Home  |  Authors  |  Books  |  Stories  |  What's New  |  How to Get Involved 
   T h e   B a l d w i n   P r o j e c t
     Bringing Yesterday's Classics to Today's Children                 @mainlesson.com
Search This Site Only
 
 
The Romance of Spanish History by  John S.C. Abbott
Table of Contents


 

 

CHARLES IV. AND MARIA LOUISA

(From 1788 A.D. to 1808 A.D.)

Character of Charles IV. and his wife.—Manuel Godoy.—The Insurrection in Madrid.—Domestic Quarrels.—Forced Abdication of the King.—Appeal to Napoleon.—Views of the Emperor.—The Interview at Bayonne.—Testimony of Alison; of Thiers; of Napier.—The Spanish Bourbons sell the Crown.—Remarks of the Emperor.

[373] WE know but little about the early life of Charles IV. save that it was a life of sin and shame. He was a man of weak intellect, impotent in action, and dissolute beyond all restraint in his habits. His wife, Maria Louisa, a Neapolitan princess, was a woman thoroughly abandoned to sensuality, without any apparent sense of her utter degradation. Soon after the accession of Charles IV. to the throne, the throes of the approaching French Revolution began to be felt throughout all Europe, giving rise to the Republic and the Empire in France. The pollution of the Spanish court under Charles IV. and Maria Louisa can not be described. It is admitted by all, denied by none. Neither the king nor the queen made any attempt to disguise their profligacy.

Both of them had become so corrupt as to lose not only all sense of religious obligation, but even that sentiment of honor which usually accompanies nuptial vows. The guilty favorites of the king and the paramours of the queen, undisguised, unabashed, mingled with the courtiers [374] amidst the festivities of the palace, in scenes of sin and shame which could scarcely have been exceeded in the courts of the most degraded of the Roman Emperors or of the Babylonian kings.

In the body-guard of the king there was a handsome young soldier by the name of Manuel Godoy. He became the especial favorite of the queen, and, strange as it may seem, of the king also. There was no attempt to disguise the guilty relations existing between Godoy and Louisa. And yet the king was so lost to all self-respect as not only cordially to acquiesce in that relation, but also to make Godoy his confidant and friend. There seemed to be an understanding between the king and the queen that neither of them should interfere with the untrammeled license of the other.

Wealth and dignities were lavished upon Godoy. Though he never gave any evidence of statesmanlike ability, he must have been a man of considerable tact and cunning. He gathered all the reins of government in his own hands, and for a time reigned absolute monarch of Spain. The king, entirely devoted to pleasure, did not wish to be annoyed with the cares of state. He therefore gladly accepted the relief which the paramour of the queen readily afforded him. In consequence of a treaty of peace which Godoy effected, he received the title of the "Prince of Peace," by which title he is generally known in Spanish annals. Such was the condition of Spain under the Bourbons when all the thrones of Europe were trembling beneath the thunders of the great battles of Marengo and Austerlitz.

"Every day," said Charles IV. to Napoleon, "winter as well as summer, I go out to shoot from morning till noon. [375] I then dine, and return to the chase, which I continue till sunset. Manuel Godoy then gives me a brief account of what is going on, and I go to bed, to recommence the same life on the morrow."

Louisa had three sons, Ferdinand, Carlos, and Francisco. Ferdinand, the heir-apparent to the throne, was, at the time of which we write, about twenty-five years of age. He inherited the characteristic traits of both father and mother, possessing but little education or mental ability, being very profligate, and entirely devoted to dissipating pleasure. Louisa expressed her estimate of this son in saying, "Ferdinand has a mule's head and a tiger's heart." The heir-apparent was anxious to ascend the throne, and was exasperated in seeing all the power of the kingdom in the hands of Godoy, whom he mortally hated. As his father, Charles IV., was in comparatively vigorous health, and gave no indication of any intention to die, Ferdinand decided to attempt to expedite his departure by administering to him poison. At least so his parents say, and we are not aware that Ferdinand ever took any special pains to deny it.

Godoy detected the plot. Ferdinand was arrested. No one supposed that he was the child of Charles IV. It is therefore, perhaps, not surprising that the old king should have been very eager to send him to the scaffold. A mother's love is generally proof against any amount of ingratitude or sin. But the wretched Louisa had no mother's love in her heart. She hated her son, and was equally anxious with the king that he should be removed from their way by an ignominious death. Godoy both feared and hated the young prince, and was determined upon his destruction.

[376] But the populace of Madrid espoused the cause of Ferdinand. They could more easily make allowances for what they deemed youthful indiscretions, than for the scandalous lives of hoary old debauchees. Intense excitement pervaded the streets of Madrid. Excited masses, ripe for insurrection, swarmed in the squares of the city. Portentous mutterings were heard. Cudgels rang upon the pavements. Poniards gleamed in the lamplight.

