles IV. to banish Florida Blanca to Murcia, and his place was entrusted to the veteran D'Aranda. But the new minister found that he held office only at the favour of the queen, and that this had to be purchased by a disgraceful servility to her paramour, Emanuel Godoy. Spain withdrew from the projected coalition against France, and sought to maintain an attitude of neutrality, which alienated the other powers, while it failed to conciliate the republic. The repressive measures of Florida Blanca were withdrawn; society and the press regained their freedom; and no opposition was offered to the propaganda of French ideas. D'Aranda's policy might have been successful if it had been adopted earlier, but the time for temporizing was now past, and it was necessary for Spain to choose one side or the other. But the decision was not allowed to rest with the man who had always shown a sympathy with the revolutionary principles. In November 1792 the queen felt herself strong enough to carry out the scheme which she had been long maturing. D'Aranda was dismissed, and the office of first minister was entrusted to Godoy, who had recently received the title of duke of Alcudia. Godoy, who was at once the queen's lover and the personal favourite of the king, had had no education for the part which he was called upon to play. Though endowed with a natural quickness of parts and a capacity for intrigue, he had no habits of application, no experience of the routine of office, and above all no settled policy. His appointment was regarded with jealousy by the grandees of Spain, while his undisguised relations with the queen outraged the moral feelings of the best part of the nation. Luckily for Godoy, the course to be pursued was decided for him. The execution of Louis XVI. (January 21, 1793) made a profound impression in a country where loyalty was a superstition. Charles IV. was roused to demand vengeance for the insult to his family, and from one end of Spain to the other a cry resounded for immediate war with the impious rebels who had shed the blood of an anointed king. Godoy had nothing to do but to follow the national impulse, and Spain became a member of the first coalition against France. Everything seemed to promise a rapid and complete success. The number of volunteers who offered their services rendered conscription unnecessary; and the southern provinces of France were so preponderatingly royalist that they were ready to welcome the Spaniards as deliverers. These advantages, however, were nullified by the shameful incompetence and carelessness of the Government. The troops were left without supplies; no plan of combined action was imposed upon the commanders ; and each regiment was left to act of its own will. The military action of Spain provoked the contempt of Europe. The two campaigns of 1793 and 1794 were one long catalogue of failures. The bravery of the soldiers was rendered useless by the incapacity of their officers, and the maladministration of the central Government excited such disgust that an outbreak of revolutionary disturbance in Spain itself seemed more than possible. Instead of reducing the southern provinces of France, the Spaniards were driven from the strong fortresses that guarded the Pyrenees, and the French advanced almost to the Ebro. And at the same time the English, the hated rivals of Spain, were utilizing the war to extend their colonial power and were establishing more firmly that maritime supremacy which the Spanish Government had been struggling for almost a century to overthrow. Under the circumstances it is no wonder that the queen and Godoy hastened to follow the example set by Prussia, and concluded the treaty of Basel with France. The terms were unexpectedly favourable. Spain purchased the evacuation of her territories and fortresses by the cession of her share of St Domingo, which had little but a sentimental value as the first discovery of Columbus, and which had already been occupied by the English. So great was the joy excited in Madrid that popular acclamation greeted the bestowal upon Godoy of the title of " Prince of the Peace." But the moderation of the treaty was only a flimsy disguise of the disgrace that it involved. Spain found herself tied hand and foot to the French republic. Godoy had to satisfy his allies by the encouragement of reforms which both he and his mistress loathed, and in 1796 the veil was removed by the conclusion of the treaty of San Ildefonso. This was a virtual renewal of the Family Compact of 1761, but with far more disadvantageous terms to Spain. Each power was pledged to assist the other in case of war with twenty-five ships, 18,000 infantry, and 6000 cavalry. The real object of the treaty, which was to involve Spain in the war against England, was cynically avowed in the eighteenth article, by which, during the present war, the Spanish obligations were only to apply to the quarrel between England and France. A scheme was prepared for a joint attack on the English coast, but it was foiled by the battle of St Vincent, in which Jervis and Nelson forced the Spanish fleet to retire to Cadiz. This defeat was the more disastrous because it cut off the connexion with the colonies and thus deprived Spain of the revenues derived from that quarter. The finances, already exhausted by extravagance and maladministration, were in no condition to meet the expenses of a naval war. England seized the opportunity to punish Spain for its conduct in the American War by encouraging discontent in the Spanish colonies, and in the Peninsula itself both nobles and people were bitterly hostile to the queen and her favourite. It was in vain that Godoy sought to secure the friendship of the reforming party by giving office to two of its most prominent members, Jovellanos and Saavedra. Spanish pride and bigotry were offended by the French occupation of Rome and the erection of a republic in the place of the papal government. The treatment of the duke of Parma by the Directory was keenly resented by the queen. Godoy found himself between two parties, the liberals and the ultramontanes, who agreed only in hatred of himself. At the same time the Directory, whose mistrust was excited by his attitude in the question of Parma, insisted upon his dismissal. Charles IV. could not venture to refuse a demand from France; the queen was alienated by Godoy's notorious infidelities; and in March 1798 he was compelled to resign his office. But he did not forfeit his hold on the king's favour, and he only waited for a favourable opportunity to emerge from his retirement.

