Antonio Cánovas del Castillo (February 8, 1828 – August 8, 1897) was an important 19th century Spanish politician and historian known principally for his role in supporting the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy to the Spanish throne and for his death at the hands of an anarchist assassin, Michele Angiolillo.
Born in Málaga
, Cánovas Del Castillo moved to Madrid
after the death of his father where he lived with his uncle, the writer Serafín Estébanez Calderón
. Although he studied law
at the University of Madrid
, he showed an early interest in politics and Spanish history. His active involvement in politics dates to the 1854 revolution led by the general Leopoldo O'Donell
, when he wrote the "Manifiesto de Manzanares" that accompanied the military overthrow of the sitting government and laid out the political goals of the movement. During the final years of Isabel II
, he served in a number of posts, including a diplomatic mission to Rome
, governor of Cádiz
, and director general of local administration. This period of his political career culminated in his being twice made a government minister, first taking the interior portfolio in 1864 and then the overseas territories portfolio in 1865-1866. After the 1868 Glorious Revolution (Revolución Gloriosa), he retired from the government, although he was a strong supporter of the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy during the First Spanish Republic
(1873-1874) and as the leader of the conservative
minority in the Cortes
, he declaimed against universal suffrage
and freedom of religion
Years as Prime Minister
Cánovas Del Castillo returned to active politics with the 1874 overthrow of the Republic by General Martínez Campos
and the elevation
of Isabell II's son Alfonso XII
to the throne. He served as Prime Minister (Primer presidente del Consejo de Ministros
) for six years starting in 1874 (although he was twice briefly replaced in 1875 and 1879). During this period, he was a principal author of the Spanish Constitution
of 1876, a document which formalised the constitutional monarchy that had resulted from the restoration of Alfonso and limited suffrage in order to reduce the political influence of the working class. Cánovas Del Castillo played a key role in bringing an end to the last Carlist
threat to Bourbon authority (1876) by merging a group of dissident Carlist deputies with his own Conservative party. An artificial two-party system designed to reconcile the competing militarist, Catholic and Carlist power bases led to an alternating prime ministership with the progressive Práxedes Mateo Sagasta
after 1881. He also assumed the functions of the Head of State during the regency of María Cristina
following Alfonso's death in 1885.
By the late 1880s, Cánovas Del Castillo's policies were under threat from two sources. First, his overseas policy was increasingly untenable. A policy of repression against Cuban nationalists was ultimately ineffective and Spain's authority was challenged most seriously by the 1895 rebellion led by José Martí
. Spain's policy against Cuban independence brought her increasingly into conflict with the United States, an antagonism that culminated in the Spanish-American War
of 1898. Second, the political repression of Spain's working class was growing increasingly troublesome, and pressure for expanded suffrage mounted amid widespread discontent with the cacique
system of electoral manipulation.
Man of Letters
At the same time, Cánovas Del Castillo remained an active man of letters. His historical writings earned him a considerable reputation, particularly his History of the Decline of Spain
(Historia de la decadencia de España), for which he was elected at the young age of 32 to the Real Academia de la Historia
in 1860. This was followed by elevation to other bodies of letters, including the Real Academia Española
in 1867, the Academia de Ciencias Morales y Políticas in 1871 and the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando
in 1887. He also served as the head of the Athenaeum in Madrid (1870-74, 1882-84 and 1888-89).
Death and legacy
Cánovas Del Castillo eventually paid a personal price for his policies of repression. In 1897, he was shot dead by Michele Angiolillo, an Italian anarchist, at the spa Santa Águeda, in Mondragón, Guipúzcoa. He thus did not live to see Spain's loss of her final colonies to the United States after the Spanish-American War.
The policies of repression and political manipulation that Cánovas Del Castillo made a cornerstone of his government helped foster the nationalist movements in both Catalonia and the Basque provinces and set the stage for labour unrest during the first two decades of the twentieth century. The disastrous colonial policy not only led to the loss of Spain's remaining colonial possessions in the Pacific and Caribbean, it also seriously weakened the government at home. A failed post-war coup by Camilo García de Polavieja set off a long period of political instability that ultimately led to the collapse of the monarchy and the dissolution of the constitution that Cánovas Del Castillo had authored.
The original version of this article draws heavily on the Antonio Cánovas del Castillo in the Spanish-language Wikipedia, which was accessed in the version of 6 September 2007.