Thursday, August 9, 2012

The War of the Spanish Succession and the suppression of the Catalan State

Catalonia’s gamble in favor of Charles of Austria and against Philip V during the War of the Spanish Succession resulted in the loss of all its rights and governing institutions as an independent state. International factors completely determined Catalonia’s destiny in the War of the Spanish Succession.

The European powers were shaken when, in 1701, Charles II of Spain's will left the throne to Philip of Anjou, the grandson of Louis XIV of France. Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, and a descendant of Philip III of Spain, also reclaimed the right of his lineage to the throne in favor of his grandson Charles of Hapsburg. Although the Hispanic Empire was in decline, the American colonies were a source of coveted richness. Therefore, when Philip of Anjou was crowned, England, the Netherlands, and the Germanic Empire, alarmed by the power France was acquiring, signed the Treaty of The Hague in 1701, and declared war on France and Spain. The dynastic question, however, was only the visible face of a European conflict in which, what was really in play, was Europe's economic and power balance.

Charles III of Catalonia

From the beginning Catalonia embraced Philip V as king. In turn, as his grandfather had advised him, he took great pains to make a good impression and soon visited Barcelona, where he summoned the Courts, the first to be held since 1632, and swore the Catalan Constitution. In Catalonia, the economically entrepreneurial sector had just recovered from the upheaval of the Reapers’ War and did not trust the new monarch. Furthermore, anti-French sentiment had become widespread among the population. It was especially deep-rooted in Vic, due to Louis XIV’s constant attempts to take over the region, with the most recent attempt being during the Nine Years’ War in 1697.

A group of constitutional leaders was created, and they supported Charles of Austria's claim to the throne against the more absolutist ways of the French Bourbon. Those who backed the house of the Austrian candidate identified with nations of strong representative tradition, like England and Holland, and with their commerce-based power. This encouraged them to look for the support of The Hague’s Alliance, and to position themselves on Charles of Austria's side.

The Austrian supporters soon found reassurance in the sermons of countless clerics who spread their ideas, indirectly assisted by Viceroy Velasco’s arrogant attitude, which became very evident during the first years of Philip V’s rule. So, like the anti-Bourbon detractors in Vic, who were known as vigatans, other groups in favor of the Austrian candidate appeared around the Acadèmia dels Desconfiats (Academy of Distrustful) in Barcelona, among whom we find the old lieutenant Jordi de Hesse-Darmstadt, who was known for the important role he played against the French occupation during the Nine Years’ War.

The conversations with the allies were initiated, and their agreements led to the landing of British and Dutch ships commanded by Jordi de Darmstadt in Barcelona, May 1704. This first attempt to enter Barcelona failed, mainly because it was not backed by the Catalan government, and was rebuked by Viceroy Velasco's troops.

Jordi de Darmstad

In spite of this failure, on June 20th 1705, Antoni de Peguera and Domènec Parera, important political figures from Vic, signed the Treaty of Geneva with England, by which the English promised to provide the necessary military support to put Charles of Austria on the throne, and guarantee Catalonia’s self-government afterwards. A second allied landing, first at Altea, and later in Barcelona, happened, and it allowed the Austrian supporters’ revolt to spread to Valencia and Catalonia. In October, the Anglo-Catalan forces celebrated an important victory in Barcelona, with the taking of Montjuïc, and finally, Charles III was recognized as King by the Catalan Government.

At first it seemed that victories favored them. The allied forces conquered Zaragoza and Madrid, but their defeat at the battle of Almansa, in April 1707, precipitated the fall of the Kingdoms of Valencia and Aragon. After this, Philip V enforced the Nueva Planta Decree, which eliminated their government and privileges. From that moment on the war had Catalonia as its main scenario. The victory at the battle of Almenar in July 1710 saw the Austrian supporters’ advance. However, Emperor Joseph I's sudden death compelled Charles to return to Vienna to be crowned emperor. This event influenced the allies’ support of Catalonia, mainly the English. The Tory government was already talking about peace negotiations with France. They made a historically crucial decision for Catalonia, namely, they would position themselves against the formation of a large Germanic-Hispanic empire.

