Ensenada, Cenón De Somodevilla, Marquesdéla

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ENSENADA, CENÓN DE SOMODEVILLA, MARQUESDÉLA (17021781), minister to Philip V and Ferdinand VI of Spain. One of Spain's most powerful eighteenth-century ministers, Somodevilla was born into a poor hidalgo, 'noble', family in the small northern town of Alescano in the Rioja region. Little is known about his formative years. In 1720, at the age of eighteen, he was working as a civil servant for the navy in Cádiz, where his abilities gained the notice of the royal minister José Patiño y Morales (16661736), then the naval intendant general.

Groomed by Patiño, Somodevilla was promoted to numerous positions within the ministries of navy and war. He earned the title of marqués de la Ensenada in 1736 for his services to the navy in the Italian campaigns that made Philip V's (ruled 17001724; 17241746) son Charles the king of Naples, and he became a secretary of state and of war in 1741. When José de Campillo (16951743) died in 1743, Ensenada succeeded him as first secretary in four of the five secretariats of the Spanish crown: finance, war, navy, and the Indies.

Ensenada and José de Carvajal (16981754), first secretary of state, dominated the reign of Ferdinand VI (ruled 17461759). Ensenada's position exemplified the incredible power that individual ministers came to wield in Bourbon Spain as the crown reduced the historic power of the Consejos ('councils'), an institutional stronghold of the aristocracy under the Habsburgs.

Eighteenth-century Spain is often characterized as the century of Bourbon reform, in which successive kings oversaw efforts to centralize administration and to modernize and rationalize the state. The first Spanish Bourbons, Philip V and Ferdinand VI, were ineffectual rulers, but they promoted talented ministers who worked to reshape Spain as it recovered from the economic crises of the seventeenth century and the political fracture of the War of the Spanish Succession (17011714). Melchor de Macanaz (16701760), Campillo, and Patiño instituted ambitious programs to stabilize and consolidate power in the first decades of Bourbon rule. Yet these early "reformers" did little to challenge Spain's traditional economic and social structures, and historians have identified Ensenada as the eighteenth century's first real innovator, one whose vision prefigured the more far-reaching projects of Charles III's reign (17591788).

Like his mentor Patiño, Ensenada recognized the importance of improving the military to protect Spain's interests throughout its empire, particularly its American colonies. He expanded the Spanish fleet and reformed an ailing naval infrastructure. He initiated civil engineering projects and asserted state control of public works at national, regional, and local levels. Dissatisfied with Spain's scientific and technological stagnation, he sent students abroad and subsidized visits of prominent scientists and thinkers to Spain.

Perhaps Ensenada's most famous project was his plan to reform the tax system in Castile by eliminating various provincial taxes in favor of the única contribución, a single tax proportional to wealth and applied to every individual. To assess the tax, he directed a vast census, or catastro, of the communities, people, and properties of Castile. The single tax added a social component to economic reform, for the old provincial taxes largely exempted both nobility and church, placing an inordinate tax burden on the poor. The nobility fought and defeated the single tax, however, reacting to the threat that Ensenada and a new class of royal bureaucrats presented to traditional power and local privilege.

Ensenada created enemies within Spain for his policies of national reform, but his role in foreign affairs ultimately caused his downfall. His aggression against the competition of England and its ally Portugal in Atlantic trade, and his support of a strategic alliance with France, alienated pro-English and pro-Portuguese factions within the court and diverged from the policies of Carvajal, who pursued a more neutral course. This court factionalism came to a head during the territorial dispute and subsequent treaty with Portugal over Paraguay in 1750. Ensenada opposed the unfavorable terms of the treaty for Spain, as did the Jesuits. Their protests did not prevent the treaty's ratification, and only heightened political resentment against them.

In the wake of the Paraguay crisis and Carvajal's death in 1754, Ensenada became an easy target for his enemies, despised for his vanity and feared for the disproportionate power he possessed. His fall was swift and he was banished that year to Medina del Campo, where he remained until Charles III restored him to court (though not to power) in 1760. He came under new scrutiny for his relationship with the Jesuits in the events leading to their 1767 expulsion from Spain, and he was again exiled to Medina del Campo, where he died in 1781.

See also Bourbon Dynasty (Spain) ; Charles III (Spain) ; Ferdinand VI (Spain) ; Philip V (Spain) ; Spain ; Spanish Succession, War of the (17011714) .


Domínguez Ortíz, Antonio. Sociedad y estado en el siglo XVIII español. Barcelona, 1976.

Lynch, John. Bourbon Spain, 17001808. Oxford, 1989.

Villa Rodríguez, José. Don Cenón de Somodevilla, marqués de la Ensenada. Madrid, 1878.

Julianne Gilland