xxxxxAs we have seen, the death of Ferdinand VII of Spain in 1833 (W4), and the accession of his daughter Isabella II, brought about the First Carlist War, led by the pretender to the throne Don Carlos, Ferdinand’s brother. He failed to depose his niece after seven years of fighting, and the Second Carlist War of 1846 to 1849 also proved unsuccessful. However, following the collapse of Isabella’s disastrous reign in 1868 and her escape to France, the army took control of the country. A constitutional monarch was eventually enthroned (Amadeus, Duke of Aosta), but, faced with growing unrest and the Cuban Revolt, he abdicated in 1873. A republican government was then formed, and in the ensuing chaos Don Carlos, the grandson of Don Carlos, Ferdinand’s brother, led his forces in the Third Carlist War (1872-1876). They achieved some success, particularly in Navarre and Catalonia, but they failed to take Bilboa by siege, and were eventually forced to give up the stronghold of Estella. The final blow to their cause came in January 1875 with the return of Alfonso, son of Isabella, as King Alfonso XII. Government forces rallied to his support and overwhelmed the Carlists at Trevino and other battles. The Carlists were never a serious threat to the throne again, but added their support to General Franco during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s.


TO ABDICATE  1868  (Vb)


Ferdinand VII: detail, by the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya (1746-1828), 1814 – Prado Museum, Madrid. Cartoon: by the French painter and illustrator James Tissot (1836-1902), published in the British society  magazine Vanity Fair in September 1869. Alfonso XII: detail, by the Spanish artist Marcos Giraldez de Acosta (1830-1896) – Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid. Don Carlos: date and artist unknown. Map (Basque Country): from Cry of Yara: date and artist unknown. Map (Cuba): from Battle: date and artist unknown. Maceo: date and artist unknown.

xxxxxFollowing the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Ferdinand VII (illustrated) returned as king of Spain in 1814. He agreed to accept the democratic form of government which had been established two years earlier, but once in power he turned back the political clock and reintroduced a reactionary regime, ruthlessly suppressing any move towards democratic reform. For a short while a revolution in 1820 did manage to restore parliamentary government, but then the French, acting through the Holy Alliance, sent a large army into Spain and put Ferdinand firmly back on his throne.

xxxxxAs we have seen, with his death in 1833 (W4) troubles broke out again. By prior agreement of the Cortes (the Spanish parliament), he was succeeded by his daughter Isabella, then only three years old, but his brother Don Carlos, claiming to be the rightful heir to the throne, began the First Carlist War. An arch reactionary, like his brother, he gained support from the mountain provinces of the north - anxious to gain regional autonomy - but in the long term the “Carlists” proved no match for the “Cristinos”, the followers of the Regent, Isabella’s mother Maria Cristina. The regular army remained loyal to her, and the Carlists were forced to accept defeat in 1839 after seven years of bloody fighting.

xxxxxAnother Carlist attempt to seize the throne took place in the mid 1840s - the Second Carlist War of 1846 to 1849 - but this was confined to Catalonia and again proved unsuccessful. By then, Maria Cristina had been forced into exile and her daughter was on the throne as Isabella II. Her reign proved chaotic. Showing favour to the Church and the reactionary elements within the army, her constant intrigues with the rival political and military factions brought about widespread corruption, political instability and civil unrest. She presided over no less than sixty changes of government as part of the continuing struggle between the supporters of absolute monarchy, the liberal elements seeking parliamentary reform, and a growing republican movement. She managed to survive a serious threat to her authority in 1866, but was deposed and forced into exile in September 1868 when a rebellion broke out in the Spanish fleet at Cadiz. She called on her army, but the royalist forces were easily crushed at the Battle of Alcolea by Generals Francisco Serrano and Juan Prim. She fled to France with her eldest son Alfonso and abdicated in his favour in 1870. It was to be five years, however, before he was able to claim his throne as Alfonso XII. (The cartoon shows Isabella making her escape!)