Godoy's office was entrusted to Saavedra, but the reformers did not obtain the advantages which they expected from the change. Jovellanos was compelled in August to retire on account of ill-health,—the result, it was rumoured, of attempts on the part of his opponents to poison him. His place was taken by Caballero, an ardent opponent of reform, who restored all the abuses of the old bureaucratic administration and pandered to the most bigoted prejudices of the clergy and the court. The ministry was hopelessly divided, and the policy of the country was directed by the basest and most paltry intrigues. The only advantage which Spain enjoyed at this period was comparative independence of France. The military plans of the Directory were unsuccessful during the absence of their greatest general in Egypt, and the second coalition gained successes in 1799 which had seemed impossible since 1793. But the return of Bonaparte, followed as it was by the fall of the Directory and the establishment of the Consulate, commenced a new epoch for Spain. As soon as the First Consul had time to turn his attention to the Peninsula, he determined to restore Godoy, who had already regained the affection of the queen, and to make him the tool of his policy. Maria Louisa was easily gained over by playing on her devotion to the house of Parma, and on October 1, 1800, a secret treaty was concluded at San Ildefonso. Spain undertook to cede Louisiana and to aid France in all her wars, while Bonaparte promised to raise the duke of Parma to the rank of king and to increase his territories by the addition either of Tuscany or of the Roman Legations. This was followed by Godoy's return to power, though he left the department of foreign affairs to a subordinate. Spain was now more servile to France than ever, and in 1801 was compelled to attack Portugal in the French interests. Bonaparte was indignant against Portugal, partly because its fleet had aided his enemies in Egypt, and partly because its harbours offered great naval advantages to the English. The Spanish invasion, which was commanded by Godoy in person, met with no resistance, and the prince ventured to conclude a peace on his own authority by which Portugal promised to observe a strict neutrality on condition that its territories were left undiminished. But Bonaparte resented this show of independence, and compelled Charles IV. to refuse his ratification of the treaty. Portugal had to submit to far harsher terms, and could only purchase peace by the cession of territory in Guiana, by a disadvantageous treaty of commerce, and by a payment of twenty-five millions of francs. This insult to his ally Bonaparte followed up by others. In the preliminary treaty with England he ceded the Spanish colony of Trinidad without even consulting the court of Madrid, while he sold Louisiana to the United States in spite of his promise not to alienate it except to Spain. For these humiliations Spain had to console itself with the empty honour of being the first signatory of the treaty of Amiens.

For nearly three years Spain was allowed to remain at peace. Its finances were partially revived by the restoration of free intercourse with the colonies and by the payment of the supplies which had been withheld for the last six years. But the administration was as incompetent and misdirected as ever. Godoy, since his return to office, had abandoned all connexion with the reforming party and had thrown himself into the reactionary policy of Caballero. The Spanish church was once more placed in strict subjection to the Roman see, from which for a short time it had been freed. But the worst evil lay in the undisguised domination of France, which the Government was wholly incapable of shaking off. As soon as Bonaparte saw himself involved in a new war with England, he turned to Spain for assistance and extorted a new treaty (October 9, 1803), which was still more burdensome than that of 1796. Spain had to pay a monthly subsidy of six million francs, and to pledge itself to enforce a strict neutrality upon Portugal. Thus the country was involved in a new and still more disastrous war with England. The last remnants of its maritime power were shattered in the battles of Cape Finisterre and Trafalgar, and the English seized Buenos Ayres. The popular hatred of Godoy was roused to passion by these disasters, and many competent observers believed that Spain stood on the brink of revolution. At the head of the opposition was the crown prince Ferdinand, as insignificant as his rival, but endowed with all good qualities by the credulous favour of the people. To maintain himself against his domestic enemies Godoy turned to France, where Bonaparte, now the emperor Napoleon I., was irritated by the crown prince's marriage with a daughter of the king of Naples. The court quarrels at Madrid were fomented from Paris in order to complete the subordination of Spain. Napoleon was at this time eager to humble England by excluding it from all trade with Europe. The only country which had not accepted his " continental system " was Portugal, and he determined to reduce that kingdom by force. It was not difficult to bribe Godoy, who was conscious that his position could not be maintained after the death of Charles IV. In October 1807 Spain accepted the treaty of Fontainebleau, which arranged a partition of Portugal into three parts. The northern provinces were to be given to the young king of Etruria, who was to purchase them by the cession of Tuscany. In the south a principality was to be carved out for Godoy himself. The central district was to be kept in pledge by France until the conclusion of a general peace. The treaty was hardly concluded when a French army under Junot marched through Spain to Portugal, and the royal family of that country fled to Brazil.

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