Ferdinand VII of Spain

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Ferdinand VII
Francisco Goya - Portrait of Ferdinand VII of Spain in his robes of state (1815) - Prado.jpg
Ferdinand VII in Court Dress by Goya, 1815
King of Spain
1st reign19 March 1808 – 6 May 1808
Predecessor Charles IV
Successor Joseph I
2nd reign11 December 1813 – 29 September 1833
PredecessorJoseph I
Successor Isabella II
Titular Emperor of Mexico
(Treaty of Cordoba)
Reign28 September 1821 – 18 May 1822
Successor Agustin I
Titular King of Chile
(1812 Chilean Constitution)
Reign27 October 1812 – 6 October 1813
Titular King of Cundinamarca
(1811 Constitution of Cundinamarca)
Reign4 April 1811 – 19 September 1812
Titular King of the United Provinces of the Río de La Plata
(Provisional Statute of the Superior Government of the United Provinces of Río de la Plata in the Name of the Lord Don Ferdinand VII [1] )
Reign25 May 1810 - 9 July 1816
Born14 October 1784
El Escorial, Spain
Died29 September 1833(1833-09-29) (aged 48)
Madrid, Spain
see detail...
Isabella II of Spain
Infanta Luisa Fernanda, Duchess of Montpensier
Full name
Spanish: Fernando Francisco de Paula Domingo Vincente Ferrer Antonio José Joaquín Pascual Diego Juan Nepomuceno Januario Francisco Javier Rafael Miguel Gabriel Calisto Cayetano Fausto Luis Raimundo Gregorio Lorenzo Jerónimo de Borbón y Borbón-Parma
House Bourbon
Father Charles IV of Spain
Mother Maria Luisa of Parma
Religion Roman Catholicism
Signature Ferdinand VII of Spain signature.svg

Ferdinand VII (Spanish : Fernando; 14 October 1784 – 29 September 1833) was the King of Spain during the early- to mid-19th century. He reigned over the Spanish Kingdom in 1808 and again from 1813 to his death in 1833. He was known to his supporters as el Deseado (the Desired) and to his detractors as el Rey Felón (the Felon King).


Born in Madrid at El Escorial, Ferdinand VII spent his youth as heir apparent to the Spanish throne. Following the 1808 Tumult of Aranjuez, he ascended the throne. That year Napoleon overthrew him; he linked his monarchy to counter-revolution and reactionary policies that produced a deep rift in Spain between his forces on the right and liberals on the left. Back in power in December 1813, he reestablished the absolutist monarchy and rejected the liberal constitution of 1812. A revolt in 1820 led by Rafael del Riego forced him to restore the constitution thus beginning the Liberal Triennium: a three-year period of liberal rule. In 1823 the Congress of Verona authorized a successful French intervention restoring him to absolute power for the second time. He suppressed the liberal press from 1814 to 1833, jailing many of its editors and writers.

Under his rule, Spain lost nearly all of its American possessions, and the country entered into a large-scale civil war upon his death. His political legacy has remained contested since his passing, with most historians regarding him as incompetent, despotic, and short-sighted. [2] [3]

Early life

Young Ferdinand as Prince of Asturias, 1800 Fernando de Borbon, principe de Asturias.jpg
Young Ferdinand as Prince of Asturias, 1800

Ferdinand was the eldest surviving son of Charles IV of Spain and Maria Luisa of Parma. Ferdinand was born in the palace of El Escorial near Madrid. In his youth Ferdinand occupied the position of an heir apparent who was excluded from all share in government by his parents and their favourite advisor and Prime Minister, Manuel Godoy. [4] National discontent with the government produced a rebellion in 1805. [4] In October 1807, Ferdinand was arrested for his complicity in the El Escorial Conspiracy in which the rebels aimed at securing foreign support from the French Emperor Napoleon. [4] When the conspiracy was discovered, Ferdinand submitted to his parents.

