Romanticism, Reaction and Revolution

British Views on Spain, 1814–1823

by Bernard Beatty (Volume editor) Alicia Laspra Rodríguez (Volume editor)
©2019 Edited Collection XX, 332 Pages


When the Peninsular War ended in 1814, the prolonged struggle had all but exhausted both British government finances and the British public’s enthusiasm for war. The authoritarian rule of Ferdinand VII aroused long-standing British suspicions of Spanish ways, which emerged in British literary works that depicted a retrograde, fanatical Spain. The tumultuous years following Ferdinand’s reign also led to divisions among the European powers, some favouring the restoration of Ferdinand, with the British government and liberal forces vehemently opposed.
This diverse volume focuses on British reactions to, and representations of, Spanish affairs during this lively period (1814–1823). It demonstrates both Spain’s visibility in Regency Britain and the consequent inspiration and dialectical activity of British politicians, artists and intellectuals. It does so through a combination of literary, social, historical and cultural perspectives that bring both fresh light to this formative period of nineteenth-century British attitudes to Spain and a wealth of new scholarly material.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: Romanticism, Reaction and Revolution (Bernard Beatty / Alicia Laspra-Rodríguez)
  • Part I. Political Views
  • 1. Wellington’s final mission to Spain (spring 1814) (Alicia Laspra-Rodríguez)
  • 2. The last Napoleonic redoubt in northern Spain: The British role (Silvia Gregorio Sainz)
  • 3. Robert Southey and the ‘British Liberales’ (Juan L. Sánchez)
  • 4. The guerrilla chief and the mountain girl: Spanish figures in Letitia Landon’s Romance and Reality (Young-ok An)
  • 5. Edward Blaquiere and the Spanish revolution of 1820 (Sara Medina Calzada)
  • 6. ‘The lightning of the nations’: Byron, the Shelleys and Spain (Roderick Beaton)
  • 7. Poems on the Spanish liberal revolution in the British radical press (1820–1823) (Agustín Coletes Blanco)
  • Part II. Cultural Views
  • 8. The reception of Spanish Old Masters in the Regency era: A reassessment (Rocío Coletes Laspra)
  • 9. Revisiting national stereotypes in the 1815 edition of Centlivre’s ‘Spanish Play’ The Busy Body (Laura Martínez García)
  • 10. Coleridge’s criticism of the Don Juan tradition (María Eugenia Perojo Arronte)
  • 11. Detecting Spanish fictions: Byron’s Don Juan Canto I (Bernard Beatty)
  • 12. Marianne Baillie’s knowledge of Spain (José Ruiz Mas)
  • 13. Spanish Orientalism: Felicia Hemans and her contemporaries (Nanora Sweet)
  • Bibliography
  • Notes on contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

← vi | vii →


← viii | ix →


This book partly emerges out of two research networks, the Certified Research Group ‘Otras Lenguas’ [Other Languages], based at the University of Oviedo in Spain since 2014, and the international affiliation of scholars ‘Anglo-Hispanic Horizons 1780–1840’, formed in 2013. The editors would like to thank all the contributors to this volume for their hard work and dedication. Special thanks are due to Young-ok An, Roderick Beaton, and Agustín Coletes for taking on editorial responsibilities, and to the University of Oviedo for its financial support for the production costs. Additional thanks are due to the Spanish-government sponsored Project POETRY’15, which provided some of the contributors with research grants from 2016 to 2018. Further funding to bring this book to fruition has come from the City Council of Oviedo and the Principality of Asturias Board of Education and Culture. Finally, we would like to express our gratitude to Laurel Plapp and the editorial team of Peter Lang.

Bernard Beatty
Alicia Laspra-Rodríguez ← ix | x →

← x | xi →


Introduction: Romanticism, Reaction and Revolution

British Hispanism is at least two and a half centuries old and has included such pioneers as Lord Holland, Robert Southey and Richard Ford and, more recently, academics such as James Fitzmaurice-Kelly, E. Allison Peers and Raymond Carr. This indicates that Spain has always been an object of interest, both political and cultural, to many British intellectuals, artists and literary authors. In English literature, Spanish-themed texts are largely a creation of the Romantic period, when Spain acquired an undesired protagonist role in the Napoleonic Wars which brought the country closer than ever to Britain, its ally at the time. Perhaps because this vibrant relation was substituted in the mid-nineteenth century by a cruder one based on old-fashioned but effective stereotypes on both sides, Spain has remained a relatively neglected topic in Romantic studies, including British scholarship.

