Manuel Godoy: Prince of Peace
Though some recent historians have been kind to the favourite, writes Douglas Hilt, during his lifetime Manuel Godoy was generally denounced as an intriguing parvenu.
Few men, both during and after their lives, have been so generally vilified by an entire nation as has Godoy ‘el Principe da la Paz’ Hardly an historian or novelist has failed to seize the opportunity to blame him for all of Spain’s misfortunes during the Napoleonic period, holding him responsible for the country’s poor state of military preparedness as well as the scandalous immoral behaviour at court.
Godoy still remains the classic scapegoat, and more recent attempts at a truer perspective have failed to present a better balanced picture. Ironically enough, very little has been written about Godoy the man, as distinct from the stereotyped caricature.
Most descriptions are content to dwell on his supposed exploits with the Queen in the royal bedroom, emphasizing his personal accumulation of wealth and titles, but denying him any redeeming qualities.
In fact, the great nineteenth-century Spanish critic Menéndez y Pelayo even went so far as to claim that Godoy was incapable of writing his own Memorias. In sum, he is scornfully dismissed as the parvenu among privados, the ruin of his country, totally lacking in morals, ability or background.
Godoy was born in Badajoz on May 12th, 1767, of old Christian aristocratic stock. His father came from Estremadura, the land of Cortes, Pizarro and Balboa; and his mother, as befits the city’s frontier position, was of Portuguese origin.
Godoy’s education seems to have been surprisingly thorough and filled with the spirit of the French Enlightenment. In his later years in exile, he was to boast of his cultural achievements while in office and of having befriended most of the leading writers and painters of his day.