The gilded chariot of Godoy appeared in the street. It was the spark in the magazine. Fearful was the explosion. Stones, clubs, brick-bats, and every other attainable missile were hurled at the wretched man. His horses were goaded to the utmost speed. A rushing, roaring mob pursued. The carriage entered the portals of the palace, and the oaken doors closed behind it. Like the rush of ocean tides, the frenzied mob encircled the buildings, so numerous, so maddened, that the few troops stationed there for the defense of the favorite did not dare to fire upon them. The terror-stricken man fled to the garret, and rolling himself up in some old mats covered with the accumulated dust and cobwebs of ages, concealed himself behind a chimney. The mob dashed in the doors, swept through halls, parlors, chambers. The palace was sacked, sofas, mirrors, paintings, all the luxurious furnishings of wealth were hurled from the windows, broken into fragments, and burned upon the pavements.

Every room, crevice, corner was searched for the wretch. Sharp-edged knives were drawn. Assassination is the pastime of a Spanish mob. Godoy, almost smothered in his burial amidst rags and dust and spiders, trembled in every nerve as he listened to the angry tramp, execrations, and menaces which surrounded him. But his concealment [377] eluded the search. The night came, and its long hours of terror passed slowly away. The day dawned. The sun attained its meridian, and sank again in darkness. Still Godoy dared not move. The second night came, and the roar of the mob, swelling through the palace and through the streets, fell appallingly upon the ear of Godoy. The king and queen had no energy of character, no courage of heart, even to attempt to interfere and save him.

Thirty-six hours had tolled. The wretch was dying of thirst and hunger. In the dim light of the third morning he crept from his concealment, and stealthily endeavored to find his way clown some back stairs in search of food. A watchful eye detected him. The alarm was given. The cry ran through the streets, and the mob again rushed to seize their victim. Godoy, pallid and haggard with starvation and terror, was dragged out-of-doors, his clothes soiled and torn, his hair disheveled, and as they were hurrying him to the lamp-post a squadron of the king's mounted guards came clattering through the streets to his rescue. Two of the stoutest of the grenadiers seized him, one by each arm, between their horses, and dragged him upon the full gallop, partially suspended from their saddles, over the rough pavement to the nearest prison. Half dead with fright, starvation, and bruises, he was thrust into a cell, and the iron doors closed upon him. He was now safe beyond the reach of the mob.

The surging masses, thus baffled, were only the more exasperated. They rushed to the palace of the king, demanding the release of Ferdinand, the dismissal of Godoy, and the abdication of the crown in favor of Ferdinand. Charles and Louisa were terror-stricken. The storms which had overwhelmed the Bourbons in France were now howling [378] around their throne. Visions of dungeons and of the guillotine appalled their guilty spirits. The king, to appease the mob, issued a proclamation dismissing Godoy and abdicating the throne in favor of his "well-beloved son, Ferdinand."

The fear of a violent death had driven the king to this measure. It was a perfidious act, to which he had been compelled by threats, and which he had no intention whatever of respecting. Charles IV. immediately wrote to Napoleon to assist him to regain the crown which his son had thus forcibly wrenched from his brow.

"I have resigned," he said, "in favor of my son. The din of arms and the clamor of my insurgent people left me no alternative but resignation or death. I have been forced to abdicate. I have no longer any hope but in the aid and support of my magnanimous ally, the Emperor Napoleon."

Ferdinand also, well aware that he could not retain the crown, should the Emperor espouse the cause of his father, wrote to Napoleon in the most fawning phrases of sycophancy and adulation.

"The world," he said, "daily more and more admires the greatness and goodness of Napoleon. Rest assured that the Emperor shall ever find in Ferdinand the most faithful and devoted son. Ferdinand implores, therefore, the paternal protection of the Emperor. He also solicits the honor of an alliance with his family."

Thus both father and son appealed to Napoleon for help. To understand the curious events which ensued, and which resulted in the removal of the Bourbons from the throne of Spain for several years, it will be necessary to turn back a few pages in the book of history. The scenes which we have above described took place in the year 1807.

[379] A few months before England, Russia, and Prussia had formed a new coalition against Napoleon. The Prussian army, two hundred thousand strong, headed by Frederick William, the king, commenced its march upon France, and, entering Saxony, compelled the king to join the alliance. "Our cause," said Frederick, "is the common cause of legitimate  kings, and all such must aid in the enterprise." The Emperor Alexander, anxious to wipe out the stain of Austerlitz, was hurrying across the plains of Poland with two hundred thousand soldiers in his train, to join the Prussian king in his march upon Paris. England, with her omnipotent and omnipresent fleet, was crowding the shores of the Mediterranean and of the Channel, dealing her heaviest blows upon any exposed point, and striving with her gold to lure other nations into the coalition against the Republican Emperor, the monarch of popular choice, whom they stigmatized as "the child and the champion of democracy."

