The Constitution of Cádiz
The political system in Spain was unstable even before the French invaded. The Catholic Church and nobility owned most of the land and controlled rents. There were regional Juntas jealous of others and the monarchy was destabilised by the influence of Prime Minister Godoy, a former guardsman and alleged lover of the Queen. Ferdinand attempted to depose his father, Carlos IV, in 1807 and later suceeded in March 1808. In April Napoleon summoned them both to Bayonne, France and forced them to abdicate in favour of his brother, Joseph. Carlos and Ferdinand spent the rest of the war in France, effectively imprisoned.
Carlos IV of Spain and his family by Francisco Goya, painted 1800-1801. Prado Museum, Madrid. (Picture from Wikipedia).
Fernando the future Fernando VII is the figure in blueon the left. Francisco de Paula, the youngest son is in red, holding the hand of the Queen, his mother, Maria Luisa of Parma. The figure at the back on the left is Goya.
Spain was divided into 32 provinces and 14 military regions. Army officers held many of the key roles and had a primary role in society. Civilian officials felt overlooked and even in the army, younger officers were impatient at the bottom of a very hidebound system. The French occupation removed much of the central organisation and control and, after Dod deMayo, much of the country was in open revolt against the French. Things were ripe for change.
By 2009 the Supreme Junta was recognised (reluctantly by some) as the effective government of Spain, based in Seville. When they realised in January 2010 that Seville would fall to the French, they left for Cádiz. They were so unpopular with their own people by this stage and many were captured and some killed, only 23 reached Cádiz where the new national Cortes was being formed.
The National Cortes included delegates from across Spain and from its South American colonies. During the siege it debated a new constitution in public. On March 19th 1812 the new constitution was enacted. Apart from establishing Roman Catholicism as the sole religion, it was one of the most progressive at the time and inspired many others, including those of the former Spanish colonies in South America.
The proclamation of the Constitution of 1812 by Salvador Viniegra, painted 1912. Museum of the Cortes, Cádiz.
The monument to the Constitution of 1812 in the Plaza de Espãna, Cádiz.
Detail of the monument to the Constitution of 1812 in the Plaza de Espãna, Cádiz.
The Constitution was short-lived. It was not universally popular. The Cortes was probably more liberal than the poulation in general and there were powerful vested interests. When Ferdinand returned in March 1814 as King, he initially promised to uphold it. As he was increasingly greeted as an absolute monarch and in response to pressure including from the Church and conservative members of the Cortes, he abolished it on 4th May 1814.
An uprising and mutiny of army officers forced him to restore it in 1820 but this worried the othere European monarchs and, in 1823, he was supported by the French army in defeating the rebels. The only battle of the campaign was the Battle of Trocadero, followed by a short siege of Cádiz. The Constution of 1812 was briefly restored after Ferdinand's death while a new one was being drafted.
The Constitution of 1812 is also known as La Pepa. It was passed by the Cortes on the day of Saint Joseph and "Pepe" is an informal nickname for "Joseph"/"José".
When we went to the information centre and mentioned that we were interested in the Napoleonic period, we were given one of their small remaining stock of a walking route and information booklet produced for the bicentenary in 2012. They may still have one when you visit, worth expressing interest.
They are also available on line: