Trienio Liberal

Last updated
Reino de España
Escudo del rey de Espana abreviado antes de 1868.svg
Seal of Spain
Imperio Espanol (1821-1898).png
Government Constitutional monarchy
Historical era 19th century
ISO 3166 code ES
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931).svg Sexenio Absolutista
Ominous Decade Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931).svg

The Trienio Liberal (Spanish pronunciation:  [ˈtɾjenjo liβeˈɾal] , "Liberal Triennium") is a period of three years in the modern history of Spain between 1820 and 1823, when a liberal government ruled Spain after a military uprising in January 1820 by the lieutenant-colonel Rafael de Riego against the absolutist rule of Ferdinand VII.

History of Spain (1810–73)

Spain in the 19th century was a country in turmoil. Occupied by Napoleon from 1808 to 1814, a massively destructive "war of independence" ensued, driven by an emergent Spanish nationalism. An era of reaction against the liberal ideas associated with revolutionary France followed the war, personified by the rule of Ferdinand VII and – to a lesser extent – his daughter Isabella II. Ferdinand's rule included the loss of the Spanish colonies in the New World, except for Cuba and Puerto Rico, in the 1810s and 1820s. A series of civil wars then broke out in Spain, pitting Spanish liberals and then republicans against conservatives, culminating in the Carlist Wars between the moderate Queen Isabella and her uncle, the reactionary Infante Carlos. Disaffection with Isabella's government from many quarters led to repeated military intervention in political affairs and to several revolutionary attempts against the government. Two of these revolutions were successful, the moderate Vicalvarada or "Vicálvaro Revolution" of 1854 and the more radical la Gloriosa in 1868. The latter marks the end of Isabella's monarchy. The brief rule of the liberal king Amadeo I of Spain ended in the establishment of the First Spanish Republic, only to be replaced in 1874 by the popular, moderate rule of Alfonso XII of Spain, which finally brought Spain into a period of stability and reform.

Ferdinand VII of Spain King of Spain

Ferdinand VII was twice King of Spain: in 1808 and again from 1813 to his death. He was known to his supporters as the Desired and to his detractors as the Felon King. After being overthrown by Napoleon in 1808 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 1814, he reestablished the absolutist monarchy and rejected the liberal constitution of 1812. A revolt in 1820 led by Rafael de 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 and jailed many of its editors and writers. Under his rule, Spain lost nearly all of its American possessions, and the country entered into civil war on his death.


It ended in 1823 when, with the approval of the crowned heads of Europe, a French army invaded Spain and reinstated the King's absolute power. This invasion is known in France as the "Spanish Expedition" (expédition d’Espagne), and in Spain as "The Hundred Thousand Sons of St. Louis".

Absolute monarchy is a form of monarchy in which the monarch holds supreme authority and where that authority is not restricted by any written laws, legislature, or customs. These are often hereditary monarchies. In contrast, in constitutional monarchies, the head of state's authority derives from and is legally bounded or restricted by a constitution or legislature.

Revolution of Cabezas de San Juan

1820 print depicting the Cortes Generales. Cortes of the Trienio Liberal.jpg
1820 print depicting the Cortes Generales.
Rafael del Riego (1784-1823), the leader of the Cortes Generales, which sought to restore the 1812 constitution. Rafael Riego.jpg
Rafael del Riego (1784-1823), the leader of the Cortes Generales, which sought to restore the 1812 constitution.

King Ferdinand VII provoked widespread unrest, particularly in the army, by refusing to accept the liberal Spanish Constitution of 1812. The King sought to reclaim the Spanish colonies in the Americas that had recently revolted successfully, consequently depriving Spain from an important source of revenue.

Spanish Constitution of 1812 the first Constitution of Spain

The Political Constitution of the Spanish Monarchy, also known as the Constitution of Cádiz and as La Pepa, was the first Constitution of Spain and one of the earliest constitutions in world history. It was established on 19 March 1812 by the Cortes of Cádiz, the first Spanish legislature. With the notable exception of proclaiming Roman Catholicism as the official and sole legal religion in Spain, the constitution was one of the most liberal of its time: it affirmed national sovereignty, separation of powers, freedom of the press, free enterprise, abolished feudalism, and established a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system. It was one of the first constitutions that allowed universal male suffrage, through a complex indirect electoral system. It was repealed by King Ferdinand VII in 1814 in Valencia, who re-established absolute monarchy.

Spanish colonization of the Americas Overseas expansion under the Crown of Castile

The overseas expansion under the Crown of Castile was initiated under the royal authority and first accomplished by the Spanish conquistadors. The Americas were incorporated into the Spanish Empire, with the exception of Brazil, Canada, the eastern United States and several other small countries in South America and The Caribbean. The crown created civil and religious structures to administer the region. The motivations for colonial expansion were trade and the spread of the Catholic faith through indigenous conversions.

Americas landmass comprising the continents of North America and South America

The Americas comprise the totality of the continents of North and South America. Together, they make up most of the land in Earth's western hemisphere and comprise the New World.

In January 1820, soldiers assembled at Cádiz for an expedition to South America, angry over infrequent pay, bad food and poor quarters, mutinied under the leadership of Colonel Rafael del Riego y Nuñez. Pledging fealty to the 1812 Constitution, they seized their commander.

Cádiz Municipality in Andalusia, Spain

Cádiz is a city and port in southwestern Spain. It is the capital of the Province of Cádiz, one of eight which make up the autonomous community of Andalusia.

Rafael del Riego Spanish general and politician

Rafael del Riego y Flórez was a Spanish general and liberal politician, who played a key role in the outbreak of the Liberal Triennium.

Subsequently, the rebel forces moved to nearby San Fernando, where they began preparations to march on the capital, Madrid.

San Fernando, Cádiz Municipality and city in Andalusia, Spain

San Fernando is a town in the province of Cádiz, Spain. It is home to more than 97,500 inhabitants. The city also uses the name "La Isla". The people from San Fernando are locally known as "Cañaíllas" or "Isleños".

Madrid Capital of Spain

Madrid is the capital of Spain and the largest municipality in both the Community of Madrid and Spain as a whole. The city has almost 3.3 million inhabitants and a metropolitan area population of approximately 6.5 million. It is the third-largest city in the European Union (EU), smaller than only London and Berlin, and its monocentric metropolitan area is the third-largest in the EU, smaller only than those of London and Paris. The municipality covers 604.3 km2 (233.3 sq mi).

Liberal government

Ferdinand VII of Spain, who abolished the Spanish Constitution of 1812 in 1814. Portrait by Francisco Goya, 1814. Francisco Goya - Portrait of Ferdinand VII of Spain in his robes of state (1815) - Prado.jpg
Ferdinand VII of Spain, who abolished the Spanish Constitution of 1812 in 1814. Portrait by Francisco Goya, 1814.

Despite the rebels' relative weakness, Ferdinand accepted the constitution on March 9, 1820, granting power to liberal ministers and ushering in the so-called Liberal Triennium (el Trienio Liberal), a period of popular rule. However, political conspiracies of both right and left proliferated in Spain, as was the case across much of the rest of Europe. Liberal revolutionaries stormed the King's palace and seized Ferdinand VII, who was a prisoner of the Cortes in all but name for the next three years and retired to Aranjuez. The elections to the Cortes Generales in 1822 were won by Rafael del Riego. Ferdinand's supporters set themselves up at Urgell, took up arms and put in place an absolutist regency.

Aranjuez Municipality in Community of Madrid, Spain

Aranjuez, also called the Royal Estate of Aranjuez, is a city and municipality, capital of the Las Vegas district, in the southern part of the Community of Madrid, Spain. It is located at the confluence of the Tagus and Jarama rivers, 42 kilometres (26 mi) south of Madrid, and 44 kilometres (27 mi) from Toledo. As of 2009, it had a population of 54,055. It is the 17th-largest city in the Community of Madrid and the autonomous community's largest and most populous urban center outside Greater Madrid Area.