With deepest sorrow Napoleon gathered his strength to meet the rising storm, which he had done nothing to provoke. In the Moniteur  the Emperor had made an appeal, in the following terms, to the combined monarchs who were threatening him:

"Why should hostilities arise between France and Russia? If the Emperor of France exercises a great influence in Italy, the Czar exercises a still greater influence in Turkey and Persia. If the Cabinet of Russia pretends to have a right to affix limits to the power of France, without doubt it is equally disposed to allow the Emperor of the French to prescribe the bound beyond which Russia is not to pass. Russia has seized upon the Crimea, the Caucasus, and the northern provinces of Persia. Can she deny that the right [380] of self-preservation gives France a title to demand an equivalent in Europe? Let every power begin by restoring the conquests which it has made during the last fifty years. Let them re-establish Poland, restore Venice to its Senate, Trinidad to Spain, Ceylon to Holland, the Crimea to the Porte, the Caucasus and Georgia to Persia, the kingdom of Mysore to the sons of Tippoo Sahib, and the Mahratta States to their lawful owners; and then the other powers may have some title to insist that France shall retire within her ancient limits."

As the Emperor left Paris for the campaign of Jena and Auerstadt, he said to the Senate: "In so just a war, which we have not provoked by any act, by any pretense, the true cause of which it would be impossible to assign, and when we only take arms to defend ourselves, we depend entirely upon the support of the laws and upon that of the people, whom circumstances call upon to give fresh proofs of their devotion and courage."

Napoleon was soon at the head of his army, and by skillful manoeuvres had so effectually surrounded the Prussians, cutting them off from all their supplies, that he felt sure of a signal victory. Under these circumstances he wrote as follows to the King of Prussia:

"SIRE,—

I am now in the heart of Saxony. Believe me that my strength is such that your forces can not long balance the victory. But wherefore shed so much blood? To what purpose? Why should we make our subjects slay each other? I do not prize victory which is purchased by the lives of so many of my children. If I were just commencing my military career, and if I had any reason to fear the chances of war, this language would be wholly [381] misplaced. Sire, your Majesty will be vanquished. At present you are uninjured, and may treat with me in a manner conformable with your rank. Before a month has passed you will treat, but in a different position. I am aware that I may, in thus writing, irritate that sensibility which naturally belongs to every sovereign. But circumstances demand that I should use no concealment. I implore your Majesty to view, in this letter, nothing but the desire I have to spare the effusion of human blood. Sire, my brother, I pray God that he may have you in His worthy and holy keeping.

Your Majesty's good brother,

NAPOLEON."

No reply was returned to this letter. The evening of the 13th of October, 1806, had come. Both armies were prepared for a desperate battle. At midnight Napoleon was bivouacked upon the summit of a high and steep hill, called the Landgrafenberg. The camp-fires of the two hosts, spread over an extent of eighteen miles, illumined the sky. It was a gloomy hour. The forces opposed to each other were nearly equal. Alexander, as we have mentioned, was hurrying forward with two hundred thousand troops. Should the Emperor be worsted in the conflict, Austria, Sweden, and all the minor monarchies would immediately fall upon him.

Napoleon was roused from a transient sleep to read important dispatches which were placed in his hands. These dispatches informed him that the Bourbons of Spain, while professing friendship and alliance, had entered into a secret treaty with England to join the Allies should Napoleon be defeated. They had agreed to cross the Pyrenees with a powerful army and to attack France in the rear. There [382] was never a more unprovoked act of treachery. Napoleon, as he folded the papers, calmly remarked, "The Bourbons of Spain shall be replaced by princes of my own family."

The next morning, in the terrible conflicts of Jena and Auerstadt, the Prussian host was shivered and scattered as by the fabled thunderbolts of Jove. Godoy and the Spanish Bourbons were terrified by this unanticipated result. They instantly sheathed the sword which they had drawn, disbanded their armies, and hypocritically sent an ambassador to congratulate Napoleon upon his victory. The Emperor smiled as he received the document, saying, "This letter was intended for the Allies; the address simply has been changed."

Such were the relations existing between France and Spain when the insurrection at Madrid drove Charles IV. from the throne. The event was unexpected to Napoleon, and he seems to have been much embarrassed as to the best course to pursue. Charles IV. and Godoy were so despised and hated that it would be in vain to attempt to restore them to the throne. If it were indeed true that Ferdinand were the wretch that rumor described him to be, and that he had actually endeavored to poison his father, Napoleon could not consistently advocate his claims. To remove them both by violence, and place one of his brothers upon the throne, would exasperate anew all the dynasties.

Napoleon was at the palace of St. Cloud when he first received tidings of the abdication of Charles IV. in favor of Ferdinand. In earnest conversation upon the subject with General Savary, the Duke of Rovigo, he said:

"Charles IV. has abdicated. His son has succeeded him. This change has been the result of a revolution, in which the Prince of Peace has fallen. It looks as if the [383] abdication were not altogether voluntary. I was prepared for changes in. Spain. They are taking a turn altogether different from what I had expected. I wish you to go to Madrid. See our ambassador. Inquire why he could not have prevented a revolution in which I shall be forced to intervene, and in which I shall be considered as implicated.

