Category Archives: Spanish History

Second Spanish Republic. Agrarian Reform June 1931-November 1933.

Agrarian reforms introduced early by the Second Spanish Republic were so contentious that for many historians they were –with religion, regional autonomy and military reform— among the most acrimonious issues leading to the Civil War of 1936-39.

Bitter passions were aroused as reformers battled with conservatives to improve the conditions of the peasants who worked the land. The intention was to correct social inequality by turning landless labourers into owners and to modernise the agricultural system of the country. This would complete a long unfulfilled dream of the 18th-century ilustrados, the 19th-century liberals and the 20th-century regenerationists.

As in the case of Church-state relationship, the Provisional Government had already taken some steps to alleviate the abject poverty of the peasants, especially the landless workers of the south.

Laws were introduced requiring landowners to hire local residents ahead of outsiders (aka the Municipal Boundaries Act), and orders were issued to prevent owners from withdrawing their land from production and to keep it under cultivation according to traditional practice.

Also 8-hour days were to replace the infamous de sol a sol (i. e. sunrise to sunset) system, renters were protected from the sudden cancellation of their leases, and arbitration committees were established to ensure that labour laws were followed. This was a promising beginning, but more important it held out hope of more fundamental changes to come.

When it came to the Constitution, the Republic’s provisions were far less confrontational and detailed than they had been for the Church. Nevertheless, the general clauses of Article 44 allowed for considerable latitude and provoked a lot of heated debate, almost causing the resignation of the President, Alcalá Zamora, himself the owner of large estates in Andalusia.

According to Article 44, All the wealth of the country, regardless of its ownership, is subordinate to the interests of the national economy… Property of all kind may be the object of mandatory expropriation for reasons of social utility with adequate compensation…. Under no circumstances will goods be subject to confiscation.

The real battle for agrarian reform took place after the Constitution had been approved, when the government got down to details. The problem was complex and far reaching, and compounded by a variety of factors:

  1. geographical diversity and different kinds of products cultivated in different regions;
  2. the various needs of irrigated and non-irrigated lands;
  3. the impracticality of the minifundios (small-holdings) of the north and the abject poverty of the peasants who worked the latifundios (large estates) of the south;
  4. and –common to virtually all areas– the backward state of farm machinery (many farmers still used roman style ploughs!) and resources to work the land.

The thrust of the reform was directed at the redistribution of land, which meant going head to head with landed interests primarily in Andalusia, Extremadura and parts of Castile (Salamanca and southern La Mancha). Several proposals were presented to the Cortes between July 1931 and August 1932, but all were rejected as either inadequate by the socialists or too draconian by the conservatives.

The irony here is that the majority of the Cortes, being left wing, wanted reform, but was divided over the kind of reform to be enacted. In general terms, the socialists argued for collective property, but the more moderate centre Left wanted to distribute the land into individual lots. The Right skilfully exploited the split, and succeeded in delaying any significant passage until an unsuccessful attempt at a military coup in August, 1932. This finally brought the left together in a common front and galvanised them into passing an Agrarian Reform Bill (known as the Ley de Bases) early in September. 

The prolonged process, however, demonstrates the difficulty of producing a bill that would have radical impact on the traditional system of ownership of large areas of land in the face of determined and united opposition.

The bill specified, for example, thirteen different categories of expropriable lands, according to location, size, status –whether they were cultivated or not– or the kind of goods they produced (wines, olives, grains, pasture). Some properties could be expropriated entirely, others only partially. Compensation would be paid, following complicated calculations according to the assessed value of the land.

To help administer the new law, an Institute of Agrarian Reform (IRA) was established, but it suffered from pitifully inadequate funds, minimal political clout, shortage of technical experts, and burocratic meddling. Finally, any hopes the bill might succeed suffered a serious blow with the fall of Prime Minister Manuel Azana’s government in September 1933. 

The problem facing those seeking agrarian reform was the high expectation of the peasants in the south hungry for land. But the landowners were a major obstacle.

Economically powerful, they reacted to the threat of expropriation by forming a formidable political association in support of property rights. They used every means possible to delay implementation of the law, deliberately leaving their land untilled, threatening to move their money out of the country, refusing salary increases to their workers, and even resorting to lock-outs and violence.

The result was a profound disappointment for the thousands of peasants who had pinned their hopes on the changes promised by the Republic. In the euphoria of the early days, plans were drawn up to settle some 60.000 to 75.000 families per year with their own plots confiscated from large properties. After two years, only 12.260 families had seen their dreams realised. The result of so little real progress left a passionately embittered peasantry ripe for violence.

And violence did erupt. Frustrated by their unfulfilled expectations, landowners’ non-cooperation and rising unemployment, many peasants resorted to strikes, land occupation and even insurrection.

These protests, however, were perceived as dangerous to social order and the republican government ironically resorted to the same repressive measures that the monarchy had employed earlier: it called in the hated Guardia Civil (Civil Guards, a rural police force founded in 1844 and organised along military lines).

Such was the case in the village of Castilblanco (Extremadura) where the Guardia Civil shot and killed a striker on January 1, 1932. Revenge was swift. The peasants killed all four guardias responsible for ending the protest, which only led to reprisals and further violence. The whole affair provided the Right with plenty of ammunition to condemn republican excesses.

The inability of the republican government to ensure order and stability to carry out its promises remained a constant throughout 1932 and 1933 as unrest marked political and social life of the country.

In January 1933, a bloody, violent event occurred in the obscure, agricultural community of Casas Viejas –or Benalup-Casas Viejas) as it is now called– midway inland between Cadiz and Algeciras that had serious consequences for the government. Following a nationwide call for strikes by the anarchist trade union (CNT: Confederación Nacional del Trabajo), the landless and mostly unemployed jornaleros (day labourers) were easily caught up in the revolutionary spirit and took over the town early on the morning of the 11th.

The Tragedy of Casas Viejas

In the process, two Civil Guards were killed. Reinforcements were brought in, including Assault Guards. They surrounded and attacked, setting fire to the hut of a charcoal burner where some of the militants had barricaded themselves. When the smoke literally had cleared, ten militants had been killed either from rifle fire or incineration.  

But what followed was worse: twelve men were randomly selected, herded to the burnt-out hut to see what “they were responsible for” and what “they had done” and promptly executed in cold blood.

The massacre at Casas Viejas came to haunt the government. The conservative press and allied Rightists had a field day, so much so that the issue became a political “hot potato” that contributed eventually to the downfall of the government in September of 1933. The shifting alliances that held the leftist Republic together split apart and Prime Minister Azaña’s ministry was saddled with the label “the government of Casas Viejas.”

What had really stunned the country was the brutal punishment inflicted on a group of poverty stricken, landless, southern jornaleros when compared to the more cautious approach used against the more powerful anarchist rebels of large urban centres. It was authoritarian overkill, which Azana tried to whitewash  claiming that there was “no evidence of any government blame” (Casanova 122).

In early September, 1933, Azaña was forced to resign. On October 10, the president, Niceto Alcalá Zamora dissolved the Cortes and called new elections for November 19.

Sources.
Carr, Raymond  Modern Spain 1875-1980 Oxford 1980
Casanova, Julián and Carlos Gil Andrés Twentieth-Century Spain: A History Cambridge 2014
Esdaile, Charles J Spain the in Liberal Age: From Constitution to Civil War, 1808-1939 Oxford  2000
Jackson, Gabriel  The Spanish Republic and the Civil War, 1931-39 Princeton 3rd printing, 1972
Lannon, Frances  Privilege, Persecution, and Prophecy: The Catholic Church in Spain 1875-1975  Oxford 1987
Mintz, Jerome R. The Anarchists of Casas Viejas Chicago 1982
Preston, Paul A Concise History of the Spanish Civil War London 1996
Shubert, Adrian A Social History of Modern Spain London 1990
Image of victims of Casas Viejas: De Desconocido – http://www.enciclopedia.cat/enciclop%C3%A8dies/gran-enciclop%C3%A8dia-catalana/EC-GEC-0015666.xml?s.rows=100&s.q=llibertari#.VKqkzMmhyVo, Dominio público, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37688317

 

Some Background.
The first elections of the Second Republic were called for June 28, 1931. Twenty-six different parties contested for power, of which 19 had members elected. Clearly no single party could hope to form a government. What did happen on June 28 was an overwhelming victory for a wide-ranging Republican-Socialist coalition.

The exact number for each party is notoriously unreliable, but there is wide consensus that the group with the largest vote was the Socialist Party (PSOE). However, the number of socialist deputies (i. e. members) varies with historians’ calculations range from 113 to 120! Other leftist, and regional parties (Catalan, Galician and Basque), accounted for some 180 seats; the centre-right Republicans won 90 and the far right 45. 

The most important task facing the new Cortes when it convened on July 14, 1931 (symbolically on Bastille Day –July 14– to honour the founding of the French Republic), was to draw up a new constitution.

The Cortes already had a draft prepared under the Provisional Government, but this was quickly struck down as being too conciliatory and moderate, especially in matters touching upon the Church. A task force quickly set to work, and by the end of August had drawn up a new text to submit to the Cortes.

For the next three months there were heated debates between reformers and a reactionary minority –including right wing Republicans– determined to defend its long-held rights and its traditional view of the nation. There was also a small group of intellectuals, e.g., Spain’s leading philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, who attacked the draft for what they saw as a mean-minded sectarian document, foisted on the country by socialist extremists, or jabalíes (wild boars) as Ortega more graphically put it.

What the Constitution did, when finally approved on December 9, 1931, was set the parameters within which the struggle between left and right was fought out over the next five years.