Cortes Generales legislature of Spain

The Cortes Generales are the bicameral legislative chambers of Spain, consisting of two chambers: the Congress of Deputies and the Senate. The members of the Cortes are the representatives of the Spanish people.

Urgell Comarca in Catalonia, Spain

Modern-day Urgell, also known as Baix Urgell, is a comarca (county) in Catalonia, Spain, forming only a borderland portion of the region historically known as Urgell, one of the Catalan counties.

Ferdinand's supporters, accompanied by the Royal Guard, staged an uprising in Madrid that was subdued by forces supporting the new government and its constitution. Despite the defeat of Ferdinand's supporters at Madrid, civil war erupted in the regions of Castile, Toledo, and Andalusia.

Three years of liberal rule (the Trienio Liberal) followed. The Progresista government reorganized Spain into 52 provinces, and it intended to reduce the regional autonomy that had been a hallmark of Spanish bureaucracy since Habsburg rule in the 16th and 17th centuries. Opposition of the affected regions, in particular, Aragon, Navarre, and Catalonia, shared in the king's antipathy for the liberal government. The anticlerical policies of the Progresista government led to friction with the Roman Catholic Church, and attempts to bring about industrialisation alienated old trade guilds. The Spanish Inquisition, which had been abolished by both Joseph Bonaparte and the Cádiz Cortes during the French occupation, was ended again by the government, which led to accusations of it being nothing more than afrancesados (francophiles), who, only six years earlier, had been forced out of the country.

More radical liberals attempted to revolt against the entire idea of a monarchy, regardless of how little power it had. In 1821, they were suppressed, but the incident served to illustrate the frail coalition that bound the government together.

The election of a radical liberal government in 1823 further destabilized Spain. The army, whose liberal leanings had brought the government to power, began to waver when the Spanish economy failed to improve, and in 1823, a mutiny in Madrid had to be suppressed. The Jesuits, who had been banned by Charles III in the 18th century, only to be rehabilitated by Ferdinand VII after his restoration, were banned again by the government. For the duration of liberal rule, Ferdinand (still technically head of state) lived under virtual house arrest in Madrid. The Congress of Vienna, ending the Napoleonic Wars, had inaugurated the "Congress system" as an instrument of international stability in Europe. Rebuffed by the "Holy Alliance" of Russia, Austria, and Prussia in his request for help against the liberal revolutionaries in 1820, by 1822, the "Concert of Europe" was so concerned by Spain's liberal government and its surprising hardiness that it was prepared to intervene on Ferdinand's behalf.

In 1822, the Congress of Verona authorized France to intervene. Louis XVIII of France was only too happy to put an end to Spain's liberal experiment, and a massive army, the 100,000 Sons of Saint Louis, was dispatched across the Pyrenees in April 1823. The Spanish army, fraught by internal divisions, offered little resistance to the well organised French force, who seized Madrid and reinstalled Ferdinand as absolute monarch. The liberals' hopes for a new Spanish War of Independence were dashed.

Regarding the policy for America in the absolutist period, the new government changed political repression into negotiation. Sending troops was replaced by commissioners to attract pro-independence leaders, who were invited to submit to royal authority in exchange for recognition by Spain. With that in mind, the government announced a ceasefire for negotiations with the rebels until the 1812 Constitution, which ironically, had been superseded by Ferdinand's actions, was accepted.

According to the ceasefire, Spain would end the persecution and would issue a blanket amnesty for the insurgents; otherwise, the war would continue. The 11 commissioners failed since the patriots demanded recognition of their independence from Spain.