The book that changed the paradigm was Diego Saglia’s ground-breaking Poetic Castles in Spain: British Romanticism and Figurations of Iberia (2000), which lucidly demonstrated the extent to which Spain had penetrated into the British culture of the Romantic era. Other contributions (some by authors in this volume) paved the way for the recent essay collection Spain in British Romanticism 1800–1840 (2018), edited by Diego Saglia and Ian Haywood. This remarkable book explores different aspects of the ‘creation’ of Spain by British Romantics, as alluded to above. No themed attention is given, however, to what is most distinctive in the present volume: British views on post-war and Liberal Triennium Spain. Contrary to expectations, the country receded into despotism through the return of Ferdinand VII as absolute king (1814–1819). A period of hope followed when the Cadiz Constitution was newly enforced in 1820, only to be crushed by a reactionary foreign intervention three years later. Nevertheless, ← xi | xii → Spain came again to the forefront of British interest and helped shape British culture and politics of the period. Our volume, precisely entitled Romanticism, Reaction and Revolution: British Views on Spain, 1814–1823, seeks to be the first in exploring different aspects of this important topic from a uniform perspective. The extensive bibliography in this book bears witness to the considerable scholarly and wider cultural interest, especially recently, in British/Spanish relations in the early nineteenth century.

Our volume differs from the two books just mentioned and complements them in two ways. They naturally focus upon the drift of a whole period of time with necessarily arbitrary beginning and end points, and on the shifting reactions of major British authors, especially that of the Romantic Poets, to events in Spain. Our contributors do something similar but, crucially, extend their net much wider to include a host of writings of various kinds, frequently overlooked or unknown, which give a much broader picture of British reactions to Spain. And they do so within a very precise remit. All the essays have as their primary focus a specific period of Spanish history which does have a clear beginning and end – the restoration of Ferdinand VII in 1814, the liberal and revolutionary movements against him, and his return to absolute power in 1823.

This is, of course, both a very particular and a very well-known period in Spanish history. Ferdinand’s restoration was followed by his authoritarian rule for a period of six years. Simmering liberal hostility to Ferdinand’s reactionary establishment erupted in Rafael del Riego’s revolutionary coup which produced a further three tumultuous years of liberal and radical government. This was a matter of great concern for the conservative European powers, which eventually agreed after much wrangling (and against British advice) to intervene by sending in a French Royalist army. By the end of 1823 the old absolutist order had been restored in Spain. The subsequent months saw the end of Spanish rule in continental America, and the beginning of repression and exile. It all paved the way for the so-called ‘Ominous Decade’ that would close Ferdinand VII’s reign.

British attitudes to Spain, often contradictory and shifting, had rallied to the cause of Spanish freedom after Napoleon’s invasion. For the first time for nearly two centuries, the politics and culture of Spain dominated British attention and, for the first time since the sixteenth century, British ← xii | xiii → public opinion was very pro-Spanish. But the period with which this book is concerned presents a different and more troubling picture. Conservative opinion did not relish revolution but neither did anyone like the idea of Spain apparently reverting to the long-established British image of it as backward, authoritarian, and superstitious. Liberal commentators in England were, naturally, appalled by Ferdinand and excited by the success of movements against him. Spain was still in the news but in a wholly different way. It is this altered and altering British perspective of Spain during the nearly decade-long period of Ferdinand’s restoration, both the so-called Absolutist Sexennium (1814–1820) and the subsequent Liberal Triennium (1820–1823), that is our focus. It witnesses, most crucially, to the sheer visibility of Spain in British consciousness not only during the Peninsular War (something we already knew about) but also in its aftermath (something less well known). It was at once a reference point, a political concern, and a topos and inspiration for intellectuals and writers.

