British Aid in the Carlist War: 1835-1840

In Spain, writes James Marshall-Cornwall, Melbourne’s government supported the Legitimists with an Auxiliary Legion.

Ever since the imbecile Charles II ascended the throne of Spain in 1665, the succession to that monarchy had intermittently disturbed the peace of Europe. The trouble was largely caused by French intrigues; and this was the case in 1700, when Charles II died without issue, after having been persuaded by the French party to leave his kingdom to the Due d’Anjou, grandson of Louis XIV and Maria Theresa.

The War of the Spanish Succession ensued, bringing about British involvement and leading to Marlborough’s victories over the French. A century later, in 1808, Napoleon stirred up more trouble by forcing Charles IV to abdicate in favour of his eldest son, Ferdinand VII, and then placing his own brother Joseph on the throne of Spain. On Napoleon’s abdication in 1814, Ferdinand was restored to his legitimate inheritance.

He died in September 1833, leaving the crown to his three-year-old daughter, the Infanta Isabel, under the regency of her mother, the Queen Dowager Maria Cristina. Before his death, Ferdinand had revoked the Salic Law, incorporated in 1713 in the Spanish constitution to maintain the royal succession in the male line of descent. This revocation excluded from the succession Ferdinand’s younger brother, Don Carlos (1788-1855).

Ferdinand’s death split Spain into two opposed factions: the Cristinos, who recognized Isabel’s rights under the regency of the Dowager Queen Mother, and the Carlistas, who supported the claim of Don Carlos.

The latter party included the reactionary conservatives and the clericals (apostólicos), and found its most numerous supporters in the northern provinces of Spain, largely inhabited by Basques, whose adherence Don Carlos gained by swearing to protect their Fueros, the traditional autonomous privileges which the central Government in Madrid aimed at suppressing.

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