War of Independence


The Spanish War of Independence took place between 1808 and 1814. Under the pretext of invading Portugal, Napoleon's French troops entered Spain. Thus, Napoleon appointed his brother José Bonaparte as the Spanish monarch. Faced with resentment by the French military presence, the Spanish rose up against the Napoleonic forces, unleashing a war in which Spain had the support of Portugal and Great Britain.

France at the end of the 18th century was going through profound political, economic and social changes. The French Revolution and the execution of the French monarch Louis XVI gave way to a new stage. However, the Revolution caused misgivings among the Spanish rulers.

The French revolutionaries and the European monarchies maintained antagonistic positions. For this reason, Spain embarked on the war of the Convention (1793-1795). Initially, the French troops suffered defeats, but, as the conflict progressed, they managed to reverse the situation. Thus, the French were successful in their numerous confrontations with the various European powers.

In fact, the military defeats suffered by Spain in the war of the Convention led it to sign the Treaty of Basel in 1795. In this way, Spain changed sides, fighting against countries such as Portugal and Great Britain. This collaboration between the Spanish and the French led the Spanish navy to suffer a colossal disaster at the naval battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

French occupation of Spain and outbreak of war

Among the agreements signed by Spain and France, it is worth highlighting the Treaty of Fontainebleau in 1807. Through this agreement, Godoy, as valid of King Carlos IV of Spain and Napoleon, as Emperor of France, agreed to the distribution of Portugal and its overseas territories. But the intentions of the French not only implied the invasion of Portugal, as Napoleon intended to occupy the entire Iberian Peninsula.

Napoleon's plans for Spain were soon revealed. The Emperor of France sought to designate his brother José Bonaparte as Spanish monarch, while French soldiers began to occupy Spain.

Faced with Napoleon's claims and the entry of French troops into Spain, Godoy proposed to the royal family to leave Spain for America. However, Godoy's way of proceeding meant giving in to the French. In response to the actions of Godoy, the then prince Fernando, along with sectors opposed to Godoy, starred in the mutiny of Aranjuez in March 1808. This mob meant the fall of Godoy, while Carlos IV left the throne in favor of Fernando VII .

But the French occupation of Spain continued and Napoleon forced Carlos IV and Fernando VII to abdicate in favor of his brother José Bonaparte, who would be proclaimed king under the name of José I.

Eager to promote the new liberal ideas of the enlightenment, a good number of courtiers put themselves at the service of José I. These men, tried to establish reforms that, long ago, had met with the rejection of the nobility and the clergy. Because of their cooperation with José I, they were called “Frenchified”.

However, the change that the French wanted to establish in Spain was met with great rejection. Spanish society was directly opposed to King José I. This outbreak materialized on May 2, 1808 with the Madrid uprising. On the other hand, the Provincial Defense Boards were created, whose purpose was to provoke insurrections against the French occupation.

Development of the conflict

The Spanish War of Independence had broken out and the Spanish army was reorganizing to face the Napoleonic troops. In turn, part of the Spanish military organized small groups of guerrillas who harassed the French forces relentlessly. In its fight against the Napoleonic armies, Spain would have the support of Great Britain.

Faced with an uprising that took place throughout the country, supported by regular troops and guerrillas, the French generals had to quell the Spanish resistance in cities such as Zaragoza, Valencia and Gerona. Even General Castaños managed to defeat the French army at the Battle of Bailén in July 1808. The French defeat at Bailén had such an impact that José I ended up leaving Madrid.

The seriousness of the French military situation in Spain forced Napoleon to take action on the matter. With a large army, Napoleon managed to subdue the Spanish troops and retake Madrid. But, in the following years, the guerrillas carried out numerous attacks on the French garrisons, turning the occupation into a nightmare for the invaders. Among these guerrillas include the names of Espoz y Mina, the Stubborn and the priest Merino.

Practically the entire country had been left in French hands, with the exception of Cádiz. However, the arrival of the British army led by General Wellington was of great help to the Spanish. Thus, the British, Spanish and Portuguese defeated the French in decisive battles such as Arapiles and Vitoria.

The actions of the guerrillas, together with the British intervention, ended up causing the defeat of the Napoleonic armies in Spain. Thus, the successive setbacks in Spain, forced the withdrawal of a French army pursued by the soldiers of Wellington. With the Napoleonic forces expelled from Spain, the war continued in southern France, until, in 1814, Napoleon succumbed to the armies of the Sixth Coalition.

What were the economic consequences of the Spanish War of Independence?

The French invasion of Spain had very harsh repercussions for Spanish society. The great French armies required huge amounts of supplies to stock up. For this reason, important food requisitions and property confiscations were carried out.

Other formulas used by the government of King José I were loans and the sale of national assets. In fact, the sale of property owned by the religious and military orders was an important source of income for the administration of José I.

Despite requisitioning food and goods, loans and the sale of national assets, José I's estate always went through economic moments of great delicacy, being very close to bankruptcy. The public coffers of the government of José I worsened especially from 1812, when the allies began to inflict major defeats on the French army.

With most of the country occupied by the French, Spain had a very difficult time collecting taxes to defray the cost of the war. Thus, a more than notable part of Spain's tax revenue came from its possessions in America.

One of the few enclaves not occupied by the French was the city of Cádiz, where the Supreme Central Government Board of the Kingdom held power. Precisely in this city, the merchants, being those who contributed the most to the public treasury, enjoyed a great influence in the economic affairs of the government.

Beyond the collection, the effects of the war were disastrous for the Spanish demography and for its economy. The crops were requisitioned, the fields were razed and the then scarce Spanish industry suffered significant damage. Even the transport of goods suffered a great setback, as the different armies confiscated draft and pack animals.

Faced with the continuous fighting and looting, many peasants did not dare to cultivate their lands. This lack of harvests brought with it famines and an increase in mortality.

To add insult to injury, the war was fertile ground for looting, involving French and British soldiers. In this sense, the Napoleonic troops carried out an important looting of the Spanish cultural heritage.

To sustain such a prolonged war with a military power of the entity of Napoleonic France, had a very high cost for Spain. Despite military and economic aid from Great Britain, the country went into debt to unimaginable levels. And it is that, towards 1815, the debt of Spain multiplied by twenty the income of the State.

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