Rule by Pronunciamiento
In 1820 Major Rafael de Riego led a revolt among troops quartered in Cadiz while awaiting embarkation to America. Garrison mutinies were not unusual, but Riego issued a pronunciamiento or declaration of principles, to the troops, which was directed against the government and which called for the army to support adoption of the 1812 constitution. Support for Riego spread from garrison to garrison, toppling the regalist government and forcing Ferdinand to accept the liberal constitution. The pronunciamiento, distributed by barracks politicians among underpaid members of an overstaffed officer corps, became a regular feature of Spanish politics. An officer or group of officers would seek a consensus among fellow officers in opposing or supporting a particular policy or in calling for a change in government. If any government were to survive, it needed the support of the army. If a pronunciamiento received sufficient backing, the government was well advised to defer to it. This "referendum in blood" was considered within the army to be the purest form of election because the soldiers supporting a pronunciamiento--at least in theory--were expressing their willingness to shed blood to make their point. A pronunciamiento was judged to have succeeded only if the government gave in to it without a fight. If it did not represent a consensus within the army and there was resistance to it, the pronunciamiento was considered a failure, and the officers who had proposed it dutifully went into exile.
French intervention, ordered by Louis XVIII on an appeal from Ferdinand and with the assent of his conservative officers, brought the three years of liberal government under the 1812 constitution--called the Constitutional Triennium (1820-23)--to an abrupt close. The arrival of the French was welcomed in many sectors. Ferdinand, restored as absolute monarch, chose his ministers from the ranks of the old afrancesados.
Ferdinand VII, a widower, was childless, and Don Carlos, his popular, traditionalist brother, was heir presumptive. In 1829, however, Ferdinand married his Neapolitan cousin, Maria Cristina, who gave birth to a daughter, an event followed closely by the revocation of provisions prohibiting female succession. Ferdinand died in 1833, leaving Maria Cristina as regent for their daughter, Isabella II (1833-68).
Don Carlos contested his niece's succession, and he won the fanatical support of the traditionalists of Aragon and of Basque Navarre (Spanish, Navarra). The Carlists (supporters of Don Carlos) held that legitimate succession was possible only through the male line. Comprised of agrarians, regionalists, and Catholics, the Carlists also opposed the middle-class-- centralist, anticlerical Liberals who flocked to support the regency. The Carlists fielded an army that held off government attempts to suppress them for six years (1833-39), during which time Maria Cristina received British aid in arms and volunteers. A Carlist offensive against Madrid in 1837 failed, but in the mountains, the Basques continued to resist until a compromise peace in 1839 recognized their ancient fueros. Sentiment for Don Carlos and for his successor, remained strong in Navarre, and the Carlists continued as a serious political force. Carlist uprisings occurred in 1847 and again from 1872 to 1876.
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