1902 Encyclopedia > Spain > Spanish History - The French Invasion and the War of Independence (1808-14)

(Part 31)


The French Invasion and the War of Independence (1808-14)

But Spain was destined to share the same fate as its neighbour. The crown prince, whose wife had died in 1806, determined to imitate his rival by bidding for French support. He entered into secret relations with Beauharnais, Napoleon's envoy at Madrid, and went so far as to demand the hand of a Bonaparte princess. Godoy, who discovered the intrigue, induced Charles IV. to order his son's arrest. Napoleon at once seized the opportunity to make himself absolute master of Spain, and ordered French troops to cross the Pyrenees in support of the prince. This act terrified Godoy into a reconciliation with his opponents, but the French invasion was not delayed by the removal of its pretext. Charles IV. and his minister, conscious that they could expect no support from the people, determined on flight. The news of this intention, however, excited a popular rising in Madrid, and the king was compelled to abdicate in favour of his son. Murat, however, who commanded the French, refused to be turned aside by this change of circumstances. He obtained from Charles IV. a declaration that his abdication had been involuntary, and occupied Madrid (March 23, 1808). Meanwhile Napoleon advanced to the frontier, ind Ferdinand was lured by French agents to an interview with the emperor at Bayonne. There he was confronted with his parents and Godoy, and was intimidated into restoring the crown to his father, who at once made a second abdication.

Joseph Bonaparte. Napoleon now divulged the real intention of his actions, and the crown of Spain was formally conferred upon his brother Joseph Bonaparte, who two Joseph years before had been made king of Naples.

But Spanish loyalty was too profound to be daunted Parte' even by the awe-inspiring power of the French emperor. For the first time Napoleon found himself confronted, not by terrified and selfish rulers, but by an infuriated people. The rising in Spain commenced the popular movement which ultimately proved fatal to his power. At first he treated the novel phenomenon with contempt, and thought it sufficient to send his less prominent generals against the rebels. Madrid was taken without difficulty, but the capital was absolutely devoid of military importance, and the Spaniards showed great capacity for the guerilla warfare in the provinces. The French were repulsed from Valencia; and Dupont, who had advanced into the heart of Andalusia, was compelled to retreat and ultimately to capitulate with all his forces at Baylen (July 10). The Spaniards now advanced upon Madrid and drove Joseph from the capital, which he had just entered. Unfortunately the insurgents displayed less political ability than military courage. The government was entrusted in Ferdinand's name to a central junta of thirty-four members, a number which was far too large for the conduct of executive business. Napoleon's arrival in Spain was enough to restore victory to the French. In less than a week the Spanish army was broken through and scattered, and Napoleon restored his brother in Madrid. Sir John Moore, who had advanced with an English army to the relief of the capital, retired when he found he was too late, and an obstinate battle, in which the gallant general lost his life, had to be fought before the troops could secure their embarkation at Coruna. Napoleon, thinking the work accomplished, had quitted the Peninsula, and Soult and Victor were left to complete the reduction of the provinces. The capture of Seville resulted in the dissolution of the central junta, and the Peninsula was only saved from final submission by the obstinate resistance of Wellington in Portugal and by dissensions among the French. The marshals were jealous of each other, and Napoleon's plans were not approved by his brother. Joseph wished to restore peace and order among his subjects in the hope of ruling an independent nation, while Napoleon was determined to annex Spain to his own overgrown empire. So far did these disputes go that Joseph resigned his crown, and was with difficulty induced to resume it. Meanwhile Cadiz became the capital of what was left of independent Spain, and there the cortes met in 1810 for the purpose of drawing up a new constitution. The fall of the old monarchy and the exigencies of self-defence had given to the reforming party an ascendency which they had never before possessed. In the constitution which was promulgated early in 1812 the principles of the French constituent assembly were closely followed. The Inquisition had already perished, and the last relics of the old autocratic government shared its fate. Supreme legislative power was placed in the hands of a single national assembly, and effective checks were devised to restrict the power of the monarchy whenever it should be revived. The freedom of the press was established, and the property of the clergy was confiscated to defray the expenses of the war. The great defect of the constitution was that it was the work of one party, to which circum-stances had given a temporary supremacy, and it failed to command the support of the united nation. The nobles and priests were bitterly hostile, and the latter had more influence in Spain than in any European country except Ireland.

The restoration of Spanish independence could hardly have been accomplished without the assistance of England. Wellington had already made two attempts to advance from Portugal into the adjacent kingdom, but had been foiled by superior forces. In 1812 he determined on a great effort. He secured his base of operations by the capture of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, and at Salamanca he completely routed the opposing army of Marmont. This victory enabled the English general to enter Madrid (August 12), and Joseph retreated to Valencia. But further advance was prevented by the concentration of the French forces in the east, and Wellington found it advisable to retire for the third time to winter-quarters on the Portuguese frontier. It was during this winter that Napoleon suffered his first and greatest reverse in the retreat from Moscow and the destruction of his grand army. This was the signal for the outbreak of the " war of liberation " in Germany, and French troops had to be withdrawn from Spain to central Europe. For the first time Wellington found himself opposed by fairly equal forces. In the spring of 1813 he advanced from Ciudad Rodrigo and defeated Jourdan at Vittoria, the battle which finally decided the Peninsular War. Joseph retired altogether from his kingdom, and Wellington, eager to take his part in the great European contest, fought his way through the Pyrenees into France. Napoleon, who had suffered a crushing defeat at Leipsic, hastened to recognize the impossibility of retaining Spain by releasing Ferdinand VII., who returned to Madrid in March 1814.

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