Ferdinand VII, king of Spain

Ferdinand VII, 1784–1833, king of Spain (1808–33), son of Charles IV and María Luisa. Excluded from a role in the government, he became the center of intrigues against the chief minister Godoy and attempted to win the support of Napoleon I. In 1807 he was arrested by his father, who accused him of plotting his overthrow and the murder of his mother and Godoy. He was soon forgiven, but the prestige of the family was shaken, and this facilitated Napoleon's invasion of Spain (see Peninsular War). A palace revolution at Aranjuez (Mar., 1808) caused the dismissal of Godoy and the abdication of Charles in favor of Ferdinand, who was enthusiastically acclaimed by the people. Ferdinand was soon persuaded to cross the French border and meet Napoleon at Bayonne. There he was forced to renounce his throne in favor of Charles IV, who in turn resigned his rights to Napoleon. The emperor gave the Spanish throne to Joseph Bonaparte. During the Peninsular War (1808–14) Ferdinand was imprisoned in France. In his name the nationalist and liberal elements of Spain resisted the French invaders, and a liberal constitution was proclaimed (1812) by the Cortes at Cádiz. Throughout the Spanish Empire his name was the rallying cry of revolutionary elements. When Ferdinand was restored (1814) to his throne, however, he promptly abolished the liberal constitution and revealed himself a thorough reactionary. After several unsuccessful uprisings, the Spanish liberals (who had organized in secret societies, e.g., the Carbonari) staged a successful revolution in 1820 and forced the king to reinstate the constitution of 1812. The Holy Alliance became alarmed, and the Congress of Troppau was summoned to deal with the Spanish situation. The powers reached no decision, but in 1822 at Verona (see Verona, Congress of), France was delegated by the Holy Alliance to undertake military intervention in Spain and to restore Ferdinand to absolute power. Ferdinand, backed by French arms, revoked the constitution in 1823, and ruthless repression followed. Ferdinand's death caused no less trouble than his reign. His fourth wife, Maria Christina (1806–78), had persuaded him to set aside the Salic law so that their only child, Isabella, might succeed to the throne, thus excluding Ferdinand's brother, Don Carlos (1788–1855), from the succession. When Ferdinand died, the liberals supported Isabella II, while the reactionaries rallied around Don Carlos. The Carlist Wars ensued. During Ferdinand's reign, the Spanish colonies on the mainland of North and South America were lost through the very rebellions that had begun as risings in his favor and against Napoleon.

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