The Abolition of Semi-Salic Law in Spain and its Consequences

Ferdinand VII, to whom his father Charles IV had abdicated in 1808, had been imprisoned by Napoleon, but with the defeat of the French armies on the Peninsular by the Duke of Wellington, Napoleon agreed by the Treaty of Valençay of 11 Dec 1813 to allow him to return to Spain. Napoleon was no friend to liberalism and saw the King's restoration as a necessary step to prevent republican impulses triumphing south of the Pyrenees and perhaps spreading into France. The Constitution of 22 Sep 1812, which had been proclaimed by an extraordinary session of the Cortes, was not in Ferdinand's view legal, as the Cortes had not included many of the members who sat by right, and neither he nor the Council of Regency had assented or been consulted as to the measures it had taken. Meanwhile, Spain's American Empire was disintegrating, having refused to accept the Bonapartist regime that was unable to exercise any authority over Spain's overseas dominions. Mexico had achieved independence in 1811, while the Argentines, Chileans and Venezuelans, soon followed by the residents of New Grenada (Colombia) and Peru, each declared their independence over the next decade.

Following the restoration, the liberals divided between those who were sympathetic to the American independence movements, and those who wished to strengthen the Spanish Empire under a Constitutional Monarchy. By the Decree of Valencia of 4 May 1814, Ferdinand, while staunchly noting his abhorrence and detestation of absolutism, abolished the Constitution, dissolving the Cortes, placing its documents and records in storage and releasing all those who, opposing the Constitution, had been summarily imprisoned on the orders of the Cortes. The King was determined not to allow his Empire to break up and was unwilling to accept a Constitution in whose formation he had played no part. His armies were unable to act effectively against the American rebels, however, who were supported both by the United States and Great Britain, each anxious to assert their own influence in the region. Defeat in the Americas proved to be a debilitating blow to the regime and increased discord and dissent.

The seeds of rebellion had been sown in the heady days of the pre-restoration Cortes and, on 1 April 1820, the army declared itself in support of the re-establishment of the 1812 Constitution. Ferdinand's own sympathies inclined towards a preference for autocracy, occasionally tempered by liberal impulses, but he agreed to accept the Constitution even though it severely limited the power of the Crown. A new provisional council of government was established under the presidency of the King's uncle, Luis de Borbón, Cardinal Archbishop of Toledo. Ferdinand, however, proved a reluctant convert to liberalism while divisions between those who wanted greater reform and those who regretted the passage of the old Monarchy widened. By 1822 Cardinal de Borbón had been replaced by a more radical government which had signed a humiliating peace with Simon Bolivar that the latter then violated, leading to a disastrous Spanish defeat. The pre-restoration Cortes had in 1813 abolished the Inquisition and, while this abolition was accepted, the new government took even more definitive measures to permanently weaken the church. This led to an attempt by the Crown to reassert its powers, the struggle became violent and open warfare broke out on the streets of the major cities, leading to Ferdinand's marginalisation, although the government continued to act in his name.

The European powers led by Austria and France in 1822 convoked a new Congress at Verona with the support of Russia and Prussia. This resolved to take action to "restore the Peninsular to the state pertaining prior to the Cádiz revolution (of 1820)", and France was charged with the responsibility of restoring the royal government. Great Britain objected strongly to these actions, pledging support for the Constitutionalists, although she was principally motivated by the hope of obtaining commercial advantage from the break up of the Empire and support for an isolated Constitutionalist government. A French army under the command of the Duke of Angoulême (future Dauphin and later titular Louis XIX) invaded, soon defeating the Spanish rebels and restoring Ferdinand to his throne. Ferdinand, now King by grace of French bayonets, quickly repealed the Constitution and all its acts by a decree of 23 Oct 1823. While the Cortes had certainly abused its power, Ferdinand's unwillingness to compromise and his susceptibility to inferior and sycophantic advisers, lost him the support of many who might otherwise have sympathised with his opposition to the more radical terms of the Constitution.

Ferdinand had married four times; the first three wives had died without leaving surviving issue, but on 11 Dec 1829 he had married the twenty-three year old Princess Maria Cristina, third daughter of King Francis I of the Two Sicilies. The radicals had despaired of any reform, as the King's heir presumptive was his next brother, the Infant Don Carlos, whose sympathies for autocracy and hostility to the Constitution were even stronger than the King's. Ferdinand, himself, had been forced to accommodate some of the demands of the opposition, and when the news of his wife's pregnancy was revealed in March 1830, the liberal reformers saw their opportunity. Taking advantage of the King's personal estrangement from his brother, they proposed with the support of the Queen that he re-promulgate a forgotten Decree of Charles IV, which had replaced the semi-Salic system established by Philip V with the ancient mixed succession system that predated the Bourbon Monarchy. The King then drew up the Pragmatic Sanction of 29 Mar 1830, ratifying the Decree of 1789 (see earlier). [Doc 30. Pragmatic Sanction of 1830, English translation].