The list of contributors boasts both young researchers and well-established scholars who bring different perspectives to bear. Similarly, some contributors are Spanish academics who specialize in English studies and the rest are British and American scholars who specialize in Romantic topics. The unity of the volume, therefore, is one of focus, for all thirteen essays are concerned with a single period of time and a single relationship, namely British reactions to, and opinions concerning Spanish politics, literature and culture from 1814 to 1823. That period is one of revolution and reaction, but the phenomenon of European ‘Romanticism’ both feeds off and into these political antitheses, as well as being fascinated by the new Spain that is emerging and the bright and dark aesthetics of the older Spain that is also being rediscovered, or, as Rocío Coletes Laspra argues here, in the case of its pictorial art, largely being taken seriously for the first time. Hence, we think that our title – Romanticism, Reaction and Revolution: British Views on Spain, 1814–1823 – is both a useful and a precise one.

The volume is divided into two parts. As amply demonstrated by ongoing projects on the British literary response to Spanish affairs in the first decades of the nineteenth century, this response was either predominantly political (occasional ‘views’ on contemporary Spanish affairs) or ← xiii | xiv → predominantly cultural (timeless ‘views’ on Spanish history and culture).1 Accordingly, Part I adopts a predominantly political perspective, and Part II presents a broadly cultural view. Both parts complement and mutually reinforce one another, as demonstrated by the many cross-references they contain. The fact that these two parts comprise seven and six essays respectively further provides the book, we believe, with a lucid and well-balanced dual structure.

Within each part, the order between chapters is predominantly chronological. In Part I, the initial chapters deal with British responses to Spanish events that took place in the early years (1814, 1815) of the period. The middle chapters discuss subsequent literary responses to the unfolding political events in Spain between 1816 and 1822. The closing chapter addresses the response of the English press to the Spanish events during the final years of the period under analysis. This substantial essay introduces the second part of the book, since the political poems explored therein also verge on the cultural. In Part II, the initial chapter deals with the reception of Spanish art in Britain, which started in the early years of the century and extended over the period under study. The following chapters successively discuss British responses to a variety of Spanish cultural topics. The final chapter focuses on the perception of Spanish ‘orientalism’ by British authors at the close of the period under analysis.

More specifically, Chapter 1, by Alicia Laspra-Rodríguez, introduces the geo-political context of the latest stages of the Peninsular War and its aftermath, and analyses Wellington’s position with respect to the possibility of a civil war in Spain, in the wake of Ferdinand VII’s return. The duke’s loyalty to his Liberal Spanish friends and collaborators, not always acknowledged by commentators and popular opinion, is attested through contemporary evidence.

Wellington’s visibility as a major figure in the period is reinforced by Silvia Gregorio’s Chapter 2. She discloses and explains the little-known information about Wellington’s direct concern with the siege operations carried out by the British to force the late capitulation of Santoña ← xiv | xv → (Santander). This was one of the last strongholds in Spain that had remained in the hands of the French after the Peninsular War was over.

Chapter 3 is concerned with the Poet Laureate, Robert Southey, not as a writer but as a political thinker. Hence, it is in Part I. Southey began as a Liberal and became a Tory but Juan L. Sánchez argues that he remained in many ways a ‘true liberal statesman’. Sánchez demonstrates this on the basis of Southey’s sincere concern with the extension of social welfare, his liberal proposals in favour of the underprivileged, and his belief in a fair redistribution of wealth. Sánchez, nevertheless, does not ignore the evidence that Southey’s views were not incompatible with, but rather fell within the pragmatic scope of ‘Toryism’. There is some similarity here with Alicia Laspra-Rodríguez’s Wellington who, as a convinced Tory, was always pragmatic.

Chapter 3 stands in contrast to Young-ok An’s contribution (Chapter 4), which portrays Letitia Landon as a ‘middle-class Tory woman writer’ who presents contradictory characters such as Beatrice de Zoritos and Emily Arundel, heroines both free and trapped in the middle of a conflict between reality and romance. We place An’s essay in Part I since it includes an analysis of Henriquez de Zoritos, a highly romanticized Spanish guerrilla leader who ventures into the Carbonari world of Southern Italy. This illustrates how freedom fighting was internationalized, spreading throughout Europe from Spain. Henriquez’s democratic struggles are displaced into Landon’s heterosexual romance. But Landon simultaneously suggests, through the heroines, that the constraints of gender are no less political.

