After nearly two tumultuous decades of revolution, counter-revolution, and international war during the European Wars of the French Revolution, the new Republic of France had finally established its staying power and dominance on the continent under the leadership of Napoleon. By1807, Napoleon was looking for ways to expand the power and economic influence of France. Under the pretext of supporting Spain’s invasion of Portugal, Napoleon brought about 100,000 troops into Spain in the autumn of 1807. The reigning Spanish king, Charles IV, was widely unpopular and considered incompetent to rule; he abdicated the throne to his son Ferdinand VII in March of 1808. Napoleon took advantage of the divisions within the Spanish leadership and in April he turned against his Spanish allies, deposed Ferdinand, and placed his own brother, Joseph Bonaparte, on the throne. Claiming to be acting on behalf of Spanish interests by bringing Enlightenment ideals to the ancient monarchy, Napoleon quickly established a puppet regime. The Spanish Royal military found itself leaderless and ill-equipped to fight against the massive French power. Napoleon expected some popular Spanish resistance, but felt confident in the overwhelming power of French military force to hold the occupation. He dramatically underestimated the burgeoning of Spanish national identity. Despite initial fractures among the political leadership of the resistance, various factions soon coalesced into a concerted rebellion against French occupation. Unable to directly engage the mighty French military, the resistance developed a new approach: “guerrilla,” or “little war,” tactics emerged and soon frustrated Napoleon’s expectations to hold the Spanish throne with minimal occupation forces that were needed elsewhere on the continent, particularly in Russia. By 1812, Napoleon found himself engaged on multiple fronts and unable to hold the Spanish occupation. Joseph was forced to abdicate in 1813, and Ferdinand VII was restored to the throne where he would rule Spain for the next 25 years.
Francisco de Goya “The Shootings of May Third 1808” (1814). Spanish artist Goya produced hundreds of paintings, etchings, and sketches of the impact of the Peninsular War on the civilian population.
Source: W.N. Hargreaves-Mawdsley. 1973. Spain under the Bourbons, 1700-1833. London: MacMillan Press.
Loyal Asturians and beloved compatriots: Your first wishes have now been fulfilled. The Principality, discharging those duties which are closest to man, has now formally declared war on France. Are you perhaps discouraged by so great an undertaking? But what other course of action could we or should we have taken? Is there a single one among you who would prefer the ignominious and despicable death of slavery to meeting his end in the field of honour, sword in hand, in the defence of our unfortunate monarch, our homes, our wives and families? If, at the very moment that they were regaled with the greatest courtesy and triumph by the people of Madrid, these soldier-bandits executed more than 2000 people in cold blood for no other crime than that of coming to the defence of their outraged brethren, what could we hope for from them once they had conquered us? Their treason towards our King and all his family, tricking them into crossing into France with the promise of a permanent armistice, only to throw them all in chains, has no equal in history. Their behaviour towards the whole nation is more iniquitous than that we should expect from a horde of hottentots. They have profaned our temples, they have insulted our religion, they have broken every last word of their promises and there is no principle of justice which they have not trampled under foot.
To arms, to arms, Asturians!
Let us not forget that it was Asturias which, in another time of invasion, surely less unjust than the present one, restored the monarchy, let us hope for equal glory in our own day. Let us remember that no foreign nation in history has managed to rule over us, no matter how hard it has tried. Let us invoke the God of the Armies, let us entreat Our Lady of the Battles to intercede for us; her image is worshipped in the most ancient temple of Covadonga and, in the certainty that she cannot abandon us when our cause is so just, let us hasten to throw this treacherous and execrable nation out and to wipe them from the face of our Peninsula. This what the attorney general of the Principality asks of you, in the name of your representatives.
Alvaro Florez Estrada.
Source: W.N. Hargreaves-Mawdsley. 1973. Spain under the Bourbons, 1700-1833. London: MacMillan Press.
Napoleon, Emperor of the French, King of Italy … etc., etc., to all who read this, greetings.
Spaniards: after a long illness, your nation was on the point of death. I have seen the ills that afflict you and I am going to remedy them. Your greatness and your power at at one with my own.
Your princes have made over all their rights to the Spanish crown to me; I have no desire to reign over your provinces; but I do seek an everlasting claim on your love and recognition of generations to come in Spain.
