Spain in 1808 was a volcano waiting to erupt. In 1807 Spain and France had signed the Treaty of Fontainebleu (an alternative date for the start of the War) to partition Portugal and French armies entered Spain to invade Portugal. Resentment against the Prime Minister (and alleged lover of the Queen) Manuel de Godoy was building and a mutiny in March 1808 forced the inept King Carlos IV to abdicate in favor of his equally incompetent heir Fernando. French forces under Marshal Murat occupied Madrid and Napoleon summoned Carlos and Ferdinand to Bayonne. The scene was set of Napoleon’s biggest political blunder.
The spark for the Dos de Mayo was the move to send the daughter and youngest son of Carlos IV to Bayonne. Crowds gathered in Madrid to protest the removal of the Prince and street fighting broke out in the city. Murat brought troops into the city to crush the uprising – commemorated by Goya’s Charge of the Mamelukes below.
Most of the Spanish regiments stayed out of the uprising and remained in the barracks. The exception werre artillery units at the barracks of the Monteleón who were overwhelmed by sheer numbers.
The next day Murat ordered the execution of hundreds of prisoners in retaliation commemorated by another famous Goya painting.
With Madrid pacified, Napoleon moved to his big blunder – the Abdications of Bayonne. Carlos and Fernando were informed that they were expected to abdicate and the new King of Spain would be Napoleon’s brother Joseph. Carlos meekly abdicated on May 5 and his son a few days later. King Jose I would have been a far better King than the two Bourbons he displaced, but as a foreigner and a mason to boot he was unacceptable to Spain. The result was open revolt followed by British intervention under Arthur Wellesley (later Duke of Wellington) and the eventual expulsion of the French from Spain. What Napoleon called the “Spanish Ulcer” had come into being and he would never lance it successfully. In December 1813 with his defeat imminent Napoleon released Fernando VII and allowed him to return to Spain as king.
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