"Before I can recognize the son I must ascertain the sentiments of the father. He is my ally. It is with him that I have contracted engagements. If he appeal for my support he shall have it. Nothing will induce me to recognize Ferdinand till I see the abdication duly legalized. When I made peace on the Niemen I stipulated that if England did not accept the mediation of Alexander, Russia should unite her arms with ours and compel that power to peace. I should be indeed weak if; having obtained that single advantage from those I have vanquished, I should permit the Spaniards to embroil me afresh upon my weak side. Should I permit Spain to form an alliance with England, it would give that hostile power greater advantages than it has lost by the rupture with Russia. I fear every thing from a revolution of which I know neither the causes nor the object.

"I wish above all things to avoid a war with Spain. Such a conflict would be a species of sacrilege. But I shall not hesitate to incur its horrors if the prince who governs Spain embraces such a policy. Had Charles IV. reigned, and the Prince of Peace not been overturned, we might have remained at peace. Now all is changed; for that country, ruled by a warlike monarch, disposed to direct against us all the resources of his nation, might perhaps succeed in displacing by his own dynasty my family on the throne of France. You see what might happen if [384] I do not prevent it. It is my duty to foresee the danger, and to take measures to deprive the enemy of the resources they might otherwise derive from it. If I can not arrange with either the father or the son, I will make a clean sweep of them both. I will re-assemble the Cortes, and resume the designs of Louis XIV. I should thus be in the same situation with that monarch when he engaged, in support of his grandson, in the war of the succession. The same political necessity governs both cases. I am fully prepared for all that. I am about to set out for Bayonne. I will go on to Madrid, but only if it is unavoidable."

It seems, however, that if Napoleon had not then come to a decision as to the course he was to pursue, his mind soon inclined very strongly towards the overthrow of the Bourbons, for the next morning he wrote to his brother Joseph, and after informing him of the revolution which had taken place in Spain, he remarked:

"Being convinced that I shall never be able to conclude a solid peace with England till I have given a great movement on the Continent, I have resolved to put a French prince on the throne of Spain. In this state of affairs I have turned my eyes to you for the throne of Spain. Say at once what is your opinion on that subject. You must be aware that this plan is yet in embryo. Though I have one hundred thousand men in Spain, yet, according to circumstances, I may either advance directly to my object, in which case every thing will be concluded in a fort-night, or be more circumspect in my advances, and the final result appear after several months' operations."

In a letter which, two days later, he wrote to his brother-in-law, Murat, Grand-duke of Berg, who was then in command of the French troops at Madrid, he very fully [385] unfolded the difficulties with which the subject was embarrassed. In this letter he writes:

"I find myself very much perplexed. Do not imagine that you can, merely by showing your troops, subjugate Spain. The Spaniards still possess energy. They have all the courage, and will display all the enthusiasm shown by men who are not worn out by political passions. The aristocracy and the clergy are the masters of Spain. If they are alarmed for their privileges and existence, they will bring into the field against us levies in mass which might eternize the war. I am not without partisans. If I present myself as a conqueror, I shall have them no longer. The Prince of Peace is detested. The Prince of the Asturias (Ferdinand) does not possess a single quality requisite for the head of a nation. I will have no violence employed against the personages of this family. England will not let the opportunity escape her of multiplying our embarrassments.

"Spain is, perhaps, of all the countries in Europe, the one that is least prepared for a revolution. Those who perceive the monstrous vices in the Government, and the anarchy which has taken the place of the lawful authority, are the fewest in number. The greater number profit by those vices and that anarchy. I can, consistently with the interests of my empire, do a great deal of good to Spain. What are the best means to be adopted? Shall I go to Madrid? Shall I take upon myself the office of grand protector in pronouncing between the father and the son? It seems to me a matter of difficulty to support Charles IV. on the throne. His Government and his favorite are so very unpopular that they could not stand their ground for three months.

[386] "Ferdinand is the enemy of France. To place him on the throne would be to serve the factions which for twenty years have longed for the destruction of France. A family alliance would be but a feeble tie. My opinion is that nothing should be hurried forward, and that we should take counsel of events as they occur. I do not approve of the step which your imperial highness has taken in so precipitately making yourself master of Madrid. The army ought to have been kept ten leagues from the capital.