England and France began secret negotiations in 1711 to reshape power in Europe, which formally materialized in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Alerted of this, Catalonia sent ambassadors to try to save the situation by defending its rights and the validity of their agreements with England, but they were not given the opportunity to take part in the negotiations. At the same time, Charles of Austria, who had already been crowned emperor, ordered the transfer of the regent Queen to Vienna, who until then had been in Barcelona. The Catalan leaders could not believe that their allies were abandoning them.

Engraving of the Utrecht Treaty

From the peace treaties of Utrecht and later Rastatt, the English obtained considerable gains. From the French, they got some American territories and, from Philip V, other than Gibraltar and Minorca, which had already been conquered, they got several stable commercial settlements in the Western Mediterranean and America. The ‘Catalan case’, as the debate in the English Parliament over the convenience and even morality of abandoning an ally in a position of weakness was known, continued for many years in the European political circles.

The allied forces evacuated Catalonia and, by July 1713 the region had already been occupied by Philip V’s army, with the exception of the city of Barcelona and Cardona’s garrison. They were forced to make a decision, and the Diputació del General called on an extraordinary meeting of the Junta de Braços (a meeting of the city's political forces), to decide whether they would surrender or resist. The members of the ecclesiastical force, alleging that it was a military problem, did not pronounce themselves on the matter. A part of the military saw negotiating as a capitulation, but the royal flank, formed by the cities and the less privileged classes, voted in favor of resisting and continued with the fight. Finally, the military flank joined in, and on July 9th 1713, the Diputació del General agreed with  the Junta dels Braços, and communicated their decision to the nation.

On July 25th, the troops of the Duke of Populi arrived with 25.000, soldiers and the siege of Barcelona began. During thirteen months revolts erupted all over Catalonia, but they were quickly suppressed by the Spanish army in a cruel manner. After a year of heroic resistance by the Barcelonians, Louis XIV sent the Duke of Berwick to replace the duke of Populi. He arrived in July 1714 with a new contingent of troops. Taking advantage of the weakness of the Catalan army, led by Rafael Nebot and Antoni de Villarroel, Berwick’s troops prevailed on September 11th, and Barcelona finally capitulated. After the fall of the city, the Catalan Government and laws were abolished, and those of Castile were enforced. These laws also implied the disappearance of the historical territorial division of the region. Afterwards, the new Spanish King persecuted the Catalan pro-Austrian leaders. One example of this is that of general Moragues. He was captured and quartered, and his severed head was publicly exhibited. For twelve years, he had been one of Catalonia's most stalwart generals.

A painting representing the people defending the city
of Barcelona against the Spanish and French troops.

Statue of General Moragues.

Between 1714 and 1716, which is the date when the Nueva Planta Decree was published, Philip V set-up a provisional governing administration in Catalonia called Real Junta Superior de Gobierno y Justicia (Royal High Body of Government and Justice), which was presided over by José Patiño. Philip V's pan, and that of his closest councillors, amongst whom there was Patiño, was to eliminate Catalonia's government, that is to say, its legislative power, in order to annul all its agreements and  its Constitution. The region was to be given some institutions in line with the absolutist scheme of Bourbon’s politics. In accordance with Nueva Planta Decree, Catalonia would be governed by a Captain General and by the Royal Audience, which formed the Real Acuerdo (Royal Agreement). The decree stipulated the workings of the Audience and of the new administrative and political system. Later, the Real Cédula of 1718, known as the Nueva Planta Municipal, developed the decree's into the municipal sphere.

The cover of the anti-constitutional
Nueva Planta decree.

Philip V did not only abolish Catalonia’s Government and Constitution, which had been developed independently by Catalonia's Government since the middle of the 13th century. He also substituted them with a regime that did not represent the people, and which placed military authority over the people's will.

In Catalonia, the portrait of Philip V has been
traditionally displayed in this manner.

2 comentaris:

  • Arnau Estanyol says:
    August 13, 2012 at 3:14 AM

    I ask myself why the Spanish Government wants traditionally recover Gibraltar breaking the Utrecht treaty only partially. They always forget that Catalonia is part of that treaty and break it should mean renegociate the status that Catalonia had at that time. Or at least give voice to the Catalan people in that issue.

  • help Catalonia says:
    August 19, 2012 at 6:31 AM

    That is a very good point. There are still many unsolved issues concerning international treaties that were not honored. As a result, Catalonia unfairly got the short end of the stick. Revising these treaties should, in theory, revise Catalonia's status in Europe.

Post a Comment