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Ferdinand VII of Spain

Ferdinand VII (October 14, 1784 - September 29, 1833) was King of Spain twice, in 1808, and from 1813 to 1833 (from 1808 to 1813 in dispute with Joseph Bonaparte).

The eldest surviving son of Charles IV, king of Spain, and of his wife Maria Louisa of Parma, he was born in the vast palace of El Escorial near Madrid.

Early life

In his youth he occupied the painful position of an heir apparent who was jealously excluded from all share in government by his parents and the royal favorite Manuel de Godoy, his mother's lover. National discontent with a feeble government produced a revolution in 1805. In October 1807, Ferdinand was arrested for his complicity in the Conspiracy of the Escorial in which liberal reformers aimed at securing the help of the emperor Napoleon. When the conspiracy was discovered, Ferdinand betrayed his associates and grovelled to his parents.

Abdication and restoration

When his father's abdication was extorted by a popular riot at Aranjuez in March 1808, he ascended the throne but turned again to Napoleon, in the hope that the emperor would support him. He was in his turn forced to make an abdication on May 6, 1808 but his father had relinquished his rights to Spanish throne on May 5, 1808 (the previous day) in favour of Emperor Napoleon, and Ferdinand was imprisoned in France for almost seven years at the Chateau of Valençay in the town of Valençay.

While the Spanish authorities accepted these renounces and the choice of new monarch, Joseph Bonaparte, by Napoleon, the Spanish people began an uprising and the Peninsular War began. After the Battle of Bailén, the Spaniards went into Madrid and the Council of Castile declared null and void the abdications of Bayonne on August 11, 1808. Several days after, on August 24, Ferdinand VII was proclaimed king of Spain again, and Regencies were set up acting in his royal name and on his behalf. Subsequently, on January 14, British government acknowledged Ferdinand VII as king of Spain.

On December 11, 1813, Emperor Napoleon agreed to acknowledge Ferdinand VII as king of Spain and the Treaty of Valençay was signed, so, the king could return to Spain. The Spanish people, blaming the liberal, enlightened policies of the Francophiles (afrancesados) for incurring the Napoleonic occupation and the Peninsular War, at first welcomed Fernando. Ferdinand soon found that while Spain was fighting for independence in his name and while in his name junta had governed in Spanish America, a new world had been born of foreign invasion and domestic revolution. Spain was no longer an absolute monarchy under the liberal Constitution of 1812. Ferdinand, in being restored to the throne, guaranteed the liberals that he would govern on the basis of the existing constitution, but, encouraged by conservatives backed by the Church hierarchy, he rejected the constitution within weeks (May 4) and arrested the liberal leaders (May 10), justifying his actions as rejecting a constitution made by the Cortes in his absence and without his consent. Thus he had come back to assert the Bourbon doctrine that the sovereign authority resided in his person only.

Meanwhile, the South American Wars of Independence were under way, though many of the republican rebels would quarrel among themselves and Royalist sentiment was strong in many areas. In the case of the forces led by Bolívar himself, his first permanent victory did not occur until 1817. The Manila galleons and tax revenues from the Spanish Empire were interrupted, and Spain was all but bankrupt.

Ferdinand's restored autocracy was guided by a small camarilla of his favourites. He changed his ministers every few months, whimsical and ferocious by turns. The other autocratic powers of the Quintuple Alliance, though forced to support him as the representative of legitimacy in Spain, watched his proceedings with disgust and alarm. "The King", wrote Friedrich von Gentz to the hospodar Caradja on December 1 1814, "himself enters the houses of his first ministers, arrests them, and hands them over to their cruel enemies"; and again, on January 14 1815, "The king has so debased himself that he has become no more than the leading police agent and gaoler of his country."

As the Spanish king he was the head of the Spanish Order of the Golden Fleece and in this capacity he made the Duke of Wellington the first Protestant member of the order.

Revolt

In 1820 his misrule provoked a revolt in favor of the Constitution of 1812 which began with a mutiny of the troops under Col. Rafael Riego and the king was quickly made prisoner. He grovelled to the insurgents as he had done to his parents. Ferdinand had restored the Jesuits upon his return; now the Society had become identified with repression and absolutism among the liberals, who attacked them: twenty-five Jesuits were slain in Madrid in 1822. For the rest of the 19th century, expulsions and re-establishment of the Jesuits would continue to be touchmarks of liberal or authoritarian political regimes.