Luis Maria de Borbon y Vallabriga, 14th Count of Chinchon (1777-1823), Archbishop of Toledo and Primate of Spain, a liberal churchman who abolished the Spanish Inquisition in 1820. (It would be re-established in 1823.) El cardenal don Luis Maria de Borbon y Vallabriga (Museo del Prado).jpg
Luis María de Borbón y Vallabriga, 14th Count of Chinchón (1777-1823), Archbishop of Toledo and Primate of Spain, a liberal churchman who abolished the Spanish Inquisition in 1820. (It would be re-established in 1823.)

French intervention

In 1822, Ferdinand VII applied the terms of the Congress of Vienna, lobbied for the assistance of the other absolute monarchs of Europe, in the process joining the Holy Alliance formed by Russia, Prussia, Austria and France to restore absolutism. In France, the ultra-royalists pressured Louis XVIII to intervene. To temper their counter-revolutionary ardour, the Duc de Richelieu deployed troops along the Pyrenees Mountains along the France-Spain border, charging them with halting the spread of Spanish liberalism and the "yellow fever" from encroaching into France. In September 1822, the cordon sanitaire became an observation corps and then very quickly transformed itself into a military expedition.

The Holy Alliance (Russia, Austria and Prussia) refused Ferdinand's request for help, but the Quintuple Alliance (United Kingdom, France, Russia, Prussia and Austria), at the Congress of Verona in October 1822, gave France a mandate to intervene and restore the Spanish monarchy. On 22 January 1823, a secret treaty was signed at the congress of Verona, allowing France to invade Spain to restore Ferdinand VII as an absolute monarch. With that agreement from the Holy Alliance, on 28 January 1823, Louis XVIII announced that "a hundred thousand Frenchmen are ready to march, invoking the name of Saint Louis, to safeguard the throne of Spain for a grandson of Henry IV of France".


In French

In Spanish

In English

Related Research Articles

Concert of Europe

The Concert of Europe represented the European balance of power from 1815 to 1848 and from 1871 to 1914.

Battle of Trocadero conflict

The Battle of Trocadero, fought on 31 August 1823, was the only significant battle in the French invasion of Spain in support of King Ferdinand VII. French forces defeated the Spanish liberal forces and restored the absolute rule of Ferdinand.

First Carlist War

The First Carlist War was a civil war in Spain from 1833 to 1840, fought between factions over the succession to the throne and the nature of the Spanish monarchy. It was fought between supporters of the regent, Maria Christina, acting for Isabella II of Spain, and those of the late king's brother, Carlos de Borbón. The Carlists’ goal was the return to an absolute monarchy. Portugal, France and the United Kingdom supported the regency, and sent volunteer and even regular forces to confront the Carlist army.

Juan Antonio Llorente Spanish historian

Juan Antonio Llorente, ORE was a Spanish historian.

José María Queipo de Llano, 7th Count of Toreno Spanish politician

José María Queipo de Llano y Ruiz de Saravia, 7th Count of Toreno, GE, OCIII, OIC, was a nineteenth-century Spanish politician and historian, who was Prime Minister of Spain. In Spain he is simply known as Conde de Toreno.

Juan Álvarez Mendizábal Prime Minister of Spain

Juan Álvarez Mendizábal, born Juan Álvarez Méndez, was a Spanish economist and politician who served as Prime Minister of Spain from 25 September 1835 to 15 May 1836.

Agustín Argüelles Spanish liberal politician

Agustín Argüelles was a Spanish liberal politician.

Royalist (Spanish American independence) Latin American and European supporters of the various governing bodies of the Spanish Monarchy, during the Spanish American wars of independence (1808 to 1833)

The royalists were the Latin American and European supporters of the various governing bodies of the Spanish Monarchy, during the Spanish American wars of independence, which lasted from 1808 until the king's death in 1833. In the early years of the conflict, when King Ferdinand VII was captive in France, royalists supported the authority in the Americas of the Supreme Central Junta of Spain and the Indies and the Cádiz Cortes that ruled in the King's name during the Peninsular War. After the restoration of Ferdinand VII in 1814, royalists supported his claim to rule Spanish America, but were split between those that supported his insistence to rule under traditional law and liberals, who sought to reinstate the reforms enacted by the Cádiz Cortes.

