1902 Encyclopedia > Spain > Spanish History - Ferdinand VII

(Part 32)


Ferdinand VII

Ferdinand VII. After the convulsions it had endured Spain required a sand period of firm but conciliatory government, but the ill-fate of the country gave the throne at this crisis to the worst of her Bourbon kings. Ferdinand VII. had never possessed the good qualities which popular credulity had assigned to him, and he had learnt nothing in his four years' captivity except an aptitude for lying and intrigue. He had no conception of the duties of a ruler; his public conduct was regulated by pride and superstition, and his private life was stained by the grossest sensual indulgence. Spain was still governed under the constitution of 1812, but the king's first act was to dissolve the cortes and to abrogate the constitution, promising, however, to grant a new one in its place. But no sooner was he established on the throne, and conscious of the strong reaction in favour of the monarchy, than he threw his promises to the wind and set himself to restore the old absolutism with all its worst abuses. The nobles recovered their privileges and their exemption from taxes; the monasteries were restored; the Inquisition resumed its activity; and the Jesuits returned to Spain. The liberals were ruthlessly persecuted, together with all who had acknowledged Joseph Bonaparte. A camarilla of worthless courtiers and priests conducted the government, and urged the king to fresh acts of revolutionary violence. For six years Spain groaned under a royalist "reign of terror," and isolated revolts only served as the occasion for fresh cruelties. The finances were squandered in futile expeditions to recover the South American colonies, which had taken advantage of Napoleon's conquest of Spain to establish their independence. In his straits for money Ferdinand ventured to outrage national sentiment by selling Florida to the United States in 1819. Discontent found expression in the formation of secret societies, which were especially powerful among the neglected and ill-paid soldiers. At last, in 1820, Riego and Quiroga, two officers of an expedition which had been prepared for South America, raised the standard of revolt in Cadiz. Ferdinand and his advisers proved as incapable as they were tyrannical, and their feeble irresolution enabled the movement to spread over the whole country. In March the king gave way and accepted the constitution of 1812. The royalists or serviles, as they were called, were dismissed from office and their places taken by liberals. The cortes met in July, and at once proceeded to dissolve the monasteries and the Inquisition, to confiscate the clerical tithes, to abolish entails, and to secure the freedom of the press and of popular meetings. Great results might have been achieved if the moderate party, under Martinez de la Rosa, had been able to grapple with the task of suppressing disorder and establishing a permanent constitution. But this was the last thing which the king desired, and the moderates were defeated by a factious combination of the serviles and the radicals. Risings took place among the loyal and bigoted peasants of the provinces, and their suppression contributed to the victory of the extreme party, which seemed to be secured in 1822 by the election of Riego as president of the cortes.

But Spain was not allowed to work out its own salvation. Europe was dominated at this time by the Holy Alliance, which disguised a resolution to repress popular liberties and to maintain despotism under a pretended zeal for piety, justice, and brotherly love. At the congress of Verona (October 1822) France, Austria, Russia, and Prussia agreed upon armed intervention in Spain, in spite of the protest of Canning on the part of England. Spain was to be called upon to alter her constitution and to grant greater liberty to the king, and if an unsatisfactory answer were received France was authorized to take active measures. The demand was unhesitatingly refused, and a French army, 100,000 strong, at once entered Spain under the duke of Angouléme (April 1823). No effective resistance was made, and Madrid was entered by the invaders (May 23). The cortes, however, had carried off the king to Seville, whence they again retreated to Cadiz. The bombardment of that city terminated the revolution and Ferdinand was released (October 1). His first act was to revoke everything that had been done since 1819. The Inquisition was not restored, but the secular tribunals took a terrible revenge upon the leaders of the rebellion. The protest of the duke of Angouléme against these cruelties was unheeded. Even the fear of revolt, the last check upon despotism, was removed by the presence of the French army, which remained in Spain till 1827. But Spain had to pay for the restoration of the royal absolutism, as Canning backed up his protest against the intervention of France by acknowledging the independence of the Spanish colonies.

Ferdinand VII. was enabled to finish his worthless and disastrous reign in comparative peace. In 1829 he married a fourth wife, Maria Christina of Naples, and at the same time he issued a "Pragmatic Sanction" abolishing the Salic law in Spain. No one expected any practical results from this edict, but a formal protest was made against it by the king's brothers, Carlos and Francisco, and also by the French and Neapolitan Bourbons.

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