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the false myth of the united people who fought against Napoleon

The progressive and the conservative. The red and the blue. The winner and the loser. The one on the right and the one on the left. All these qualifiers are generally used to illustrate the idea of ​​the two Spains, that is, the two antagonistic and confronting visions of our country that reached their peak during the Civil War, the consequences of which are still valid today. Two decades before the conflict, the poet
Antonio Machado
He had already embodied that concept in these verses: «There is already a Spaniard who wants / to live and to live begins, / between a Spain that dies / and another Spain that yawns. / Spanish little who come / to the world God save you.

/ One of the two Spains / has to freeze your heart ».

However, it is rarely mentioned that already during the War of Independence that division existed among the Spaniards, more than a century before the fratricidal conflict of 1936. The truth is that, beyond the myth, not even the town was a pineapple in its In the fight against the French invader, not everyone was against Napoleon, nor did the fighting go the same way in some areas as in others, not all the guerrillas had the same objectives, nor did the elites agree on the political regime to support. The war that devastated the country between 1808 and 1814 is among the periods most marked by topics and interested political versions.

However, there are many historians who agree today that Spain was divided more than ever in two between absolutists and liberals, between the regular army and guerrillas and, above all, between the Frenchified ‘traitors’ and the patriots who took to the streets to drive out the Gauls. The latter, of course, always received more attention in Spanish literature and had better press. This is how Galdós described the uprising of May 2, in his ‘National Episodes’, at the end of the 19th century: «No more voices were heard than weapons, weapons, weapons! Those who did not shout on the streets, shouted on the balconies. And if a moment before half of the people of Madrid were simply curious, after the appearance of the artillery they were all actors ».

The preceding division

At that time, the government called up its citizens and managed to gather 30,000 men, the vast majority of them militiamen with no combat experience. But not all the people were willing to rise up against the invader, nor did they look with bad eyes to become part of the Napoleonic empire that was conquering them. The division had manifested itself a few years earlier, with the crisis of the Monarchy at the beginning of the 19th century. The dizzying rise of Manuel de Godoy, favorite of Carlos IV and María Luisa de Parma, had called into question the public and private morality of the Royal Family. The suspicion that the monarch intended to steal the Crown from his legitimate heir, the future Fernando VII, to give it to him caused the Mutiny of Aranjuez in March 1808.

Painting by Joaquín Sorolla on the uprising against the French in the Monteleón barracks in Madrid

This popular insurrection, led by a few aristocrats, forced Carlos IV to abdicate in favor of his son. Bonaparte, however, had other plans and took advantage of the situation to attract the new King to Bayonne and, once there, forced him to return the Crown to his father. Not only did the French emperor get away with it, but, once the War of Independence started, he got the latter to put the throne at his disposal. The master move was consummated when the great Corsican named his brother José King of Spain, while Fernando VII was confined in the castle of Valençay and his parents and Godoy, sent into exile.

After that betrayal by the Bourbons, it is not surprising that a sector of the population willingly accepted the possibility of a dynastic change. Some did it out of conviction, since they believed that with Napoleon and under the shelter of the Gallic power they would do better. Among them were the intellectual heirs of the Enlightenment – who based progress on the domain of reason – as well as a good part of the nobles, ecclesiastics and landowners who were in favor of the absolute regime, who also wanted to avoid the warlike confrontation with France.


Among them was the famous Spanish playwright and poet Leandro Fernández de Moratín, who when José I Bonaparte promised that he would guarantee the “individual rights of citizens” and respect “the independence of Spain”, wrote: “I hope from José I a extraordinary revolution capable of improving the existence of the monarchy, establishing it on the solid foundations of reason, justice and power ». He was joined by a good number of clergymen, members of the nobility, soldiers, lawyers, journalists and writers such as Juan Meléndez Valdés, Pedro Estala, Juan Antonio Llorente, José Marchena and Félix José Reinoso.

The other Spain was made up of a large part of lower-class Spaniards, who rose up in arms against the Bonapartist troops, while the new monarch tried to initiate a political and social reform aimed at reducing the power of the Church and the nobility in favor of the bourgeoisie. The Statute of Bayonne, promulgated in July 1808, and drawn up by the most illustrious Frenchmen, strove to highlight the scope of those transformations in areas such as education, law or religion. In this sense, important measures were carried out such as tax equality or the confiscation of convents’ assets.

The reality, however, is more complex than it seems, since there was a small group of important figures, such as Goya and the writer and politician Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, who suffered the unspeakable by standing halfway between the two positions, between half of their sympathy for the reformist ideas of the French and their condemnation of the abuses being committed by the occupiers. They wanted the ideas of the conquerors for Spain, but they had witnessed the deception perpetrated with the Treaty of Fontainebleau, according to which Napoleon had obtained permission from the King to cross the country peacefully with more than 110,000 soldiers, with the supposed objective of conquering Portugal, but had taken advantage of it to conquer, by surprise, all the cities they encountered.


These two Spains continued to clash during and after the war. During the Cortes of Cádiz in 1812, a large part of the Frenchified were incapacitated from holding public office due to their “collaboration with the enemy.” When the defeat of Napoleon and José Bonaparte began to be seen in 1813, their situation worsened even more, to the point that Ferdinand VII organized entire caravans to leave Spain for France. In total, 12,000 of these ‘traitors’ left after the humiliation suffered by the Gauls in the battle of Vitoria.

The experience of those who decided to stay at the end of the war, when Napoleon’s brother had already left Spain, was terrible. The people had them singled out and they were denounced, insulted in the streets and even publicly lynched. The prisons were filled with Frenchified people and the Government even had to set up a part of the Retiro park as a provisional jail. The hatred professed against anyone who was minimally suspected of having participated or supported the invader was enormous.

Among those who had to go to France there was the idea that they might soon return to Spain. Rumor had it that, in the peace talks between the Duke of San Carlos on behalf of Fernando VII and Ambassador La Forest, for Napoleon, it had been agreed that they could regain their civil status, their possessions and their positions despite having fought on the French side. Until that time came, they held out as best they could, concentrated in the Gironde region, supported by a small amount of money contributed by the Government of Paris as compensation for the services rendered.

The Spain that sympathized with the French did not imagine that the repression that the new King would unleash against her would be even worse. Many ministers, councilors of state, politicians, senior Church officials, nobles, military personnel, and ambassadors who had collaborated with the Bonaparte family would be perpetually expatriates. In total, another five thousand more people. And the other, tried to heal her wounds and start over.


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