Greatest Nations: Spain - C. F. Horne

The New Monarchy



Peace at almost any price was welcome to distracted, exhausted Spain. It is conceivable that if the republic had been declared again, it would have been accepted. But the young Bourbon on the throne was liked by nearly every one, and no sovereign could have asked. for greater loyalty than was manifested for the new ruler.

Alfonso XII. was a youth of good parts. He had been carefully educated under the best of instructors, though his health was never rugged, and he was inclined to consumption. The man who had most to do with shaping his views and principles was Don Antonio Canovas del Castillo, who urged liberal ideas in place of the clerical and absolutist principles of Isabella. Canovas kept in close touch with Madrid and directed the policy of the friends of Alfonso. It was he who persuaded the Spanish nobility to send an address to the Prince on his birthday, and it was he who wrote the reply. Naturally, as soon as Alfonso became King, he made Canovas his prime minister. Bear in mind that he was only seventeen years old and had gained the crown without intriguing for it. It was not the Cortes that proclaimed him King, but the army.

He won the respect of his advisers by the maturity of his views, and by their vigorous sense and wisdom. He was handsome, cultured, and at the time seemed to be in sound health, though the seeds of consumption were in his system and destined soon to reap their sad harvest.

Canovas set out to mould a new party from which the absolutists and clericals were excluded, and he aimed to maintain universal suffrage, but opposition in his cabinet caused him to resign, though his influence with the King was never weakened. He was soon in power again, and his second term saw the close of the Carlist war. While making Catholicism the religion of the state, he permitted toleration to all faiths, and thus offended the powerful ultramontane party, but his relations with the Pope remained friendly.

Alphonso XII


Peace added greatly to the prosperity of Spain, whose natural wealth and richness of soil warranted the saying that you had only to tickle the earth to make her laugh a harvest. The value of her minerals is boundless, and could the inhabitants be taught to war no more, and to be honest, industrious, and self-respecting, Spain could not fail to rise to something of its old-time greatness. The fatal defect, however, is in the Spanish character itself. This has been proved so many times in the events described that it is useless to dwell upon it.

Alfonso having attained the age of twenty, the Cortes began discussing the question of his marriage, but he informed the ministers that he had already selected a wife in Maria de las Mercedes, the second daughter of the Duke of Montpensier, and of his aunt Luisa Fernanda de Bourbon. She was two years younger than himself, and his love for the girl began when he was a boy receiving his education in France, where he often met her. The ministers saw many advantages to be gained by the choice of another wife, and urged Alfonso to give first place to such considerations, but he was immovable.

"Talk to me of no one else," was the reply of Alfonso to the protests of his ministers; "argument and words are wasted: Mercedes and none other shall be my wife."

It may be believed that those stern, plotting, far-seeing ministers recalled their own youthful days, sighed, and liked the King all the better for his determination that his hand should go where his heart had already gone.

Since Mercedes was just as devoted to the King, we have the delightful and rare picture of a genuine love match between a royal couple. Although Spanish etiquette would not permit them to exchange a word in private, there was no necessity for any repetition of vows and pledges. All the world loves a lover, and Spain became interested in the two who showed themselves very human, very affectionate, and wholly trustful of each other. Mercedes was beautiful and with so sweet and amiable a nature that she won friends wherever she went. All wished them well.

And so they were married in Madrid, January 23, 1878, and the city was turned upside down with feasting and rejoicing. The wedding was grand and impressive, as all such weddings are. Among the almost numberless presents were splendid souvenirs from the Emperor of Morocco, the Prince of Wales, and Queen Victoria. All that could contribute to the beauty, the joy, and the happiness of the occasion was lavishly bestowed.

It is touching to think of the young couple, loving, trustful, and with a future radiant in promise, with everything to fill them with the sweetest joy that can come to the human heart. But a few months later, Mercedes fell ill and she breathed her last June 25, 1878.

All sympathized with the afflicted husband, who when bowed by his grief, was compelled to marry again, for Spain could never be satisfied until an heir or heiress was born to the throne. One of the ladies who had formerly been urged upon Alfonso was now chosen in the person of the Archduchess Maria Christina, niece of Francis Joseph, the Emperor of Austria. The couple were married by proxy in the summer of 1879, so that when she entered the kingdom it was as queen. The first child, the Princess of Asturias, Maria de las Mercedes, was born in 1880, and the Infanta Maria Theresa in 1882. Ex-Queen Isabella was allowed to come quietly back to Spain, but she knew better than to attempt to take any part in politics, for as soon as she did so, she would have been sent away once more.

Several causes united to add to the popularity of Alfonso, the greatest of which was the fact that he was Spanish-born. No other people hates foreigners more bitterly, and we have learned that much of the fighting and bloodshed was caused by this implacable prejudice. When cholera desolated the southern part of the kingdom, Alfonso was indefatigable in relieving the sufferers. He exposed himself unselfishly, and left nothing undone that could smooth the pillows of the afflicted, provide asylums for the orphans and food for the famishing.

It did not decrease his popularity when he gave proof that his marriage vows sat lightly upon him. He was involved in so many scandals that once the Queen gathered her two little daughters, and indignantly went to her father; but Alfonso promptly followed, and, by denying many things and promising to behave himself in the future, persuaded her to return, after which they lived happily.

Alphonso XIII


But consumption had marked him for its own, and he sank rapidly until November 25, 1885, when he passed away. His death left his widow the most lonely of women, for she was no longer a queen and was a foreigner. So pitiful indeed was her situation that the sympathy of the nation was stirred in her behalf, and she was chosen Queen Regent during the minority of her elder daughter. Canovas was leader of the Conservative party and prime minister when Alfonso died; but his administration was unpopular, and with a nobility that did him credit, he advised Christina to form a Cabinet with Sagasta, the Liberal leader, at the head. This wise advice was followed.

On May 17, 1886, more than five months after the death of his father, a son was born to the Queen Regent. From the moment of his birth, he was King of Spain, as Alfonso XIII., with his mother still Queen Regent. Since that hour, all official documents have been put forth in his name. The Queen has shown at all times intelligence, amiability, and a sincere desire to administer the affairs of her turbulent kingdom for the best interests of all. Her trials and difficulties have been of the severest nature and often have crushed her to the earth, as when in 1898 she saw that war with the United States over Cuba could not be averted. Before the little King was a year old, a mutiny was attempted by General Villacampa, whose purpose was wholly selfish, since he hoped that through the prominence thus given him, he would be able to gain power and honors. The conspiracy was discovered and crushed before the least harm was done, the offenders receiving no more punishment than exile.

The political parties in Spain were once described by Canovas as consisting of the extreme irreconcilables,—the Carlists in the rural districts, the Socialists and advanced Republicans in the large cities. Between these poles is the great mass of the nation, who remain calm and resigned, "whether Sagasta or I direct the affairs of the monarchy. It is not the mode of government, but the manners and customs of a country that influence the elections. Abroad, people do not understand the necessary and preponderating role which the royal prerogative plays with us."

As the years passed and political storms gathered, the respect for the Queen Regent was deepened. John Foreman, in the National Review, paid her this warm compliment:

"Among all the confusion of Spanish politics, the whirlwind of rejoicing, lamentation, intrigue, religion, corruption, collective patriotism, and individual grabbing, there is one noble figure which prominently stands out in vivid contrast, a model of virtue and enviable tact. Her Majesty, the Queen Regent, notwithstanding her foreign birth, knows exactly how to do the right thing at the right moment with exquisite taste. She has won by her charitableness the adoration of the masses; by her gracious sympathy the love of the middle classes; and by her clear comprehension of all that is traditionally Spanish, the esteem and admiration of the aristocracy."

It would be uninteresting to follow the ministerial changes that have taken place in Spain during the regency of Christina. Her struggle from the first has been that of checking the dry rot of the kingdom, and, though it may have been stayed at times, there is no evidence, so far as human wisdom can see, of the country's having regained even a small part of the greatness that once made her the proudest nation in the world. She passed the vigor of youth in the tempestuous centuries that are gone, and must now be content to trail behind those who long since left her far to the rear.

One of those hideous crimes, which now and then horrify democracies like our own as well as monarchies, was perpetrated on the 8th of August, 1897. Senor Canovas de Castillo, prime minister of Spain, had gone to the baths of a health resort in the north, and was sitting in a public gallery reading a newspaper, when an assassin hastily approached and quickly fired three shots from his revolver, all of which took effect, causing the death of the premier within an hour. The assassin defiantly declared that he was a member of a band of anarchists who had selected him as the executioner of Canovas, in revenge for the punishment of some of their number for having thrown a bomb into a religious procession at Barcelona, an act by which several innocent persons had been maimed and killed.

