“The affairs in Spain were only due to
a chain of circumstances that were
unpredictable; no human reason could
possibly have reckoned on the excessive
stupidity and weakness that I found in
Charles IV, nor on the unpardonable
ambition and duplicity of Ferdinand,
who is as wicked as despicable”

Napoleon to his principal private secretary,
Hugues Bernard Maret

After the two last chapters in which we described the members of the Bonaparte family who were all – with the exception of Pauline - prejudicial to their older brother in spite the fact that they owed him everything, and before joining Napoleon again as he assumes his familiar role of commander-in-chief which he hated, we shall very briefly mention two of the important legal and administrative reforms which he introduced in 1807:

-The publication of the Code du Commerce, on 11 September;

-The creation, on the 16th of the same month, of the Cour des Comptes, an administrative jurisdiction which was to assist both parliament and the government in supervising public expenditure as well as the government's various transactions, and to give their judgement on the administration of public money. The Cour des Comptes still plays the same role today, which shows if needs be, the modernity and continuity of the Emperor's legal and administrative reforms.

And as 2007 marks the two-hundredth anniversary of both of these reforms, they well deserve to be mentioned here!

Another one of Napoleon's major achievements in 1807 was the publication of a decree on the status of Jews granting them full citizenship, and the celebration in Paris of the Great Sanhedrin, the supreme political, religious and judicial council of the people of Israel. Thus, they assembled for the first time since 70 A.D. when the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by the legions of the Roman Emperor, Titus. This is a theme we shall not deal with in the “Life of Napoleon”, as it has already been examined under a different heading on this website and it is not proposed to repeat this information here.



The sinews of war with which England ruined life on the Continent

But the year 1807 was especially marked by Napoleon's iron determination to put an end to the presence of the English on the Continent.

And as England with its hostile policy was a constant menace to France, he wanted to rid the Continent of every single English representative.

And especially so in Portugal, which was not only a haunt for exiled French émigrés who were all fanatically hostile to the Imperial regime, but worse, a colony from London which manipulated the Braganza who ruled the country.

For Napoleon, the presence of the English in Portugal meant that there was a vast gap in the flank of the Continental Blockade, and for this reason which was vital in his struggle against Albion he judged it necessary to drive the English out.

And just after Tilsit, he had written to the King of Spain that he wanted “above all to tear Portugal away from its alliance with England .”



Thus, in early September the court of Lisbon received an official proposition from the court of the Tuileries in Paris to adhere to the Continental Blockade. But it was also informed that in the event of a refusal, Portugal would be considered an enemy of France.

At the end of October 1807, the official envoy of Portugal in France, Count Lima, was told by Napoleon in the presence of the diplomatic corps:

“I will not tolerate a single English representative in Europe. If Portugal does not do as I wish, the house of Braganza will no longer reign in Europe two months hence.”

The diplomat was visibly shaken by the warning he received.

Although the admonishment was blunt and unconventional according to custom in diplomatic circles, it was nevertheless – relatively – acceptable, and it is appropriate here to draw a parallel between this and the savage attack of Copenhagen by the English fleet (See chapter 39).

What did Napoleon want exactly?

He wanted all Portuguese ports to be tightly closed to merchant navy ships flying English colours!

Napoleon may have expressed his intentions somewhat bluntly and tactlessly, but his determination to prohibit Portuguese ports to English commerce was an inevitable consequence of the Treaty of Tilsit as leaving them open meant that English goods were free to penetrate unhindered on the Continent.

And this was a luxury which he could not afford as England at that time financed all the anti-French coalitions with the huge profits of her trade throughout the world.

Georges III (1738-1820) ARR

Let us remind those of our visitors who may have forgotten that the Emperor's determination to cut Albion down to size was motivated by the repeated refusals he received to his proposals of peace and in particular the offer which had been put forward in a letter dated 2nd January 1805, addressed to King George III, which had never received a positive answer (See Chapter 9).

As it was impossible for Portugal to break off relations with England upon whom she depended entirely, and equally impossible to offer any resistance to her powerful opponent, the country had no other choice than to prepare for the inevitable: the arrival on its territory of the 22,000 men commanded by Junot, who were drawn up around Bayonne.



