A brief history of Spain – Part 15, Charles III (1759-1788)

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Charles III of Spain

To put things into perspective man has to know about the past. From the Romans to the present day, Spain has played an important role in the progression of the Western World. InSpain.news gives a resume of the history of Spain based on several (scientific) sources. Part 15 talks about Charles III and the Enlightenment in Spain. Read all previous parts here.

After the War of the Spanish Succession, it remained unsettled for several decades between Spain and Austria. This was mainly due to disagreements over the Italian territory. In 1734 Philip V conquered Naples and Sicily from Austria, then controlled by his son Charles. Charles had already acquired Parma by inheritance through his Italian mother Isabela Farnese of Parma, Philip V’s second wife. When Charles took over the Spanish throne from his half-brother Ferdinand in 1759 as Charles III, he left behind a prosperous and enlightened Naples. This had become the intellectual centre of Italy. During his reign, he ordered the excavation of Pompeii, engulfed by lava.

Like his brother Ferdinand VI, Charlemagne was an “enlightened despot” and strongly inspired by the ideas of the Enlightenment. They implemented reforms. Furthermore, they had a greater eye for a fair distribution of the wealth and well-being of the population.

The Seven-Year’s War

Charles III could not keep himself out of wars. Two more conflicts were fought side by side with France under Charles III. In 1756, the Seven Years’ War broke out, a struggle for power in Central Europe. Spain joined a coalition of France, Austrians, Germans, Sweden and Russia against England, Portugal and Prussia. The motive for this was the power struggle in the Atlantic area. Here the English and Portuguese entered the Spanish waters more and more boldly and threatened the Spanish colonies. This did not end well, Spain lost Manila and Havana to the English. In 1763 the Seven Years’ War came to an end. Spain took Havana and Manila back from the English in exchange for Florida. Gibraltar remained in British hands. In 1765 there was again a conflict with the English who conquered the almost uninhabited islands of Malvinas from Spain and renamed them “Falkland Islands”.

The American Revolutionary War

In the American Revolutionary War (1779-83), Spain managed to reasonably consolidate its position. A great wish of Charles III was to recapture Gibraltar. However, despite a siege of more than a year, the English managed to maintain themselves there. Under Charles III Menorca was reconquered.

Jesuits expelled

In 1766, after three years of failed harvests and the high bread prices hunger resulted from his violent unrest in the Spanish cities, especially in Madrid. An important adviser to Charles III, Campomanes, made sure that the Jesuits were blamed for the revolts, whereupon Charles III ordered their expulsion. The Jesuits had made themselves unpopular with those in power in several European countries. Partly because of their strong hold on education and in particular the universities.

Cumbre Villas

Notorious were the networks of Jesuits and prominent citizens who had studied at their universities. There, they were assigned important social positions. The Jesuits were also controversial within the Catholic Church, which facilitated their expulsion. This represented a significant intellectual “brain drain” given the expertise the Jesuits had in education. Under Charles III the universities were reformed in the spirit of the Enlightenment, political and natural sciences were given more priority.

Towards a more egalitarian society

Charles III advocated a more egalitarian society. Poverty must be combated and the nobility should, in return for its privileges, act as subservient to society. Women are becoming more socially involved. The riot of 1766 turned out to be a good motive for social reforms for Charles III. The ban on handicrafts by the lower nobility was lifted. Therefore, they could generate their own income and not just be a financial burden on society.

Charles III reformed the local government (‘Ayuntamientos’). Particularly in the cities of Andalucia, rulers often bought the control of a city from the king and passed it from father to son. They ruled a city as private property with little regard for the interests of its inhabitants. Under Charles III, municipal councils were established for which elections were held. In these elections the common man could participate actively and passively. In this way the power of the ruling classes in the cities had to end.

However, the reforms in the Ayuntamientos largely failed. This was mainly because the newly elected councilors were often corrupted by the former rulers. Charles III ordered the division of state land among all citizens to the Ayuntamientos. This way he wanted to improve the food supply. But this division was also corrupted because the rich got the best pieces of land. The king might have had enlightened ideas, but the greed of the upper class proved difficult to restrain.

Agricultural settlements

Outside the cities, especially in Andalusia, there were no ‘Ayuntamientos’ and local rulers. Here, rulers could establish agricultural settlements (Nuevas poblaciones de Andalucia) due to the improved infrastructure. Some of these settlements still exist (La Carolina in Jaen). You can recognize the sober and egalitarian layout, a village square, a modest church and a logical rectangular street pattern. Farmers received support in setting up their businesses. Democratic rules applied and the church had a limited influence.

Increasing prosperity

Under Charles III, due to numerous economic reforms the population gained an increasing prosperity.  Castile, which was politically dominant, economically underperformed the periphery due to its great distance from the coast. Therefore, the region was cut off from participation in import, export and processing of goods. The peace with England in 1783 gave Spain an extra economic boost. Overseas trade flourished and early European industrialization in the cotton processing industry developed in Cataluña. Poetry, literature and painting (Goya) took an impressive flight in the wake of enlightened politics and increased prosperity.

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