Through all these years there had been ever-growing trouble in Cuba, the last remaining of Spain's American colonies. The island was governed with cruel tyranny, and its people revolted. Milder generals having failed to crush the rebellion, the notorious General Weyler was sent to Cuba, where his cruelties roused the United States to protest. The Spanish-American war followed in 1898. Spain made great efforts but the fleets which she gathered were badly manned, badly armed, and badly provisioned. They were completely defeated, and the prostrate country had no choice but to surrender the last remnants of her once mighty colonial empire.

Spanish American War


It is never absolutely quiet in Spain, though there has been nothing lately in the nature of a general upheaval. In the latter part of October, 1900, a Carlist force attacked a garrison at Badalona, near Barcelona, but was repulsed and a number of arrests followed. Other towns near the French border were assailed, but the Carlists were so few in number that they were defeated, pursued, and a good many arrests made. The government closed all Carlist clubs and organs, and some Catholic ones, and constitutional guarantees were suspended in a resolute effort to stamp out every vestige of Carlism. This course was so successful that two weeks later the government announced that there was not a single armed Carlist in Spain. It was afterward stated that the outbreak was a premature uprising, planned for a fortnight later. When the news reached Don Carlos in Venice, he declared that the movement was entirely without his knowledge and in violation of his positive instructions.

About this time it was announced that a convention had been signed in Washington in which Cagayan and Sibutu, the only islands in Oceania remaining in the possession of Spain, were ceded by her to the United States for $100, 000.

The Infanta Maria, sister of the King and better known as Mercedes, Princess of the Asturias, was married to Prince Charles of Bourbon, on February 14, 1901. The bridegroom is the son of the Count of Caserta, who fought hard against Alfonso XII. in the Carlist war. This caused him to be regarded as still an enemy of Spain. Should Alfonso XIII. die, without issue, the Princess of the Asturias, wife of Caserta's son, would become the Queen of Spain. It required a special dispensation of the Queen Regent to allow this famous Carlist to enter the kingdom that he might attend the wedding, which it is said was favored by the Pope, and probably by the Queen Regent, who hoped that it would aid in closing the breach between the two houses of Bourbon and check future Carlist outbreaks.

The lower classes took the opposite view of the matter. There had been so many outbreaks in Madrid and the provinces, that more than one prophecy was made of a coming revolution. Mobs and riots followed on the heels of one another, monasteries were attacked, and Jesuits stoned and maltreated in the streets. These disturbances became so serious that to prevent interference with the royal wedding, General Weyler declared martial law in the city the day before the ceremony. When the Count of Caserta was recognized, he was hissed, and, but for the powerful guard, would have suffered violence. There was no disturbance, however, at the wedding, which was quietly celebrated in the chapel of the Royal Palace, a civil ceremony having preceded the religious one.

No intelligent, idea can be gained of the confused condition of modern Spain, without an explanation of the "Catalans," as they are termed. The province of Catalonia occupies the northeastern part of the kingdom, with France on the north and the Mediterranean on the east and southeast. It was one of the earliest and last of the Roman provinces, having been invaded and captured by the Alans, who were followed by the Goths, from which fact came its name of Gothalonia, or Catalonia. The southern part fell into the possession of the Arabs in the eighth century, and when Spain was conquered by Charlemagne, as far as the Ebro, in 788, Catalonia was the central portion of the Spanish mark, governed by French counts who resided at Barcelona, and soon made themselves independent of France. It was joined to Aragon in 1137, and, as we know, the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1469 united both with Castile. Thus it became a part of the Spanish monarchy, but it has never been a peaceable one. Not only has it been the bulwark of the Carlist uprisings, but it has been the scene of violent strikes and labor disturbances as late as the opening years of the present century. It is the principal manufacturing province of the kingdom, and is often called the "Lancashire of Spain." The inhabitants are neither French nor Spaniards, being distinct from both nations in language, costume, and habits. They have their own coins, weights, and measures, and far surpass the real Spaniards in energy, industry, and sturdy honesty.

Alponso XIII


The last statement gives the key to the chronic unrest, dissatisfaction, and seething rebellion against Andalusia and Madrid. In Catalonia every one, no matter whether a Conservative, Liberal, Republican, or Socialist, is a Catalan. He despises the indolent, cruel, corrupt Spaniard of the south; he feels detestation for the rotten system of government; his confidence in his own superiority is absolute, and the steady growth of the northern towns has bred a strong sentiment of secession. The Catalan is like a vigorous man tied to a corpse. He is patriotically anxious to save his language, his purse, his independent spirit, and his manhood from the disease with which the whole body politic is festering. The breach between the two sections steadily widens, and how the momentous question is to be solved awaits the near future.

