Childhood & Early Life
Ferdinand VII was born on 14 October 1784, in the palace of El Escorial, near Madrid, to Charles IV of Spain and Maria Luisa of Parma. He was the eldest of the king’s surviving sons.
He was pronounced the heir apparent when he was young. His parents and the Prime Minister Manuel Godoy excluded him from all official responsibilities.
In 1805, a rebellion arose resulting from the national discontent towards the government.
In October 1807, he was arrested and tried for his involvement in the El Escorial Conspiracy where he attempted to gather the support of the French King Napoleon. The plot was soon discovered, after which he immediately surrendered to his father.
Continue Reading Below
Abdication & Restoration
In March 1808, Ferdinand VII’s father, Charles IV, stepped down after the rebellion of Aranjuez. Subsequently, Ferdinand was crowned the king.
Ferdinand VII reigned for a brief period and abdicated the throne on 6 May 1808. He supported Napoleon and remained under France’s guard at the Château de Valençay for six years as ordered by the French king.
Napoleon chose his brother Joseph Bonaparte as the king of Spain, and the government officials belonging to the upper strata accepted this change in regime. However, the general masses were unhappy with the abdication.
The people rebelled against the new French king and protests broke out across Spain, eventually leading to the Peninsular War. Several military factions began controlling regions, showing dissent towards the new rule.
At the resultant Battle of Bailén, the Spanish military defeated the French army. Following this, Ferdinand was announced the king of Spain on 24 August 1808 for the second time. The British also recognized him as the king this time.
On 11 December 1813, the Treaty of Valençay was signed wherein Napoleon acknowledged Ferdinand as the king of Spain after five years of his reign.
Ferdinand VII of Spain was welcomed by the Spanish masses as they were against the policies implemented by the Francophiles, which had led to France’s occupation of Spain and the Peninsular War.
However, when he came back as the king, Ferdinand realized that he returned to a different Spain than he had left six years earlier. French invasion and local rebellion had left Spain divided into factions, governed by juntas.
The liberals of Spain had founded a constitution and the nation did not remain an absolute monarchy. Ferdinand was asked to adhere to the Constitution of 1812 on his return to Spain.
Continue Reading Below
On 24 March 1814, Ferdinand abolished the constitution. He also ordered the arrest of all the liberal party leaders who had drafted the constitution and called the creation of it illegal, citing the absence of traditional form.
To appease the liberals, he initially assured another Cortes, but failed to do so and re-established absolute monarchy and the Bourbon rule of only one sovereign ruler.
Simultaneously, the independence rebellion began in Spanish America, and the sentiments were divided across Spain. The trade and treasure ships were dissected and tax revenues were interrupted, leaving Spain bankrupt.
As a ruler, his government was unstable, and he was ill-advised by his camarilla. His officials were replaced several times, which left the government inefficient.
He was aware of the foreign powers perpetuating his interests and he promoted the Duke of Wellington, who was a Protestant, as the chief of the British army.
After the Mexican War of Independence, the general of the Army of Three Guarantees agreed and signed the Treaty of Cordoba, which stipulated the end of the war and establishment of the Mexican Empire.
It was also agreed that the Mexican Empire would be offered to the Spanish Crown. However, Ferdinand declared it "void" and informed that any European country would not take over the Mexican Empire.
Meanwhile in Spain, the liberals wanted to bring back the constitution, and in 1820, riots occurred. Different factions emerged in the Spanish forces led by Col. Rafael del Riego, and Ferdinand was taken as a prisoner.
The Jesuits in Spain were viewed as perpetrators of suppression and dictatorship by the liberals, and in 1822, some radical liberals killed twenty-five Jesuits in Madrid. The remainder of the 19th century in Spain was marked with the dismissal and restoration of Jesuits under the unstable authoritarian and liberal political regimes.
Continue Reading Below
The Congress of Verona resulted in the invasion of Spain by the French in 1823, and Ferdinand was taken to Cádiz by the liberal party where he gave assurances of changes if he was set free. Ferdinand refused to keep his word after the Battle of Trocadero ended.
His final years as a monarch were comparatively peaceful. He surrounded himself with officials he could trust. His final ten years saw the revival of the authoritarian rule, wherein he also reintroduced traditional teaching programs and quelled any opposition that questioned his authority.
Family & Personal Life
Ferdinand VII of Spain was married four times. His first wife was his first cousin Princess Maria Antonietta of the Two Sicilies. They married in 1802. She did not bear any children as both her pregnancies terminated in miscarriages.
His second marriage was to his niece Maria Isabel of Portugal in 1816. She was the daughter of his sister Carlota Joaquina and John VI of Portugal. They had two daughters but neither survived.
His marriage to Princess Maria Josepha Amalia of Saxony was his third. They married in 1819 and did not have any children.
In 1829, he was married for the fourth time to his niece Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies. They had two daughters, and his older daughter succeeded Ferdinand to the throne.
During his final days, Ferdinand was advised by his last wife to reject the Salic Law and name their daughter Isabella II as his successor. Ferdinand's brother Don Carlos would have been the heir to the throne if the Salic Law was upheld.
Ferdinand VII of Spain passed away due to heart ailments on 29 September 1833, at the age of 48, in Madrid, Spain, and was buried at El Escorial in Madrid. He was succeeded by his baby daughter Isabella II.
Carlos rebelled against the legitimacy of this succession, and Queen Regent Maria Christina sought support from the liberals. The conflicts over the succession led to the Carlist Wars.