Spanish Civil Guard

Spanish Civil War, 1820–1823

See Spanish Civil War for 1936-1939 conflict.

The Spanish Civil War of 1820–1823 was fought in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. It was a conflict between royalists and liberals with Bourbon France intervening on the side of the royalists. The revolutionaries of 1820 succeeded in forcing the monarchs of Spain and the southern Italian kingdom of the Two Siciles to grant liberal constitutions against their wills. It also involved a French invasion of Spain in April 1823, aimed at restoring king Ferdinand VII to the Spanish throne. This invasion is known in France as the Spanish expedition (expédition d’Espagne), and in Spain as the Hundred Thousand Sons of Saint Louis.


The rule of Spain's King Ferdinand VII (1784–1833), who refused to accept the liberal constitution of 1812, provoked widespread unrest, particularly in the army. The king sought to reconquer the Spanish colonies in the Americas that had recently successfully revolted and consequently deprived Spain of a major source of revenue. At Cádiz, Spain, in January 1820, troops who had assembled for an expedition to America were angry over infrequent pay, bad food, and poor quarters and mutinied under the leadership of Colonel Rafael del Riego y Nuñez (1785–1823). Pledging fealty to the 1812 constitution, they seized their commander, moved into nearby San Fernando, and then prepared to march on Madrid, the capital.

Despite the rebels' relative weakness, Ferdinand accepted the constitution on March 9, 1820, granting power to liberal ministers and ushering in the so-called Liberal Triennium ("Trienio Liberal"), a period of popular rule. However, in this liberal atmosphere, political conspiracies of both right and left proliferated in Spain as they were doing across Europe. Liberal revolutionaries stormed the king's palace and, becoming a virtual prisoner of the Cortes for the next three years, Ferdinand retired to Aranjuez. The elections to the Cortes Generales in 1822 were won by Rafael del Riego. Ferdinand's supporters set themselves up at Urgel, took up arms and put in place an absolutitst regency. They and the royal-guard in Madrid attempted an uprising, which was beaten back by resistance from the constitutional forces, but even so civil war erupted in the regions of Castile, Toledo, and Andalusia.

In 1822, Ferdinand VII applied the terms of the Congress of Vienna, called on Europe's absolute monarchs to help him and joined the Holy Alliance formed by Russia, Prussia, Austria and France to restore absolutism. In France, the ultra-royalists pressured Louis XVIII to intervene. To temper their counter-revolutionary ardour, the duke of Richelieu deployed troops along the Pyrenees, charging them with stopping Spanish liberalism and the "yellow fever" from spreading into France. In September 1822 this "cordon sanitaire" became an observation corps and then very quickly transformed itself into a military expedition.

France considers intervention

The Holy Alliance (Russia, Austria and Prussia) refused Ferdinand's request for help, but the Quadruple Alliance (Britain, France, the Netherlands and Austria) at the Congress of Verona in October 1822 gave France a mandate to intervene and restore the Spanish monarchy. On 22 January 1823, a secret treaty was signed at the congress of Verona, allowing France to invade Spain to restore Ferdinand VII as an absolute monarch. With this agreement from the Holy Alliance, on 28 January 1823 Louis XVIII announced that "a hundred thousand Frenchmen are ready to march, invoking the name of Saint Louis, to safeguard the throne of Spain for a grandson of Henri IV". At the end of February, France's Chambres voted an extraordinary grant for the expedition. Châteaubriand and the ultra-royalists rejoiced - the royal army was going to prove its bravery and devotion in the face of Spanish liberals, fighting for the glory of the Bourbon monarchy.

The new prime-minister, Joseph de Villèle, intended to oppose the war. The operation's cost was excessive, the army's organisation was defective and the troops' loyalty was uncertain. The superintendent of the military was unable to assure logistic support for the expedition's 95,000 men (as counted at the end of March) concentrated in the Basses-Pyrénées and the Landes with 20,000 horses and 96 artillery pieces. To remedy his doubts, he had to consult the munitions-supplier Ouvrard, who quickly concluded that marches in Spain were as favourable to his own interests as to those of the army, even if they would be to the detriment of the public treasury.

