Ferdinand VII of Spain (1784–1833)
Ferdinand VII of Spain (1784–1833)
Ferdinand VII of Spain (b. 14 October 1784; d. 29 September 1833), king of Spain (1808–1833). The early years of Ferdinand's life were marked by fear and rebellion against his parents, Charles IV and Queen María Luisa, and their chief minister, Manuel de Godoy, who excluded the young prince from participation in government and even threatened him with disinheritance. Ferdinand's rebellion was manifested in intrigues with Napoleon I as early as 1807. During the peak of Godoy's unpopularity, the young prince of Asturias became a symbol for those disaffected with the regime of Charles IV. After the riots at Aranjuez by supporters of the prince (1808), Charles IV abdicated in his son's favor. Nevertheless, Ferdinand, like his father and Godoy, remained Napoleon's pawn and spent the first years of his reign a captive in France during the Peninsular War (1808–1814).
Restored to the throne after signing a treaty of alliance with Napoleon (1813), Ferdinand returned to Spain and repudiated the work of those who had governed in his absence, especially the liberal Cortes of Cádiz (1810) and the Constitution of 1812. Ferdinand treated the liberals, including Americans, as traitors, and revived royal absolutism. Equally shortsighted in his colonial policy, he tried to recover the colonies and restore their traditional obedience to the crown through military force. He restored the Council of the Indies but abolished the ministry of the Indies and reassigned its agenda to the ministries of war and finance.
Ferdinand's return to absolutism was supported by the church and wealthy landowners. Although he governed through ministers, his regime was unstable: during the first part of his reign (1814–1820) his ministers served an average of six months. In 1820 an army revolt forced Ferdinand to accept the constitution; thereafter, the revolutions at home and in the colonies were inextricably linked in his mind. In 1823, when Louis XVIII sent an army to restore Ferdinand's authority, the Spanish king once again revoked the constitution and embarked upon a policy of absolutism and repression.
Despite being unable to produce a male heir in four marriages, Ferdinand passed over his brother, Don Carlos, in favor of his daughter, the future Isabella II. His death thus provoked what became known as the Carlist wars, between the supporters of Isabella and those of Don Carlos. Ferdinand never abandoned the illusion that he could recover Spain's lost colonies—by 1824 only Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines remained—and died without recognizing their independence.
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Suzanne Hiles Burkholder