It has been shown that the present King of Spain was a posthumous child, and that, during his minority, the regency was exercised by his mother, the Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria. As has been said, the moment the lad was born he was sovereign of the kingdom which was governed in his name by his mother from the hour of his birth. No parent could have watched over the education of her child more lovingly than the Queen Regent. Never for one minute did she lose sight of her great duty of educating her son for the grave responsibilities of kingship. Sorrow, humiliation, cruel vicissitudes, and anguish have made up much of her life, but she has never flinched in her duty to her child.

The boy was born with a weakly constitution. He is pale, narrow-chested, and with none of the lusty vigor of youth. He seems to have inherited a consumptive tendency from his father, and when four years old he was seized with an illness from which no one believed he could recover. Yet it is the sickly person who often stands such attacks better than the one of robust frame. Everything that a loving intelligence can do has been done to strengthen his frame and improve his health. He learned to become an excellent swimmer and a fine horseman, and is an adept at many sports. None the less, the narrow chest, the high forehead, the two bright eyes, the sensitive nerves and consumptive tendency remain, with the probability that the youngest sovereign at present in Europe will not occupy the throne during many years. That throne is tottering, and the grandeur and vastness of the royal palaces emphasize the contrast between the magnificence of the empire that once overshadowed all Europe and the decrepit kingdom of to-day.

Alfonso XIII, born a king, attained his legal majority on May 17, 1902. He left the Royal Palace on the forenoon of that day, for the palace of the Cortes, to take the coronation oath, the Cortes being in session. The procession had hardly started when a man, dressed like a workman, moved spryly forward from the crowd, and before any one could interpose, opened the door of the royal carriage and threw a paper packet at the feet of the young King, who, without the least sign of agitation, kicked it out and it fell inert to the ground. The guard instantly attacked the man, who received several sabre cuts on the head and was stunned by a number of blows from the halberdiers. Then, white and trembling, he was seized and hustled off to the Corps de Garde station. But for the guard, he would have been lynched by the enraged crowd. The excitement passed off when it was seen that no harm had been done, and the King's carriage was moving forward with the same smooth deliberate pace as before. Subsequent investigation showed that the young man was a crazy waiter from Murcia, and the package flung at the sovereign's feet contained, instead of a death-dealing bomb, a request for the hand in marriage of the Infanta Maria Teresa.

The incident increased the vigilance of the police, and some time later four men were arrested among the swarm near the Cortes. They were acting suspiciously and it was stated that each was armed with dynamite cartridges with detonators attached, eleven of such deadly missiles being found on the four.

The wildest enthusiasm was shown by the people along the route and the King was obliged continually to thrust his head and arms out of the window and acknowledge the applause of his subjects. His naturally pale face was flushed, and it was plain that he was deeply touched by these manifestations of loyalty. Regardless of etiquette, which is nowhere so rigid as in the Spanish court, the members of the Cortes, as he entered, sprang to their feet and broke out into cries of "Long live the King!" The cheering continued for fully ten minutes, during which Alfonso stood calm and cool, unmoved by the excitement which swayed everyone else. As soon as he could be heard, he called out in a clear, firm voice, "Sit down!" Then in the same distinct tones, he pronounced the oath:

"I swear by God upon these holy relics to keep the Constitution and the laws. If I do so, may God reward me. If I fail, may He hold me to account."

This ceremony was witnessed by the foreign princes, the various special ambassadors and the diplomats accredited to Spain, after which all passed to the church, where the coronation services ended. Two cardinals and thirty bishops received the young King on his entrance to the Church of St. Francis, and an impressive Te Deum was sung, in the presence of an immense and aristocratic throng. All the men wore brilliant uniforms, the women white mantillas, and the church was ablaze with light. The Queen mother conferred upon the special envoys to the coronation the Order of the Grand Cross of Carlos III., and upon President Loubet of France the Order of the Golden Fleece. She wrote a letter to Prime Minister Sagasta thanking the people for their loyalty during her regency.

The general belief is that so long as Alfonso lives he will be King, for it cannot be denied that he is popular among the people. He has, however, lost the help of his wise and patriotic minister, Sagasta, who resigned the premiership in December, 1902, and died in January, 1903. He was succeeded in office by his friend Senor Silvela, but behind him looms another menacing form, the dreaded Marquis of Teneriffe, the "Butcher of Cuba," General Weyler. He was made Minister of War to placate him; but many believe that it will not be long before he heads a Republican revolution that will not end until he is placed upon the throne of the distracted and turbulent kingdom.