Ferdinand VII

(Ferdinand VII of Spain)


Ferdinand VII was king of Spain during the critical years following the Napoleonic Wars. The country was sharply divided between Liberals, who supported a constitutional government, and Traditionalists, who distrusted modernist ideas, particularly regarding "reforms" of church property. The South American colonies were in revolt, the country was recovering from a horrifically destructive war, the government had been in the hands of foreigners for over seven years, the treasury was nearly bankrupt, and a new constitution which radically reordered the government had been ratified by the Cortes. An honorable, principled, and moderate leader was would have had difficulty ruling well during the age, and Ferdinand was none of the above.

Ferdinand was the eldest son of Charles IV of Spain, and his appalling wife Maria Luisa of Parma. By the time Ferdinand came of age, the Spanish government was being run by his decadent mother and her notorious lover, Godoy, while his slothful father ignored both family and government responsibilities. In nearby France, the Bourbon monarchs had been overthrown by a revolutionary government, and the degenerate Bourbons of Spain were terrified that they would be next. Once Napoleon came to power, Charles IV, the Queen, Godoy, Ferdinand and his brother Don Carlos fell all over themselves attempting to ingratiate themselves the emperor, and at the same time plotted against each other. Ferdinand's fortunes underwent many reverses during the Napolonic era. At first he conspired with liberal intriguers against his father, but was caught and imprisoned. Then Napoleon forced the abdication of Charles IV, and he briefly became king. Shortly after, however, the French invaded Spain, and he was captured and imprisoned in France. After the overthow of Napoleon's empire, he regained the crown. But still his fortunes continued to turn.

Much changed between Ferdinand's first and second reigns. During the war years, the Spanish Cortes (the legislative body), was controled by Napoleonic liberals, and they authored a constitution which severely restrained the perogatives of the king, overrode regional laws, centralized government, provided for the confiscation of church properties, and mandated taxation of formerly autonomous regions. Ferdinand was restored to the throne on the condition that he accept these changes, but within weeks he rejected the constitution, and arrested dozens of liberal leaders. Ferdinand changed his position on political matters throughout his reign, but he consistently arrested, exiled, and persecuted his opponents. Given the enormous financial dislocations inherent in the proposed liberal reforms, combined with Ferdinand's paranoid, yet equivocal tendencies, intrigues, conspiracies, treachery, and corruption abounded at every level of government.

During the first years of Ferdinand's reign, the one thing that both conservatives and liberals agreed upon, was the supression of independence movements in the American colonies. Yet Spain's ability to hold onto its colonies was severely compromised by a depleted treasury, and she lost ground, especially after the rise of San Martin and Bolivar in South America. Many of the liberal reforms promised to raise money for the central treasury, and were strongly backed by the Army. In 1820 a rebellion broke out within the army which alarmed Ferdinand so much that he sought safety France. The changes imposed by the new government led to the civil war of 1820-23, which ended when France intervened on behalf of Ferdinand. In his customary fashion, Ferdinand revenged himself on those who had opposed him during the war, and had hundreds of his political opponents executed.

Although tyrannical by nature, Ferdinand was at the same time, unprincipled. By the time of his restoration, the loss of revenue from the American colonies forced Ferdinand to accept some of the revenue producing reforms of the Liberals. His fourth wife, Maria Cristina, was particularly open to a liberal constituiton, and had support among the Army. After their marriage, Ferdinand became increasingly under her influence, and had changed the Salic laws so that his daughter Isabella, rather then his brother Don Carlos, would inherit the Spanish throne. He died in 1833, and soon after, the Carlist Wars broke out as a result of the disputed succession.

Key events during the life of Ferdinand VII of Spain:

Born to Charles IV, a Bourbon king of Spain, and his wife, Maria Louisa of Parma.
Arrested for plotting against to overthrow his parents from the throne.
Ascended the throne briefly after his father abdicated. Then deposed and arrested by Napoleon.
Joseph Bonaparte is named King of Spain. Ferdinand imprisoned in France.
Restored to the throne with help of British allies.
Rejected the liberal Constitution of 1812.
Loss Spanish control of most of South American
Liberal Revolt in the army causes Ferdinand to go into exile.
Mexico declares independence.
Bourbon France intervenes, conquers the Cadiz, and restores Ferdinand.
Marries Maria Cristina.
Birth of first daughter, Isabella.
Death of Ferdinand VII.
Early Battles in the First Carlist War

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Spanish Princes  in  Joseph Bonaparte  by  John S. C. Abbott
Exile and Return of the Spanish Court in  The Romance of Spanish History  by  John S.C. Abbott
King Joseph  in  A Child's History of Spain  by  John Bonner
Ferdinand the Seventh  in  A Child's History of Spain  by  John Bonner
Spain Under the Bourbons  in  Story of the Greatest Nations: Spain  by  Charles F. Horne
Reign of Ferdinand VII  in  Spain: A History for Young Readers  by  Frederick A. Ober

Image Links

Interview with the Spanish princes.
 in The Romance of Spanish History

Short Biography
Maria Louisa Notorious bourbon Queen of Charles IV, who promoted her incompetent favorite Godoy to prime minister.
Napoleon Victorious general who rose to power during the French Revolution. Crowned himself Emperor and restored France to greatness.
Joseph Bonaparte Older brother of Napoleon who was crowned first, King of Naples, and then later, King of Spain.
Don Carlos Brother of Ferdinand VII and rival claimant to the Spanish throne who initiated the Carlist Wars.
Maria Christina Queen regent of Spain who championed the cause of her daughter Isabella II against the Carlists.
Emanuel Godoy Decadent minister, favorite of Spanish queen. Blamed for fall of the Bourbon monarchy by acquiescing to Napoleon.