Spain, on the other hand, consented to this invasion and Napoleon had already signed a secret clause with Charles IV which had been negotiated by the Spanish envoy in France on this very point: the invasion of Portugal. By this treaty, Spain agreed to supply two divisions, one of which was to head for Porto and the other to proceed to the south of the River Tage, while Junot's army had the mission of occupying the strategic point: Lisbon.

In exchange for their cooperation, the north of the country was to be allotted to the Spanish sovereigns' daughter, the Queen of Etruria, whose little kingdom had just been seized by Napoleon who had given it to one of his sisters, Elisa, while he south of the country was to become a principality and given to Manuel Godoy. As for the central part of the country, which was by far the largest geographically, its destiny was as yet undecided.

Napoleon who had no intention of divulging his intentions, kept the agreement secret.

For a simple reason. He distrusted his ally who was far too obliging to be sincere. And not without reason.

During the Third Coalition it was true that Spain had been France's staunch ally and, at sea, the Spanish fleet had been entirely destroyed together with the French fleet off the Cape Trafalgar, on 21 October 1805, by the vessels of the Royal Navy commanded by Admiral Nelson who had been killed during the battle.

So after this common sacrifice why was Napoleon suddenly suspicious of yesterday's ally?

In 1806, just after crushing Prussia at Jena, Napoleon had discovered in the Castle of Charlottenburg, which had just been hastily abandoned by Frederick-William and Louise of Prussia, written proof (See chapter 26) of a collusion between the Russians, Prussians and the “Prince of the Peace”, Godoy, and worse still, a personal letter from Charles IV to Frederick-William in which he promised to attack France from the rear.

In short, a good and trustworthy ally!



Charles IV (1748-1819) ARR

As their names have just been mentioned and as we shall soon encounter them again in the course of our following chapters, let us now take a brief glance at the main characters of what was to become the greatest calamity of Napoleon's reign.

To speak clearly, the royal family of Spain was a disgrace to the other European monarchies of the time.

The King of Spain, Charles IV, aged sixty, was like all the other Bourbons who reigned in Europe, a descendant of the great French monarch, Louis XIV. Whatever the source we refer to, Charles IV is described as a fat, morose man who was slow-witted, lazy and so “excessively greedy as to be gluttonous”.

If this portrait, in which the members of the Spanish royal family are portrayed like so many caricatures, had not been painted by famous Spanish artist Francisco Goya, there
is little doubt that it would have been subject to outcry and scandal. ARR

The daughter of the Duke of Parma, his wife, Maria-Luisa of Parma, aged 57, was also his cousin. She was described as being “miraculously ugly” (a fine expression which speaks for itself), and what was worse, excessively fond of sensual pleasure, a trait which her ugliness made even more, what we shall charitably call, “picturesque”.


Maria-Luisa of Parma (1751-1819),
Queen of Spain ARR

As the Queen apparently failed to satisfy her appetite with her dull-witted but complaisant husband, she had long since turned to an ex-soldier in the Life Guards, Manuel Godoy Alvarez de Faria, aged 41, to whom she gave herself body and soul.

Godoy, who came from a family of the lesser gentry of Estremadura, had started his career at the age of 17 when he joined his younger brother in the Life Guards. But it was his liaison with the Queen, which had started twenty years earlier in 1788, which marked the beginning of his extraordinary career and ascension to power. The ex-soldier in the Life Guards had rapidly been made Duke of Alcudia, before successively becoming, Grandee of Spain, General, Grand Admiral of Spain and India, Secretary of State and finally Prime Minister.

To crown it all in 1795, after the Spanish Army had been badly defeated by the French troops of the Convention, Godoy, after negotiating the Treaty of Bâle with France which was far from favourable to his own country – he had among other concessions been forced to surrender Santo Domingo - received the distinguished order of the “Golden Fleece” and the title of “Prince of the Peace”!

But who was Godoy really?

It is difficult to form an opinion as a great deal has been written – much of which is extremely unpleasant – about this key character in the history of Spain, and among other things that he was an ignorant brute.