There had been an earlier attempt to restore the pre-1713 system of succession, in an act passed by the pre-restoration Cortes on 16 Oct 1811 and included in the final text of the 1812 Constitution. This stated in Article 180: "In default of Don Ferdinand VII de Borbón, his legitimate male and female descendants would succeed to the Crown, and in default of these his brothers and sisters, or his uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters of his father, and their legitimate descendants, according to the order announced and always following the right of preference of the nearest branch before the other branches". The decision to change the succession, without however doing so by enforcement of the Decree of Charles IV of 1789, was made without the King being consulted and was swept away by the Decree of Valencia of 1814. It had also angered the King of the Two Sicilies, who at the time was himself third in line of succession to the Spanish throne at the time, who protested vehemently against this purported change in the succession on18 Mar 1812. The general consensus was that in any case the Cortes could not unilaterally sweep away the solemnly enacted Pragmatic Decree of 1713. In the debate on the re-enactment of the 1812 Constitution in 1820 this issue did not come to the fore and the succession clause was considered to have lapsed.

The reaction to the promulgation of the Pragmatic Sanction of 1830 was immediate, since the Queen's pregnancy was announced officially at the same time. Prince Jules de Polignac, the French Foreign Minister, was among those who doubted the legality of the new law, writing to the French Ambassador, the Vicomte de Saint-Priest, on 28 Apr 1830 that in his view the omission of Charles IV's 1789 Decree and the inclusion of that of 1713 "was evidence of the abandonment of the law that he himself (i.e. Charles IV) had presented to the Cortes and to which in the meanwhile he had not given any legal sanction". Saint-Priest himself, replying on 17 May 1830 to Polignac, stated that it was the common belief that the earlier Pragmatic Decree of 1789 was in fact a forgery (and it exists only in copies, the original having disappeared), and that this was a liberal manoeuvre to prevent the succession of Don Carlos. [French Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archives, Diplomatic Correspondence, Espagne, Vol. 753, pp.1r-9v]. The Two Sicilies were the first to protest, in a despatch from the Prince of Cassaro, the Neapolitan Ambassador in Madrid, on 29th March 1830, addressed to the Spanish Secretary of State. In this he referred to the sacrifice of blood made to insure the succession to the male line descendants of Philip V, and to the fact that all the Powers had agreed in the preliminaries of the Treaty of Utrecht that it was necessary to change the system of succession to prevent the kind of crisis that had caused the devastating War of the Spanish Succession. [Doc 31. Letter of the Prince of Cassaro]. The change of law had been attached, in any case, as an annexed document to the Anglo-Hispanic Treaty of Utrecht.

The King of the Two Sicilies was immediately and directly affected by this decree, since in 1830 by semi-Salic law he was ninth in line of succession to the Spanish throne (and from 22 Oct 1830, eighth in line) but was suddenly demoted after the many descendants of the daughters of Charles IV. His children acquired a right of succession by right of their descent from his wife, the Infanta Isabel, but after the birth of Ferdinand VII's second daughter the Duke of Calabria (soon to be Ferdinand II) was placed in twenty-eighth position by the restoration of mixed succession. This led to a series of diplomatic exchanges between Naples and Madrid. In a protest letter directed personally to King Ferdinand and dated 10 September 1830 (exactly one month before the birth of the future Isabel II, whose sex was of course as yet unknown), the King complained that the rights of his descendants conferred by the law of Philip V had been annulled. [Doc 32. Protest of Francis I]. Just four days later the Neapolitan chargé-d'affaires in Madrid delivered a longer protest on his royal master's behalf to the Spanish Secretary of State, González Salmón, which began by noting that Philip V had renounced the French throne in order to conserve that of Spain for his descendants. He went on to say that the decision to revoke this law would therefore deprive his descendants of the rights they had been guaranteed in compensation therefore, and that Philip V had wished to show to the entire world that "the said Law of male succession Spain…. Although not included in the Articles of the Treaty of Utrecht, would nonetheless be considered as strictly united to the Renunciation and would form an integral part of the obligations that had been contracted." He ended with a strong statement that his master, the King, reserved his rights for himself and his male descendants, thus not recognising this change in the law. [Doc 33. Protest to Madrid].