In Chapter 5, Sara Medina Calzada explores Edward Blaquiere’s figurations of Spain, as conveyed in his Historical Review of the Spanish Revolution (1822). This was probably written as a challenge to the popular English version of Alexander Laborde’s conservative A View of Spain (London, 1809), used, for example, by William Wordsworth. Sara Medina Calzada clearly perceives Blaquiere’s limitations and prejudice, which led him to overrate the influence of the Inquisition on the supposed lack of cultural development in Spain under Ferdinand VII – the king had actually been using the Inquisition as a police body, an instrument of ideological and political repression serving the Crown, not the Church. Blaquiere acknowledged that the main source for his description of the Inquisition was the ‘afrancesado’ Llorente. By giving ← xv | xvi → full credit to such unscrupulous sources, Blaquiere was far from perceiving the extent to which other factors, in particular the devastating ruin of the country deriving from the war, were also responsible for its malaise.

Roderick Beaton’s Chapter 6, about responses by Lord Byron and Mary and Percy Shelley to the Spanish events between 1820 and 1822, is an excellent example of the intersection of perspectives that the volume as a whole tries to suggest; since those responses, conveyed in private letters and creative works, were both political and literary. Beaton’s analysis reveals the three authors’ genuine support for the Spanish constitutionalists, a support which, with few exceptions, has passed almost unnoticed. The essay examines evidence from letters by all three authors, an ode by Percy Shelley, a long poem by Byron, and a novel by Mary Shelley. But Beaton goes much further and identifies additional references to Spain, sometimes indirect, in other works by these authors which further testify to the internationalization of the Spanish liberal revolution. Byron’s Venetian drama Marino Faliero emerges as the most outstanding and, perhaps, unexpected example of this.

Chapter 7, which closes Part I, is devoted to identifying the Spanish revolution of 1820 as a source of inspiration for occasional poems published in the British radical press. A fascinating aspect of those poems, as explained by Agustín Coletes Blanco, is the way in which the feelings inspired by the events evolve in parallel with the events themselves: thus these feelings shift from celebration, through encouragement, to disappointment. The closeness with which events were being followed adds to the intrinsic interest of the phenomenon in itself.

Rocío Coletes Laspra’s chapter, which opens Part II of the volume, demonstrates that Spanish Old Masters, such as El Greco, Velázquez and Zurbarán – now universally famous painters – were not known outside Spain (and El Greco not even within Spain) until the nineteenth century. She argues that a combination of the Peninsular War and a series of aesthetic and commercial interests – typified in an English painter and traveller in Spain, George Wallis, and a successful Scottish art dealer, William Buchanan – changed the scenario so that these paintings and this sensibility entered a wider British and European consciousness. ← xvi | xvii →

In Chapter 9, Laura Martínez García analyses the 1815 revival – which Blaquiere might have enjoyed – of the once popular 1709 anti-Spanish play, The Busy Body. The ‘fiercely Whig’ author of this comedy of manners, Susanna Centlivre, who was ‘not above some artful borrowing’ (according to Michael Billington in The Guardian, 18 September 2012), perpetuates the familiar description of Spain, cherished by Whig tradition, as a retrograde, unrefined country. The play was so successful in Drury Lane and Covent Garden that it was republished that year, 1815. The detail is significant since it demonstrates very clearly how that older dark view of Spain was revived after the restoration of Ferdinand VII in 1814, whereas the play would not have earned the same reaction during the Peninsular War period.


XX, 332
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (August)
The end of the Napoleonic era and the Concert of Europe revolutions in Southern Europe Spanish cultural and literary reception Regency Britain
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2019. XX, 332 pp., 6 fig. col, 9 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Bernard Beatty (Volume editor) Alicia Laspra Rodríguez (Volume editor)

Bernard Beatty is Senior Fellow in the English Department at Liverpool University and Associate Fellow in the School of Divinity at St Andrews University. He has written two books and edited five collections of essays on Byron and he was editor of the Byron Journal for 20 years. He is Vice President of two Byron Societies and on the executive committee of the International Byron Society. Alicia Laspra-Rodríguez is Associate Professor of English Studies in the English Department at the University of Oviedo. She was previously a Fulbright Scholar at New York University, where she obtained a Diploma in American Studies. She has published widely on Wellington and on early nineteenth-century Anglo-Spanish relations and has recently published on the Peninsular War.


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