Francisco Javier de Elío Spanish viceroy

Francisco Javier de Elío, OCIII, was a Spanish soldier, governor of Montevideo and the last Viceroy of the Río de la Plata. He was also instrumental in the Absolutist repression after the restoration of Ferdinand VII as King of Spain. For this, he was executed during the Trienio Liberal.

Hundred Thousand Sons of Saint Louis war

The Hundred Thousand Sons of Saint Louis was the popular name for a French army mobilized in 1823 by the Bourbon King of France, Louis XVIII to help the Spanish Royalists restore King Ferdinand VII of Spain to the absolute power of which he had been deprived during the Liberal Triennium. Despite the name, the actual number of troops was around 60,000. The force comprised some five army corps and was led by the Duke of Angoulême, the son of the future King Charles X of France.

Asensio Nebot, known as "The Friar" and born in Nules, Spain in 1779, was a guerrilla in the Kingdom of Valencia during the Peninsular War. His exploits during the Peninsular War are well documented but, as he worked as a secret agent after the end of the war, there are gaps in what is known about his life from 1815 onwards.

The Moderate Party or Moderate Liberal Party was one of the two Spanish political parties that contended for power during the reign of Isabel II. Like the opposing Progressive Party, they characterized themselves as liberal and dynasticist: that is, both parties supported Isabel against the claims of the Carlists.

Ominous Decade

The Ominous Decade is a traditional term for the last ten years of the reign of King Ferdinand VII of Spain, dating from the abolition of the Spanish Constitution of 1812, on 1 October 1823, to his death on 29 September 1833.

The Revolutions of 1820 were a revolutionary wave in Europe. It included revolutions in Spain, Portugal and Italy for constitutional monarchies, and for independence from Ottoman rule in Greece. Unlike the revolutionary wave in the 1830s, these tended to take place in the peripheries of Europe.

José María de Torrijos y Uriarte Spanish military personnel (1791-1831)

Jose Maria Torrijos y Uriarte, Count of Torrijos, a title granted posthumously by the Queen Governor, also known as General Torrijos, was a Spanish Liberal soldier. He fought in the Spanish War of Independence and after the restoration of absolutism by Ferdinand VII in 1814 he participated in the pronouncement of John Van Halen of 1817 that sought to restore the Constitution of 1812, for which he spent two years in prison until he was released after the triumph of the Riego uprising in 1820. He returned to fight the French when the Hundred Thousand Sons of Saint Louis invaded Spain to restore the absolute power of Ferdinand VII and when those triumphed ending the liberal triennium exiled to England. There he prepared a statement which he himself led, landing on the coast of Malaga from Gibraltar on December 2, 1831, with sixty men accompanying him, but they fell into the trap that had been laid before him by the absolutist authorities and were arrested. Nine days later, on December 11, Torrijos and 48 of his fellow survivors were shot without trial on the beach of San Andres de Málaga, a fact that was immortalized by a sonnet of José de Espronceda entitled To the death of Torrijos and his Companions and by a famous painting that painted in 1888 Antonio Gisbert. "The tragic outcome of his life explains what has happened to history, in all fairness, as a great symbol of the struggle against despotism and tyranny, with the traits of epic nobility and serenity typical of the romantic hero, eternalized in The famous painting Antonio Gisbert." The city of Malaga erected a monument to Torrijos and his companions in the Plaza de la Merced, next to the birthplace of the painter Pablo Picasso. Under the monument to Torrijos in the middle of the square are the tombs of 48 of the 49 men shot; One of them, British, was buried in the English cemetery (Malaga).

Trágala is a song the Spanish liberals used to humiliate the absolutists after the military pronunciamiento of Rafael del Riego in Cabezas de San Juan, at the beginning of the period known as Trienio Liberal (1820-1823).