Allies or Enemies

Political relations between Spain and Great Britain during the reign of Ferdinand VII (1808–1833)

by Patrycia Jakobczyk-Adamczyk (Author)
©2015 Monographs 442 Pages


Spanish-British relations changed during the first three decades of the 19th century. Both states emerged victorious from the Napoleonic wars and were united by the alliance, but their respective strength was totally different. While Great Britain enhanced its status as a sea power, strong enough to affect the political situation in Europe, Spain sank to the rank of a secondary state. Britain, protecting clearly defined interests, carried out long-term and rational policy. Spain’s policy was inconsistent and it could not be treated as a reliable ally in spite of its considerable economic resources and strategic importance. The book analyses a long and complex process of overcoming the traditional hostility between the two countries and outlines the international context as well as the internal conditions of that political evolution.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Chapter I: Control of foreign policy and diplomatic service in Spain and Great Britain in the early 19th century
  • 1. Spain
  • 2. Great Britain
  • Chapter II: Political relations between Spain and Great Britain at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries
  • Chapter III: Towards normalisation. Political relations between Spain and Great Britain in the years 1808-1814
  • 1. Outbreak of the Spanish War of Independence and Spain’s political turn towards Great Britain
  • 2. Great Britain vis-à-vis the initiative of the Spanish provincial juntas – establishing diplomatic relations in 1808
  • 3. Great Britain’s first diplomatic-military missions to the Spanish provinces. London’s policy with regard to the centralisation of power in Spain
  • 4. John Hookham Frere’s mission to the Central Junta
  • 5. The Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Alliance of 14 January 1809 – negotiations, resolutions and implementations thereof
  • 6. Between disappointment and necessity – the functioning of the alliance during the age of the War of Independence. Richard, Arthur and Henry Wellesley in Spain
  • Chapter IV: Hispanic America in Spanish-British relations during the Spanish War of Independence
  • Chapter V: Spanish-British relations in the age of the European Reconstruction
  • Chapter VI: The problem of Hispanic America continued.Resuming the project of British mediation in the Spanish colonies and the treaty of 1817 that abolished the slave trade
  • Chapter VII: Great Britain in the face of the Spanish Liberal Revolution (1820-1823) and the intervention of the Holy Alliance on the Iberian peninsula
  • Chapter VIII: Towards recognising Spanish America
  • Chapter IX: In quest of a rapprochement between London and Madrid (1826-1833) – from “the Portuguese question” to “the Spanish one”
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index of names
  • Resumen

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This monograph was conceived as an attempt to present the relations between Spain and Great Britain throughout the first three decades of the 19th century, i.e. the ground-breaking period of goings-on between the two countries. I focused on analysing the long-lasting and immensely complex process of the breaking of walls of traditional hostility in mutual Spanish-British dealings. By emphasising the circumstances and factors determining the policies that were conducted by the two empires, I endeavoured to depict them in a broad international context going beyond sole bilateral relations. This monograph aimed to show the changing role of the two monarchies vis-à-vis each other, in the Concert of Europe and even outside the boundaries of the Old Continent, as well as to clarify both the internal and external reasons behind that evolution which resulted from transformations coming about on the European and global political arenas. My focus in this study was on the political aspects of bilateral Spanish-British relations. Wherever this had relevance to the political problems, I also discussed issues regarding commercial and economic contacts which significantly influenced mutual relations between the two states. Questions pertaining to Spanish-British military cooperation during the war against Napoleon, elaborated upon in-depth in both Spanish and British historiographies, although it still provokes arguments and polemics, were just a background to the main topic of my dissertation. Last but not least, I passed over the subject of cultural relations completely.

Chronologically, the study covers the years 1808-1833, i.e. the timespan parallel with the reign of Ferdinand VII, which was referred to as the so-called Antiguo régimen crisis1 by historiographers. Admittedly, my writing from the Spanish chronological perspective may be objectionable directly from the start, but nevertheless the choice I made is justified on the grounds of the two countries’ foreign policies and mutual relations. Without a doubt the period under scrutiny was accompanied by the long and difficult process of redefining those relations. Ferdinand VII’s monarchy was severely enfeebled by long-drawn-out wars and ← 7 | 8 → by contending with problems in almost every sphere of public life; it was beset with unrelenting social and political divisions aggravated by liberalism arising on the Iberian peninsula and, lastly, the monarchy was unable to resign itself to its damaged prestige on the international scene while at the same time trying to find its place in the Concert of European states. The Spanish actions taken in pursuit of this goal – disjointed, discontinuous, based on no rational judgement and unsupported by any profound changes in the domestic, political, economic and social arenas – could not have restored the kingdom to its foreground position in European politics, nonetheless causing its foreign policy to undergo an essential evolution which finally led to its rapprochement with Great Britain. Meanwhile, the British empire was reaffirming its world power status while adopting and conducting a sagacious, far-sighted and continuous foreign policy – founded on principles which had been worked out as far back as in the 18th century. From London’s perspective, the reign of Ferdinand VII coincided with efforts to eliminate and neutralise French influence on Iberia and to entrench the British strategic position in the Mediterranean Basin. It was also a time when the future of the Spanish empire was being decided, with Great Britain playing one of the major roles in the process of the ultimate collapse of the Atlantic power.