"I shall hereafter decide on what is to be done. You will behave with attention to the king, the queen, and Prince Godoy. You will manage so that the Spaniards will have no suspicion which part I mean to take. You will find less difficulty in this, as I do not know myself. You will make the nobility and clergy understand that if the interference of France be requisite in the affairs of Spain, their privileges and immunities will be respected. You will assure them that the Emperor wishes for the improvement of the political institutions of Spain in order to put her on a footing with the advanced state of civilization in Europe, and to free her from the yoke of favorites. You will tell the magistrates, the inhabitants of the towns, and the well-informed classes, that Spain stands in need of having the machinery of her Government reorganized, and that she requires a system of laws to protect the people against the tyranny and encroachments of feudality, with institutions which may revive industry, agriculture, and the arts. You will describe to them the tranquility and plenty enjoyed in France, notwithstanding the wars in which she has been constantly engaged. You will explain to them the advantages they may derive from polit- [387] ical regeneration—order and peace at home, respect and influence abroad.

"I enjoin the strictest maintenance of discipline. The slightest faults must not go unpunished. The inhabitants must be treated with the greatest attention. Above all, the churches and convents must be respected. The army must avoid all misunderstanding with the bodies and detachments of the Spanish army. A single flash in the pan must not be permitted on either side. If war is once kindled, all would be lost."

Such was the state of affairs when Napoleon received a letter from Charles IV. imploring the Emperor to interpose in his behalf. "My son," the king wrote, "has attempted to poison me. My only hope is in the aid of my magnanimous ally, the Emperor Napoleon. Restore to me my crown, and I will be your Majesty's most devoted friend."

Godoy also wrote in similar terms of supplication, entreating the Emperor to reinstate Charles IV. upon the throne, from which an unnatural son had driven him.

Ferdinand also wrote to the Emperor still more fawningly, entreating the recognition of his right to the Spanish crown, and begging the Emperor to confirm the alliance by giving him one of his nieces for a wife.

The situation of the Emperor, in view of these appeals, as is sufficiently manifest, was very embarrassing. There was no course of action or of inaction which he could pursue which was not fraught with peril, or which would not expose him to the most severe denunciations.

Business summoned the Emperor to Bayonne, near the frontiers of Spain. Through his ambassador he informed the antagonistic members of the Spanish court that if they [388] wished they could meet him there. Napoleon and Josephine reached Bayonne on the fifteenth of April, 1808. Ferdinand was endeavoring to discredit Godoy by accusing him of being the paramour of his mother. Napoleon wrote to him from Bayonne as follows:

"You will permit me, under present circumstances, to speak to you with truth and frankness. I pass no decision upon the conduct of the Prince of Peace. But I know well that it is dangerous for kings to accustom their people to shed blood. The people willingly avenge themselves for the homage which they pay us.

"How can the process be drawn up against the Prince of Peace without involving in it the queen and the king your father? Your Royal Highness has no other claim to the crown than that which you derive from your mother. If this process degrades her, your Royal Highness degrades your own title. The criminality of Godoy, if it can be proved against him, goes to annihilate your right to the crown. I say to your Royal Highness, to the Spaniards, and to the world, that if the abdication of Charles IV. is unconstrained, I will not hesitate to acknowledge it, and to recognize your Royal Highness as King of Spain."

Ferdinand was at this time doing every thing in his power to blazon abroad the shame of his mother, and to bring Godoy to trial as her paramour. Napoleon endeavored thus delicately to intimate to him that by dishonoring his mother he dishonored himself, and invalidated his own title to the crown. But this wretched mother was so lost to all sense of shame that it is said she reproached her son with being the child of ignominious birth, telling him to his face, and in the presence of others, that her husband was not his father.

[389] Ferdinand, hoping by a personal interview to secure the support of Napoleon, repaired to Bayonne to meet him. He was accompanied by a magnificent escort. Charles IV. and the queen, learning of this movement, resolved also to hasten to Bayonne to plead their cause before the sovereign who, at that time, held the destinies of so many monarchs in his hands. Godoy followed after. Thus unexpectedly, Napoleon found the whole royal family of Spain suppliants at his feet; for Charles had taken with him his two younger sons, Carlos and Francisco.

Thus all the members of the Spanish royal family were assembled at Bayonne. Napoleon received them with every mark of attention, and entertained them with imperial hospitality. Though he was prepared to meet a very degenerate family, he was amazed at the development of imbecility and depravity which was presented to him. Charles IV., Louisa, and Godoy were not reluctant to relinquish the cares of regal state, could they but retain the means for the gratification of their appetites and passions. M. Thiers, speaking of the journey of Charles IV. and his court to Bayonne, says:

"It had been impossible to inspire them with a moment's confidence since the 17th of March. Spain had become hateful to them. They constantly spoke of quitting it, and of going to occupy even a humble farm in France, a country which their powerful friend Napoleon had rendered at once so calm, so peaceable, and so safe. But the case was altered altogether when they learned that Ferdinand VII. had set out in order to have a personal interview with Napoleon. Although they had neither any great hope nor a great ambition of resuming the sceptre, they were filled with envy at the idea of Ferdinand gaining his [390] cause with the arbiter of their destiny—of his being recognized and settled as king by the acknowledgment of France, thus becoming their master and that of the unfortunate Godoy, and of being able to decide their fate and that of all their creatures. Not being able to bear this idea, they conceived an ardent desire to proceed in person to plead their cause against their unnatural son in the presence of the all-powerful sovereign who was approaching the Pyrenees."