When at the beginning of 1823 as a result of the Congress of Verona the French invaded Spain "invoking the God of St Louis, for the sake of preserving the throne of Spain to a descendant of Henry IV, and of reconciling that fine kingdom with Europe," and in May the revolutionary party carried Ferdinand to Cádiz, he continued to make promises of amendment until he was free.

When freed after the Battle of Trocadero and the fall of Cadiz he revenged himself with a ferocity which disgusted his far from liberal allies. In violation of his oath to grant an amnesty he revenged himself, for three years of coercion, by killing on a scale which revolted his "rescuers" and against which the Duke of Angoulême, powerless to interfere, protested by refusing the Spanish decorations offered him for his military services.

During his last years Ferdinand's energy was abated. He no longer changed ministers every few months as a sport, and he allowed some of them to conduct the current business of government. His habits of life were telling on him. He became torpid, bloated and horrible to look at. After his fourth marriage, with Maria Christina of Bourbon-Two Sicilies in 1829, he was persuaded by his wife to set aside the law of succession of Philip V, which gave a preference to all the males of the family in Spain over the females. His marriage had brought him only two daughters. The change in the order of succession established by his dynasty in Spain angered a large part of the nation and made civil war, the Carlist Wars, inevitable.

When well he consented to the change under the influence of his wife. When ill he was terrified by priestly advisers who were partisans of his brother Carlos. What his final decision was is perhaps doubtful. His wife was mistress by his death-bed and she could put the words she chose into the mouth of a dead man and could move the dead hand at her will. Ferdinand died on September 29, 1833.

It had been a frequent saying with the more zealous royalists of Spain that a King must be wiser than his ministers for he was placed on the throne and directed by God. Since the reign of Ferdinand VII no one has maintained this unqualified version of the great doctrine of divine right.

King Ferdinand VII kept a diary during the troubled years 1820-1823 which has been published by the Count de Casa Valencia.

Marriages and children

Ferdinand VII was married four times. In 1802 he married his first cousin Princess Maria Antonietta of the Two Sicilies (1784-1806), daughter of Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies and Marie Caroline of Austria. There were no children, because her two pregnancies (in 1804 and 1805) ended in miscarriages.

In 1816, he married his niece Maria Isabel de Bragança, Princess of Portugal (1797-1818), daughter of his older sister Carlota Joaquina and John VI of Portugal. Their only daughter lived only four months.

In 1819, he married Princess Maria Josepha of Saxony (1803-1829), daughter of Maximilian, Prince of Saxony and Caroline of Bourbon-Parma. No children were born from this marriage.

Lastly, in 1829, he married another niece, Maria Christina of Bourbon-Two Sicilies (1806–1878), daughter of his younger sister Maria Isabella of Spain and Francis I of the Two Sicilies. She bore him two daughters:

Ancestors

Ferdinand's ancestors in three generations
Ferdinand VII of Spain Father:
Charles IV of Spain
Paternal Grandfather:
Charles III of Spain
Paternal Great-Grandfather:
Philip V of Spain
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Elisabeth of Parma
Paternal Grandmother:
Maria Amalia of Saxony
Paternal Great-Grandfather:
Augustus III of Poland
Paternal Great-Grandmother:
Maria Josepha of Austria
Mother:
Maria Luisa of Parma
Maternal Grandfather:
Philip, Duke of Parma
Maternal Great-Grandfather:
Philip V of Spain
Maternal Great-Grandmother:
Elisabeth of Parma
Maternal Grandmother:
Princess Louise-Élisabeth of France
Maternal Great-grandfather:
Louis XV of France
Maternal Great-Grandmother:
Maria Leszczyńska

Assessment of the Encyclopædia Britannica 1911

We have to distinguish the part of Ferdinand VII in all these transactions, in which other and better men were concerned. It can confidently be said to have been uniformly base. He had perhaps no right to complain that he was kept aloof from all share in government while only heir apparent, for this was the traditional practice of his family. But as heir to the throne he had a right to resent the degradation of the crown he was to inherit, and the power of a favourite who was his mother's lover. If he had put himself at the head of a popular rising he would have been followed, and would have had a good excuse. His course was to enter on dim intrigues at the instigation of his first wife, Maria Antonietta of Naples. After her death in 1806 he was drawn into other intrigues by flatterers. At Valancay, where he was sent as a prisoner of state, he sank contentedly into vulgar vice, and scruples did not deter him from applauding the French victories over the people who were suffering unutterable misery in his cause.

References


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