xxxxxIn the meantime a great deal was to happen, with monarchy giving way to republic and a rebellion in Cuba threatening to bring Spain to its knees. With the departure of Queen Isabella in 1868, the military, having put down republican risings, were determined to keep control of affairs by giving the country a liberal, constitutional monarchy. They set up a provisional government in which General Serrano was elected Regent, and General Prim was made president of the council, charged with the task of finding a suitable candidate for the Spanish throne. It proved a difficult assignment. A number of foreign princes were approached, but it was not until 1870 that the throne was accepted by Amadeus, Duke of Aosta, a son of King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy. He was duly elected, but Prim, his staunch supporter, was assassinated in December 1870, just before he arrived in Spain, and his short reign was beset with difficulties. As a foreigner he was not popular, the republicans strongly opposed his “appointment”, and an insurrection in Cuba was proving a serious drain on men and money. Furthermore, the Carlists, led by Don Carlos, Duke of Madrid (1848-1909) - the grandson of Don Carlos, the man who provoked the First Carlist War - was calling for volunteers and was on the march in the northern regions of Vizcaya and Navarre. In February 1873 Amadeus abdicated.

xxxxxIn the political confusion that followed the radical members in the Cortes took the opportunity to proclaim the first Spanish republic, but it was a government in name only. A weak and disunited Republican Party soon became embroiled with federal extremists, and proved quite incapable of stopping the country’s slide into civil war. It was such a situation that the Carlists had been waiting for. Having gained little support in the elections held in 1872, they decided to put “Carlos VII” on the throne by force of arms. The Third Carlist War was under way.

xxxxxDespite an early setback at the Battle of Oroquieta in Navarre, the Carlists had reached a strength of some 50,000 by February 1873, and during the remainder of the year gained a number of notable victories, such as those at Alpens in Catelonia in July, and Montejurra in Navarre in November. In July the following year they occupied and sacked the town of Cuenca, just 85 miles from Madrid, but they were badly defeated at the Battles of Caspe and Gandesa, and in May they were forced to lift their four-month siege of Bilboa. The final blow to their cause came in December of that year when the military, having overthrown the Republic in January 1874 and failed to replace it with a coalition government, proclaimed Alfonso, son of Isabella, King Alfonso XII (illustrated). The restoration proved popular. Troops rallied to his support when he arrived in Spain in January 1875, and this gave much encouragement to the government forces. Despitexthe Carlist victory at the Battle of Lacar the following month, they gained a resounding victory at the Battle of Trevino in July - leading to the taking of the key city of Vitoria - and in February 1876 they recaptured the city of Estella, occupied in the summer of 1873. By this time Don Carlos had fled to France. He was never to return.

xxxxxThe failure of the third and final Carlist War was not totally surprising. The leadership of Don Carlos (illustrated) had lacked urgency, and in general his forces had not been able to match the skill and equipment of the government troops, especially in siege warfare. And particularly crucial was the fact that Catalonia and the Basque states of the north (illustrated) - from where the bulk of Carlist support came - were fighting not so much for the cause of “Carlos VII”, as for the traditional rights and liberties of their own northern provinces. When the rightful Bourbon king was restored in 1875, there was little to be gained in supporting a rival pretender. As a consequence the Carlist movement virtually fell apart at the seams. Don Carlos, for example, took no advantage of the feeling of uncertainty that followed the death of Alfonso in 1885, nor of the troubled aftermath of the Spanish-American War of 1898. However, despite internal dissensions, the Carlists managed to survive as representing traditional conservative values, and, come the 1930s, they played a significant role in support of General Franco in the Spanish Civil War.

xxxxxFollowing the defeat of the Carlists and the crushing of the Cuban rebellion in 1878, the reign of Alfonso XII brought a much welcomed period of peace and stability. Furthermore the country’s economy received a temporary boost from an increased demand for iron ore, wine and wool. However, the peace settlement of El Zanjon which ended the Cuban insurrection of 1878 did not hold. Another large scale revolt broke out in 1895, and this time the United States intervened. As we shall see, this led to the Spanish-American War in 1898 (Vc), a conflict which was to strip Spain of its last vestige of colonial empire.