Your monarchy is ancient; my mission is to give it new life; I shall improve your institutions and I shall give you the benefit of reform which you can enjoy without sorrow, without disorder and without upheaval.
Spaniards: I have convoked a general assembly of the delegates of all provinces and cities. I myself want to know what your wishes are and what are your needs.
Then I shall lay aside all my rights, and I shall place your glorious crown on the brow of another Me, guaranteeing you at the same time a Constitution which shall reconcile the holy and health authority of the Sovereign with the liberties and privileges of the people.
Spaniards: remember what your fathers were like and and look at what you have become. It is not you who are to blame but the bad government which ruled you. Have complete Confidence and full hope in the present situation: for it is my wish to be remembered by all future generations of Spaniards to have them exclaim: He was the rejuvenator of our country.
Given in our imperial and royal palace at Bayonne, 25th May 1808. – Signed: Napoleon. – On behalf of the emperor, the Secretary of State, Hugues B. Maret.
Source: W.N. Hargreaves-Mawdsley. 1973. Spain under the Bourbons, 1700-1833. London: MacMillan Press.
Fernando VII, King of Spain and the Indies and the Supreme Council acting in his name.
France, or rather Emperor Napoleon I, has violated the most sacred pacts with Spain; he has carried off her royal family and has forced them into manifestly abrupt and invalid abdications and resignations; just as outrageously, he has made a gift of sovereignty of Spain, which is something nobody is entitled to do; he has declared that he has appointed the King of Spain, the most horrible crime recounted in the annals of history; he has ordered his troops into Spain, taking over her strongholds and her Capital and scattering his troops over the whole face of the country where they have committed all kinds of murder, robbery, and unheard of atrocities against the Spaniards; and to accomplish all this he has not had recourse to force of arms, but excuses his actions by claiming that he is effecting their happiness. This bears witness to the most heinous ingratitude for the services that the Spanish nation has rendered him, and a disregard for the friendship which we enjoyed. He has used deceit, treachery and the most horrible perfidy on a scale never chronicled as having been employed by any nation or any monarch before, however ambitious and barbarous, against any King or any people in all the world. He has recently declared that he intends to throw the Monarchy and its fundamental laws into disarray and threatens the downfall of our Catholic Religion which we Spaniards have kept alive since the time of the great Recaredo; he has forced us to take the only course of action open to us to remedy such afflictions – to expose them to the whole of Europe and declare war on him.
And so, in the name of our King Fernando VII and all the Spanish nation, we declare war on land and on sea against the Emperor Napoleon I and against France for as long as she continues under his despotic yoke, and we command all Spaniards to treat the French with hostility and to occasion them the greatest possible hurt consonant with the laws of war, to impound all French ships lying at anchor in our harbours and all property, possessions and goods, in whatever part of Spain, which belong either to that government or to any individual citizen of that nation. We likewise command that no harm or harassment should be given to the English, neither to the government, nor to their ships, neither to their goods, nor to the property of the government and the individual citizens of that nation. We declare that we have entered into open and frank diplomatic relations with England, and that we have come to an agreement with her and that there exists between us an armistice which we trust will end by becoming a lasting and stable peace.
Furthermore, we declare that we shall not lay down our arms until Emperor Napoleon I restores the King and sovereign Fernando VII, and the rest of the royal family to Spain, and pays homage to the sacred rights of the nation which he has violated, – to her freedom, her sovereignty and her independence. For the information of the Spanish nation, we command that this solemn declaration be printed, published, distributed and posted in all townships and provinces of Spain, and be made known in Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Given in the Royal Palace of the Alca’zar at Seville. June 6th, 1808.
Joseph Napoleon, by the grace of God and the Constitution of the State, King of Spain and of the Indies.
Spaniards: As we enter the territory of the nation which providence has entrusted to our care, we must declare our feelings to her people.
Coming to the throne, we count upon men of good will to aid us in restoring Spain to her past glories. The Constitution to which you shall swear allegiance, assures the practice of our sacred faith, civil and political liberty, and sets up a system of nation-wide representation; it breathes new life into your ancient parliament, which, now placed on a more secure footing, shall, instituting and guaranteeing the liberty of the individual, be an honourable place of refuge where eminent service to the state shall be rewarded with the right to membership.
