Child's History of Spain - John Bonner


A.D. 1843-1868

Isabella, as I have told you, became queen when she was thirteen years old. She had only been half educated, and had been encouraged by her mother to indulge her whims and impulses, however foolish they were. You will not be surprised that she grew up a self-willed young woman, with an ungovernable temper.

When she was fifteen, the queen-mother ordered her to marry her cousin, Don Francisco. Isabella refused. She hated Francisco. He was a puny, awkward, shy youth, with a squeaky voice, and in his ways more like a girl than a boy. Isabella called him Fanny. She said she would have none of him. But that night, Christina, with two men, went to the girl's room, and lectured, upbraided, scolded, threatened, and bullied her all through the long hours of the night; when morning came, with a broken spirit and eyes swollen by crying, the girl surrendered. Christina had her married immediately, for fear she would change her mind. She told her mother that she could never love her husband; and, indeed, she never did. She took pleasure in calling him Fanny before people, and in flirting with other men in his presence. When he demurred, she put him down with a look. She grew to be a great, tall, swarthy woman, with broad shoulders and a rough voice. He always looked as if he had been her little boy, and not her husband.

Thus married and settled, the young queen established a court after her own heart. It was full of profligate men and women, who did nothing but gamble and drink and dance and ride on horseback day after day. The only serious occupation they had was to gamble in stocks, and at this they made vast sums of money, through their possession of secrets of state. All good Spaniards—the virtuous Espartero among the number—avoided the court as a plague-spot. Many of them left the country. Spanish gentlemen travelling abroad blushed when the queen was mentioned. She held high revel, as though there was nothing to live for but pleasure, and that was to last forever.

It did not. A time came when the people resolved on a change, and demanded the return of Espartero to power. He did not last. He could no more govern that intrigue-ridden country, with the queen and her court against him, than he had been able to do it in 1843. He was driven out of office by lies told by the gamblers and intriguers, which the queen affected to believe. A rough soldier named O'Donnell succeeded him. He rode roughshod over every one, and when the queen's husband, " Fanny," opposed a bill to confiscate some Church property, which had thus far escaped, the fierce rough-rider threatened to shake him till his teeth dropped out. But intriguers upset him, too, at the end of three months; and then the most adroit, the most foxey, and the most cold-blooded man in Spain, Ramon Narvaez, became prime-minister. He was overthrown a good many times, but he always got back to power, he knew so well how to manage the Cortes and the queen.

Narvaez was not a great statesman, but he preserved order in Spain, collected money enough to carry on the government, and steered his bark through the rocks and shoals upon which other prime-ministers had gone to wreck. Isabella herself did not much care who managed the government, so long as she had her fun. When that was interfered with she was a tigress. Once, when she had been driven out of Madrid by a riot, which was put down in due course, Concha sent her word by the banker Salamanca that she could come back, if she came without her favorite Marfori. He had scarcely got the words out of his mouth when the furious queen flew at him, as if she meant to throttle him, calling him vile names, and spitting in her rage.

Of course, she did not like liberty. When her cousin, the Duke of Parma, visited her at Madrid, he said to her:

"They tell me you have got some old-fashioned institutions here—Cortes and elections, and things of that kind. Why do you not give them all a kick over, and be mistress in your own house?"

"Ah!" replied the queen, with a sigh, "I wish I could."

There were laws enough in Spain to secure personal liberty. But they were a dead letter. Under Isabella a man could be seized in his own house and shipped to the Philippine Islands, and his property confiscated, without any reason being given him for the act; or, he might be taken out of his house at Madrid, and ordered to live in a remote village at the farthest end of Spain, never to leave that village under peril of his life.

Under Isabella, labor in Spain was despised more than it had ever been. The sons of well-to-do people would not work. They would live on a crust of bread and a paper cigar, but they would not put in six hours a day at a desk or a bench. They preferred to beg. Under Isabella, beggary became a regular business. Beggars had to take out a license as livery-stable men do here. If they had powerful friends, they got a petty office under government. The salary of these offices was very small—only a hundred dollars a year or so; but those who held them generally got rich by taking bribes. With money anything could be got from the government, and every one in the service of government took money.

Fortunes were made by speculators; Queen Christina is said to have made forty millions of our money by gambling in stocks. A governor of Cuba reckoned to make a million in three or four years—also by bribery. Another class of people who got rich were the smugglers. Spain had an absurd tariff, which had been framed in the hope of encouraging home manufactures; the result was that foreign goods were smuggled into the country, and the tariff yielded no revenue.

The women of Spain, under Isabella, were generally idle, ignorant, and devout. They went to mass and confession regularly. But I am afraid this excellent practice did not improve their morals or their behavior. Queen Isabella herself was devoted to her religion. When she started out on her wildest and most helter-skelter spree, she gave a ring or a string of beads to a statue of the Virgin, which she kept in her bedroom. Spanish ladies were less gentle than American or English or French ladies of the same period; they were cruel to animals. I suppose that this fault was due to their fondness for bull-fights, as the poor quality of the books written under Isabella was due to the indifference of the people to letters. The only books sold in Spanish book-stores were works of devotion and translations of the worst kind of French novels. It is only in our day that really good Spanish books have once more been written.

In the year 1868, the Spanish people rose in disgust at the imbecile and impure life of this vile woman. They did not want her life. They only wanted her to get out. The streets were filled with people who called after her the most dreadful names. The prime-minister, Don Jose Concha, threw up his office and went into the country. Isabella was told that she must go. She telegraphed' to the Emperor of France, who was at Biarritz, begging for help. But Napoleon the Third knew too much to interfere.

On September 30th, 1868, on a bright sunny morning, Queen Isabella, with her husband, her four children, her favorite, and her confessor, alighted from a railroad carriage at Biarritz in France. The French emperor, the empress, their son, and attendants were waiting on the platform to receive the strangers. When they met, Isabella burst into tears, and the empress, who had known her a long time, cried out of sympathy; the emperor stood like a man of stone, with a stern, sad face; the little King of Spain hopped round like a tomtit, holding a child by each hand, and fidgeting with his feet. There was a short talk in a waiting-room, and it is now known that Napoleon then told Isabella he could do nothing for her.

The Spanish party boarded the car on their way to Pau. Just before the train started Isabella cried, in Spanish, "I have not kissed the empress good-bye." Eugenie sprang upon the gallery of the car, and offered her cheek. That pure cheek had never before been pressed by such impure lips. Isabella tried to kiss the empress on the other cheek; but Eugenie had leaped down and was gone.

From Pau the ex-queen went to Paris, where she lived in splendor, having laid her hands, before leaving Madrid, on all the valuable property she could carry away.

So she fades out of history.