The End of Empire

And the Birth of the Modern Nation, 1808 to 1868

Authored by: Jesús Cruz

The Routledge Companion to Iberian Studies

Print publication date:  March  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415722834
eBook ISBN: 9781315709895
Adobe ISBN:


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On the night of March 17, 1808, a mob took over the esplanade of the Aranjuez Palace near Madrid to stop the possible escape of the Spanish Royal family to the American colonies. Rumors spread that the first minister Manuel Godoy was behind this escape plan, fearing that the advance of the Napoleonic troops into Spanish territory could endanger the monarchs. While these rumors were the spark that ignited the riot known as the Revolt of Aranjuez, the causes of these discontents were deep and long-standing, the most immediate being the defeat and decimation of the Spanish navy in 1805 in the disastrous battle of Trafalgar, consequence of Manuel Godoy’s unfortunate international policies. The defeat not only eroded the morale of the Spanish military and political elites, but also worsened the state of the national finances, spreading economic hardship to all levels of Spanish society. The prestige of King Charles IV was also jeopardized because of his political inhibition, weak spirits, and lack of charisma. He delegated all his political responsibilities to Manuel Godoy, a member of the royal bodyguards who was always perceived as an outsider by the aristocratic King’s entourage and by the selective clique of the monarchy’s high administration. Because of this exchange of responsibility, Godoy amassed too much power. This accumulation of power evolved in proportion to his political isolation and lack of support from all entities of Spanish society, from the upper classes to the common people. But beyond his eventual political mistakes and unfortunate international alliances, the causes of discontent were cumulative: they were the expression of a profound crisis of the Spanish political, social, and economic system – the Spanish Ancien Regime – that demanded radical transformations.

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