Blind passions, voices of deceit and intrigues perpetrated by the common enemy of Europe, whose sole aim it is to split asunder the Indies and Spain, have thrust some of you headlong into the most frightening anarchy, our heart bleeds at the thought of it, but such enormous evils can be wiped out at a stroke.
Spaniards, unite, close your ranks about our throne, see to it that internal strife does not waste our time nor stand in the way of measures which are but the instruments we would use to ensure your happiness. We have enough respect for you not to doubt that you will for your part do everything within your power to bring this happiness about, and this is our fondest wish.
Vitoria, 12th July, 1808. Signed, We, the King.
For his Majesty, the Secretary of State, Luis de Urquijo.
The Supreme Council of State, in which the highest authority has been provisionally vested, has dedicated the first moments following its inauguration to the urgent measures which the circumstances surrounding its creation have dictated. It has held the firm belief since its very inauguration that one of its first duties was to address itself to you, to speak to a glorious and magnanimous nation with the dignity meet and proper to it, to inform you of your situation and, openly, sincerely, to establish the mutual confidence which is the foundation of very just and prudent administration. Without this relationship, those who wield power cannot accomplish the great mission which is incumbent upon them nor can the true interests of those over whom they rule be realised.
Twenty years of despotism, under the most incompetent control ever known to man, had taken our country to the brink of the abyss. The jackal of Europe had realised that the moment had come to pounce on a prey which he had coveted for so long and to add to an already bloodstained crown a jewel which would be its most brilliant and precious ornament. The omens all predicted success for him. The nation was split away from a government which it hated and scorned, the royal family was divided among itself and the long awaited heir to the throne was censured, slandered and even reviled, the forces of law and order were scattered and in disarray, and all the means at your disposal were of no avail since French troops were already on Spanish soil, where they were in control of the strongholds along the frontier. Sixty thousand men were ready to enter the capital, from where they would dictate to the nation.
At this critical juncture, you suddenly rose from the sloth in which you wallowed, ousted a favourite from the eminent position he had unlawfully seized and placed a Prince that you revered on the throne. This innocent King of yours was then wrested from you in the greatest act of treachery ever recorded in the annals of human deceit. The Madrid massacre of the second of May told of the treason at Bayonne and of the French invasion. The blood and death of the innocent and valiant folk who were there gave an ominous and awful warning of the fate that Napoleon had in store for us.
By this time, the council in which our deluded King had vested supreme power had already been sold out to our enemies, all the other bodies in authority were now in shackles and an usurper was on the imperial throne. After that memorable day the second of May, the French thought they would meet with no resistance. They did not realise that by giving offence to and taunting the nation here on earth which is most conscious of her honour, they were heading towards inevitable doom. The provinces of Spain were provoked into a sudden, massive uprising. They came to grips with the invaders, swearing to die rather than submit to the opprobrium of a foreign despotism. An astonished Europe heard of the insult and of the revenge at almost the same time. A nation which only a few months previously had hardly had a shadow of influence, suddenly became an object of concern and wonder for the whole world.
The event is unique in our history, unforeseen in our laws and almost completely foreign to our habits. The forces of law and order needed a hand to guide them, a hand worthy of the will and the sacrifices of the people. From this need were born the supreme council of the provinces, who took upon themselves the whole responsibility of keeping danger at bay, by holding back the enemy, and of keeping peace in their region. The tale of their struggles, of the way they discharged their public duties and of the gratitude owed them by the nation, is told by the battlefields, which are littered with French corpses, and in our churches, where French military insignias are kept as trophies. It is told in the preservation of activity and independence in nearly all the institutions of the realm, and it is told in the thanks of thousands who owe their freedom and their revenge to these institutions.
As soon as the capital was rid of her enemies and communications restored between the provinces, then an authority which had been divided between all the provisional councils had to be united under one banner, to work with all the necessary strength and energy. This was the will of the people and this is the course that the provinces took. Each Council named deputies who were to come and form the central authority and in less time than it took the Machiavellian scheming of the French to destroy our former government, a new government, which the French shall fear much more, was formed in the Central Council which is peaking to you now.