Reform was the order of the day, and there were promises to all those who wanted change. There were some measures that passed with little challenge. E. g. the abolishing of the Senate and creation of a unicameral parliament; all Spaniards over 23 were eligible to vote (Art.36) and stand for parliament; Castilian was the official language of the country, with regional languages being recognised within their geographical areas (Art. 4).  

The most controversial changes were those that carried the emotional baggage of history: Church-state relationship, agrarian reform, regional autonomy. In this page, we’ll look at the decisions arising from the Constitution that affected Church-state relationship.  

The Church.
In matters of religion, the thrust of the Constitution was to secularise the state, thereby depriving the Catholic Church of those privileges it had enjoyed for centuries.

In a country where Catholicism had long been viewed as an integral part of the country’s very identity, the move to secularise the state was an unacceptable break from the past not only to conservatives or traditionalists but even to many moderate Republicans.

Those who had drawn up the first draft under the Provisional Government had already proposed freedom of religion and separation of state and Church. The October debates to determine the status of the Church were extremely acrimonious, and the version finally ratified on December 9 left deep wounds on the nation’s collective body.

Article 3 of the Constitution declared outright that El Estado español no tiene religión oficial (“The Spanish State has no official religion“). But this was only a prelude to the more specific Articles 26 and 27. According to these articles, no religious belief was to enjoy any legal privilege, a confrontational declaration that in effect separated Church and state for the first time in the country’s history.

Furthermore, all state subsidies for the clergy were to be eliminated within two years, and all religious orders that took an oath of allegiance to an authority other than the state were dissolved (this was aimed at the Jesuits).

But not only did the state repudiate any religious affiliation, it also prohibited the Church from any activity in industry and commerce and required it to provide an annual financial account. Especially painful for the Church was its complete loss of control of public education, which was henceforth to be entirely secular and free, as Article 48 made clear.

Subsequent legislation passed by the Cortes in the next few months continued the attack, allowing divorce for the first time in Spanish history, nationalising Church property and buildings belonging to the religious orders, and granting the government the right to veto appointments to the Church hierarchy.

Further provisions allowed for cemeteries to be transferred to civil jurisdiction, which meant that no areas could be reserved for a particular religious faith, and marriage could be dissolved by mutual agreement or by just cause when requested by one of the party.

In this sweeping assault on the Catholic Church, the Republic laid itself open to criticisms of ideological intolerance as destructive as the narrow-mindedness that it attributed to the Church.

Each side saw the other in historical terms as responsible for the sorry state of the country.

For the Republicans, the Church was not only an obstacle against the modernization of Spain, it had also accumulated vast wealth in banks, industries and other commercial ventures and was partner to the evils of capitalism.

For the Church, on the other hand, the Republic was the bastard offspring of liberalism that it had been fighting since the Cortes of Cádiz (1812), aided and abetted by freethinkers and masons working to destroy religion. And since the Russian revolution of 1917, the godless face of communism loomed in the background as an added spur to Catholic fears.

There is no better example of the different perceptions of the historical role of the Church than the debates of October 1931 between Fernando de los Ríos, Minister of Justice, and other Republicans, and the staunch Catholic, José María Gil Robles and his traditionalist supporters.

For De los Ríos the Church had stifled the life of the country since 1492. It had expelled the Jews, and supported the Inquisition, harassing and persecuting those who did not conform. The Republicans identified themselves with earlier nonconformist groups –e. g. the 16th-century Erasmists, and 18th-century afrancesados—  and accused the Church of allying itself with a repressive monarchy.

Robles and the defenders of the Church recalled its historic role during the Reconquista, a national mission that it had fulfilled throughout the ages. They argued that their mission now was  against the evils of liberalism and materialism.

For the Republicans, then, the Constitution of 1931 was not just a matter of correcting past injustice, it was an attempt to eradicate what it considered to be at the root of Spain’s problems: its backwardness resulting from Church’s indoctrination.

By abolishing its privileged status and eliminating its control of education, the Republic hoped to reduce the Church to a purely pastoral role. By taking these steps, however, the Republic was accused of being hypocritical when, at the same time that it proclaimed liberty, equality and solidarity, it discriminated against and even persecuted those who wished to have their children taught according to Catholic principles.

Catholic fears were understandable in the context of the passions awakened by the October debates over the Constitution. The reprehensible behaviour of past popes was trotted out, miracles were treated as nonsense, the Jesuits attacked as a Mercantile Society (the same speaker declined to call them a band of thieves out of respect for thieves), priests were urged to go out into the real world and work, and so on.

Although the Prime Minister, Manuel Azaña, the most influential spokesman for the Republic, argued against the complete suppression of the religious orders (they were useful for running hospitals, clinics and orphanages), he earned Catholic hostility by declaring that “Spain has ceased to be Catholic.”

It was a comment seized upon by opponents of the Republic as evidence of its godlessness. Azaña may have exaggerated, but there were priests who acknowledged or feared that Spain had indeed lost its Catholic identity. Many had long lamented a decline in Church attendance especially in the south and in the large urban centres.

One priest, author of The Apostasy of the Masses (1936), observed that The vast majority of ordinary people are not ours, they are indifferent or they are against us (Shubert 160). The evidence of such a assertion prompted another priest to publish in 1939 a book whose title Is Spain Catholic? is itself a statement of Catholic concern. What upset the Church about Azaña’s claim that Catholicism no longer served as the guiding principle for millions of Spaniards was to have it publicly declared irrelevant by an anticlerical politician. That was like rubbing salt in an open wound.

The ecclesiastical hierarchy would probably have grudgingly accommodated the separation of Church and state (following France, which was a secular state but still belonged to the Catholic fold), but the other provisions were hasty, ill-conceived attacks intended to cripple the Church as a social and political force.

They were confrontational and carried out too rapidly and on too many fronts. Additional and frequent harassment of Catholics was needlessly provocative and humiliating: e.g. imposing fines for wearing crucifixes in public, banning or taxing the ringing of Church bells, prohibiting Catholic burials unless requested in the deceased’s will (at a time when 9 out of 10 died without making a will).

As a result, not only did the Republic alienate moderate support and make it difficult for Catholics to be Republican, they also provided the traditionalists with a rallying cry and focus of counteraction.

In education, e.g., many Catholic institutions bypassed the law by simply becoming “lay” schools, with the religious staff exchanging their clerical garb for lay clothes and using their baptismal names. In a way this turned out to be something of a blessing, since the state simply did not have the resources to adequately fund its reforms, especially at the secondary level. Of the estimated 27,000 schools required to make education universally accessible to everybody in 1931, less than 10,000 were built during the whole of the Second Republic.

The radical reforms inscribed in the Constitution set an ill-fated tone for Church and state relationship. Mutual intolerance set in motion a process of polarisation that ended in the catastrophic Civil War pitting traditional Catholicism against secularism, region against region, and family against family. Wiser counsel on all sides at the birth of the Second Republic might have avoided that bloody civil conflict.

Sources.
Carr, Raymond  Modern Spain 1875-1980 Oxford 1980
Casanova, Julián and Carlos Gil Andrés Twentieth-Century Spain: A History Cambridge 2014
Esdaile, Charles J Spain the in Liberal Age: From Constitution to Civil War, 1808-1939 Oxford 2000
Jackson, Gabriel  The Spanish Republic and the Civil War, 1931-39 Princeton 1965 (3rd printing, 1972)
Lannon, Frances  Privilege, Persecution, and Prophecy: The Catholic Church in Spain 1875-1975 Oxford 1987
Preston, Paul A Concise History of the Spanish Civil War London 1996
Shubert, Adrian A Social History of Modern Spain London 1990
Image of Fernando de los Rios: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fernando_de_los_R%C3%ADos#/media/File:Fernando_de_los_R%C3%ADos_(cropped).jpg
Image of Jose Maria Gil Robles: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/ca/Jos%C3%A9_Mar%C3%ADa_Gil_Robles.JPG

 

 

For a general overview of the Second Republic, click here.

After the resignation of the dictator, Miguel Primo de Rivera, on January 26, 1930, King Alfonso XIII, found himself under increasing pressure from republican sympathisers, prominent intellectuals, and monarchists critical of his accommodation with Primo’s dictatorship.

The republicans, however, were far from united in their political views, ranging from the revolutionary left –radical socialists, anti-clericals and anarchists— to conservatives and Catholics. Adding to this potential powder keg were the Catalan nationalists exasperated by the centralising policy of Madrid and clamouring for autonomy.

Hoping to resolve the issue of a discredited monarchy, these various sectors put their differences aside and formed an umbrella revolutionary committee which met in San Sebastian in August of 1930. The committee produced a series of proposals known as the Pact of San Sebastian.

Included in the proposals was the establishment of a Republic, a call for an election of a Cortes (Parliament) to draw up a new constitution, guaranteed freedom of religion and political affiliation, and regional autonomy.

Impatient to promote their agenda, the pactistas tried to hasten the end of the monarchy by organising a military insurrection in December 1930 of soldiers sympathetic to the republican cause. The uprising, however, failed through lack of adequate planning, and King Alfonso ordered its leaders executed and the members of the revolutionary committee imprisoned. It was a public relations disaster for the monarchy.

In an attempt to stabilise the situation, the revolutionary committee was freed and municipal elections were called for April 12, 1931. But it was too late for the King because the elections in fact turned into a referendum on the monarchy. Although 41 of the 50 provincial capitals voted for a republic, Alfonso was loathe to recognise the winds of change, but unable to gain military support, he finally accepted the inevitable. On April 14, 1931, he left Spain, although refusing to abdicate!

On the day that Alfonso departed, Spain’s Second Republic was proclaimed. It started off with  great optimism. A “new dawn” was heralded as Spaniards proudly contemplated the bloodless transformation overnight of their country from Monarchy to Republic.