Although the time-frame of my work basically starts in 1808, I judged it correct to include an introduction regarding the tradition of Spanish-British relations in it for reasons explained hereunder. The choice of 1808 as the minimal chronological limit of the study seemed appropriate and justified on the grounds of the watershed character of the date in the traditionally hostile relations between the two countries since the outbreak of the Iberian Peninsular War against Bonaparte; Spain’s international alienation at a time when the sovereignty and integrity of the whole Spanish empire were endangered were the decisive factors necessitating a significant turnabout in the pre-existent relations between Madrid and London, which consisted in putting an end to the persistent state of war and to forming an alliance – thereby meaning Spain’s severance of its traditional links with France. The extremely complicated internal situation in the country after the victorious war with Napoleon, the ongoing progressive process of losing the colonial empire and Spanish predominant mistrust of British policy made the alliance between the two states, extended in 1814, turn out to be a merely formal entente – practically ineffective at sea as well as in South and Central America. Notwithstanding the foregoing, it did indeed herald lasting peace brought to the two countries.

The source basis for the monograph were British and Spanish archival records, with the diplomatic correspondence preserved in The National Archives. Public Record Office in London and the Archivo Histórico Nacional in Madrid being of fundamental importance. From among the vast store of the collections of the two institutions, I made the most use of the state secretaries’ official letters ← 8 | 9 → to diplomats, the latter’s reports to their superiors as well as of the diplomatic correspondence exchanged by and between the governments of the two states. Hence, the Foreign Office series in the British archive – which is incidentally an exemplary model of the functioning and methods of archiving source material and making it accessible – and the Inglaterra (sic!) series in the Estado section in the Spanish archive2 needed a thorough preliminary survey. The collection of the Archivo General del Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores in Madrid, pertaining to the Spanish foreign policy in the age of the Congresses of Vienna and Aachen and the conflict with Portugal beyond 1826, also turned out to be an informative supplement. Furthermore, selected collections of the Archivo General del Palacio Real, containing Ferdinand VII’s confidential papers3, documents from the manuscript section at the British Library in London, the Codrington Library at All Souls College in Oxford4 and the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid were all of some auxiliary value. The complete list of archival sources is contained in the bibliographical index.

There were also sources in print that were used in the study. Moreover, the registers of documents published in the series British and Foreign State Papers as early as in the 19th century and concerning British foreign policy proved indispensable as containing the full texts of international agreements in their original language version. Likewise, the records of parliamentary sessions were of key importance in the process of writing this monograph as well. The British documents, published in the monumental series titled The Parliamentary Debates, refer to the entire period under examination, while the Spanish Diarios de Sesiones de las Cortes, available in a very convenient CD-ROM format, cover the two constitutional periods (1809-1814, 1820-1823). The reports of the Council of Minister’s meetings of 1824-1829 (Actas del Consejo de Ministros) were necessary in order to follow through the stance on Great Britain as taken by subsequent Spanish cabinets. The archival collections of diplomatic correspondence were supplemented by published collections of letters and memoirs authored by the foremost British and, to a lesser extent, Spanish politicians5. Publications containing selections of documents were of minor relevance; though such ← 9 | 10 → collections are usually more readily available, their selective form necessitates preliminary archival research. Nonetheless, their value is oftentimes increased by historical commentaries6. The other printed sources are complementary and were used as such to elucidate individual aspects of bilateral relations in the study7.

The literature on the subject is voluminous, thus, given the broad scope of the subject-matter being researched here, it was necessary to select works which, as a matter of fact, are unavoidable for research on world history. The referenced selection was made according to several criteria, the main one being the historiographic value of the studies. Thus the author referred to works acclaimed as classical, based on solid preliminary source research, on groundbreaking studies that have an inventive look at the issues addressed herein and on the newest publications, and recapitulating the existing findings. Obviously, the aforementioned researched literature mainly consists of English- and Spanish-language monographs and articles. The necessity to present relations between the two countries from the broadest possible international perspective was also a decisive factor in exploring, though to a limited extent, the findings of other foreign historians – especially French, Russian and American ones.

The present state of research on the broadly defined issue of foreign policies of the two states is particularly advanced in the case of Great Britain. In British historiography, the already classical works of Charles Kingsley Webster and Harold William Vazeille Temperley are crucially important. The aforesaid studies address principally the political concepts and activities of the three great British foreign secretaries, i.e. George Canning, Viscount Castlereagh and Viscount Palmerston, and their contribution to consolidating the international position of the British monarchy8. In particular, the epitomes of a meticulous exploration of the sources, the detailed factual material and the multifaceted presentation of the subject – taking into consideration both the times during which the works were created and the author’s pioneering task – are C. K. Webster’s studies of Castlereagh’s foreign policy, which is otherwise not free from grave, mostly interpretative errors. The inventive treatises in their time focus almost exclusively on the person and activity of Castlereagh, whose role as a British statesman as well as an architect of the European order founded on the balance of power on the Old Continent and the dominance of Great Britain at sea is emphasised by Webster. The advancement of research on the history of diplomacy and international relations that took place in ← 10 | 11 → the second half of the 20th century has revealed the British historian’s hagiographic outlook, the narrowed character of his works and his lack of a broader, all-European perspective. Valuable supplements to the trailblazing studies of British foreign policy in the 19th century are the more recent biographies of London’s leading politicians. The works of Wendy Hinde, Christopher John Bartlett, Kenneth Bourne or Jasper Ridley have a more critical point of view regarding questions relating to the making and implementation of British foreign policy and the functioning of the monarchy in the Concert of Europe9. A remarkably in-depth analysis of the determinants of British diplomacy and foreign policy in the 19th century has been carried out by John Clarke10. In his commentary the author stresses the existing marked divergence between British standards and the concept of foreign policy that was prevalent on the Continent. Issues concerning the organisation and operation of the British institutions that formulated and implemented Great Britain’s foreign policy are addressed by, inter alia, Stephen Gaselee and John Tilley, E. Jones-Parry, Charles R. Middleton, Raymond A. Jones, Michael Roper and Jeremy Black11. Indispensable biographical data on diplomats representing the British monarchy at the court of Ferdinand VII were found in the encyclopaedic works12. Exploration of their career paths and thereby determining their political experience and knowledge of international affairs were both facilitated by, amongst other things, the highly useful and detailed compilation of British diplomatic representatives in the first half of the 19th century13.

Research on Spain’s foreign policy in the first three decades of the 19th century must be considered one of the most neglected fields. There are various reasons underlying this lack of interest in international issues and the consequent lingering negligence of Spanish scholarship, which is only recently being made good. Some of these reasons certainly stem from the character of the epoch – which was a dark episode in Spanish history. The erstwhile greatest global empire lost its status as a world power irretrievably, whilst the turbulent transformations accompanying the War of Independence and the rising liberalism divided the country profoundly and permanently, and contributed to the formation of the dos Españas – which were extremely and simply obsessively hostile to each other. The peripherality and marginalisation of Spain in the international arena in the 19th and early 20th centuries were the other decisive factors in perceiving the need for research studies in the aforesaid issues as irrelevant. The uncommonly gloomy vision of Spain’s ← 11 | 12 → past of the early 19th century caused Spanish historians to become incomparably more eager to explore various issues of their state’s past glory. Likewise, the extremely critical judgement of Ferdinand VII’s person and policy in the liberal historiography did not incline them to bring up the subject of Spanish foreign policy in the early 19th century either. Suffice it to say that the absurd view that there had been no foreign policy whatsoever conducted during Ferdinand VII’s monarchy long lingered among Spanish historiographers14.

As a whole or with reference to specific issues, the aforementioned subject-matter was discussed by, inter alia, the historian and archivist Jerónimo Bécker y González and the diplomat Wenceslao Ramirez, Marquis of Villa-Urrutia1515. When writing this monograph it was also essential that the author acquaint herself with the newer works of such authors as Hebe Carmen Pelosi, Jose Maria Jover Zamora or Maria Teresa Menchen Barrios16. A complementary contribution was represented by the biographical presentations of Ferdinand VII and his policy as well as of the monarch’s selected ministers and associates17. Organisation of the part of the first chapter on the structure and functioning of Spanish central government bodies in charge of the formulation, direction and implementation of foreign policy during Ferdinand VII’s monarchy was invaluably facilitated by the findings of such authors as Jose Antonio Escudero, Jean-Philippe Luis, Beatriz Badorrey Martin and Federico Suárez Verdeguer18. The necessary information on Spanish diplomats posted in London was found in the biographical dictionary authored by Jose Pablo Alzina, whose compilation, however, although originally supposed to be very useful, contains some inaccuracies and errors. On account of the period under scrutiny, it can be confronted with the extremely solid biographical repertory edited by the French historian Didier Ozanam, and to a small extent only with the monumental yet partly outdated study written by Fernando de Antón del Olmet, Marquis of Dosfuentes19.

The current state of research on issues involving Spanish-British political relations in the first three decades of the 19th century is far from satisfactory. Admittedly, the literature on the subject is considerable quantitatively, but ← 12 | 13 → nevertheless it focuses on selected problems and as a general rule addresses the foreign policies of the two states, not their mutual relations. In addition, a definite majority of these valuable works were written by British historians, a fact that can be primarily accounted for by the marginalisation of Spain in the international arena in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The other determinants of this status quo of no small consequence were already pointed out above. The Spanish-British relations over the analysed period were investigated by the aforementioned J. Bécker and W. Ramirez, Marquis of Villa-Urrutia20. Unfortunately, both of these otherwise trailblazing works, also characterised by remarkably meticulous adherence to the facts – especially the monograph by W. Ramirez – lack a consummate scientific nature. Besides this, the two authors fixed their attention almost exclusively on the problems of the functioning of Spanish diplomacy. Their monographs also lack a thorough analysis of the decisive factors in the internal situations of the two countries, of their position on the international scene, and of the state of Spanish-British relations throughout the period under discussion. The selected issues within the scope of this work were also addressed by Alicia Laspra Rodriguez, whose studies, based on a preliminary survey of British and Spanish archives, concentrated on issues regarding military and political relations between the province of Asturias and Great Britain during the Spanish War of Independence21. The British policy with regard to Spain in the initial phase of the war is discussed in the work of John Kenneth Severn22, which was exceptionally contributory to the coming into being of this monograph due to its novel and multilevel presentation of the subject. Polemicising against the highly critical evaluation of Richard Wellesley’s political and diplomatic activity, which is widely held in British historiography, Severn highlights the marquess’s commitment to the cause of Spain’s independence, viewed by the politician as the key to the victory over Napoleon, and also emphasising the consistency of his political concepts. When exploring the problem of the slave trade in the mutual relations and the decisive factors in the two states’ stances on the abolition thereof, the author of this monograph largely referred to the findings of J. Bécker and W. Ramirez de Villa-Urrutia as well as to the more recent works of Julia Moreno Garcia and Hugh Thomas23. The international context of the declining years of the reign of Ferdinand VII is, in turn, within the range of Manuel Rodriguez Alonso’s scholarly ← 13 | 14 → interests24. This historian’s findings proved useful in structuring the last chapter of this study.

The works of William W. Kaufmann, John Rydjord, Alan Knight and C. K. Webster represented an invaluable contribution to the discussion on issues concerning the international aspects of emancipation movements in Hispanic America and their role in Spanish-British relations25. The monographs and articles on the other states’ policies on the autonomy of Spanish colonies were of help in elucidating the problem of international rivalries over Hispanic America26. Furthermore, the Spanish policy with regard to the demise of the empire is analysed by Michael P. Costeloe27. In his studies the author points to the various decisive political, ideological, economic and social factors in the mother country’s attitude as well as scrutinises the impact of unofficial pressure from all sorts of lobby groups on the making of the official policy. Depicting the course of diplomatic and military activities aimed at heading off the conflict, the historian also highlights the different concepts for resolving the problem of the emancipation of the colonies, which existed within the government and at the court of Ferdinand VII, thus challenging the conviction of the uncompromisingness and unanimity of Spain’s stance on the matter of its lost control over overseas dominions, which was prevalent in historiography. Various aspects of Spanish colonial policy during the period in question are also discussed by Edmundo A. Heredia, Antonio Matilla Tascón and William Spence Robertson28.

This monograph is the fruit of my scholarly interests and my many years of research into the issues of Spanish foreign policy at the close of the modern period. It would not have been written without both the merit-based and financial support from well-meaning persons and research establishments. I hereby give special thanks to Professor Jerzy Grobis, as whose seminar student she was afforded the opportunity to commence thorough research studies into the modern history of Spain. I am also truly grateful to Professor Jan Kieniewicz for his unparalleled open-mindedness and stimulating concern about the results of my studies and his inspiring queries and advice whilst I was working on this book. I would also like to thank Professor Edward Alfred Mierzwa for his fruitful preliminary survey of the American library holdings and Doctors Janusz Budzinski and Dariusz Rogut ← 14 | 15 → for importing the Russian-language materials. I am further thankful to the Spanish and British archivists and librarians – particularly to Doctor Norma Aubertin-Potter of the Codrington Library at Oxford’s All Souls College who enchanted me with her kindness and professionalism. I owe too much to my husband for his support and advice in order to be able to express my gratitude in a mere few words of thanks.