Spaniards, your greatest enterprise, your finest victory, has been both the agreement of the public will of the paramount importance of the good of the nation, and the selflessness which the provinces have shown in giving authority and power over into other hands. Both at the present time, when all eyes are on you, and in the future, when you will be a fount of wonder and a subject of study, these decisions of yours will be seen as the most convincing proof of your moderation and caution. Our enemies had already selected the moment for our destruction. They had already seen the breaches which civil discord would work in our defences. They had anticipated that the provinces would be split by ambition and greed and were enjoying the thought that some would come to them for protection and aid, in attempt to establish a supremacy over the others. Then, suddenly, a central authority was peacefully established and accepted by the majority under their very eyes. The ship of State was sailing on a single, even keel, gathering speed and momentum until it crushed under it, once and for all, every foreign pretension and every hope in their iniquitous souls.
Once the Council had taken up the mantle of authority, it turned its mind immediately to a consideration and evaluation of its duties. The principal objectives which the Council believes itself empowered by the nation to fulfil are twofold: to throw our enemies back across the Pyrenees, and to force them to restore to us our noble King, his brother and uncle, thus recognising our freedom and independence. The Council found that much of this had been done before its creation. Public enthusiasm had been quickened, armies had been formed almost from scratch, important victories had been won, our enemies thrust back to the frontiers, with their military pride crushed: the laurels which had wreathed the brows of the conquerors of Europe were transferred to our warriors.
All this had been done and it was everything that could be expected from the first enthusiastic impulse. It is necessary now, following these achievements of impetuosity and courage, to follow the counsels of caution and perseverance for the rest of the road we must travel. It has to be said and repeated over and over again: the path we must tread is long and hard. Spaniards, the great enterprise we have embarked on must whip up all your enthusiasm and channel all your virtues.
This you will understand, when you cast your mind back over affairs of state both at home and abroad at the time when this Council began to wield authority. Our armies were full of courage and anxiously awaiting a march towards victory, but they were unarmed and bereft of all the necessary provisions. Over and against them were the French forces, waiting for reinforcement, along the banks of the Ebro, laying waste old Castille, the province of Rioja and the Basque country. They had occupied the fortresses of Pamplona and Barcelona, they had command of the castle of San Fernando and were thus masters of almost all Navarre and Catalonia. The churlish, lying French tyrant, restless on his throne, was working up his minions to fever pitch. His aim was to appease other nations in order to throw the whole weight of his military strength against us. Meanwhile other European powers, either subdued or riled by France, were anxiously awaiting the outcome of this first struggle. Though longing to stand up against their common enemy, experience had afforded them harsh counsel that they should proceed in this with timid prudence.
It is clear that the only way they had of keeping their independence was through a confederacy. It will have to come to this, for both self-interest and necessity dictate that it shall. Where is the state that can have any confidence in its dealings with Napoleon? Who believes his words or his promises? Who trusts him to be loyal and friendly? The destiny of Spain should be a lesson and a warning to them, its resolve an example, its victories and incentive. By disregarding the principles of justice and the sanctity of a promise, this senseless tyrant has placed himself in the awkward situation of having to possess greater strength than everyone else put together or of being entombed under the mountains thrown up by his own fury.
The fact that an alliance, which is both just and necessary, will provide security and the sureness of victory, is underlined by our first successful struggles and by the cautious way we have proceeded. When we have created a military force which has numbers and means enough to make it dreaded, when we are able to follow up a success and recover quickly from a reversal, when we always control our acts and aspirations with the good sense and integrity which distinguish the Spanish nation from all others: then the whole of Europe will be sure of success and will unite with us to exact revenge for outrages perpetrated on themselves and on us. Spain will take the glory for having saved the countries of Europe. Our wishes restrained and righteous, our position one of strength, we will be accepted as the friend and loyal ally of all, the salve or tyrant of none.
We must now harness all our resources, as if we were alone in sustaining the onslaught of France. With this in mind, the Council has deemed it necessary to keep a standing army of five hundred and fifty thousand men and fifty thousand cavalry. It might be thought that this enormous number of troops is disproportionate to our former position and needs. Be that as it may, it is by no means disproportionate in the present circumstances. The three armies which must guard the frontier and the reserves which must back them up and supply their losses will easily take up the whole of this number. It might be asked if even this number or the sacrifices we must needs make will be sufficient for the enterprise which we are to undertake, even with the enthusiasm that drives us forward. Spaniards, our enemy’s strength is colossal, his ambition is greater even than his strength and his very existence is incompatible with our freedom. His exertions must be judged by his barbaric character and by the extremity of the dangerous situation in which he has placed himself. But his exertions are those of a tyrant and must surely break when pitted against the total strength of nation which is both great and fee and which has selected for this conflict no other ends than total success or death in the attempt.
Having first paid heed to this great and momentous enterprise, the Council turned its attention to the immense expedients which would be needed to bring it to fruition. The profligacy of our last government (if its continual, hideous, squandering makes it worthy of the name of government) had dried up every source of prosperity, had obstructed all the channels through which life and food flow to all members of the body politic, had drained all our financial resources, had scattered the forces of law and order and had exhausted our every means of defence. As the Council has already told the people, all that was lost can be recuperated by the great savings that come from the abolition of the expenses of the royal family, the huge sums that were taken by the court favourite, with his sordid and insatiable greed, the income of his many large estates and also by the goods taken from those renegade Spaniards who have fled with the invader. To this we must add the advantages that the state will gain from being able to make free use of shipping and trade and from the communications with American which have now been established. The principal source of finance for our enterprise must be a well-run economy, and a well-organised tax system. The Council will be turning all its attention to reform and order in the tax system. We can add to these resources the generous help which the English people have given us and will carry on giving us. But even though this help came at the right time and has been received gratefully and used to such good effect, much if it must be reciprocated with all the honour and propriety due to a great and powerful nation. The Spanish monarchy must always be on equal terms of mutual interdependence with its allies.
The yield from the sources of income outlined above will doubtless be great but it will only come slowly and then too late. It is therefore not enough for the extremely urgent needs of the state now. Will even it be enough to supply at one and the same time everyday needs which must be met, a huge debt which must be paid and an immense army which must be maintained? but in the cases of extreme necessity, when diverse events of the force of circumstances might cause the funds in the exchequer to dwindle, the Council will turn straightways to the nation, in the certain knowledge that they can count on the patriotic zeal which is everywhere in evidence and on the widely recognised need for self-denial. Desperate ills like those of today require desperate remedies. And as the government takes it as a bounden duty to give the nation an exact account of the way it uses funds and resources which are to be given it, there can be not the least doubt in its mind that its apparently arbitrary demands might be disliked or disregarded through mistrust.
So much for the defence of the realm and for the means of preparing for it. This was the first and most urgent aim entrusted to the Council. But there is another aim, Spaniards, which is just as valuable and important. Without regard for it, the Council would be doing no more than fulfil half the number of its tasks: this is the great reward for your enthusiasm and your sacrifices. Political independence is nothing if it does not go hand in hand with personal happiness and security of the individual. You must turn your eyes back to the time when you were unaware of your own strength because you were harassed, oppressed, and abused. When you could not find a safeguard against the evils in the administration of the state or the evils in the law; then you counted foreign domination more acceptable than the mortifying bigotry which had taken hold of your country. It is our misfortune that for so long Spain was under the control of an unjust man of fickle purpose. Your patience, your love of order and your magnanimous loyalty have been abused for long enough. It is high time that the word of the law, based on the principle of common good, should be alone in governing your affairs. This is what our good but unfortunate King wanted and this is the path which He pointed out for us from the window of a cell where an iniquitous traitor had confined Him. Spaniards, the word Fatherland must no longer be a vague, empty word for you. In your ears and in your hearts it must signify the place where law and custom are inviolate, a place where talent is allowed to flourish and virtue is rewarded.
Indeed, Spaniards, the day will soon dawn when the monarchy is given a solid and lasting foundation, in accordance with the unanimous wishes of the King’s Loyal peoples and of the King Himself. You will then possess basic rights which will be advantageous for all, which will hinder the growth of arbitrary power and foster law and order. When your true rights are established and secure you will take delight in viewing a monument worthy of you and of the King who will mount guard over it, and who will give it his blessing, knowing that it stands for the way in which His people have fought for its construction through so many trials and tribulations. This Council has absolute power over the forces of the realm, to secure in every possible way its honour, defence and happiness. This Council has already acknowledged publicly that influence in the government shall be wielded by the people, who, in the name of the King and for His cause, have been the authors of all that we see today and have achieved this with the help of nobody. So this Council is duty bound to see that you , the people, are given this Nation, to which you have rallied so enthusiastically and which you have defended, or rather, conquered, so courageously.