Abdication and restoration

Royal Monogram Royal Monogram of King Fernando VII of Spain.svg
Royal Monogram
Constitution of 1812 Constitucion Cadiz 1812.png
Constitution of 1812

Following a popular riot at Aranjuez Charles IV abdicated in March 1808. [4] Ferdinand ascended the throne and turned to Napoleon for support. He abdicated on 6 May 1808 and thereafter Napoleon kept Ferdinand under guard in France for six years at the Château de Valençay. [5] Historian Charles Oman records that the choice of Valençay was a practical joke by Napoleon on his former foreign minister Talleyrand, the owner of the château, for his lack of interest in Spanish affairs. [6]

While the upper echelons of the Spanish government accepted his abdication and Napoleon's choice of his brother Joseph Bonaparte as king of Spain, the Spanish people did not. Uprisings broke out throughout the country, marking the beginning of the Peninsular War. Provincial juntas were established to control regions in opposition to the new French king. After the Battle of Bailén proved that the Spanish could resist the French, the Council of Castile reversed itself and declared null and void the abdications of Bayonne on 11 August 1808. On 24 August, Ferdinand VII was proclaimed king of Spain again, and negotiations between the council and the provincial juntas for the establishment of a Supreme Central Junta were completed. Subsequently, on 14 January 1809, the British government acknowledged Ferdinand VII as king of Spain. [7]

Five years later after experiencing serious setbacks on many fronts, Napoleon agreed to acknowledge Ferdinand VII as king of Spain on 11 December 1813 and signed the Treaty of Valençay, so that the king could return to Spain. The Spanish people, blaming the policies of the Francophiles (afrancesados) for causing the Napoleonic occupation and the Peninsular War by allying Spain too closely to France, at first welcomed Fernando. Ferdinand soon found that in the intervening years a new world had been born of foreign invasion and domestic revolution. [4] In his name Spain fought for its independence and in his name as well juntas had governed Spanish America. Spain was no longer the absolute monarchy he had relinquished six years earlier. Instead he was now asked to rule under the liberal Constitution of 1812. Before being allowed to enter Spanish soil, Ferdinand had to guarantee the liberals that he would govern on the basis of the Constitution, but, only gave lukewarm indications he would do so. [8]

On 24 March the French handed him over to the Spanish Army in Girona, and thus began his procession towards Madrid. [9] During this process and in the following months, he was encouraged by conservatives and the Church hierarchy to reject the Constitution. On 4 May he ordered its abolition and on 10 May had the liberal leaders responsible for the Constitution arrested. Ferdinand justified his actions by claiming that the Constitution had been made by a Cortes illegally assembled in his absence, without his consent and without the traditional form. (It had met as a unicameral body, instead of in three chambers representing the three estates: the clergy, the nobility and the cities.) Ferdinand initially promised to convene a traditional Cortes, but never did so, thereby reasserting the Bourbon doctrine that sovereign authority resided in his person only. [4]

Meanwhile, the wars of independence had broken out in the Americas, and although many of the republican rebels were divided and royalist sentiment was strong in many areas, the Manila galleons and the Spanish treasure fleets – tax revenues from the Spanish Empire – were interrupted. Spain was all but bankrupt.

Ferdinand's restored autocracy was guided by a small camarilla of his favorites, although his government seemed unstable. Whimsical and ferocious by turns, he changed his ministers every few months. "The king," wrote Friedrich von Gentz in 1814, "himself enters the houses of his prime ministers, arrests them, and hands them over to their cruel enemies;" and again, on 14 January 1815, "the king has so debased himself that he has become no more than the leading police agent and prison warden of his country." [4]

The king did recognize the efforts of foreign powers on his behalf. As the head of the Spanish Order of the Golden Fleece, Ferdinand made the Duke of Wellington, head of the British forces on the peninsula, the first Protestant member of the order.

During the aftermath of the Mexican War of Independence, the general of the Army of the Three Guarantees, Agustin de Iturbide, and Jefe Superior Juan O'Donojú, signed the Treaty of Cordoba, which concluded the war of independence and established the Mexican Empire. They intended to offer the Mexican Imperial Crown to Ferdinand VII, in which he would rule in personal union, but unfortunately, he decreed that it was "void" and stated that no European could accede to the Mexican throne. [10]


Equestrian portrait of Ferdinand by Jose de Madrazo y Agudo, 1821 Fernando VII a caballo.jpg
Equestrian portrait of Ferdinand by José de Madrazo y Agudo, 1821
Triumphal welcome of Ferdinand at Valencia, 1815 Entrada triomfal de Ferran VII a Valencia, 1815, Miquel Parra.jpg
Triumphal welcome of Ferdinand at Valencia, 1815

In 1820 a revolt broke out in favor of the Constitution of 1812, beginning with a mutiny of the troops under Col. Rafael del Riego. The king was quickly taken prisoner. Ferdinand had restored the Jesuits upon his return, but now they had become identified with repression and absolutism among the liberals, who attacked them: twenty-five Jesuits were slain in Madrid in 1822. For the rest of the 19th century, expulsions and reinstatements of the Jesuits would continue to be the hallmarks of liberal and authoritarian political regimes, respectively.

