Arguably Spain's most famous painter, the cubist, Salvador Dalí, was known for painting mind-altering images such as melting clocks and timepieces. Though many of his paintings contained subtle and profound meanings and symbolism, on the surface, the Spaniard's paintings can simply seem downright confusing.
While Dalí was active in the 20th century, his country's 19th-century history was just as confusing, exhibiting several foreign invasions and civil wars. However, just like those famous paintings, the history of Spain and its Iberian neighbor, Portugal, was driven by underlying motives and movements that were incredibly important.
At the beginning of the 19th century, both Spain and Portugal found themselves embroiled in war alongside the rest of Europe in opposition to Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Empire. Over the course of the war, Napoleon forced multiple abdications by the King of Spain, who then placed his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, on the Spanish throne. By 1808, this forced regime change had effectively made Spain a client state of the French Empire.
Portugal, however, had managed to remain separate and unaffected by French influence. In fact, Portugal was arguably Great Britain's biggest ally in the fight against Napoleon's France. This status and Napoleon's desire to cut Britain off from any ports on the European mainland led to an invasion of Portugal by Napoleon and the Spanish troops loyal to his brother in 1807.
The invasion did two things: it caused Spanish royalists to rise up in the north and oppose the pro-French forces led by Joseph Bonaparte, and also caused the Portuguese royal family to flee to their colony in South America, Brazil. Despite the flight, Portugal's British allies soon landed in Portugal and began pushing the French forces back. After a few years of fierce fighting, British, Spanish, and Portuguese troops eventually pushed all French forces out of Iberia by 1814.
The defeat of Napoleon produced a power vacuum in both Spain and Portugal, which both countries' revolutionary liberal and republican movements rushed to fill before the monarchies could be successfully reestablished. In Spain, for instance, in the chaos of the final years of the French occupation, a group of liberal Spaniards gathered together to write a Spanish constitution in 1812. The constitution was extremely progressive for its time, including guarantees for universal male suffrage, freedom of the press, and establishing Spain as a limited constitutional monarchy.
Though the constitution was incredibly popular with Spain's liberals, it had little effect on Spanish society while the war with Napoleon's France continued. Furthermore, once Napoleon was finally defeated, the prospect for Spain's progressive constitution got bleaker. In a matter of weeks after the Spanish king, Ferdinand VII, retook the throne in 1814, he denied the Constitution's viability and dismantled any changes which it had already made.
In the ensuing decades, revolutionary liberals across Spain organized into militias plotting to overthrow Ferdinand's government and reintroduce the 1812 constitution and its liberal ideals. The most formidable of these plots occurred in 1820 when a liberal-minded military general, Rafael del Riego, mutinied against the Spanish government with an entire battalion of Spanish troops. Within a few short months, Riego's revolt had inspired uprisings across the country. In March, Ferdinand was forced to recognize the 1812 constitution.
Unfortunately for Riego and Spain's liberals, the rest of Europe took notice. Deciding that Spain's liberal revolt might encourage liberal revolts elsewhere on the continent, France invaded on behalf of the rest of Europe in 1822. Before long, Riego's liberal government fell and he himself was imprisoned and executed in 1823.
The decades following Riego's death were alternating periods of civil war and peace, and the fortunes of the revolutionary liberals waxed and waned with the inclinations of Spain's various rulers and power brokers. For example, liberals experienced harsh persecution for the decade following Riego's death. After that, a civil war connected to the accession of the three-year old Queen Isabella further hurt the liberals' hopes for government reform as they sided with the ultimately losing side.
The goals of the liberal revolutionaries were finally realized when an army mutiny in 1868 was joined by most of the Spanish forces and Queen Isabella resolved to flee. The army sided with the cause of Spain's revolutionary liberals and in 1869 a new, progressive constitution was written which enshrined many of the same rights that the 1812 constitution had.
Unfortunately, not even this settlement could save Spain from further conflict, as disagreements concerning who should replace Isabella as Spain's monarch caused another generation of civil war and unrest.
Portugal's 19th-century experience was similar in that a group of disaffected liberals wanted to create a new constitution, but different in circumstance. For example, whereas Ferdinand returned to rule Spain soon after Napoleon's defeat, the Portuguese ruling family remained in Brazil for several years. Indeed, from 1814-1820, much of the Portuguese government was administered by British soldiers and officials who had remained in the country!
This situation changed in 1820 when liberals across Portugal organized and demanded a new, liberal constitution. By 1821, these liberals expelled the remaining British from Portugal and notified the Portuguese king, John VI, of the new constitution which severely limited his powers over the Portuguese government, effectively making Portugal a constitutional monarchy.
John returned from Brazil and reluctantly embraced the constitution. However, his son, Dom Miguel, refused to sign the constitution. He gathered a group of absolutist sympathizers largely made up of the traditional landowners whose rights were stripped by the constitution and rebelled against his father. The ensuing civil war outlasted both men before Queen Maria II was confirmed as Queen of Portugal in 1834.
After this, the politics between liberals and conservatives regularized for a time in Portugal, and disputes regarding progressive reform were decided politically rather than militarily. However, throughout the second half of the 19th century, the liberal and republican groups slowly gained in popularity as people grew more and more frustrated with the intransigence of the Portuguese monarchy. This frustration would boil over the following century, when King Carlos I was assassinated in 1908 and a republican revolution overthrew the monarchy two years later.
The revolutionary movements in 19th-century Iberia are both representative of the larger political and ideological struggles that were being waged across Europe. Liberal revolutionaries in both Spain and Portugal sought to create new, progressive constitutions, which would guarantee the citizens of each country certain rights and democratize portions of the political process. Naturally, those invested in the existing system - namely the monarchy and its allies in the aristocracy - were heavily opposed to any changes which threatened their power. When the differences between these two sides boiled over, it erupted into civil war in both countries in the 1820s.
Achieve the following objectives by studying this video lesson's information:
- Take note of the civil wars and invasions of Iberia in the 19th century
- Talk about Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion of Portugal and the uprisings that resulted
- Discuss the conflict between the royalists and the liberal parties in Spain in the 19th century
- Explain why Rafael del Riego's mutiny played an important role in 19th century European history
- Describe the establishment of the constitutional monarchies in both Spain and Portugal
- Recall the role of Britain and France in the Iberian Peninsula's revolutionary history