Although our military operations have at first to be slow, in order to make success doubly sure, they give us the opportunity and the calm which are necessary for the solemn and momentous congress which is hereby announced to you, where the Government will draw up and discuss, in private sessions, their proposals for reform and for new laws, which they will present to the people for ratification. The stately edifice of legislation is the work of men who have no learning, no expertise, no precedents and has resulted form will operating in the dark, with neither experience nor directions. It is therefore exposed to mistakes, inconsistencies and derision. To be perfect, it needs amendments, and this must be the work of those Spaniards among you who are distinguished by their wisdom, who have devoted their lives to researching into social principles and who join love of humanity to love of the fatherland and marry education with devotion to duty. Far from rejecting your advice, the Council desires it and looks to you for it. Understanding and elucidation of our longstanding constitutional laws, and the alterations they should undergo when restored, consequent upon changes of circumstances; the reforms which must be made in our civil, penal and commercial codes; proposals for an improvement in the standard of our public education system, which is so far behind that of other nations; economic arrangements for the better collection and distribution of state funds: all this calls for your attention and makes up a long list of problems and tasks in which to show your learning and your abilities. The Council wishes to employ you in various committees, each one of which will be in charge of a certain, specific section of the economy. You will be freely given access to all the documents concerning matters of government and administration in which the various aims of public policy requiring scrutiny are discussed. Your work will help to keep public opinion on a virtuous and wise path. You will help to place the nation in the position of being able to establish its happiness on a firm and peaceful foundation.
In this way revolution in Spain will assume characteristics which make it completely different from the French Revolution. The latter began with the private, petty intrigues of courtiers. Ours with our need to throw out an iniquitous and mighty enemy. In their there were as many theories of government as there were factions, or rather as there were individuals. In ours there is only one unanimous opinion and desire: an hereditary monarchy with Fernando VII as King. Rivers of blood were spilt in France at the height of the chaos, and the French proclaimed no theory which was not subsequently disavowed, they made no law which they did not themselves break. In the end they submitted to a tyrant and his despotism. The perfidious invasion of Spain by the French left us without a government and without communications between the provinces, but Spaniards have been able to restrain themselves within the confines of the prudence which is characteristic of them. They have been bloody and merciless only with their enemies and they will show themselves capable of improving their laws and consolidating their freedom without sabotaging the ship of State.
Spain! In front of us there is the beautiful prospect of honour and wealth, if we can take advantage of this exceptional period of our history and if we can fulfill the great project to which Providence has assigned us. Instead of being objects of pity and scorn, as we have been up to now, we are to be the envy and the wonder of the world. Our beautiful climate, the fertile land in which we live, our geographical position, the riches which nature in her bounty has showered on us and the noble and generous qualities with which she has endowed us, will not be gifts which are wasted on a base, enslaved people. The name of Spaniards is already pronounced respectfully throughout Europe, where the people who have been crushed by the French see their hopes dependent upon our fortunes. The very slaves of the tyrant, groaning under and intolerable yoke, pray for us. Let us stand firm and we shall pluck the fruits of victory. A day of reckoning will come for the outrages perpetrated on religion. Your King will be returned to his throne or avenged. The basic laws of the monarchy will be restored. Civil liberty will be solemnly and permanently assured. The streams of national prosperity will spontaneously flow, spilling wealth without let or hindrance. We shall have more brotherly and therefore more beneficial relations with our colonies. Energy, industry, ability and virtue will be quickened and rewarded. These are the pinnacles of splendour and fortune to which we can raise our country if we live up to the magnificent opportunities which surround us.
These then are the plans and purposes which the Council has had before it since the moment of its inception. The two principal and essential objectives are thus to be accomplished. The members of the Council have been given such high authority and have become responsible for such seductive expectations yet they realise the difficulties which they must overcome in order to fulfil their tasks and they are not unmindful of the weight which they must bear and the dangers to which they are exposed. But they will count themselves well paid for their travails and the sacrifice of their persons to the Fatherland if they succeed in inspiring Spaniards a confidence without which no public good is achieved. The Council makes old to say that it is deserving of such confidence in virtue of the uprightness of its principles and the purity of its intentions.
Aranjuez, October 26, 1808.
Given with the agreement of the Supreme Council on November 10, Martin de Garay, general secretary.