The birth of a daughter heightened the controversy, and although by this time Charles X had been deposed and the Duke of Orléans installed as King of the French, the inter-reliance of the renunciations with the other related or reciprocal acts still applied. Ferdinand was still adamant in his decision to change the succession and, on 13 Oct 1830, Isabel was declared Princess of the Asturias. Francis I of the Two Sicilies died on 8 November 1830 and his young son and successor, Ferdinand II, was immediately thrust into the crisis. Diplomatic relations between the Two Sicilies and Spain were downgraded, with the recall of Ambassadors, and parallel protests were made by the Duke of Lucca and the King of Sardinia (whose right to the Spanish throne, although distant, had nonetheless been established in the law of 1713). On 30 Jan 1832 the Queen gave birth to a second child, the Infanta Luisa Fernanda, and on 4 April the Infanta Isabel was presented to the Cortes as heiress to the throne. Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies now decided to make a formal, public protest, dated 18 May 1833, and published and distributed to the courts of Europe. The point was made once again that the renunciation of Philip V and his ratification of the Anglo-Hispanic Treaty of Utrecht had depended upon the throne of Spain being assured to his male descendants. The King continued, stating that the new "order of succession, regulated with the assent and guarantee of the European Powers and recognized not only by the Spanish nation but stipulated by many other treaties between the said Powers, for that reason had become obligatory and intangible and had established these rights in all the male descendants of the founder Philip V forever… We are also sure, at the same time, that once this law had been adopted, it is not in the power of any person, according to the principles of universal law, to make any innovation or any alteration for any reason or under any pretext." The Neapolitan King ended his protest with an affirmation and reservation of all his rights and those of his descendants, made in his words "before the legitimate Sovereigns of all Nations". [Doc 34. Protest of Ferdinand II].

Ferdinand VII was by now increasingly worried by the turmoil his decision had created. Taken seriously ill, he decided to revoke his decree, and by an act of 18 Sep 1832 he re-established the 1713 law. While this satisfied his foreign critics, and those who sought the restoration of absolutism with the accession of the Infant Carlos, it angered the Queen (who in the event of her husband's death would have been regent for their infant daughter) and her political allies. When the King recovered she persuaded him to reinstate his Pragmatic Sanction which he did by a royal decree of 31 Dec 1832. A few days later with the King once again seriously ill, the Queen was appointed Reina Gobernadora (Queen Governor or Regent) by royal decree of 4 Jan 1833, in practice joint-sovereign, until her husband's death on 29 Sep 1833. Their daughter was immediately proclaimed Queen as Isabel II, under the Regency of her mother (who conspired with the liberal government in concealing her disqualifying secret marriage, on 28 Dec 1833, to Fernando Muñoz). Isabel was immediately recognised as Queen by France and Great Britain, but the Two Sicilies withheld their recognition until 1844, the Pope until 1848 and Austria, Russia and Prussia until 1856. The Queen Regent was forced to resign the Regency on 12 Oct 1840, and was replaced by the liberal minister General Espartero, until Isabel II was prematurely declared to have attained her majority at the age of thirteen on 10 Nov 1843.

Meanwhile, the new law had equally aggravated the French. Ambassador Saint-Priest first wrote on 29 Mar 1830, in an official communication addressed to the Spanish Secretary of State González Salmón. In this he made it clear that semi-Salic law had assured the prestige and power of the "three branches of the August House of Bourbon" and that it had been promulgated to "assure to the August House of Bourbon the possession of a Throne bought with the highest sacrifice".[Doc 35. Saint-Priest letter] Polignac, in his instructions to Saint-Priest, wrote on 28 April: "In his position as King of France, the King does not believe he is called to pronounce on the validity of a Spanish law, but as Head of the House he can intervene in everything which affects its interests and to whose protection all its members look. Twenty Princes of the Blood (Princes du Sang) of Louis XIV find themselves deprived of rights which they have held since birth; and ten among them placed yesterday in close proximity to the throne are threatened with finding themselves among the crowd of simple Spanish gentlemen. This matter is too serious for His Majesty not to give it serious attention. ……he has decided to sustain the rights with which he finds himself charged, with all the strength of his character and conscious of the dignity that pertains to him as Head of the Bourbons in those questions which affect the interests and honour of His House." [Doc 36. Instructions of the Prince de Polignac]. The Spanish Ambassador to Paris (the Count of Ofalia), in a letter dated 24 Apr 1830, reported back to the Spanish Secretary of Foreign Affairs the substance of a conversation he had had with Polignac a few days earlier: "Polignac has said to me that the Pragmatic Sanction was in contradiction with the renunciations made by Philip V for himself and his descendants to the succession to the throne of France, … if the Duke of Bordeaux should be lost, the renunciations of Philip V would not have any validity other than that they could be given by force or circumstances…." [Madrid, Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Historical Section, Box number 2036, letter 309] These texts are significant indications of the contemporary French understanding of the dynastic position of the Spanish line. The King of France considered himself entitled to intervene because he was Head of the House, and had a duty to protect the interests of the Princes of the Blood (a uniquely French status) affected by the new Spanish law.