xxxxxIncidentally, during the reign of Queen Isabella II the so-called “Spanish marriages” caused a breakdown in good relations between Britain and France. In 1846 Queen Isabella II married her cousin, Franciso de Asis de Bourbon, the duke of Cadiz, and her younger sister, heiress to the throne, married the duc de Montpensier, the youngest son of Louis-Philippe of France. This Franco-Spanish rapprochement angered the British, especially as these marriages contravened agreements made earlier with the French. ……

xxxxx……  And a much more serious result arising out of the troubles in Spain occurred in 1869 when General Prim, looking for a constitutional monarchy, attempted to persuade Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen to become king. As we shall see, this sparked off the Franco-Prussian War of 1870! The possibility of a German sitting on the Spanish throne was something that the French Emperor, Napoleon III, could not possibly accept. On the other hand, the Prussian leader, chancellor Bismarck, was very much in favour of the idea. The ensuing conflict proved disastrous for the French. ……

xxxxx…… General Prim later remarked that looking for a democratic monarch in Europe was like “trying to find an atheist in heaven”.


The Third Carlist War

and The Cuban Revolt


xxxxxThe overthrow of Isabella II in 1868 and the political ferment that followed in its wake led directly to the Cuban Revolt, the so called Ten Years’ War. Cubans seized the opportunity to declare independence and launch a guerrilla war against the government forces, numbering some 100,000 by 1870. The rebels fought well but by 1878 their casualties had risen to 200,000. With no sign of intervention by the United States, they decided to sue for peace. By the Treaty of El Zanjon in February 1878 they were promised political reforms and the abolition of slavery. However, when some of these promises were not kept, they rebelled again in 1885. As we shall see, this led to the Spanish- American War of 1898 (Vc) and the virtual end of the Spanish colonial empire.

xxxxxAndxthe unrest at home led directly to the Cuban Revolt, the so-called Ten Years’ War. On the island - in Spanish hands since 1511 - there had long been growing resentment at the hardship of the Spanish tariff system, the corrupt and weak administration, and the lack of progress towards some form of autonomy. The overthrow of Isabella II and the political ferment that followed provided the ideal opportunity for an all-out bid for independence, declared at Yara in October 1868. The rebellion, led by a wealthy planter named Carlos Manuel de Cespedes (1819-1874), was well supported, and was to rage with varying fortunes over the next ten years.

xxxxxAlthough the conflict was limited almost entirely to the eastern side of the island and, for the most part, took the form of guerrilla warfare, it was nonetheless a savage encounter and became more so as the fighting progressed. As such, it placed great demands upon the Spanish government, both in men and money. By 1870 there were no less than 100,000 government troops stationed on the island. In their hit-and-run tactics the rebels fought well, but by 1878 they had suffered 200,000 casualties and, with no sign of American intervention, they decided to sue for peace.  

xxxxxThexTreaty of El Zanjon, signed in February 1878, did promise various political reforms and the abolition of slavery, but when some of these promises were not kept, a further rebellion broke out in 1895. As we shall see, U.S. support for the Cuban revolutionaries was to lead to the Spanish-American War of 1898 (Vc) and the virtual end of the Spanish colonial empire.

xxxxxIncidentally, one of the prominent leaders in Cuba’s struggle for independence was Antonio Maceo (1845-1896), known as “The Bronze Titan” and dubbed “The Lion” by the Spanish press. He fought throughout the Ten Year’s War, and took a prominent part in the successful uprising that began in 1895. Regarded today as an outstanding  figure in Cuban history, he was killed in battle in December 1896 just a few years before the final defeat of the Spanish colonial forces. ……

xxxxx…… The 10th October, the date of the declaration of independence (the ”Cry of Yara”), is marked by a national holiday in Cuba. ……

xxxxx…… The Spanish forces, unaccustomed to the island’s climate, lost more men from yellow fever than from the fighting.