Historical Tales: 7—Spanish - Charles Morris

The Fall of a Favorite

The course of our work now brings us down to recent times. After the death of Philip II., in 1598, Spain had little history worth considering. Ruled by a succession of painfully weak kings, who were devoid of anything approaching political wisdom, the fortunes of the realm ran steadily downward. From being the strongest, it became in time one of the weakest and least considered of European kingdoms; and from taking the lead in the politics and wars of Europe, it came to be a plaything of the neighboring nations,—a catspaw which they used for the advancement of their own ends.

It was in this way that Napoleon treated Spain. He played with it as a cat plays with a mouse, and when the proper time came pounced upon it and gathered it in. Charles IV., the Spanish king of Napoleon's time, was one of the feeblest of his weak line,—an imbecile whom the emperor of France counted no more than a feather in his path. He sought to deal with him as he had done with the equally effeminate king of Portugal. When a French army invaded Portugal in 1807, its weak monarch cut the knot of the difficulty by taking ship and crossing the ocean to Brazil, abandoning his old kingdom and setting up a new one in the New World. When Spain was in its turn invaded, its king proposed to do the same thing,—to carry the royal court of Spain to America, and leave a kingdom without a head to Napoleon. Such an act would have exactly suited the purposes of the astute conqueror, but the people rose in riot, and Charles IV. remained at home.

The real ruler of Spain at that time was a licentious and insolent favorite of the king and queen, Emanuel Godoy by name, who began life as a soldier, was made Duke of Alcudia by his royal patrons, and was appointed prime minister in 1792. In 1795, having made peace with France after a disastrous war, he received the title of "Prince of the Peace." His administration was very corrupt, and he won the hatred of the nobles, the people, and the heir to the throne. But his influence over the imbecile king and the licentious queen was unbounded, and he could afford to laugh in the face of his foes. But favorites are apt to have a short period of power, and, though Godoy remained long in office, his downfall at length came.

Napoleon had marched his armies through Spain to the conquest of Portugal, no one in Spain having the courage to object. It was stipulated that a second French army should not cross the Pyrenees, but in defiance of this Napoleon filled the north of Spain with his troops in 1808, and sent a third army across the mountains without pretence of their being needed in Portugal. No protest was made against this invasion of a neutral nation. The court of Madrid was helpless with terror, and, with the hope of propitiating Napoleon, admitted his legions into all the cities of Catalonia, Biscay, and Navarre.

Only one thing more was needed to make the French masters of the whole country. They held the towns, but the citadels were in possession of Spanish troops. These could not be expelled by violence while a show of peace was kept up. But Napoleon wanted them, and employed stratagem to get them into his hands.

In two of the towns, St. Sebastian and Figueras, a simple lie sufficed. The officers in command of the French garrisons asked permission to quarter their unruly conscripts in the citadels. As the court had ordered that all the wishes of the emperor's officers should be gratified, this seemingly innocent request was granted. But in place of conscripts the best men of the regiments were sent, and these were gradually increased in numbers until in the end they overpowered the Spanish garrisons and admitted the French.

At Pamplona a similar request was refused by the governor of the citadel, but he permitted sixty unarmed men daily to enter the fortress to receive rations for their respective divisions. Here was the fatal entering wedge. One night the officer in charge, whose quarters were near the citadel gate, secretly filled his house with armed grenadiers. The next morning sixty picked men, with arms hidden under their cloaks, were sent in for rations. The hour was too early, and the French soldiers loitered about under pretence of waiting for the quartermaster. Some sauntered into the Spanish guard-house. Others, by a sportive scuffle on the drawbridge, prevented its being raised, and occupied the attention of the garrison. Suddenly a signal was given. The men drew their weapons and seized the arms of the Spaniards. The grenadiers rushed from their concealment. The bridge and gate were secured, French troops hastened to the aid of their comrades, and the citadel was won.