The French force

Command structure

The organisation of the expedition's command structure posed many problems. Pro-Bourbon commanders had to be given the chance to fully exercise the roles they had so recently been given by the restored French monarchy without compromising the army's loyalty or efficiency. The solutions was to give the secondary commands to former émigrés and Vendéens and the primary ones to former generals of the Revolution and First Empire. The duc d'Angoulême, son of Charles X, was made commander in chief of the armée des Pyrénées, despite his lack of military experience, but he agreed to hold it as a merely honorary role overseeing only the political direction of the expedition, leaving its military direction to his major-general Guilleminot, a tried-and-tested general of the First Empire. Four of the five army corps were placed under generals who had fought for Napoleon - marshal Oudinot, duc de Reggio, general Molitor, marshal Bon Adrien Jeannot de Moncey, duc de Conegliano and general Étienne Tardif de Pommeroux de Bordesoulle. The prince of Hohenlohe commanded the 3rd corps, the least-trusted of the 5, with only two divisions and 16,000 (as opposed to the 3 or 4 divisions and 20 to 27 thousand men in the other 4 divisions).


The expedition was made up of regiments in which many of the officers, NCOs and men had been marked by memories of the Napoleonic Wars and so were disposed more kindly towards the liberals than the French and Spanish Bourbons. The liberals hoped to dissuade them from fighting "for monks, against liberty". Villèle was worried at their propaganda in bars and billets, where a song by Béranger spread throughout March and April inciting the soldiers to mutiny:
Brav' soldats, v'la l'ord' du jour :
Point de victoire
Où n'y a point de gloire.
Brav' soldat, v'la l'ord' du jour :
Gard' à vous! Demi-tour!



On 6 April, the doubts of some and the illusions of others dispersed. On the banks of the Bidassoa, 500 liberal French and Piedmontese men faced off against the forward-positions of the 9th light infantry regiment. Brandishing a tricolour flag and singing La Marseillaise, they incited the soldiers not to cross the frontier. The king's infantrymen hesitated until general Vallin rushed to them and ordered them to open fire. Several of the demonstrators were killed and the others dispersed. Many of them joined Englishmen under colonel Robert Wilson, Belgians under Janssens and other French or Italian volunteers to form a liberal legion and a squadron of "liberty lancers" to fight beside the Spanish constitutional forces. The following day, on 7 April, the 100,000 Sons of Saint Louis under the King's nephew Louis-Antoine, Duke of Angoulême entered Spain without opposition from the constitutional government's forces (mainly supported by the middle-classes and part of the urban population). The clergy, peasantry and absolutists of the "army of the Faith" ("armée de la Foi") welcomed the French force and the liberal government moved its seat to Seville then, on 14 June, to Cádiz, taking Ferdinand with them. On 23 May the French troops entered Madrid, where the Duke of Angoulême set up a regency under his protectorate and continued fighting the liberals' forces across the peninsula in a series of actions until November.

French advance

In the north, Hohenlohe's divisions (reinforced in July by Lauriston's 5th corps) forced general Morillo to retreat, before rallying his troops. The French were left in control of Navarre, the Asturias and Galicia, but lacked siege equipment and were thus unable to blockade the towns, where the liberals continued to resistance for several more months - Coruna only surrendered on 21 August, Pampelune on 16 September and San Sebastián on 27 September. In the east and southeast, Molitor pushed back Ballesteros into Aragon, pursuing him as far as Murcia and Grenada, winning an encounter at Campillo de Arenas on 28 July and forcing his surrender on 4 August. As for Jaén, he defeated the final columns of Riego, captured by the absolutists on 15 September and hung in Madrid on 7 November, two days before the fall of Alicante. In Catalonia, Moncey only just managed to quell general Mina's regular and guerilla units, with Barcelona only surrendering on 2 November.

Andalucian front

More decisive operations spread across Andalucia, since this was the site of Cadiz, transformed into the Constitutionalists' provisional capital and thus the French force's main strategic objective. It contained the Cortes and the imprisoned king and was defended by a garrison of 14,000 men. At first Riego, then the generals L'Abisbal, Quiroga and Alava led the action. Access to the city was protected by the batteries of fort Sainte-Catherine and fort Saint-Sébastien to the west, fort Santi-Pietri to the east and above all by the fortified peninsula of Trocadéro, where colonel Garcès positioned 1700 men and 50 guns.

Under the command of general Bordesoulle, soon joined by the duc d'Angoulême and Guilleminot, the infantry of generals Bourmont, Obert and Goujeon, the cavalry of Foissac-Latour, the artillery of Tirlet and the engineers under Dode de La Brunerie took up positions before Cadiz from mid-July. Forced to use several naval divisions for surveillance of Spain's Atlantic and Mediterranean ports and coasts (held by the Constitutionalists), the French navy was only able to spare a small squadron of 10 ships under counter admiral Hamelin to blockade the city. This proved too small a force for Hamelin to succeed in this mission and so on 27 August he was replaced by counter-admiral des Rotours, then by Duperré, who only arrive on 17 September, with meagre reinforcements.