There was plenty of window dressing to celebrate the occasion: La niña bonita (“the pretty girl”) as the Second Republic was popularly called, came with a new tricolour flag, replacement of the royalist national anthem by the old liberal “Hymn of Riego,” and the renaming of many streets and squares. These were heady days.

But the Republic still had plenty of enemies: dyed-in-the-wool monarchists, the church hierarchy, the army, anarchists, large estate landowners, industrialists, and –especially in the north– the conservative peasantry. Still, in general it was the dream not only of most politicians but also of millions of workers and farm labourers whose woeful conditions they had pledged to address.

Spurred by a sense of urgency, the revolutionary committee immediately took the reins of power and formed the provisional government.  Its job it was to steer the country until a new Cortes (Parliament) was elected and a new republican constitution drawn up.

Of those who formed the provisional government, most were representative of the republican left and the socialists. E. g. the leftist intellectual Manuel Azaña, minister of war, and the socialists Indalecio Prieto, minister of finance, Fernando de los Ríos, minister of justice, and Francisco Largo Caballero, head of the labour union, UGT (Unión General de Trabajadores).

Making the Republic more palatable to the right were two Catholic, conservative Republicans with important portfolios: prime minister Niceto Alcalá Zamora (ex-Monarchist and landowner), and the Minister of the Interior, Miguel Maura.

Despite the spirit of optimism, the provisional government faced many difficulties, not the least of which was the impatience of the country. Within a month of Alfonso’s departure, two events took place that were ominous signs of things to come, and carried with them the baggage of history.

The first took place on April 14, the very day the republic was proclaimed. It was the unilateral decision by Colonel Francesc Macià –the formerly exiled leader of the separatist Estat Catala and now head of a Catalan coalition party, Esquerra Republicana– to declare Catalonia a Republic, albeit within a federal Spanish state.

Given the recent history of Catalan aspirations, and the delicate moment of political transition, any declaration that smacked even slightly of independence could have serious repercussions. It is true that the Pact of San Sebastian had agreed to support Catalan autonomy, but only by following due constitutional process. Macià’s immediate and unilateral declaration sent shudders down republican backs, and three ministers of the provisional government quickly went to Barcelona to head off a confrontation.

An agreement was reached to resurrect the Generalitat with certain provisional powers in health, education, and public works. More important, the Generalitat was to prepare terms of autonomy, which would then be put to public referendum in Catalonia before being presented to the constituent Cortes of the nation for ratification. It was a rocky start.

The second event underlined the dangers inherent in the enthusiastic embrace of republicanism at the expense of entrenched interests: it brought the state head to head with the church. It came about this way. Republicanism had always contained within it a strong secular streak. When the provisional government took power it immediately published a special statute to provide the nation with an interim legal framework.

Amongst the provisions was one that proposed freedom of belief and religion, and separation of Church and state with no reference to any special status or relationship the Church might enjoy in the new regime. And to add fuel to the fire, a measure was announced on May 6 ending obligatory religious instruction in public schools.

Cardinal Segura in Seville.

The announcement coincided with the publication on May 7 of a militant pastoral letter by Cardinal Pedro Segura, Archbishop of Toledo. Unfortunately for Spain, the head of the most important diocese in the country was both a religious fanatic and committed monarchist, and his letter was viewed by anticlerical republicans as a challenge.

It contained warm praise for King Alfonso’s support of the church, appealed to Spanish women to organise a crusade of prayers and called for the faithful to close ranks to protect the rights of the church against those who were determined to destroy religion. This reigniting of the crusading flame was an ominous signal.

Within a few days blood tarnished the image of the republic. A meeting of monarchists on May 10, 1931, in a building in the centre of Madrid played the royal anthem that was easily heard in the streets through the open windows. Soon crowds of republican supporters gathered and tried to break down the doors. Police prevented damage, but the angry mob then headed for the nearby offices of the monarchist newspaper, ABC, spurred on by rumours that a taxi driver had been killed by monarchists. The subsequent confrontation with the Civil Guard left two people dead and others injured.

This was the beginning of widespread reaction. On the following day (May 11), anticlerical frustration broke loose in Madrid and a number of churches, religious schools and convents were torched. With warning signs everywhere, the provisional government’s refusal at this moment to protect church property probably set the seal for future relations between the Second Republic and the Church. Miguel Azaña is reported to have said that “all the convents of Madrid are not worth the life of a single Republican.

For the next three days flames rose over Seville, Málaga, Córdoba, Cádiz, Alicante, Valencia and other cities in the south, and by the time it was over it is estimated that more than 100 religious buildings had perished in what became known as the quema de conventos (“torching of convents”). The geographical parameters of the Civil War were already being outlined.

In addition to all this, on May 11, Archbishop Segura left the country, alleging that the government had refused to guarantee his safety. A few days later the Bishop of Vitoria (Navarra) was expelled for subversive activities. Finally, on May 22, the government formally declared total religious liberty and furthermore prohibited any displays of religious images –e.g. crucifixes– in public schools.  The church felt itself under siege, but there was more to come!

The immediate and grave problems arising from the Catalan issue and conflict with the Church underlined the difficulties faced by the Republic. So too did measures to improve the appalling conditions suffered by industrial workers and especially by braceros (“farm labourers”) in rural Spain, particularly in Andalusia, Extremadura and Castile-La Mancha.

Decrees were issued to prevent evictions of lessee farmers, block landowners from hiring “scab” workers, and abolish owners’ right to break strikes. Furthermore, eight-hour days were proclaimed, obligatory cultivation imposed (to prevent owners leaving their land unworked) and committees formed to arbitrate wages for the workers. These agrarian reforms posed early challenges to the powerful landowners and industrial figures and ensured a fierce and enduring opposition to republican plans.

At the same time, the Republic fueled the anger of the army. First by offering Catalans hope for autonomy, a move that was diametrically opposed to the army’s long held view of the unbreakable unity of the patria. Then, in May 1931, Miguel Azaña, the minister of war, added fuel to the fire by proposing large cut backs to the officer corps and a review of how promotions were decided,  including reassessing promotions handed out during the Moroccan wars. Azaña further inflamed army sensitivity by abolishing its legal power (introduced in March 1906) to try civilians in military tribunals for whatever it considered offensive to its honour! Adding insult to injury, Azaña was a civilian!

By the time elections were held for the Cortes on June 28, 1931, the provisional government had taken bold steps to carry out reforms to modernize Spanish society. However, its decrees carried with them destabilising seeds of confrontation, centred on Church state relationship, agrarian reform, Catalan autonomy and the balance between state and military power.

The results of the elections were overwhelmingly in favour of a republican-socialist coalition, but the plethora of parties which formed the Cortes –nineteen!— underlined the fragmentation that hounded the Second Republic throughout it existence. Among these parties, a small group of about 50 members represented anti-Republican sentiment.

Between July and early December 1931, a task force worked on a new Constitution. By the end of August, it submitted its recommendations which were fiercely debated until a final version was approved on December 9, 1931. At last, the Republic had a legal Constitution to enforce its agenda.

Sources.
Balfour, Sebastian “Spain from 1931 to the Present,” in Carr, Raymond ed. Spain. A History Oxford 2000, pp. 243-82.
Barton, Simon A History of Spain 2nd. ed. Basingstoke, Hampshire 2009
Carr, Raymond Modern Spain 1875-1980 Oxford1980
Casanova, Julián and Carlos Gil Andrés Twentieth-Century Spain: A History Cambridge 2014
Jackson, Gabriel The Spanish Republic and the Civil War 1931-39 Princeton 1972
Payne, Stanley Spain’s First Democracy: The Second Republic, 1931-1936 Madison 1993
Pecharromán, Julio Gil Historia de España: La Segunda Republica: Esperanzas y Frustraciones Madrid 1997
Preston, Paul A Concise History of the Spanish Civil War London 1996
Image of Cardinal Segura: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholicism_in_the_Second_Spanish_Republic

The Second Spanish Republic 1931-39: Historical Overview.
The birth of Spain’s Second Republic was greeted enthusiastically following the decision of both the dictator, General Miguel Primo de Rivera, and the king, Alfonso XIII, to go into exile (in January 1930 and April 1931 respectively). It was a bloodless transition and there was plenty of window dressing to celebrate the occasion.

The Republican flag.

La niña bonita (the pretty girl) as the Second Republic was popularly called, came clothed with a new tricolour flag, the royalist national anthem was replaced by the old liberal Himno de Riego (“Hymn of Riego”) and many streets and squares were renamed. They were heady days, full of hope for so many Spaniards, yet in 5 years that hope was dashed as a bloody civil war engulfed the nation.

A general outline of the governments of the Second Republic looks something like this:

  1. April – June 1931: Provisional government.
  2. June 28 1931 – November 1933: Left wing coalition government.
  3. November 1933 – February 1936: Right wing coalition government.
  4. February 1936 – July 17 1936: Left wing coalition government.
  5. July 18 1936. General Francisco Franco declared a state of war. The Civil War lasted until April 1 1939.

So, why did the Second Republic fail? There were numerous factors, both external and internal that worked against La niña bonita.

Externally the Second Republic had little control over events. In October 1929, the Wall Street Crash provoked an economic crisis that was felt worldwide with a hardening of international relations and increased tariff protection erected by several countries.

Spanish exports, notably citrus fruits, olive oil and steel were especially affected. The subsequent shortage of funds, necessary for the reforms projected by left leaning politicians in Spain, hampered such initiatives.

A significant offshoot of these unstable times was the growth of European nationalism giving rise to fascist and totalitarian regimes, most famously in Germany, Italy and Portugal (and Poland, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia and Greece had also taken the path of repression and authoritarianism).

A further destabilising issue was the successful Russian communist revolution of 1917, which gave support to the potential of left-wing, egalitarian ideas. Both of these ideological extremes –fascism and communism– were factors that increasingly entered the political narrative of the Second Republic and were major components of the Civil War itself.

But however much external issues influenced the political and social events of the Second Republic, the major obstacles were home grown.

Internally the Second Republic was not without committed enemies: e. g. dyed-in-the-wool monarchists, bourgeoisie and aristocratic landowners, members of the church hierarchy, conservative peasants (especially in the north), and military hardliners. Against this opposition, the Republic was tasked with seeking solutions to four pressing issues: 1. Agrarian reform, 2. Regional autonomy, principally Catalan, 3. Addressing the role of the Catholic Church and 4. Military reform.

Agrarian reform immediately came up against entrenched, powerful landed interests, Catalan autonomy was anathema to centralist Castile and the military, the Church had long enjoyed wide-ranging privileges which it saw threatened, and the military, especially the army, objected to reforms pushed by politicians.

All of these issues had been quashed during the dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera whose priorities were la Patria (the Fatherland), Church and King. A centralist and traditionalist, and furthermore, landowner and military officer, he preferred to dabble in superficial but expensive projects (e. g. building roads, dams, restoring monuments) rather than attack root causes. His lack of economic judgement also left the country with a significant budget deficit, leaving the Republic shackled from the outset.

In addition to the challenges outlined above, the Second Republic faced a surprising obstacle from a powerful group we might initially think supportive of the new political system: the Anarchists.

Anarchism had very strong roots in Andalusia and around Barcelona. Although members of the proletariat which had much to gain from proposed agrarian and workers’ reforms, the Anarchists sought to destabilise the very government that sought to improve the lot of the workers.

The reason for this is not simply that the Anarchists were anti-government. For a long time, they and the socialists had been rivals in recruiting converts, but what made them particularly hostile to the left wing coalition of the first government of the Second Republic (of which the socialists formed the largest component) was that the socialists had earlier collaborated with the Primo dictatorship whereas the anarchist movement had been suppressed.

For the Anarchists, the socialists were traitors, and their enmity to the Republic was channelled into violent strikes and armed insurrections that were major destabilising factors in undermining the social reforms proposed by the left wing.

The following is a summary showing a pendulum of events that eventually swung out of control.

Briefly, the left-wing, socialist dominated first government of the Second Republic did succeed in effecting a number of reforms against strong even violent opposition. There was a sweeping assault on the Church including a constitutional declaration that that the state recognised no official religion and that education (run mainly by the church) was to become secular. 

Agrarian reform: A law aiming to redistribute land was passed but met with all kinds of obstacles from the landowners, including leaving their land untilled and resorting to lockouts of farm workers.

Provisions for Catalan autonomy were presented to the Cortes (Parliament) but ran up against centralist sentiment in Madrid. Still, Catalonia/Catalunya did get a statute passed providing for a separate parliament (the Generalitat), shared official status for its language with Castilian, and recognition of its flag and anthem.

The military did not carry the long, historical baggage of church, land and regional autonomy, but the power it wielded since the 19th century now made it one of the most formidable enemy of change. It had, after all, frequently intervened in the parliamentary process. Indeed, an attempted coup against the Republic by General José Sanjurjo in August 1932 failed spectacularly, but only increased the hostility of most officers against left-wing politicians.

By the summer of 1933, the country was in a state of disorder. The left was divided as to how to respond to right wing resistance, Anarchist violence, and peasant dissatisfaction with a lack of progress to their demands.

In the meantime, right wing interests organised themselves and succeeded in winning power in general elections held in November 1933. Moves were made to undo much of what had been passed under the left-wing coalition, although the republican system of governance was grudgingly accepted. Recent laws against the Church were not enforced and anticlerical persecution stopped, landowners ignored the demands of agrarian reforms, Catalan autonomy was threatened (martial law was imposed in October 1934), the right wing fascist-leaning Falange was founded in October 1933, and right leaning military officers were favoured in appointments.

Outbreaks of violence continued, the most notorious being the rebellion by striking miners in Asturias in October 1934. The army moved in to restore order. Tales of atrocities abounded on both sides, the right emphasising the barbarity of the insurgents, the left berating the brutal treatment and summary executions carried out by the right. The commander of the army engaged in Asturias was the future dictator, General Francisco Franco.

The right wing coalition finally fell over accusations of corruption involving gambling which was illegal in Spain. New elections were called for February 1936. The pendulum now swung to the left, although only just. The country was now divided, and parliamentary rhetoric was increasingly inflammatory.

Language such as “the left must of necessity move to civil war. And don’t let the right have any illusions that this is an idle threat. This is a warning” (Carr Spanish Tragedy, 47). The right responded that “if the revolution wants war, it shall have war” (Carr Spanish Tragedy, 47). The drums of war were beating, and sadly, verbal violence was soon translated into action.

Eighteen governments in just five years underline the fragility of a system that could find no road to compromise. The Second Republic collapsed owing probably to attempting to do too much, too quickly and with too much passion to right historical grievances in the face of entrenched interests during the first two years of socialist government.

Resistance to these radical reforms was immediate and defended with equal passion. The aims of the left were to modernise Spain, what happened was a return to the country’s past when, under the banner of the crusading dictator, General Franco, Spain reverted to its Catholic heritage, its territorial unity and conservative values.

Sources:
Barton, Simon A History of Spain 2nd ed. New York 2009
Carr, Raymond  Spain 1808-1939 Oxford 1966
Carr, Raymond The Spanish Tragedy: The Civil War in Perspective London 1993
Casanova, Julian and Andres, Carlos Gil Twentieth-Century Spain: A History Cambridge 2014
Phillips, William D Jr. and Phillips, Carla R A Concise History of Spain Cambridge 2010
Shubert, Adrian A Social History of Modern Spain London 1990
Image of the Republican flag: By SanchoPanzaXXI – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3557152

 

 

 

 

 

 

20th-Century: Restoration 1902-1923. Decay and Regeneration.

Alfonso XIII (ruled 
1902-1931; however from 1923-30 the monarchy co-existed with the dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera).

Following a century of bewildering instability and conflict, Spain entered the 20th century reeling under the disastrous War of 1898 (aka the Spanish American War).

It was a humiliating and costly defeat at the hands of the United States, leaving Spain with only Morocco as the last remnant of its once huge empire. It suffered the loss of its last transoceanic territories, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam, at the same time that its European imperial rivals –especially England and France– were consolidating their presence worldwide.

All pretensions of being a world power were shattered once and for all as demoralised Spaniards of all persuasions looked for causes of and solutions to the country’s painful decay.

El Desastre (The Disaster), as it was simply called, prompted soul-searching debates. Criticism of Spain was not new, following earlier losses of territory and in reaction to the political instability of the 19th century.

What The Disaster did was provide a concrete focus, and solid and painful evidence of decay. Like a pathological patient, Spain’s “body” was dissected, its “diseases” analysed and cures suggested. Joaquín Costa, one of the most articulate of the critics, called for an “iron surgeon” to cure the ills besetting the country. And, as the geographical centre of Spain and “heart” of the now faded imperial enterprise, Castile was given special attention.

Castile had imposed its vision on the rest of the country, it had “made” Spain as the philosopher Ortega y Gasset later said, only to add that Castile had also “unmade” Spain. The decline of Spain, then, was for many a consequence of Castile’s decay, so that much of the analysis of the country’s illness was in fact a condemnation of a sickness at its very “heart.”

How was the country to recover? “Regeneration” became the catch-word, but what that meant depended on the political or social stripe of those advocating change. Europeanisation was the answer for those impressed by the industrial success of Spain’s northern neighbours. For others a renovation of the political order and the elimination of caciquismo** and corruption were fundamental.

**A corrupt system whereby local political bosses
caciques— were charged with ensuring the desired
electoral results during the period of gobierno de
turno pacífico
. The gobierno de turno pacífico

consisted of conservative and liberal governments
alternating by agreement. The arrangement was
established by the conservative Antonio Cánovas
del Castillo and the liberal Práxedes Sagasta in
the last quarter of the 19th century.

Some called for a renewed spiritual awakening, a crusade against the evils of liberalism. Many looked to agrarian and social reform. Others sought to reawaken those qualities of the past that had made Spain great. Still others saw the solution in overhauling an antiquated and inefficient education system.

But whatever it was, all –except those with particular entrenched interests (e.g. the church, the landed gentry)– agreed that fundamental changes were necessary.

Old Voices – New Voices.
But who was to initiate the regeneration? And what direction was it to take? At the beginning of the 19th century, we can still identify easily those ancient triple powers of monarchychurch, and nobility which had for so long run Spain’s destiny.

Thanks to the convulsive changes of the 19th century, there were, by the beginning of the 20th century, several new voices hatched from the events of the 1800s that challenged these traditional powers: the army, political partiesworkers’ movements, anarchismRepublicanism, and a reborn historical reality, regionalism.

It is against this background of different and conflictive voices that the gobierno de turno pacifico struggled with increasing difficulty to run the country. Three assassinated Prime Ministers in the space of 24 years (Cánovas 1897, Canalejas 1912 and Dato 1921), numerous bombings, attempts on the life of the king, strikes, periodic hostilities in Morocco, uprisings, separatism sentiment especially in Catalonia, and military repression were uncomfortable reminders of the volatile nature of Spanish life in the first quarter of the 20th century.

Sources:

Balfour, Sebastian    The End of the Spanish Empire Oxford 1997
Barton, Simon  A History of Spain Basingstoke, Hampshire 2009
Carr, Raymond ed.  Spain: A History  Oxford 2000
Esdaile, Charles J. Spain in the Liberal Age: From Constitution to Civil War, 1808-1939 Oxford 2000
Phillips, William D & Phillips Carla R A Concise History of Spain Cambridge 2010
Ruiz, Octavio “Spain on the Threshold of a New Century: Society and Politics before and after the Disaster of 1898” in Rein, Raanan Spain and the Mediterranean since 1898   London, New York 1999

Visigoth or Invisigoths?
From the beginning of the 6th century to the early years of the 8th, the Visigoths dominated Hispania (i.e. the Iberian Peninsula), but we would be hard put to find any substantial evidence of their presence. They are, as one observer has put it, the Invisigoths (See http://www.gadling.com/2010/12/31/the-visigoths-spains-forgotten-conquerors/).

Nevertheless, by the middle of the 7th century, they had imposed political, religious and legislative unity on Hispania, and ruled from their capital in Toledo, the centre of the Peninsula.

For the first time the Peninsula was governed wholly from within and not from outside, as had been the case under the Romans. How substantial these Visigothic contributions were for the future country of Spain (or Portugal) is open to debate.  Some Spanish historians view these years as the birth of the nation, others reject even the idea that the Visigoths were Spaniards.

Despite some 200 years of domination, the Visigoths left no written record in their tongue, no towns of consequence, little in the way of buildings (some small rural churches), and little in the way of art (e.g. decorated pillars, votive crowns, bits of jewelry, figurative carvings). Even their one probable and significant contribution to Hispanic architecture, the horseshoe arch, is often attributed to the Moors.

Why such little immediately identifiable impact?  Four factors perhaps account for this.

First, having already lived within the Roman sphere for a while before entering Hispania, the Visigoths admired the accomplishments of the Romans and considered themselves to be heirs to the Roman empire. Although conquerors of the Peninsula, they retained much of the Roman provincial administrative system and initially allowed the Hispano-Roman elite control of day-to-day matters.

They settled in Roman towns (Mérida is a good example), and gradually adopted or adapted Roman symbols of authority (the use of the crown, sceptre and throne, under Leovigild r. 569-86), Roman clothes (during Reccared I’s reign 586-601), Roman Catholicism (589, the year of Reccared’s conversion) and, of course, the language of Rome, Latin. They even used Latin on their gravestones.

Their own cultural identity, therefore, was stifled to all intents and purposes by the weight of a superior civilisation which they had “conquered.”  We cannot talk, then, of a “Visigothisation” of the peninsula in the same way as we talk of its “Romanisation;” in fact, what we have is a “Romanisation” of the Visigoths”. “Visigothic Spain was,” as one writer pithily put it, “Roman Spain under changed management” (Fletcher 23).

Second, there was a large demographic disparity between invaders and residents of Hispania. Admittedly, there is no means of determining accurately neither the number of Visigoths who entered Hispania, nor the population of the peninsula when they arrived.

Figures for the Visigoths, for example, range from as low as 100,000 to 500.000; the estimated Hispano-Roman total varies from 4.000.000 to 6.000.000.  What is consistent is that all investigators agree that there were far fewer Visigoths, which means that the task of imposing their values would have been formidable, especially in the relatively brief time of occupation (compared to the Romans and Muslims). And the reality is that Roman culture was much more deeply embedded in Hispania than it was, for example, in Galia (Gaul/France).

Third, although they eventually established their headquarters in Toledo under Athanagild/Atanagildo (r. 554-567) towards the middle of the 6th century  –locating for the first time in Spanish history power in the centre of the Peninsula– the Visigoths were not an urban society in the Roman sense.

They were a nomadic people, tribal and warlike, which helps to explain why they did not go in for building towns. They were satisfied with settling in previously established towns, and only two of their own are recorded: Reccopolis and Victoriacum, both founded by King Leovigild (r. 569-86) in the second half of the 6th century. And of these only one, Victoriacum/Vitoria (or Olite according to some), still survives, although without Visigothic features; Reccopolis is just a bundle of ruins under excavation, near the village of Zorita de los Canes, just east of Madrid.

Reccopolis.
Fourth, the Visigoths’ nomadic background and militaristic tendencies left them with little inclination for trade and commerce.  These were delegated to the Hispano-Romans and the Jews, especially for trans Mediterranean trade.
Similarly, the Visigoths had little interest in maintaining other traits of an urban society: industrial or agricultural activities. Mining, for example, almost disappeared, the famous garum factories on the southern coast were closed down, and pastoral farming prevailed over crops. Only in the south, where olive oil was produced in some quantity does arable culture appear to have prospered.
Sources.
Barton, Simon  A History of Spain Basingstoke, Hampshire & New York 2004.
Carr, Raymond ed.  Spain: A History  Oxford 2000
Collins, Roger Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity, 400-1000  London 1983
Collins, Roger Visigothic Spain 409-711  Oxford 2004

Fletcher, Richard Moorish Spain  London 1994
Phillips, William D, Jr. & Phillips Carla R A Concise History of Spain  Cambridge 2010
Reilly, Bernard  The Medieval Spains Cambridge 1993
Thompson, E.A. The Goths in Spain Oxford 1969
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/34/Recopolis_-_Vista_del_Yacimiento.jpg

The Visigoths: Arrival in Spain.
The Visigoths were one of several migratory Germanic or Gothic tribes**, whom the Greeks and Romans identified as “barbarians,” i.e. “different” and culturally unsophisticated. Nevertheless, this did not prevent the Romans from making pacts with them or incorporating them in their imperial armies.

**Disapproval has stuck to “Gothic” throughout the years. For example, “Gothic” cathedrals were scorned during the Renaissance because they did not compare well with classical elegance then in vogue.  “Gothic” novels convey images of decay and decadence. Even nowadays the Oxford and Webster dictionaries include “barbarous,” “uncouth,” “rude,” in definitions of “Gothic.”

The Gothic invasion of France, Italy and Spain was facilitated by the enfeebled state of the Roman Empire. The invasion of Hispania (as the Iberian peninsula –including Portugal– was then known) was not a single event carried out by a unified group, but a series of migrations by different tribes –Sueves, Vandals, Alani, Visigoths etc. The Sueves, Vandals and Alani crossed the Pyrenees in 409, the Sueves establishing themselves in the north west, the Vandals in the south and the Alani in Lusitania.

In 416, Visigothic soldiers arrived, having been contracted as allies by the Romans to reimpose Roman authority on the earlier Germanic invaders.  In 418, these soldiers were recalled to the south of France, where the Visigoths had by now established their capital in Toulouse.  By that time Roman authority over the Visigoths was tenuous. The Visigoths had already sacked the imperial city in 410 and their westward expansion into southern France and eventually into Hispania was a process over which Rome really had little say.

Although they controlled much of the peninsula from Toulouse at first, the Visigoths finally moved en masse through the Pyrenees early in the 6th century. Their decision was prompted by a series of defeats, and the death of their king, Alaric II (r 484-507) at the hands of the Franks from the north. (The issue between Franks and Visigoths came to a head when the king of the Franks, Clodoveo/ Clovis (r 481-511), converted to Catholicism. His quarrel with Alaric had a decided religious overtone directed against the Arian beliefs of Alaric and his followers).

From the beginning of the 6th century to the early years of the 8th, the Visigoths dominated the peninsula, although their control was frequently tested over the first hundred years or so. The Vascones (Basques) in the north were always a thorn, and the Sueves to the North West kept up opposition. In addition, the establishment of Rome’s eastern offspring, Byzantine Constantinople, in the south east of the peninsula in the mid 500s also threatened Visigothic resolve.

The Sueves were finally conquered during the reign of the redoubtable Leovigild (r 568-586), and the Byzantine threat was terminated in the 620s. So, except for the Basque region, the peninsula was united from within as a nation under one ruler for the first time. Under Rome it had been no more than a province, and ruled from outside; with the Visigoths it took the first significant step to self-identity.

Visigothic Spain at the death of Leovigild (586). The green shows what was left of the Byzantine empire until the 620s. North of Victoriacum, the Basques were also undefeated by the Visigoths. .

The Visigothic Paradox.
For many people the Visigothic contribution to Hispanic civilisation seems inexistent or at best marginal. The contributions of the “Invisigoths” (as they have succinctly been called, see http://www.gadling.com/2010/12/31/the-visigoths-spains-forgotten-conquerors/) suffer badly, wedged as they are between great legacies of the Romans and the Moors (the word usually used to refer to Muslim entering Spain in 711, irrespective of ethnic origin).

Votive Crown Found at Guarrazar near Toledo in 1849. In the Archeological Museum, Madrid.

Indeed, the “significance” of the Visigoths might be defined paradoxically by what they did not do. They left little art: some gold and silver work (including some striking votive crowns), figurative carvings, but no individual pieces of sculpture.

There are no towns that identify their culture in a substantial way. Not even Toledo, their capital from the middle of the 6th century, can claim any significant extant Visigothic features (the church of San Román in Toledo houses a very modest Visigothic museum: e.g. reproductions of some crowns –the originals are in the Archeological Museum in Madrid– some brooches and sundry ornaments).

What is left are some rural churches in the north (e.g. San Juan de Baños de Cerrato in Palencia, Santa Comba de Bande in Orense, San Pedro de la Nave near Zamora, Quintanilla de las Vias between Burgos and Soria) and some striking artifacts related to the church in Mérida, Toledo and Córdoba: pillars, decorated altar pieces and fonts, stones with “Maltese” crosses etc.

San Pedro de la Nave.
San Pedro de la Nave. Carving of the sacrifice of Isaac and vegetal and animal motifs.

There is, perhaps surprisingly, a Byzantine quality to the decorative elements (e.g. vegetal motifs –grapes, leaves, plants– peacocks, geometric patterns), but this is probably owing to the close contact the Visigoths had with the east on their journey westward. That is when they adopted Arianism, a deviant Christian doctrine that denied the Trinity, preached by the Greek-born theologian, Arius.

From the east too could have come a major contribution to Hispanic architecture, the horseshoe arch, although ironically this is frequently credited to the Moors. The most striking example can be found in the church of San Juan de Baños.

San Juan de Baños.

The Visigoths left little linguistic evidence of their presence. There exist no literary works or written documents –even of a legal or ecclesiastical nature– in the Visigothic tongue.  It is not that the Visigothic period was devoid of culture; on the contrary 7th-century writing in Hispania was one of the richest in Europe, even if it was produced mainly by writers of Hispano-Roman origin (e.g. St Isidore).

The point is that authors chose to express themselves in Latin, the written/ literary language that bound most of Europe at that time. What we do have left of Visigothic linguistic influence is lexical rather than syntactic and limited mostly to proper names (e.g. Alfonso, Rodrigo, Fernando, Gonzalo, Guzmán),and words associated with war: guerra (“war“), yelmo (“helmet”), espuela (“spur”), estribo (“stirrup”), heraldo (“herald”), tregua (“truce”).

Given this lack of substantial Visigothic presence in Spain, can we ignore the Visigoths?  No, for three reasons, each highlighting the myth of the Visigoths in Spain’s history:

1) For many historians, especially those supporting the centralist views of Castile, the Visigoths are viewed as nation builders because they were the first to create a united and independent kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula.  According to the Jesuit church historian, Z García Villada (1876-1936), Spain as a nation was born politically in 573 during the reign of Leovigild (r. 568-86), and spiritually when Leovigild’s son, Reccared (r. 586-601) converted from Arianism to Catholicism in 587 and declared his country officially Catholic in 589.  

García Villada could have added, too, that in 654 the political and spiritual dimensions of Spanish nationalism were underpinned by a unified legislative system.  Known as the Lex Visigothorum (Law of the Visigoths) or Liber Iudiciorum (Book of the Judges), it brought together earlier Visigothic customary laws and traditions and Roman legal principles, and remained in use in Christian territory until the 13th century (i.e. during the years of al-Andalus, when much of the Peninsula was under Muslim rule). So, with these basic structural requirements for nationhood Iberia/Hispania was politically, religiously and legislatively united as early as the 6th century. 

This combination of unity, law and order under a benevolent church appealed strongly to General Franco, Spanish dictator from 1939 to 1975, who praised the Visigoths for endowing Spaniards with these qualities when he opened the Visigothic Museum in Toledo in 1969.

Not everyone sees the Visigoths in such a positive light, however. One of Spain’s best known philosophers, José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955), dismissed them as a decadent, drunken and “Romanised” tribe lurching its way through Hispania, and compared them unfavourably with another Germanic group, the Franks, founders of France. 

In 1948, the influential literary critic, philologist and historian, Américo Castro (1885-1972), rejected the very idea that the Visigoths were Spanish, arguing that Spain or “Spanishness” was really a product of the eight centuries of “convivencia” (“getting along together”) of Christians, Moors and Jews.

This produced a heated riposte from another historian, Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz, for whom the fundamental elements of “Spanishness” preceded the Moors. It survived the presence of the Jews and Moors and regained its eminence following the expulsion of these alien cultures.

2) The Visigothic spirit was frequently evoked following the Moorish invasion (711), when the concept of the godo as conveying untainted Hispanic virtues was recalled with pride in the struggle against the infidel. Praise of the Visigoths started with the Hispano-Roman writer, the famous St Isidore of Seville (560?-636), whose writings enjoyed great popularity in the Middle Ages. 

Since the Visigoths had declared Hispania officially Catholic by the time he was writing, Isidore’s eulogy reflected his gratitude for the protection and support the Church now enjoyed under Visigothic rule. Much of Isidore’s Historia Gothorum (History of the Goths) was incorporated into Rodrigo Jiménez de Andrada’s 13th-century Historia Gothica, a glowing tribute to the Visigothic period.  In the 13th century, too, the aura of Visigothic qualities led Alfonso X, the Learned, to exalt Visigothic nobility, religious devotion and greatness in legendary terms.

During the 14th and 15th centuries, the status attached to the Visigoths declined somewhat, only to re-emerge at the beginning of the 16th century, following the fall of Muslim Granada.

It was revived with the publication in 1500 of the Mozarabic missal and in 1502 of the Mozarabic breviary, both of which reaffirmed the continuity of the pre-Islamic church rite practiced by the Visigoths. As the 16th century progressed and going into the 17th century, the expression Es de los godos (“he descends from the Goths”) was used to identify anyone who claimed a lineage traceable to the purity of pre-Moorish days.

During the same period, the celebrated Spanish surname Guzmán, from the German gouds man (“good man”), was the most commonly appropriated by those who wished to claim an illustrious heritage. Verification of such claims freed an individual of the worst social stigma possible, the accusation of being of Jewish or Moorish descent, i.e. of being a Converso or Morisco.  The obsession with purity of blood (limpieza de sangre) cannot be underestimated during this period; it infected all social levels and became a major theme in literary works.

The Visigothic spirit is still with us today in a form that may not be readily recognised.  If you visit the Cathedral of Toledo, you may be fortunate to hear what is called a Mozarabic Mass celebrated in one of the side chapels called the Mozarabic Chapel (also known as the Chapel of Corpus Christi or the Chapel of Cardinal Cisneros, at whose initiative the Mozarabic missal and breviary were published). This Mass is none other than the ancient Visigothic Mass practiced in the Iberian Peninsula prior to the arrival of the Moors. (Google Mozarabic rites youtube to hear snippets.)

3) It has been claimed that large numbers of Visigothic nobles fled to the Asturian mountains following defeat by the Moors in 711, and from there they were instrumental in spearheading resistance to the newcomers. Much of this is conjectural, elaborated by later historiographers, but it has passed to modern days.  Add to this the centralist argument that it was in Asturias where the Reconquista began, and it was there where Castile was born, and it was Castile “that made Spain,”** and we have good reasons not to dismiss the Visigoths.

** An assertion made by Ortega y Gasset.
He also added that Castile had “unmade Spain.”

Like the Celts and Iberians, the Visigoths have cast a longer shadow over Spain’s history than might be expected; it’s one that is not likely to go away easily.

Sources.
Barton, Simon in “The Roots of the National Question in Spain,” in The National Question in Europe in Historical Context eds. Mikulas Teich and Roy Porter Cambridge: 1993 (pp. 106-127).  (Well argued article and well worth looking for.)
Carr, Raymond ed.  Spain: A History  Oxford 2000
Collins, Roger Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity, 400-1000   London: MacMillan 1983
Collins, Roger Visigothic Spain 409-711  Oxford 2004
Phillips, William D, Jr. & Phillips Carla R A Concise History of Spain  Cambridge 2010
Bernard Reilly  The Medieval Spains Cambridge 1993
E.A. Thompson,  The Goths in Spain Oxford: Clarendon 1969

http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iglesia_de_San_Juan_%28Ba%C3%B1os_de_Cerrato%29
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SanPedroNave1.jpg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tesoro_de_Guarrazar_(M.A.N._Madrid)_01.jpg   http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Iberia_586.svg  Map of Visigothic Spain

The Visigothic State: Unity.

The Monarchy.
One of the central principles of Visigothic political life was that of elective monarchy, whereby the king was selected by his aristocratic peers as “chief,” first among equals.

The king was chosen as the best to defend the interests of the community, and his function was essentially that of war-leader. Principles, however, often clashed with reality, and rebellions, regicide and constant dispute were the order of the day. In the two centuries of Visigothic rule in Hispania (507-711), there were twenty-six kings.

Of these five were assassinated, two died under mysterious circumstances and one was overthrown; in addition, there were numerous revolts that challenged the authority of the throne. The result was a weak political structure, further threatened by the divide between the Visigoths and the substantially larger population of Hispano-Romans. 

Unity was also thwarted for many years by social, religious and legal obstacles that underlined the differences between conquerors and conquered. For example, for a period intermarriage between the two groups was prohibited, both groups practised a different form of Christianity, and the laws of the land were based on two differing traditions –Hispano-Roman and Visigothic–  without clear authority. Even their clothes were different. As long as these distinctions existed there could be no sense of cohesion and integration. 

The first to address these fundamental problems comprehensively was Leovigild (r. 569-586), probably the most powerful Visigothic king of Hispania. On the political front, he confirmed –upon his accession– Toledo** as the Visigothic capital, and undertook campaigns throughout the peninsula to restore royal authority.

**Toledo had been chosen as capital by Athanagild (r. 551-68), Leovigild’s predecessor. Athanagild died without heirs.

Parts of a Byzantine enclave in the south east were recovered (570-71), a rebellious Córdoba was reintegrated into the kingdom (572), and the Sueves of the North West conquered (584). In 583, Leovigild ended a five-year armed rebellion led by his older son, Hermenegild**, in Baetica (south west Spain).

**Hermenegild was later exiled (to Valencia) and murdered in Tarragona in 585.  Whether Leovigild or Reccared –Hermenegild’s younger brother—were involved is unclear.

At the time of his death in 586, Leovigild had succeeded in gaining control of all the peninsula, with the exception of some Byzantine outposts in the south east, and the Basques entrenched in the Pyrenees.

To help strengthen the authority of the monarchy and endow it with aura and prestige, Leovigild also introduced royal symbols inspired by Roman or Byzantyne custom: robes, crown, throne, and coinage with his name, title and image. He even founded two cities –Victoria (or Olite) and Reccopolis– following imperial practices.

Religion.
To enhance religious (and thereby social) cohesion, Leogivild revoked the law prohibiting intermarriage between Visigoths and Hispano-Romans, and sought to impose Arianism –a variant of Christianity the Visigoths brought with them to Hispania– on his subjects.

As Arians, the Visigoths did not believe in the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost; for them, Christ was a great prophet. Leovigild was a committed Arian and his vision was a kingdom unified under the seal of Arian theology, with persecution prescribed for recalcitrant objectors. He exiled, imprisoned, executed opponents and confiscated lands belonging to the Catholic Church.

Nevertheless, this it did not prevent his son, Hermenegild, marrying a French Catholic princess. The story then goes that she resisted enormous cruelty from her mother-in-law and so impressed Hermenegild by her faith that he converted to Catholicism  around 582. Clearly, then, the civil war between Leovigild and Hermenegild (started in 578) was not prompted by Hermenegild’s conversion, but rather by the latter’s attempt to take control of the south and set up his own capital in Seville. And his conversion may well be attributed more to the presence in his court of the eminent Catholic bishop, Leander of Seville (older brother of the famous Isidore) than to his wife’s devotion to Catholicism.  

The victory of Arianism over Catholicism was short-lived, however. When Leovigild died (586), he was succeeded by his second son Reccared (r. 586-601) who within a year converted to Catholicism under the tutelage of Bishop Leander. He further declared Catholicism to be the official faith of his kingdom, a declaration that was ratified with all pomp and ceremony at the 3rd Council of Toledo in 589.

Reccared ordered the burning of all Arian books, banned all Arians from public service and returned to the Catholic Church land confiscated by Leovigild. Predictably, given the pre-eminence granted to Arians under Leovigild, Reccared’s conversion and actions were not greeted by universal approval.

He faced a least four rebellions, instigated by recalcitrant Arian bishops and dissatisfied Visigothic nobles. Without royal support, however, the rebels’ cause quickly withered, and by 590 Catholicism was firmly entrenched as the state religion.

The declaration of Catholicism as the official faith of his kingdom, of course, assured Reccared of the support of a large clerical base that outnumbered its Arian rivals. But more important in the long run, it was a significant step in two respects:

First, by adopting Catholicism as the official religion of the realm –uniting Goths and Hispano-Romans under a common religion– Reccared  underlined the ideological unity of the country under the Catholic umbrella for the first time. Historically, then, Reccared’s was a momentous decision.

Second, it was the first step towards creating a symbiotic relationship between the Catholic Church and the State, whereby each body provided mutual support in both political as well as religious matters. Although Seville –through the powerful personalities of Leander and Isidore—was the most influential bishopric at first, in the 7th century power passed to the bishops of Toledo who consolidated their symbiotic relationship with the Crown through a series of ecclesiastical councils and the launching of certain rituals of kingship which they alone could preside over and over which they alone had authority. 

Law.
Religious unification also brought pressure to bear for legal unity. For a long time different codes had been promulgated: the Visigothic code of Euric, the Breviary of Alaric 506 (based on Roman Code of Theodosius of 438), the Code of Leovigild.  It’s not easy to determine whether these codes applied separately to Visigoths and Hispano-Romans or to both.

In 654, however, a code was promulgated by King Reccesuinth which evolved out of the preceding codes and clearly applied to both Visigoths and Hispano-Romans without distinction. Known as the Liber Iudiciorum or Lex Visigothorum, it did away with all previous codes. Divided into twelve books, it covered civil, commercial and legal procedures, and even explicitly declared the ruler to be subject to the law.  The Liber was a major accomplishment and prevailed as a legal resource in Christian Hispania into the 13th century.  

The unification of the peninsula through a common religion and a common code of laws suggests an increasing centralisation of control by the monarchy in the seventh century.

But political turbulence surrounding the throne was a perpetual plague. Indeed, conflicts arising between elective and hereditary interests were the immediate prelude to the fall of the Visigothic nation in 711.  When King Witiza died in 710, a civil war broke out over his successor.

The supporters of one claimant, Achila (son of Witiza according to some sources, 710-713), clashed with supporters of a rival claimant, Roderic.  Roderic seized control of Toledo and the south while Achila ruled the north east. It was while Roderic was campaigning against Achila and the Basques in the north that Muslim forces, led by Tariq b. Ziyad, the Muslim governor of Tangier, crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and set in motion a radical turn in the history of the Iberian Peninsula. It marked the birth of al-Andalus (Islamic Spain).

Sources.
Barton, Simon  A History of Spain Basingstoke, Hampshire & New York 2004.
Carr, Raymond ed.  Spain: A History  Oxford 2000                                            
Collins, Roger Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity, 400-1000 London 1983 
Ostler, Nicholas  Empires of the Word London 2010 
Phillips, William D, Jr. & Phillips Carla R A Concise History of Spain  Cambridge 2010
Reilly, Bernard  The Medieval Spains Cambridge 1993
Thompson, E.A. The Goths in Spain Oxford 1969 

Visigothic Spain: The Jews.
For a 1000 years or more, until 1492 –when they were forced to chose exile or conversion to Christianity– the Jews figured prominently in the history of Spain (or Sepharad**, as they called it).

**Medieval tradition identified the biblical Sepharad (Obadiah v. 20) with the Iberian Peninsula.  Hence Jews living in Spain were called Sephardic Jews, a term still used with reference to the descendants of those Jews exiled in 1492. Although the reference iObadiah is vague, it has also been argued that Sepharad was identified with Sardis (modern Sart) in east central Turkey.

The Jewish community had been subject to exile or forced conversion before, but thanks to half-hearted enforcement, bribery, or protection by kings or powerful nobles, they survived the Middle Ages (i.e. roughly from 500 to 1500). 

It’s a very complicated history, Spain in the Middle Ages.  To generalise … first the Visigothic period from roughly 500 to 700, and then two specific chronological markers that loom large in Spain’s history: 711 and 1492. In 711 Muslim forces crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and swept northward through the peninsula; the land they occupied they called al-Andalus. Several Christian kingdoms sprung up in opposition in the north of the peninsula, and slowly pushed their way south until, in 1492, the last Muslim remnant was defeated.  

Under the Visigoths, the Jews jumped into prominence as being “different” following the political and religious unification of the peninsula in the late 6th century.  From 711, they played an important role in bridging Christian and Muslim lands as e.g. translators, emissaries, trans Mediterranean merchants as well as fulfilling important functions within each of those communities.

They were active as doctors, scribes, tax collectors, shopkeepers, estate managers, lawyers, and merchants, in addition to more mundane work as shopkeepers, tailors, pedlars, smiths, shoemakers, tanners, weavers, builders, masons, carpenters, textile workers, potters, market gardeners, and so on.   

The situation changed dramatically in the 14th and 15th centuries, however, culminating with a decree in 1492, whereby Jews were given a choice of conversion or exile**.  Thousands left, but thousands were baptized and remained, although many secretly continued practising their religion despite the attention of the infamous Inquisition.  But officially Spain was now Catholic; there were no Jews. 

**The fate of the Muslims was similar. In 1501 they faced the same choice as the Jews: exile or conversion.  Only the Muslims of Aragon escaped the edict, but in the 1525 they too met the same fate.

Very little is known of the life of the Jews in the early years of Visigothic rule in Spain, but it seems that they were tolerated.  The Visigoths had enough on their hands with the Hispano-Roman majority –not to mention rival Gothic tribes (e.g. the Sueves and Alani), stubborn Basques in the north, and a Byzantine enclave in the south east– to be concerned about the Jews.  

Generally speaking, the Visigoths used earlier Roman laws in their dealings with the Jews, e.g. the Theodosian Code of 438, which excluded Jews from governmental and military positions, put limitations on the ownership of Christian slaves, restricted the expansion of Judaism (no construction of new synagogues), and prohibited intermarriage between Jews and Christians.

The earliest Visigothic code that addressed the Jewish matter is the Breviary of Alaric II, issued in 506, which does little more than repeat the restrictions already outlined in the Theodosian Code.

The situation deteriorated for the Jews following the conversion of King Reccared (r. 586-601) from Arianism to Catholicism in 587.  Two years later, at the third Council of Toledo (Toledo III), he declared his kingdom to be officially Catholic.  From this moment, the Jews represented the only group that did not subscribe to the religious unity of the country.

Nevertheless, the edicts of Toledo III did not differ substantially from the earlier Roman and Breviary laws: e.g. marriage between Jews and Christians was disallowed; Jews could not hold public offices and thus wield power over Christians; Jews could not buy Christian slaves, and those slaves in their employ who had been obliged to convert to Judaism were to be freed without having to pay indemnity.

It was at the beginning of the 7th century that the Jews really began to feel the weight of their “otherness.”  It started with a decree issued by King Sisebut (r. 611-20) who ordered all Jews to undergo baptism.

To escape the pressure many emigrated, but many also remained who nominally became Christians but who in secret continued practising their faith. This did not, however, resolve the Jewish problem, and not all Jews who remained converted either, as is evidenced by the number of further decrees directed at Jews during the 7th century. Evidently enforcement was not rigorous, and generous protection payments undoubtedly oiled the wheels of “tolerance,” which may also explain why not all kings or nobles were uniformly ill-disposed towards the Jews either.

Still, the pressure on the Jews during the 7th century was constant, and not only in Spain; it was part of a general trend in the Christian communities of the Mediterranean at the time. In Spain, the most eloquent adversary of the Jews was the learned St Isidore (ca 560-636), author of On the Christian Faith against the Jews. However, while St Isidore disagreed emphatically with forced conversions, he argued equally strongly that the Jews were misguided in failing to recognise that the Messiah (i.e. Jesus) had been proclaimed.

