Espartero Zumalakarregi Museum 63 Oleo.pdf
Espartero Zumalakarregi Museum 63 Oleo.pdf
Espartero - Plato.jpg
Espartero - Plato.jpg


Baldomero Espartero (1793-1879) was one of the most important military and political figures in 19th-century Spain. He was also its first modern public figure, the object of a popular cult that was unique in the country and matched in Europe only by those of Napoleon and Garibaldi.

Espartero was the ninth and final child of a wagon maker and his wife in the small La Mancha town of Granátula de Calatrava. His parents were able to send him to the nearby University of Almagro, probably intending that he enter the Church, like three of his siblings. The Napoleonic invasion of Spain changed any such plans: Espartero volunteered for the army and, when the anti-French government opened the officer corps to commoners, he entered its new military academy.

Following the end of the war and the restoration of King Ferdinand VII in 1814, Espartero volunteered for the expeditionary force that was being sent to fight against the independence movements in Spain’s South American colonies. He spent almost ten years there, rising from second lieutenant to brigadier general thanks to a combination of reckless battlefield valour and the patronage of superiors. After returning from Peru in 1825 he survived Ferdinand’s political purge of the officer corps and remained in the army. In 1827 he married Jacinta Martínez de Sicilia y Santa Cruz, a sixteen-year old from a wealthy liberal family from the Rioja who would play a major role in his career.

When the Carlist War broke out in 1833 Espartero supported the infant queen Isabel II and her mother, Maria Cristina, against the Carlist pretender. His raising of the siege of Bilbao on Christmas Eve 1836 turned him into a national hero and a popular idol. He appeared in various items of material culture, such as the plate shown above, cigar cases, and even roof tiles. As commander in chief he ended the war in the north with a negotiated peace and the theatrical “Embrace of Vergara” with his Carlist counterpart on August 31, 1839. He then went to the eastern theatre and brought the war to a victorious conclusion in June 1840.

Espartero was, above all, a supporter of the legitimate monarchy. For most of the Carlist War he refused to take sides in the struggle between the two liberal families, the Moderates and the Progressives, denouncing partisanship for undermining the war effort. By 1839, however, he had moved to the Progressives and came to see himself as the embodiment of the popular will. He was “the Spanish flag” he said to his wife in one of his letters. In the autumn of 1840, he refused to obey Maria Cristina’s order to suppress a Progressive-led revolt which, in turn, led her to abdicate as Regent. Parliament elected Espartero to replace her in May 1841.

As Regent, Espartero tried to function as a constitutional head of state but the combination of divisions among the Progressives and the refusal of Moderates to accept his legitimacy undermined his Regency. A military uprising supported, which some Progressives supported, forced him into exile in London in July 1843. During his absence, Espartero was the centre of a popular publishing phenomenon that included biographies, novels, and other items.

Espartero returned to Spain in January 1848 and immediately went to his wife’s home in Logrono where he remained until revolution broke out in July 1854. With her throne in danger, Isabel II called Espartero to power and his return to Madrid was met with almost hysterical joy on the barricades. (In one of his columns for the New York Herald, Karl Marx famously described him as “no real man; he was a ghost, a name, a reminiscence.”) As Prime Minister Espartero failed to push through the more radical demands of the revolution and after two years fell victim to a rebellion led by the number two person in his government, the more conservative general, Leopoldo O’Donnell. In fact, as the army shelled the parliament building and defenders of the revolution died on the barricades, Espartero was nowhere to be seen. The new regime allowed him to return to Logrono, where he lived for the rest of his life.

Members of the political elite wrote Espartero off as a political force, but political failure did not diminish his great popularity. The Progressive rank and file continued to see him as their party’s leader and his withdrawal to Logrono gave rise to a new image alongside the existing one of the “Pacificador” [Bringer of Peace]. He was “the modest retiree of Logrono”, the austere, honest, and principled man who had given up power rather than shed Spanish blood and was forgotten by an ungrateful queen. Even some republicans admired him.

As Progressives, led by Espartero’s younger rival General Juan Prim, and Democrats conspired against Isabel II after 1865, they sought Espartero’s blessing, but he publicly refused to support an attack on the monarch. Once the Revolution of 1868 had chased Isabel II from the throne, however, he offered his support to the new regime. With the revolutionary government looking for a new ruler for its “democratic monarchy”, there was a strong campaign, most significantly embodied in 268 petitions to parliament, to make Espartero king. The campaign continued despite his repeated public protestations that was not interested; in the end he received only eight votes. He immediately swore his allegiance to the new king, Amadeo of Savoy.

Amadeo quickly sought to use Espartero’s great popularity to shore up his throne. Early in his reign he visited him in Logrono. Later he gave Espartero a new noble title: Prince of Vergara. This made Espartero one of only two people from outside the royal family ever to be made a prince. Amadeo’s reign was marked by great political instability and Espartero became a kind of necessary man, repeatedly being seen as the solution to political crises although he always refused to return to political life.

Amadeo abdicated in February 1873 after only fourteen months on the throne and was succeeded by the First Republic. Although a lifelong monarchist, Espartero pledged his loyalty to the new regime, which he saw as the emanation of the popular will. The short-lived Republic was as turbulent as Amadeo’s reign, and Espartero continued to be seen as the answer to political crises. There was even an attempt to have named president.

A military coup in December 1874 ended the Republic and restored the monarchy in the person of Isabel’s son, Alfonso XII. Only six weeks after ascending the throne, Alfonso sought to benefit from Espartero’s popularity, visiting him in Logrono in February 1875. Their meeting was widely reported in the press.

Espartero died in January 1879. He was given a state funeral and the state erected monuments to him in Madrid and Logrono. Beyond this, the Restoration regime did nothing to convert Espartero into an official national hero. Nor has any regime since. The most famous and revered Spaniard of his time, the person many saw as the embodiment of peace and constitutional government, was largely forgotten. He has never even been accorded the modest recognition of a postage stamp.