On 31 August the French infantry assaulted Fort du Trocadéro and at the cost of 35 killed and 110 wounded (as opposed to 150 dead, 300 wounded and 1,100 captured on the part of the garrison) successfully captured it, turning its powerful guns towards the town of Cadiz. On 20 September fort Santi-Pietri fell in its turn in a combined army-navy operation. On 23 September the guns of the Santi-Pietri and Trocadero forts and of Duperré's fleet bombarded the town and on 28 the constitutionalists adjudged the town lost. Thus the Cortes decided to dissolve itself, give back absolute power to Ferdinand VII and hand him over to the French. On 30 September Cadiz surrendered and on 3 October more than 4,600 French troops landed at its port. The French army fired its last shots in Spain at the start of November. On 5 November, the duc d'Angoulême left Madrid and re-entered France on 23 November, leaving behind an occupying force of 45,000 men under the command of Bourmont. Spain was then progressively evacuated, and was only fully completed in 1828. Unexpectedly, Ferdinand took ruthless revenge on his opponents, revoked the 1812 constitution and restored absolute monarchy to Spain.


The liberals thus negotiated their return in exchange for Ferdinand's oath to respect the Spanish laws - he accepted. However, on 1 October 1823, feeling bolstered by French forces, Ferdinand broke his oath and again repealed the Constitution of Cadiz and declared nul and void all the acts and measures of the liberal government.

Chateaubriand, foreign minister in France's Villèle government (from 28 December 1822 to 6 June 1824), contrasted the expedition's success with France's failure in the Peninsular War:

Striding across the Spains, succeeding where Bonaparte had failed, triumphing on the same soil where a great man's arms had suffered setbacks, doing in six months what he was unable to do in seven years, was a true miracle!


In French

  • Encyclopédie Universalis, Paris, Volume 18, 2000
  • Larousse, tome 1, 2, 3, Paris, 1998
  • Caron, Jean-Claude, La France de 1815 à 1848, Paris, Armand Colin, coll. « Cursus », 2004, 193 p.
  • Corvisier, André, Histoire militaire de la France, de 1715 à 1871, tome 2, Paris, Presses universitaires de France, "Quadrige" collection, 1998, 627 p.
  • Demier, Francis, La France du XIXe 1814-1914, Seuil, 2000, 606 p.
  • Dulphy, Anne, Histoire de l'Espagne de 1814 à nos jours, le défi de la modernisation, Paris, Armand Colin, "128" collection, 2005, 127 p.
  • Duroselle, Jean-Baptiste, L'Europe de 1815 à nos jours : vie politique et relation internationale, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, "Nouvelle clio" collection, 1967, 363 p.
  • Garrigues, Jean, Lacombrade, Philippe, La France au 19e siècle, 1814-1914, Paris, Armand Colin, "Campus" collection, 2004, 191 p.
  • Lever, Evelyne, Louis XVIII, Paris, Fayard, 1998, 597 p.
  • Jean Sarrailh, Un homme d'état espagnol: Martínez de la Rosa (1787-1862) (Paris, 1930)

In Spanish

  • Miguel Artola Gallego, La España de Fernando VII (Madrid, 1968)
  • Jonathan Harris, 'Los escritos de codificación de Jeremy Bentham y su recepción en el primer liberalismo español', Télos. Revista Iberoamericana de Estudios Utilitaristas 8 (1999), 9-29
  • W. Ramírez de Villa-Urrutia, Fernando VII, rey constitucional. Historia diplomática de España de 1820 a 1823 (Madrid, 1922)

In English

  • Raymond Carr, Spain 1808-1975 (Oxford, 1982, 2nd ed.)
  • Charles W. Fehrenbach, ‘Moderados and Exaltados: the liberal opposition to Ferdinand VII, 1814-1823’, Hispanic American Historical Review 50 (1970), 52-69
  • Jonathan Harris, 'An English utilitarian looks at Spanish American independence: Jeremy Bentham's Rid Yourselves of Ultramaria', The Americas 53 (1996), 217-33

See also


External links


Search another word or see Spanish Civil Guardon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature