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The El Escorial Conspiracy

It is probably a little-known fact that the term ‘guerrilla’ warfare was first used during the Spanish War of Independence

It is probably a little-known fact that the term ‘guerrilla’ warfare was first used during the Spanish War of Independence, known outside Spain as the Peninsular War, fought on several fronts, and a nightmare for Napoleon’s army. Guerrilla is the diminutive of the Spanish word for war, ‘guerra,’ and the six year conflict on Spanish territory was marked by a series of bloody conflicts as the people rose up against the French occupiers.

In 1807 a pact was signed between France and Spain; the Fontainebleau Treaty in name of the Spanish king Charles IV by Manuel Godoy and Napoleon Bonaparte. Photo www.spanishwars.net

Some say it was the worst mistake the French Emperor ever made during his reign, and Spain is marking the second centenary of the Napoleonic invasion this year.

Seen as a weak ruler, the king, Carlos IV, had left much of the government of the country in the hands of his First Minister, Manuel de Godoy, an army officer from an impoverished noble family who saw a meteoric rise to power, but whose foreign policies had disastrous consequences for Spain. Popularly believed to have been the Queen’s lover, he came to be a hated figure by many sectors of society in Spain, not least by the heir to the Spanish throne, Fernando.
A key figure at this time was Fernando’s former tutor, Juan Escoiquiz, a priest and literary man who had first come to court as a page in the reign of Fernando’s grandfather, Carlos III. He exerted a great deal of influence on the prince and carefully cultivated Fernando’s hate of Godoy. Opposition to Godoy at court was focused around the prince, in what is known as the ‘partido fernandino,’ ‘the Fernando party,’ and it included high-ranking members of the Spanish nobility. Court was divided between the supporters of Godoy and of the Príncipe de Asturias.

In May 1806, Fernando’s wife, his cousin, María Antonia de las Dos Sicilias, died. The couple had worked together in a campaign of political propaganda against Godoy and the King and Queen. Godoy was married to María Teresa Josefa de Borbón y Vallabriga, a cousin of King Carlos IV, and wanted the prince to take his sister-in-law as his new wife. Escóiquiz was attempting to negotiate a marriage with a princess of the House of Bonaparte, and was holding talks with the French Ambassador to Spain, the Marquis of Beauharnais, and Fernando wrote to Napoleon requesting the marriage.

On 27th October 1807, King Carlos IV, acting on the advice of an anonymous informer of a political plot against Godoy, seized documents from his son’s chambers. He announced that the plan had been to force his abdication and to put his son on the throne, that it was approved by the Prince of Asturias, and that the conspirators had asked for the protection of Napoleon. The Prince was confined to his chambers, and on the 29th of that month was taken to a cell where he was held prisoner. Fernando wrote separate letters to the King and Queen, begging for forgiveness, and the King announced that he had pardoned his son.
The Prince gave up the names of those involved in the plot and they were put on trial. The conspirators were acquitted, thereby reinforcing the power of the fernandino party, and increasing the growing lack of confidence in the King.

27th October 1807 was an important date for the Bourbon monarchy for another reason: it was the day a secret treaty was signed with France, the Treaty of Fontainebleau, under which Spain and France agreed the partition of Portugal, allowing French troops to cross Spain. Part of the territory was to be given to Godoy as Prince of the Algarve.
A French expeditionary force led by General Junot had already crossed the border into Spain earlier that month, to make its way to Portugal. Junot reached Lisbon at the end of November, and Spanish troops had entered Portugal from the North and the South. The French influx into Spain, ostensibly to provide support to Junot and the Portuguese invasion, increased over the coming months and, instead of moving on to Portugal, they began to occupy cities in the North, causing growing unease to Godoy.

This ‘friendly’ occupation was to be the precursor to the Spanish War of Independence and to the brief ousting of the Bourbon monarchy in Spain.