The Emperor, in order to accommodate the Spanish royal family in the apartments which he occupied in Bayonne, purchased the beautiful chateau of Marac, about three miles from the city, which he hastily prepared for himself and Josephine. This chateau was delightfully situated in the midst of a blooming garden, and in a climate as serene and sunny as Southern Europe can afford. The Imperial Guard encamped in the garden. Ferdinand, upon his arrival at Bayonne, was conducted to the apartments which Napoleon had vacated for his reception. He had scarcely alighted from his carriage ere Napoleon met him with courteous greeting, addressing him, however, not as king of Spain, but as prince of the Asturias. After a brief interview the Emperor retired, and an hour after his chamberlain waited upon the prince to invite him to dine at the chateau of Marac. Here he was again received with marked courtesy, and though the subject of politics was avoided, the conversation at once revealed to the eagle glance of the Emperor the mental poverty of the prince and his palpable moral degeneracy.

Having dismissed Ferdinand and most of his small retinue, Napoleon retained Escoiquiz, the learned preceptor of the prince, and informed him of his determination to dethrone both the father and the son; that he was fully [391] informed of their treachery; that it was not safe for France, assailed by coalition after coalition of all dynastic Europe, to leave such perfidious foes in her rear; that there was an irrepressible conflict between the two systems of feudal despotisms and equal rights for all, and that the interests of Spain demanded that she should be rescued from the debasement into which ages of misrule had plunged her, and take her place by the side of those nations of regenerated Europe which had inscribed equal rights for all men upon their banners.

It would seem that there were but four plans open before Napoleon. The first was to support the claims of Charles IV. and Godoy. But in objection to this arose the fact that they were so degraded and tyrannical as to be unworthy of support, and so unpopular that even the influence of the Emperor, though sustained by a strong military force, would be unavailing to maintain them on the throne. The second plan was to recognize and maintain the claims of Ferdinand. But he was an infamous character, who had obtained the crown by treachery, and who had attempted the life of his parents. He was thoroughly unreliable, and would probably unite with the Allies against regenerated France at the first chance of success. A matrimonial alliance would have but little restraint upon him, neither could Napoleon think of uniting one of his nieces to a man so degraded. The third plan was to do nothing; to leave the Bourbons of Spain and the people of Spain to fight out their own battles and to settle their own feuds. But this would be to surrender Spain to the English, and would speedily wheel all the military force of the kingdom into the line of those banded despots who were assailing France on every side.

[392] The only remaining plan was, by the combined influence of intimidation and remuneration, to remove the Bourbons from the throne, and replace them by some prince of the Bonaparte family who would be in sympathy with the order of things then reigning in France. The objection to this was that it would greatly exasperate the reigning dynasties, as an indication of the intention of Napoleon to overthrow all the feudal thrones of Europe, and to rear upon their ruin sovereignties pledged to maintain the new principles of the French Revolution. The execution of this plan would also expose the Emperor to the accusation of trickery and deceit, as this end could only be accomplished by taking advantage of the baseness of the royal family of Spain, and of the difficulties in which that baseness had involved them.

It seems to be admitted even by those least friendly to the policy of the Emperor that he had good cause for removing the Bourbons, though some of them differ in judgment as to the best mode of accomplishing that object. The Emperor Alexander said to M. Caulaincourt:

"Your emperor can not suffer any Bourbon so near him. This is on his part a consistent policy which I entirely admit. I am not jealous of his aggrandizement, especially when it is prompted by the same motives as the last."

Sir Archibald Alison, though he loses no possible opportunity to denounce the Emperor, says, "The assertion, frequently repeated by Napoleon, that he was not the author of the family disputes between Charles IV. and Ferdinand, but merely stepped in to dispossess them both, is perfectly well-founded. It is evident also, such was the fascination produced by his power and talents, that no difficulty [393] was experienced in getting the royal family of Spain to throw themselves into his hands; nay, that there was rather a race between the father and son which should first arrive at the head-quarters to state their case favorably to the supreme arbiter of their fate."

Thiers, speaking of the eagerness of Ferdinand VII. and his counsellors to plead their cause before Napoleon, writes: "They would have been a hundred times better pleased to see Napoleon reign in Spain than to see the queen again in possession of the royal authority. The same feelings were entertained by the old sovereigns in their turn. This feeling caused the sceptre of Philip V. to fall into the hands of the Bonaparte family."