Saint-Priest replied on 1 Jun 1830 to Polignac that he had tried to persuade the Spanish to introduce a clause prohibiting any marriage that could pass the Crown outside the House of Bourbon, but this request was rejected. [French Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archives, Diplomatic Correspondence, Espagne, Vol. 753, pp.54-55]. A proposal to make a joint protest with the Two Sicilies was then formulated, and a letter drawn up in French to be sent to the King of the Two Sicilies, dated 28 Jun 1830, (not signed or sent because of the July revolution) laying out their concerns. This read "the Pragmatic Sanction published lately in Madrid on the succession to the throne of Spain is not an act of which the French government would restrict itself from deploring the dangers, without trying to prevent them; these dangers do not only concern Spain: the power of the House of Bourbon and the peace of Europe are equally menaced by the disposition which, in calling women to the throne of the Castilles, in preference to males more distant, may result sooner or later in the transfer of the Kingdom to another dynasty". [Doc 37. Draft appeal by the Kings of France and the Two Sicilies]. It was also decided that the King should send a personal protest to the Spanish King, and a note preceding the text of this letter states (unknown hand): "The attached draft, a letter from King Charles X to Ferdinand VII, was never sent. It had been resolved that the heads of the two branches of the House of Bourbon, of France and of Naples, would address - simultaneously - representations to the King of Spain on the subject of revalidating the Pragmatic Decree of Charles IV. The Neapolitan Cabinet had asked that of the Tuileries for a draft letter, which would be drawn up at the same time as the attached draft, and sent to Naples before the King of the Two Sicilies' journey to Paris. But subsequently, in the last days of the restoration monarchy the events of July overtook them, so modifying the political aspect of France that neither of the two draft letters were sent". [Doc 38. Attached note on the draft letter].

This letter reads: "Sir My Brother, I believe that I would be failing in my duties as King, as a relation of Your Majesty, as head of a Government united to Spain by the links of a close alliance if I hesitated any longer in entreating you concerning a question which affects, at the same time, the future of Spain, the general peace of Europe, and the grandeur of the House of Bourbon." [Here a margin note states]: "Charles X had a good opinion of this draft…. Substituting the expression House of France for that of House of Bourbon." [Doc 39. Draft Letter from Charles X to Ferdinand VII].

The Spanish Ambassador to the King of Sardinia (who himself had a residual right to the Spanish Crown under the Treaty of Utrecht), in a notable commentary of the consequences of the repeal of Salic law, wrote on 16 Feb 1833 (two and a half years after the advent of the Orléans Monarchy); "With Salic law abolished in Spain, as Philip V renounced his rights and those of his successors to the Crown of France on the condition that his descendants would succeed from male to male to that of Spain, and this condition now lacking, his successors recover their right to the Crown of Saint Louis as the Infant Don Carlos precedes also the House of Orléans. Two adversaries now present themselves [to the Orleans]: the Duke of Bordeaux and the Infant Don Carlos." [Madrid, Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Historical Section, Box number 2036]. The Spanish delegate and Ambassador, the Marques de Miraflores, who spent some months journeying between Paris and Madrid in late 1845 and 1846, was in the delicate position of advising his own government and making recommendations to Louis-Philippe. He later commented on the validity of the Treaty of Utrecht, stating that while the Treaty itself had lost any pertinence as a result of subsequent treaties, certain requirements prevailed concerning the Spanish succession. These were reduced to the absolute prohibition against the unification of the throne of Spain with those of France or Austria. [Doc 40. Commentary of the Marquess of Miraflores].

Contemporary views of the effects of this change of succession law on the French succession are of particular interest in this regard, none more so than those of the Duke of Orléans, future King of the French Louis-Philippe. In his Études Historiques, Politiques et Morales, Prince Jules de Polignac (p. 425) recorded a conversation he had with the Duke of Orléans in which the latter said: "It is not only as a Frenchman that I take a lively interest in this question, it is also as a father. In the case, in fact (this will never happen in my time) that we have the misfortune to lose the Duke of Bordeaux without him leaving a son, the crown would have returned to my son, provided that Salic law is maintained in Spain; but if it is not, the renunciation of Philip V to the throne of France, in his name and that of his male descendants, will be rendered void because it is only by this act of renunciation that the descendants of this prince have acquired an incontestable right to the crown of Spain; but if they lose this right, they can reclaim that which they are given by French Salic law as heirs of Louis XIV. Then, as descendants of Louis XIV, they pass before my children."

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