Spain History: The Bourbons and Napoleon
At the beginning of the century. XVIII, now unable to govern itself, Spain was disputed by the great European powers – the France of Louis XIV against the allied Austria, England and Holland – in a long and bloody war of succession (1702-13). Result of which was the advent on the Spanish throne of the French Philip V of Bourbon (1700-1746); Spanish politics returned to being substantially pro-French, at least until 1789, in a subordinate position governed by the ” family pact ” (1733, renewed in 1743 and 1761) which among other things forced it to repeated wars with England. Inside, however, the action of the new monarchy soon made itself felt with positively substantial results for the(1746-59) and in particular of Charles III(1759-88), the most “enlightened” of the Bourbons and undoubtedly the best sovereign that Spain ever had. Making use of generally honest and well-intentioned collaborators, first foreigners (French, then Italians, such as G. Alberoni, G. Grimaldi, L. Squillace) and finally Spanish (Ensenada, Aranda, Campomanes, Floridablanca), the Bourbons began a series of “reforms” from above, intended at first to reorganize the state administration – it would have been impossible to govern a modern country while maintaining the archaic and chaotic Austrian administration – and soon also to economic and cultural recovery. Although hampered and slowed down in every way by the resistance of the conservative forces (the Church, the Inquisition, the high aristocracy, which continued to own most of the land, while representing less than a tenth of the population), the reform action achieved unquestionable successes: construction of roads and ports, the beginning of internal colonization, the rebirth of agriculture (with new methods and the impetus of “technical” schools), Mesta and the big owners etc.
By the end of the century, according to usprivateschoolsfinder, the population had risen from 7 to 10 and a half million, and the number of aristocrats and clergymen had more than halved. Considerable successes were obtained, in a similar sense, also in the American vicerooms (brought from 2 to 4 and strengthened economically and culturally) with the result, however, of giving birth to the first ideas (and motions) of independence, which were to triumph at the beginning of sec. XIX. The promising rebirth, so vast and evident at the time of Charles III, however, had to undergo a sharp arrest with his son and successor, Charles IV (1788-1808), both for the ineptitude of the sovereign, who let Godoy rule, a venal minister of murky origins, both also and above all because Spain, bound by the “family pact”, found itself fatally involved in the great European drama of the end of the century: the French Revolution of 1789 and the consequent wars of the Consulate and ‘Empire. The Peace of Basel (1795), after a disastrous war with republican France, and above all the two pacts of San Ildefonso (1796 and 1800) with which Spain was once again linked to France, cost it the loss of some American colonies, the almost total destruction of the fleet at Trafalgar (1805) – and therefore, a little later, the loss of America – and the subjection to Napoleon, with very serious consequences. At the beginning of 1808, with the excuse of fighting the rebellious Portugal against the “continental block”, Napoleon militarily occupied “allied” Spain and relying on the hostility that existed between the inept Charles IV and his son, the cowardly Ferdinand VII, deposed (Colloquio di Bayonne) the two Bourbons and replaced them with his brother Giuseppe, “transferred” from Naples.
With this he thought that he had ultimately resolved the “Spanish question”; but he was wrong because a violent popular uprising, followed by five years (1808-13) of ferocious guerilla warfare (a Spanish term that was to become universal) forced him to commit himself fully to the peninsula, ultimately proving to be one of the decisive causes of his defeat. No less serious, however, were the consequences for Spain of what historians called the “war of independence”, but which in reality was a civil war, since many Spaniards took part in it on the side of the French, convinced in good faith (as true “enlightened ones”, as they were, and believers in the “immortal principles of 1989”) who was the beginning of a “new history”, finally modern, for their troubled country. Their defeat therefore marked the triumph of the most obscurantist and inquisitorial reaction and the beginning of a long drama that exploded in the civil war of 1936-39. The convulsive modern and contemporary history of Spain took place, therefore, under the nefarious sign of the civil war, the “war of Cain”, he said M. de Unamuno; and that this tragic peculiarity contributed to making the Pyrenees higher, so to speak, “distinguishing” Spain from the rest of Europe almost as much as in the early Middle Ages, is confirmed by the fact that the greatest European “crises” (1848, 1870, 1914-18, 1939-45), at least in appearance, did not concern it, as if it were in another continent, or inexplicably survived there the inextinguishable religious-racial hatreds of the remote centuries of the Reconquista.