During the second half of the 7th century the intensity of the decrees issued by different church councils against the Jews increased:
1. They were prohibited from celebrating Passover, or observing their dietary laws or conducting their own weddings.
2. They were offered the dubious choice between baptism and enslavement, their property was confiscated and they were prohibited from practising foreign trade.
3. J
ewish communities were dispersed throughout the kingdom,
4. Jewish children over seven years were delivered to Christian families to be brought up as Christians.  

Towards the end of the 7th century, the Jews were also accused of trying to subvert Christianity and of being involved in conspiracies with their coreligionists in North Africa against the state.

The lot of the Jewish communities in the 7th century in Spain was aggravated by the rapid turnover of rulers (14 different kings in that period) and the increased powers of the church, thanks to its symbiotic relationship with the crown.

The repressive injunctions against the Jews clearly made for a miserable life, and news that a new religion  –Islam–was spreading rapidly across the north of Africa and extending favourable treatment to Jews would not have gone unnoticed.  After all, commercial contacts between Jews dispersed throughout the Mediterranean were commonplace, despite restrictions. In 711, Islam crossed the straits of Gibraltar.  

Were the Muslim invaders encouraged by the Jews of Spain? We don’t know, but it is highly likely that they did not oppose it.

For Jews in Medieval Spain, see Jews in Spain to 13th Century;  Jews in 14th-Century SpainJews in Early 15th-Century Spain; Jews and Conversos in 15th-Century Spain.

Sources.
Barton, Simon  A History of Spain Basingstoke, Hampshire & New York 2004.
Carr, Raymond ed.  Spain: A History  Oxford 2000                                            
Collins, Roger Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity, 400-1000 London 1983 
Flannery, Edward  The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-three Centuries of Antisemitism Mahwah, New Jersey 2004
Gerber, Jane  The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience Toronto 1992
Katz, Steven ed. The Cambridge History of Judaism. Vol IV The Late Roman Rabbinic Period Cambridge 2006.
Marias, Julian    Understanding Spain Ann Arbor, Michigan 1992
Patai, Raphael, Patai, Jennifer  The Myth of the Jewish Race New York 1975 rev’d 1989
Roth, Norman  Jews, Visigoths and Muslims in Medieval Spain: Cooperation and Conflict Leiden, New York 1994.

Catalunya: Towards a Catalan Voice.
Spain’s first Constitution (1812) disappointed Catalans because it espoused centralism and refused to recognise Catalunya’s request for a reinstatement of its historic regional privileges.

The First Republic (1873-74) held out some hope of accommodation for Catalans. Its federalist programme recognised territorial “States” thus limiting the centralist control of Castile. But the failure of the Republic and the return of the monarchy with its attendant centralism in 1875 fuelled a desire for more control of its own affairs in Catalunya. 

This was propelled, too, by Catalan industrialists and businessmen who felt constantly frustrated by what they considered to be Madrid’s incompetence and unwillingness to protect Catalan industry and commerce.

Their frustration was further aggravated by the loss of most of Spain’s American colonies and the subsequent loss of transatlantic trade in which Catalan business men had invested heavily. Already by 1825, only Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines were left of Spain’s once great empire.

Nevertheless, the industrialist and business class did not advocate separation because they feared losing what was left of their colonial market (especially with Cuba) and the national market where they had little competition. In fact they argued that what was good for Catalunya was also good for Spain. 

Constant pressure on their part for tariff protection met with success in 1891 when the Prime Minister, Antonio Cánovas, erected a protectionist wall of high tariffs (it also included Basque steel and Castilian wheat interests).

Giving further impetus towards Catalunya’s wish for some form of recognition was the revival or Renaixença (renaissance) of its cultural and linguistic heritage. The Renaixença created a cultural vitality that was the cultural equivalent to Catalan industrial vigour compared to Castilian business backwardness.

The combination of cultural and linguistic reawakening and industrial and commercial vigour provided the basis of the concept of Catalanism, a growing nationalistic movement that became more pronounced during last twenty five years of the 19th century. This would lead first to calls for autonomy, then separation and finally independence.

The problem faced by the proponents of Catalanism was that they were not all of the same mind. There were Catalanists of the left (i.e. federal republicans), seeking to reduce Madrid’s central authority by the creation of federated states. Catalanists of the right espoused a form of regionalism harking back to the qualities of rural, patriarchal Catalunya, the Catalunya of the casa pairal (“ancestral home”). Neither initially proposed autonomy but sought a role for Catalunya as a distinct society within Spain.

One figure who attempted to reconcile the right and the left was Valentí Almirall i Llozer (1841-1904). For Almirall, all political ideology should be subordinated to love for Catalunya. He directed his appeal especially to the middle class, the pragmatic and solid base of Catalan society.

In 1879, Almirall launched the first Catalan-language daily newspaper, El Diari Català, to get his ideas across to a broader public. Three years later (1882) he co-founded the Centre Català, a political movement that attempted to bring together the left and right in a common bond against Castilian authority.

The Centre was intended to be an apolitical instrument to defend Catalan interests. Its biggest success was in drafting the important Memorial dels Greuges (“Petition of Grievances”) presented to Alfonso XII in 1885, the first document to outline Catalan aspirations as well as complaints.

It criticised Madrid politicians for the decadence of the country, argued vigorously against trade agreements with Britain and France and called for regeneration through regional vitality and competition.

The Memorial did not advocate separation, but rather regional recognition. It further argued that what was good for Catalunya was also good for Spain. And what was bad for Catalunya (being stifled by centralisam) was also bad for Spain!  In 1886 Almirall summarised his views in his book, Lo Catalinisme, which became the “bible of Catalanism” (Carr  543 note 2).

Almirall further argued that historically and geographically Spain was made up of different regions, and that Castile should not impose its centralist views on the others. Spain was the sum of its parts and should not be identified with Castile. In another 1886 work, written in French Espagne telle qu’elle estEspaña tal como es/ Spain as it is, Almirall is very clear about his stance: “Catalans are just as much Spaniards as the inhabitants of Spain’s other regions” (Marías 372).

The main spokesman of regional conservatism was the powerful Josep Torras i Bagès, bishop of the rural diocese of Vic, whose opinions carried the weight of the Catalan church. Torras’s views were strongly influenced by the anti-liberalism of church politics, which meant anti-centralist, anti-Madrid sentiments. Nor did he favour the progressive industrialisation that produced urban decadence and instability.

For Torras, Catalanism was a return to the comfortable tradition of rural, patriarchal Catalunya in which the church was the guarantor of social happiness and cultural heritage. “Take the Church away and tyranny rushes in,” he claimed, the tyranny being that of liberalism.

Torras’s defence of Catalan regionalism extended also to culture. He hated flamenco with its sensuous movements and its individualism that contrasted so much with the “traditional” sardana (it had not long become the national dance) with its restrained motion and emphasis on group participation.

He complained that “the castells de xiquets (human towers), those manly symbols of the strength and aplomb of our people, are losing ground to the corridas de toros–the symbolic expression of the daring and agility of a noble race, but one which is basically different from ours” (Hughes 322). Torras wrote voluminously on all matters, but his views on Catalan regionalism are best summarised in La tradició catalana 1892.

By the 1890s, the strength of Catalan voices had reached a point where some form of political expression was inevitable. Almirall’s Centre Català (1882) was a beginning, but by trying to be apolitical and neutral it satisfied few. 

By 1892 a group of conservatives had formed the Unió Catalanista and organised a convention in the provincial town of Manresa. Its main spokesman was a young, energetic Catholic lawyer, Enric Prat de la Riba (1870-1917).  Born in the provincial town of Castelltercol, Prat’s views coincided in many ways with those of Bishop Torras. To Prat, industry was a patriarchal system, metaphorically a family run according to the principles of the traditional casa pairal (“ancestral home”).

What is important about the convention at Manresa is that Prat brought together under the conservative umbrella a vision of Catalunya as a national, as opposed to regional, entity.

The document produced, called the Bases de Manresa (1892), has been viewed as a kind of Catalan constitution, an “essential programme of Catalinism” (Carr 1 546), although Prat always denied any form of separatism. Catalunya, he argued, was a nation, a pàtria, whose growth was impeded by the Spanish state.  Its mission was also to awaken to their potential the other nations that made up Spain.

As a nation, Catalunya should have its own parliament, its own laws, its own police and its language should be the official one within the region. The public service should engage only Catalans, and the working language of the service was to be Catalan alone. There should be separate Catalan regiments in the forces, run by Catalan officers using their own language.

The Bases de Manresa, in effect, sought home rule or autonomy for Catalunya, leaving the central government to attend only to defence, foreign relations and interregional matters.

Madrid, of course, was unlikely to accept these conditions, and yet Catalan aspirations had come too far to be denied some kind of voice. The next step was to take the fight to Madrid itself, but that required political representation in the capital, i.e. a party to look after Catalan interests.

This became a reality in 1901 with the formation of the Lliga Regionalista –headed by Prat de la Riba– which won four seats in the general elections of the same year. The stage was being set for the decentralisation of the 1930s and, unhappily, the Civil War.

Sources.
Balcells, Albert    Catalan Nationalism London 1996
Barton, Simon A History of Spain 2nd ed. Basingstoke, Hampshire 2009
Esdaile, Charles J Spain in the Liberal Age: From Constitution to Civil War, 1808-1939 Oxford 2000
Hughes, Robert    Barcelona New York 1992
Elliott, J. H. ed. The Spanish World London 1991.
Marías Julián     Understanding Spain Ann Arbor 1992
Shubert, Adrian A Social History of Modern Spain London 1990