“He looks like a bull”, said Napoleon after meeting him in Bayonne.

And yet other sources claim that he mastered mathematics, modern philosophy and French and that he was, moreover, the generous patron of several associations.

Manuel Godoy (1767-1851), the Queen of Spain 's lover and the King's favourite, who was the real master of Spain . ARR

And these same sources also describe him as being a tireless worker who was open-minded and interested in everything.

Named Prime Minister in 1792, his ambition was to modernise his country and to help the poverty-stricken peasants by distributing land which belonged to the crown, and above all by putting an end to the monstrous and sordid Inquisition which was still in effect.

But in a country which was entirely under the influence of a backward religion in which monks and priests who were as degenerate as their sovereigns reigned over unenlightened souls, it was inevitable that an initiative such as this should stir up a great deal of hostility towards its innovator. And we shall see some precise examples of this in the following chapters.

If we add to Godoy's credit that he also aspired to persuade the King to abolish serfdom, it is not very difficult to understand why he was considered dangerous!

Yet Godoy, who was to play a decisive role in provoking the crisis which ultimately led Napoleon into the disastrous adventure of the war in Spain also had many failings. His cupidity and dishonesty were as notorious as his dissolute ways and the Queen, who looks like a shrew in the famous portrait of the Royal family by Goya, apparently did not satisfy his appetite. Which is easily understood. But it seems that she bore him no grudge and, perhaps so that she could keep an eye on her “bull”, she married him to one of the King's nieces, the infanta Maria-Theresa of Spain.



(Data dates from 1813)

-Two hundred leagues wide by two hundred leagues long; 14 provinces, nearly all of which bear the title of kingdoms
-Ten million inhabitants
-Seven “considerable” rivers
-Resources: corn, fruit, flax, hemp, wine, saffron, madder, cork, oil, honey, wool, sugar-cane, mines and precious stones.
-Eight archbishoprics, 46 dioceses.

Portrayed by Francisco Goya, Ferdinand, Prince of Asturias (1784-1833), who was briefly King of Spain in 1808, then from
1814-1833 under the name of Ferdinand VII. ARR

This situation which was unusual - to say the least - earned the Queen's protégé the bitter hatred of the fourth actor of this sordid play, the royal couple's oldest son and heir apparent to the throne of Spain, Ferdinand, Prince of Asturias.

Aged 24 at the time, Ferdinand who was malformed was unable to dissimulate his character which was narrow-minded, calculating, peevish and finally, as we shall see later on, cowardly.

The great Spanish painter Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (near Zaragoza, 1747 Bordeaux, 1828) left us a cruel but realistic portrait of the future King of Spain who ruled under the name of Ferdinand VII, which makes any further comment superfluous as to look at it is enough; the low brow and grim eyes with a sly look. The son was worthy of his parents. His image speaks for itself.

As for his parents, Ferdinand held them in contempt, and this feeling was absolutely mutual.

With regard to Godoy, whom he considered as an upstart, he felt only hatred, but his hatred was tinged with hypocritical fear as he knew that the favourite was powerful and protected.

And it was this mutual contempt and hatred which was to lay the seeds of what was to become the Spanish tragedy.



After several centuries of great power, Spain had declined and become a miserable country with a government whose leaders had become decrepit, inefficient and corrupt, and in this context of poverty Godoy stood out ostentatiously showing off his wealth and riches which he owed to the indecent passion of the wife of Charles IV for him.

In short the King governed behind the Queen, and the Queen behind Godoy, who the real and unique master of Spain.

This – very roughly outlined – was the portrait of the lamentable and horrible Spanish royal family that Napoleon, who was a methodical man with conventional ideas had before his eyes, and which could not fail to disgust him.

With an example such as this the Emperor came to the conclusion that a nation which was under the subjection of a king and queen who were as pitiful as this could only be like its sovereigns, and thus, he made an error of judgement because he failed to distinguish between the Spanish sovereigns, whom he knew only too well, and the Spanish people, of whom he knew nothing.

It was to be his error.

To be continued…