At the beginning of 1823, as a result of the Congress of Verona, the French invaded Spain, "invoking the God of St. Louis, for the sake of preserving the throne of Spain to a descendant of Henry IV, and of reconciling that fine kingdom with Europe." When in May the revolutionary party carried Ferdinand to Cádiz, he continued to make promises of amendment until he was free. [4]

When Ferdinand was freed after the Battle of Trocadero and the fall of Cádiz, reprisals followed. The Count of Artois made known his protest against Ferdinand's actions by refusing the Spanish decorations Ferdinand offered him for his military services. [4]

During his last years Ferdinand's political appointments became more stable. [4] The last ten years of reign (sometimes referred to as the Ominous Decade) saw the restoration of absolutism, the re-establishment of traditional university programs and the suppression of any opposition, both of the Liberal Party and of the reactionary revolt (known as "War of the Agraviados") which broke out in 1827 in Catalonia and other regions.

Death and succession crisis

As Ferdinand lay dying, his new wife Maria Christina of Bourbon-Two Sicilies had him set aside the Salic Law which would have made his brother Don Carlos heir to the throne instead of any female. Ferdinand was thus succeeded by his infant daughter Isabella II. Carlos revolted and said he was the legitimate king. Needing support, Maria Christina (as Regent for her daughter Isabella) turned to the liberals. She issued a decree of amnesty on 23 October 1833. Liberals who had been in exile returned and dominated Spanish politics for decades, and the Carlist Wars resulted. [11] [12]


Ferdinand VII and Maria Cristina by Luis de la Cruz y Rios (1832) Fernando VII y Maria Cristina de Borbon-Dos Sicilias.jpg
Ferdinand VII and María Cristina by Luis de la Cruz y Ríos (1832)

Ferdinand VII was married four times. In 1802, he married his first cousin Princess Maria Antonia of Naples and Sicily (1784–1806), daughter of Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies and Marie Caroline of Austria. There were no children, because her two pregnancies (in 1804 and 1805) both ended in miscarriages.

In 1816, Ferdinand married his niece Maria Isabel of Portugal (1797–1818), daughter of his older sister Carlota Joaquina and John VI of Portugal. She bore him two daughters, the first of whom lived only five months and the second of whom was stillborn.

In 20 October 1819, in Madrid, Ferdinand married Princess Maria Josepha Amalia of Saxony (1803–1829), daughter of Maximilian, Prince of Saxony, and Caroline of Parma. No children were born from this marriage.

Lastly, on 27 May 1829, Ferdinand married another niece, Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies (1806–1878), daughter of his younger sister Maria Isabella of Spain and Francis I of the Two Sicilies. She bore him two surviving daughters, the older of whom succeeded Ferdinand upon his death.


By Maria Isabel of Portugal (1797–1818)
Infanta María Luisa Isabel21 August 1817
9 January 1818
El Escorial
Infanta María Luisa Isabel26 December 1818
El Escorial Stillborn; Maria Isabel died as a result of her birth.
By Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies (1806–1878)
Infanta María Isabel Luisa 10 October 1830
10 April 1904
El Escorial Princess of Asturias 1830–1833, Queen of Spain 1833–1868. Married Francis, Duke of Cádiz, had issue.
Infanta María Luisa Fernanda 30 January 1832
2 February 1897
El Escorial Married Antoine, Duke of Montpensier, had issue.



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Works cited

Further reading

Ferdinand VII of Spain
Cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty
Born: 14 October 1784 Died: 29 September 1833
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Charles IV
King of Spain
Succeeded by
Preceded by
King of Spain
Succeeded by
Isabella II
Spanish nobility
Preceded by
Charles (IV)
Prince of Asturias
Title next held by
Isabella (II)