Napoleon said at St. Helena, "The unfortunate war in Spain proved a real wound; the first cause of the misfortunes of France. If I could have foreseen that that affair would have caused me so much vexation and chagrin, I would never have engaged in it. But, after the first steps taken in the affair, it was impossible for me to recede. When I saw those imbeciles quarrelling and trying to dethrone each other, I thought I might as well take advantage of it to dismiss an inimical family. But I was not the contriver of their disputes. Had I known at the first that the transaction would have given me so much trouble, I would never have attempted it."

The decision to which Napoleon finally came to purchase the crown of Spain and place it upon the brow of his brother Joseph became, through the hostile interposition of the British fleet and army, eminently disastrous. The oligarchy which then governed England preferred any rule, no matter how corrupt, of feudal aristocracy, to any government, no matter how beneficial, of equal rights for [394] all. Speaking of the difficulties which the new government of Joseph Bonaparte immediately had to encounter in Spain, Colonel Napier writes:

"But the occult source of most of these difficulties is to be found in the inconsistent attempts of the British Cabinet to uphold national independence with internal slavery, against foreign aggression with an ameliorated government. The clergy of Spain, who led the mass of the people, clung to the English because they supported aristocracy and court domination. The English ministers, hating Napoleon, not because he was the enemy of England; but because be was the champion of equality, cared not for Spain unless her people were enslaved. They were willing enough to use a liberal Cortes to defeat Napoleon, but they also desired to put down that Cortes by the aid of the clergy and of the bigoted part of the people."

Again he writes: "It was some time before the Church and aristocratic party of Spain discovered that the secret policy of England was the same as their own. It was so, however, even to the upholding of the Inquisition, which it was ridiculously asserted had become objectionable only in name. The educated classes in Spain shrunk from the British Government's known hostility to all free institutions."

Napoleon, at St. Helena, instructed by the results, expressed himself as convinced of the impolicy of the measures which he had adopted. "The impolicy," said he, "of my conduct in reference to Spain is irrevocably decided by the results. I ought to have given a liberal constitution to the Spanish nation, and charged Ferdinand with its execution. If he had acted in good faith, Spain must have prospered and harmonized with our new manners. The great object would have been obtained, and France would [395] have acquired an intimate ally, and an additional power truly formidable. Had Ferdinand, on the contrary, proved faithless to his engagements, the Spaniards themselves would not have failed to dismiss him, and would have applied to me for a ruler in his place. At all events, that unfortunate war in Spain was a real affliction.

"I was assailed with imputations for which I have given no cause. History will do me justice. I was charged in that affair with perfidy, with laying snares, and with bad faith; and yet I was completely innocent. Never, whatever may have been said to the contrary, have I broken any engagement or violated my promise either with regard to Spain or any other power.

"The world will one day be convinced that in the principal transactions relative to Spain I was completely a stranger to all the intrigues of the court; that I violated no engagement either with the father or the son; that I made use of no falsehoods to entice them both to Bayonne, but that they both strove which should be the first to show himself there. When I saw them at my feet, and was able to form a correct opinion of their total incapacity, I beheld with compassion the fate of a great people. I eagerly seized the singular opportunity, held out to me by fortune, for regenerating Spain, rescuing her from the yoke of England, and intimately uniting her with our system. It was, in my conception, laying the fundamental basis of the tranquility and security of Europe.

"Such, in a few words, is the whole history of the affair of Spain. Let the world write and say what it thinks fit, the result must be what I have stated. You will perceive that there was no occasion whatever for my pursuing indirect means, falsehoods, breach of promises, and violation [396] of my faith. In order to render myself culpable, it would have been absolutely necessary that I should have dishonored myself. I never yet betrayed any wish of that nature."

Colonel Napier, in his History of the Peninsular War, alluding to this subject, says:

"The Spanish Bourbons could never have been sincere friends to France while Bonaparte held the sceptre. And the moment that his power ceased to operate, it was quite certain that their apparent friendship would change to active hostility. The proclamation issued by the Spanish Cabinet just before the battle of Jena was evidence of this fact. Had he, before he meddled with their affairs, brought the people into hostile contact with their Government—and how many points would not such a Government have offered 7—instead of appearing as the treacherous arbitrator in a domestic quarrel, he would have been hailed as the deliverer of a great people."

The plan which Colonel Napier recommends was deliberately to involve the nation in the woes of civil war. Napoleon hoped to attain, without the effusion of blood, the end which Napier admits he was justified in attempting to attain.

Charles IV. and Louisa reached Bayonne soon after Napoleon's interview with Ferdinand. Charles had sent forward to Napoleon a protest against his abdication in favor of Ferdinand, which protest was published in the Bayonne Gazette on the 29th of April, 1808. Upon the king's arrival the next day, the Emperor held immediately a private interview with him, the queen, and Godoy. They all three hated Ferdinand so intensely that they preferred to see any one, even an enemy, on the throne of Spain rather than [397] Ferdinand. There were many Spaniards of the highest rank who had been drawn to Bayonne by the novelty of these scenes. Napoleon and these Spaniards, disregarding the forced abdication, received Charles IV. as king, and Ferdinand simply as Prince of the Asturias. Both the king and queen took pains publicly to express their abhorrence of their son.