At Barcelona a different stratagem was employed. A review of the French forces was held under the walls of the citadel, whose garrison assembled to look on. During the progress of the review the French general, on pretence that he had been ordered from the city, rode with his staff on to the drawbridge with the ostensible purpose of bidding farewell to the Spanish commander. While the Spaniards curiously watched the manúuvres of the troops others of the French quietly gathered on the drawbridge. At a signal this was seized, a rush took place, and the citadel of Barcelona was added to the conquests of France.

The surprise of these fortresses produced an immense sensation in Spain. That country had sunk into a condition of pitiable weakness. Its navy, once powerful, was now reduced to a small number of ships, few of them in condition for service. Its army, once the strongest in Europe, was now but a handful of poorly equipped and half-drilled men. Its finances were in a state of frightful disorganization. The government of a brainless king, a dissolute queen, and an incapable favorite had brought Spain into a condition in which she dared not raise a hand to resist the ambitious French emperor.

In this dilemma Godoy, the so-called "Prince of the Peace," persuaded the king and queen of Spain that nothing was left them but flight. The royal house of Portugal had found a great imperial realm awaiting it in America. Spain possessed there a dominion of continental extent. What better could they do than remove to the New World the seat of their throne and cut loose from their threatened and distracted realm?

The project was concealed under the form of a journey to Andalusia, for the purpose, as announced by Godoy, of inspecting the ports. But the extensive preparations of the court for this journey aroused a suspicion of its true purpose among the people, whose indignation became extreme on finding that they were to be deserted by the royal house, as Portugal had been. The exasperation of all classes—the nobility, the middle class, and the people—against the court grew intense. It was particularly developed in the army, a body which Godoy had badly treated. The army leaders argued that they had better welcome the French than permit this disgrace, and that it was their duty to prevent by force the flight of the king.

But all this did not deter the Prince of the Peace. He had several frigates made ready in the port of Cadiz, the royal carriages were ordered to be in readiness, and relays of horses were provided on the road. The date of departure was fixed for the 15th or 16th of March, 1808.

On the 13th Godoy made his way from Madrid to Aranjuez, a magnificent royal residence on the banks of the Tagus, then occupied by the royal family. This residence, in the Italian style and surrounded by superb grounds and gardens, was fronted by a wide highway, expanding opposite the palace into a spacious place, on which were several fine mansions belonging to courtiers and ministers, one of the finest being occupied by the prime minister. In the vicinity a multitude of small houses, inhabited by tradesmen and shop-keepers, made up the town of Aranjuez.

Godoy, on arriving at Aranjuez, summoned a council of the ministers, the time having arrived to apprise them of what was proposed. One of them, the Marquis of Caballero, kept him waiting, and on his arrival refused to consent, either by word or signature, to the flight of the king.

"I order you to sign," the prime minister angrily exclaimed.

"I take no orders except from the king," haughtily replied the marquis.

A sharp altercation followed, in which the other ministers took part, and the meeting broke up in disorder, nothing being done. On retiring, the irate counsellors, full of agitation, dropped words which were caught up by the public and aroused a commotion that quickly spread throughout the town. Thence it extended into the surrounding country, everywhere arousing the disaffected, and soon strange and sinister faces appeared in the quiet town. The elements of a popular outbreak were gathering.

During the succeeding two days the altercation between the Prince of the Peace and the ministers continued, and the public excitement was added to by words attributed to Ferdinand, the king's son and heir to the throne, who was said to have sought aid against those who proposed to carry him off against his will. On the morning of the 16th, the final day fixed for the journey, the public agitation was so great that the king issued a proclamation, which was posted in the streets, saying that he had no thought of leaving his people. It ended: "Spaniards, be easy; your king will not leave you."

This for the time calmed the people. Yet on the 17th the excitement reappeared. The carriages remained loaded in the palace court-yard; the relays of horses were kept up; all the indications were suspicious. During the day the troops of the garrison of Madrid not on duty, with a large number of the populace, appeared in Aranjuez, having marched a distance of seven or eight leagues. They shouted maledictions on their way against the queen and the Prince of the Peace.

The streets of Aranjuez that night were filled with an excited mob, many of them life-guards from Madrid, who divided into bands and patrolled the vicinity of the palace, determined that no one should leave. About midnight an incident changed the excitement into a riot. A lady left Godoy's residence under escort of a few soldiers. She appeared to be about to enter a carriage. The crowd pressed closely around, and the hussars of the minister, who attended the lady, attempted to force a passage through them. At this moment a gun was fired,—by whom was not known. A frightful tumult at once arose. The life-guards and other soldiers rushed upon the hussars, and a furious mob gathered around the palace, shouting, "Long live the king!" "Death to the Prince of the Peace!"

Soon a rush was made towards the residence of the prince, which the throng surrounded, gazing at it with eyes of anger, yet hesitating to make an attack. As they paused in doubt, a messenger from the palace approached the mansion and sought admission. It was refused from those within. He insisted upon entrance, and a shot came from the guards within. In an instant all hesitation was at an end. The crowd rushed in fury against the doors, broke them in, and swarmed into the building, driving the guards back in dismay.

It was magnificently furnished, but their passion to destroy soon made havoc of its furniture and decorations. Pictures, hangings, costly articles of use and ornament were torn down, dashed to pieces, flung from the windows. The mob ran from room to room, destroying everything of value they met, and eagerly seeking the object of their hatred, with a passionate thirst for his life. The whole night was spent in the search, and, the prince not being found, his house was reduced to a wreck.

Word of what was taking place filled the weak soul of Charles IV. with mortal terror. The prince failed to appear, and, by the advice of the ministers, a decree was issued by the king on the following morning depriving Emanuel Godoy of the offices of grand admiral and generalissimo, and exiling him from the court.

Thus fell this detestable favorite, the people, who blamed him for the degradation of Spain, breaking into a passionate joy, singing, dancing, building bonfires, and giving every manifestation of delight. In Madrid, when the news reached there, the enthusiasm approached delirium.

Meanwhile, where was the fallen favorite? Despite the close search made by the mob, he remained concealed in his residence. Alarmed by the crash of the breaking doors, he had seized a pistol and a handful of gold, rushed upstairs, and hid himself in a loft under the roof, rolling himself up in a sort of rush carpet used in Spain. Here he remained during the whole of the 18th and the succeeding night, but on the morning of the 19th, after thirty-six hours' suffering, thirst and hunger forced him to leave his retreat. He presented himself suddenly before a sentry on duty in the palace, offering him his gold. But the man refused the bribe and instantly called the guard. Fortunately the mass of the people were not near by. Some life-guards who just then came up placed the miserable captive between their horses, and conveyed him as rapidly as they could towards their barracks. But these were at some distance, the news of the capture spread like wild-fire, and they had not gone far before the mob began to gather around them, their hearts full of murderous rage.

The prince was on foot between two of the mounted guardsmen, leaning for shelter against the pommels of their saddles. Others of the horsemen closed up in front and rear, and did their best to protect him from the fury of the rabble, who struck wildly at him with every weapon they had been able to snatch up. Despite the efforts of the guardsmen some of the blows reached him, and he was finally brought to the barracks with his feet trodden by the horses, a large wound in his thigh, and one eye nearly out of his head. Here he was thrown, covered with blood, upon the straw in the stables, a sad example of what comes of the favor of kings when exercised in defiance of the will of the people. Godoy had begun life as a life-guardsman, and now, after almost sharing the throne, he had thus returned to the barracks and the straw bed of his youth.

We may give in outline the remainder of the story of this fallen favorite. Promise being given that he should have an impartial trial, the mob ceased its efforts to kill him. Napoleon, who had use for him, now came to his rescue, and induced him to sign a deed under which Charles IV. abdicated the throne in favor of his son. His possessions in Spain were confiscated, but Charles, who removed to Rome, was his friend during life. After the death of his protector he went to Paris, where he received a pension from Louis Philippe; and in 1847, when eighty years of age, he received permission to return to Spain, his titles and most of his property being restored. But he preferred to live in Paris, where he died in 1851.