A brief history of Spain – Part 22, General Prim and Amadeus of Savoy

Spain in the 19th century

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general prim and amadeus de savoye

General Prim staged the coup in 1868 that deposed Isabella II. With him, the liberals briefly had a strong man who managed to keep the fighting factions under control. Prim and his radical-liberal supporters aimed to establish a democratic constitutional monarchy.

In 1868 elections were held in which all men aged 25 and over had the right to vote. This was unprecedented in Spain, where until then only about 2% of the population had enjoyed the right to vote, it was even unprecedented in the world. The elections were fair and resulted in a progressive parliament.


The new constitution of 1869 was among the most modern in the world and guaranteed many civil liberties. But as had already happened when the Progressive Liberals of 1854-1856 had the majority, this government also fell into division. To the left of the Progressives were the Democrats, from which the Republicans had split off. The Republicans were against any form of monarchy, strongly anti-clerical, and against the military’s involvement in the political battlefield. They mainly found support among the lower social classes, especially because they promoted the abolition of some unpopular taxes and the hated conscription.

Cogesa Expats

Amadeus of Savoy

With the departure of Isabella II, the Bourbon era was (temporarily) closed. Therefore, strong man Prim had to look for a new monarch, with a progressive liberal signature. Many candidates declined the honour, but in the end, Amadeus of Savoy reluctantly agreed. Parliament also approved (with the smallest possible majority) Amadeus. On the day Amadeus arrived in Spain, General Prim died of the consequences of an attack. This was a major blow to the liberal movement, for Prim was the only one with enough charisma and authority to keep the warring political factions somewhat under control.

Increasing chaos

Amadeus could not have done worse. As a foreigner who was not very popular anyway, he was immediately confronted with flaring up political disagreements, splitting parties and falling governments. Social unrest and surging Carlist ambitions led to the temporary suspension of constitutional guarantees. Amadeus, a conscientious constitutional monarch, did not accept this and called new elections in 1872. With the Conservatives refusing to participate, this resulted in an overwhelming victory for the Radicals (another left-wing split from the Liberals) that only increased the chaos.

Spaniards did not accept Amadeus

As much as Amadeus tried to be a decent constitutional monarch for the Spaniards, the Spaniards would not accept him for various reasons. The aristocracy hated and ignored him for his principled constitutional position, the radicals and republicans hated him for being a monarch, and the military refused to obey him. In 1873 Amadeus concluded that Spain was an ungovernable country and disillusioned relinquished the throne.

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