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Allies or Enemies

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

Patrycia Jakobczyk-Adamczyk

Spanish-British relations changed during the first three decades of the 19 th 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.
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The eruption of the war against the Napoleonic invasion of Iberia brought about a reorientation in both Great Britain’s and Spain’s foreign policy in 1808, which eventually led to a turnabout in their traditionally hostile relations. The watershed, consisting in the normalisation of mutual dealings and the formation of an anti-French alliance, which became formal in character, was possible first of all thanks to the initiatives taken individually but nearly simultaneously by the Spanish provincial juntas. As a result of Spain’s heavy dependence on Napoleon during M. Godoy’s incumbency as head of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the outbreak of the War of Independence found the country almost completely isolated within the international arena. In the meantime, the monarchy, beset by a severe internal crisis and additionally enfeebled by the absenteeism of the monarch Ferdinand VII, who was incarcerated by Napoleon, was unable to single-handedly put up resistance against France’s tremendous financial and military advantage. The provincial governments, set up in nearly all regions of Spain with the main purpose of coming to its defence, assumed the attributes of sovereign power, thus making endeavours to solicit necessary assistance from abroad almost immediately after being constituted. In the first place, the juntas sought both material and political support in London. Overcoming the mistrust and enmity that had dominated the pre-existent relations between Spain and Great Britain was deemed a prerequisite for the success of any military campaign. The step seemed fully justified on the grounds of the possible...

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