The proposition to resign the crown to Napoleon, says Thiers, "neither astonished nor afflicted them." They were well aware that it was in vain for them to think of retaining the throne. They were rejoiced to think that Ferdinand was not to have it. And they welcomed the prospect of relinquishing the cares and perplexities of sovereignty for a secure and princely retreat in France, where ample means would be placed at their disposal for the indulgence of' all their tastes. With alacrity they yielded to Napoleon the crown, leaving it to his magnanimity to furnish them with a suitable indemnification. It seems, however, that Ferdinand was not quite so willing to make the surrender. While the subject was in deliberation he sent out secret agents, who roused the peasants and the populace of Madrid into an insurrection against the French soldiers there, which was only quelled after much bloodshed.

As soon as the tidings of this untoward event reached the Emperor he summoned the whole royal family of Spain to a personal interview, and communicated to them the intelligence. The old king was greatly enraged against Ferdinand.

"See what you have done, sir!" exclaimed Charles IV. "The blood of my subjects has flowed, and the blood of the soldiers of my friend, my ally, the great Napoleon, has also been shed. See to what ravages you would expose Spain [398] if we had to deal with a less generous conqueror! It is you who have unchained the people, and there is no longer a master over them to-day. Restore that crown which is too weighty for you, and give it to him who alone is capable of bearing it."

While thus speaking, the enraged monarch brandished his gold-headed cane over the head of his son, threatening him with personal violence. Louisa, the queen, was even more bitter and vengeful than her husband. She had a [399] marvellous command of vituperative language, and lavished upon the prince the most vulgar epithets in the vocabulary of abuse. Ferdinand remained immovable, silent, as if stunned by these fierce invectives. His mother approached him with a menacing gesture as if she intended to box his ears.


[Illustration]

INTERVIEW WITH THE SPANISH PRINCES.

"Why do you not answer?" she said. "Yes, I see that you are just what you have always been. Whenever your father and I wished to give you any exhortations for your own good, you held your tongue, and only replied by silence and hatred. Speak to your father, sir, to your mother, to our friend, our protector, the great Napoleon."

Napoleon was greatly shocked and embarrassed by the revolting scene. As he left, he coldly remarked to Ferdinand that unless he immediately resigned all his claims to the crown to his father, he would be treated as a rebel who had entered into a conspiracy to deprive the legitimate sovereign of his crown. As Napoleon returned to the chateau of Marac, his mind engrossed with the painful scene which he had witnessed, he said to those around him,

"What a mother! what a son! The Prince of Peace is certainly a very inferior person, but, after all, he is the least incompetent of this degenerate court. He proposed to them the only reasonable idea—an idea which might have led to great results had it been carried out with courage and resolution. It was this, to go and found a Spanish empire in America, there to save both the dynasty and the finest part of the patrimony of Charles V. But they could do nothing that was noble or great. The old people by their want of energy, the son by his perfidy, have ruined this design."

After prolonged remarks, characterized by that elo- [400] quence which marked all his utterances, Napoleon added:

"What I am doing now is not good in a certain point of view. I know that well enough. But policy demands that I should not leave in my rear, and that, too, so near Paris, a dynasty inimical to mine."

That evening Marshal Duroc concluded a treaty by which Charles IV. resigned the crown to Napoleon, upon the condition that the integrity of the soil of Spain should be preserved, that the Catholic religion should be exclusively maintained, and that Charles IV. should enjoy for his life the chateau and forests of Compeigne and the chateau of Chambord in perpetuity, together with an income for himself and court amounting to about one million nine hundred thousand dollars annually, to be paid by the treasury of France, with a proportionable revenue for all the princes of the royal family.

Ferdinand now saw that it was in vain for him to make any further resistance. He accordingly, in his turn, signed a treaty by which he and his brothers, Carlos and Francisco, renounced all their claims to the Spanish throne, in consideration of the chateau of Navarre being secured to him for his residence, with a net revenue of two hundred thousand dollars. Each of his brothers was to receive an annual income of eighty thousand dollars.

Thus the throne of Spain passed temporarily from the House of Bourbon to the House of Bonaparte. "If the government I had established had remained," said Napoleon to O'Meara, "it would have been the best thing which ever happened for Spain. I would have regenerated the Spaniards. I would have made them a great nation. In the place of a feeble, imbecile, superstitious race of Bour- [401] bons, I would have given them a new dynasty, which would have no claims upon the nation except by the good it would have rendered unto it. I would have destroyed superstition and priestcraft, and abolished the Inquisition and monasteries, and those lazy beasts of friars."


 Table of Contents  |  Index  | Previous: The Spanish Bourbons  |  Next: The Exile and Return of the Spanish Court
Copyright (c) 2000-2017 Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.