The preliminary archival research studies and surveys of the library holdings would never have been carried out without the financial assistance of the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education, the Stefan Batory Foundation in Warsaw and the Carolina Foundation in Madrid.

1 The so-called Antiguo régimen crisis in Spain had a complex character that was determined by economic, political, social, ideological and even natural factors – the latter resulting from the unusual alternation of disastrous weather conditions (floods, droughts, earthquakes) and plagues. See: Domínguez Ortiz (1976); Esdaile (2000), p. 4-11; Morales Moya (2003), pp. 42-46. The financial aspects of the crisis are presented by Castells, Moliner (2000), pp. 36-38; Fontana (2002), pp. 11-31, 72-89; Kieniewicz (1991), pp. 372-373.

2 León Tello (1973).

3 Morterero (1977).

4 Doyle (1902); (Ochoa Brun (1961), pp. 63-122.

5 The most important elucidations of the making and implementation of British foreign policy during the period under examination are in The Later Correspondence (1970); Correspondence, Despatches (1851); Despatches, Correspondence (1867); Palmerston (1985). Among the Spanish memoirs, the following comprehensive study, though still in need of critical analysis, should be mentioned in the first place: García de León (1998). The complete list can be found in the bibliographical index in the back of the book.

6 Britain and the Independence (1938); British Diplomacy (1921); Foundations (1938); Some Official Correspondence (1887); Spain under the Bourbons (1973); Las relaciones (1999).

7 The complete list is contained in the bibliographical index.

8 Webster (1931); Webster (1925); Webster (1951); Temperley (1966); Temperley (1924a); Temperley (1938); Temperley (1923).

9 Hinde (1973); Bartlett (1966); Bourne (1982); Ridley (1970).

10 Clarke (1989).

11 Black (2004); Gaselee, Tilley (1933); Jones (1983); Jones-Parry (1934); Middleton (1977); Roper (2002).

12 Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).

13 British Diplomatic Representatives (1934).

14 Pereira (1983), pp. 53-70; Pereira Castañares (2003), pp. 55-80; J. Rubio (2003), pp. 553-554.

15 Bécker (1909); Bécker (1924); W. Ramírez de Villa-Urrutia (1928).

16 Pelosi (1969); Pelosi(1970) ; Jover (1976); Menchen Barrios (1989).

17 Ramírez de Villa-Urrutia (1922); Ramírez de Villa-Urrutia (1931); Pintos Vieites (1958); Sánchez Mantero (2001); Puga García (2004); Moreno Fernández (1992); Rodríguez Alonso (1991); Fernández Martín (1954).

18 Escudero (2003); Luis (2002); Badorrey Martín (1971). It might be useful to emphasise that the state of research into the matter is highly unsatisfactory, the reasons for which are more thoroughly clarified in the chapter.

19 Alzina (2001); Antón del Olmet (1911); D. Ozanam (1998).

20 Bécker (1906); Ramírez de Villa-Urrutia (1911-1914).

21 Laspra Rodríguez (1992).

22 Severn (1981).

23 Bécker (1906); Bécker (1924); Ramírez de Villa-Urrutia (1928); Moreno (1978); Moreno García (1989); Thomas (1997).

24 Rodríguez Alonso (1989); Rodríguez Alonso (1991); Rodríguez Alonso (1991a).

25 Kaufmann (1951); Knight (1999); Rydjord (1941); Webster (1912), Webster (1915).

26 Bartley (1978); Griffin (1974); H. Temperley (1925); Humphreys (1966); Komissarow (1964); Kossok (1968); Perkins (1922); Perkins (1923); Perkins (1965); Rippy (1929); Robertson (1939); Robertson (1941); Robertson (1941a); Rydjord (1935); Whitaker (1941).

27 Costeloe (1989); Costeloe (1981a); Costeloe (1981b).

28 Heredia (1974); Matilla Tascón (1951); Robertson (1916).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (May)
European Treaties Holly Alliance Policy Spanish-British relations Slave Trade
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 442 pp., 2 tables

Biographical notes

Patrycia Jakobczyk-Adamczyk (Author)

Patrycja M. Jakóbczyk-Adamczyk is a Polish historian and professor at the Jan Kochanowski Kielce University. Her special field of interest comprises Spanish diplomatic history and present Spanish home politics.


Title: Allies or Enemies