As Mercedes Palau stated in her paper at the 1991 Malaspina Symposium in Vancouver:
The reformist ideas of Malaspina were shaped by a group of Spanish intellectuals such as Cabarrús, Campomanes, Aranda, Floridablanca and above all Jovellanos.
Let us look at the situation of Malaspina’s five mentors after his return to Spain: Jovellanos was banished in the North, though he had come to Madrid in 1790 in a vain attempt to secure the release of Cabarrús, imprisoned for three years; Floridablanca, replaced in 1792 by Aranda, was imprisoned in Pamplona and under house detention in Murcia and Aranda, in Andalusia, from 1794-95; Campomanes is the only one to avoid incarceration or banishment. The statistics give us some indication of the coming destiny of this enlightened thinker and diligent “pupil” in the Spain of Queen María Luisa de Parma and Manuel Godoy.
When Malaspina departed in 1789, many of the enlightened courtiers of the deceased Carlos III still held their positions of power, but events at the Bastille had grave repercussions in Spain. Malaspina kept abreast of what transpired in Europe during his navigation. On the Expedition’s return to Cádiz, Carlos IV had acquired new Ministers, and specifically Manuel Godoy. Two days after his arrival, Malaspina wrote his old friend, Paolo Greppi, regarding his disenchanted views of Spain:
I only await the order of the Court to present the results of the Expedition, and then to serve in the next campaign in the Pyrenees. Our naval campaign is in a state of being ridiculous...
In another letter from Cádiz two weeks later:
In America, in the Court and in this opulent city, my name is quite well known, and not for adulation and intrigues, but only for a true love of my fellow man and for work... I can risk stating that I now have those few means to restore the prosperity, or better stated, the regeneration of the Monarchy.
An Order instructed Malaspina to proceed to the Court and report on the Expedition. The official news organ Gaceta de Madrid had carried little news during the years of the Expedition, but it did offer ample coverage on the royal reception, held on December 7, 1794 at El Escorial, for Malaspina, Bustamante, Alcalá Galiano, Cayetano Valdés and Cevallos. During his presentation before the King and Queen, he stated that one of the priorities of the Expedition was to find the fabled Northwest Passage, whereby Alcalá Galiano and Valdés had been sent to explore this beautiful island of Vancouver, with orders to collaborate with George Vancouver in the Juan de Fuca Strait. Navy Minister Antonio Valdés closed the presentation: “The results and investigation of the voyage will not be delayed in being presented to the public.” However, he erred, as this massive work would not be made public in Spain until nearly a century had passed. Received by the Monarchs that Sunday in El Escorial, Malaspina was the idol of the day, but in less than a year, in the same Royal Seat and before the same Monarchs, the mariner would be declared a state prisoner, incarcerated and later banished for life from his adopted country.
Two weeks after El Escorial, Malaspina realizes again that the current Spain is far different from the one he left, stating in another letter to Greppi:
I have written you before of being useful to this country in such turbulent times... Everything appeared to be in my favour and I am well connected with the most virtuous and knowledgeable of the nation... but it is so difficult to be received by the Sultan [Godoy]; everything which surrounds him is so immersed in confusion and doing nothing...
He still is only a Navy Captain and, given his comments about Godoy, it is not surprising that he soon will run afoul of the omnipotent Minister of State and future almirante general de España e Indias. Minister Valdés aptly categorized Malaspina as “a good sailor but a bad politician,” as cited in Emilio Soler’s recent book.
Witnesses concurred about the “Sultan’s” excesses regarding women: even the Prince of Asturias and future Fernando VII stated in his own trial in 1807:
The flower of the women of Spain has been prostituted from the very highest class to the very lowest. Private audiences in Godoy´s own residence and in the Ministry of State were open to prostitution, rape and adultery, in exchange for pensions, employments and religious positions. They arrived as such a level of notoriety that everyone knew that the only sure way to rise and achieve a position was the sacrifice of the honour of the daughter, sister, wife, or even mother.
The hispanista and Lope de Vega authority Lord Holland received a letter from his Spanish colleague José Manuel Quintana:
All was undone in the hands of Godoy. The Spaniards paid a high price for the sexual desires of the Queen... The nation in effect was on its knees...
And according to the French ambassador in Spain, Mr. Truguet:
In the afternoon only women were admitted into the Ministry. Two or three hundred arrived from all parts of the realm. Each entered alone. If a daughter was accompanied by her mother, she was never received in Godoy’s office. Those who were alone were received by the Sultan and as they left, arranging themselves, he would accompany them, and in a jovial mood, giving all the details to those present of what had transpired. Godoy’s aides in turn had their own small harems and acted accordingly with those whom the Sultán could not handle. This scene occurred each afternoon in the Royal Palace under the very eyes of the Court and within 20 steps of the rooms of Queen María Luisa—who, furious, screamed, threatened and, with no results and exhausted, finally gave up in exasperation.
Antonio Alcalá Galiano, son of Dionisio:
Godoy had his Court in his residence... and it is sad to say regarding the ladies who owing to their distinguished families merit respect... mothers would take their unmarried daughters, husbands their wives and even priests their sisters... The public felt a blind hatred towards Godoy...
It should be remembered that Spain entered the war in 1793 with the backing of Godoy, in opposition to his predecessor the Count of Aranda, who desired armed neutrality towards the nation where he long served as Ambassador. Aranda did retain his position as Dean of the Council of Ministers, and in the Council, on March 14, 1794 at Aranjuez, an encounter took place between the 26-year old Godoy and the 74-year Aranda over the latter’s desire for a peaceful resolution of the war, and to replace Godoy with General Alejandro O’Reilly, who would die nine days later in the village of Bonete while en route to the Pyrenees to take over from the deceased General Ricardos. In what led to a physical confrontation between the two before the King, Aranda was banished to Andalusia. Curiously, the artillery colonel who escorted Aranda was a trusted aide of Godoy: Antonino Tudó (father of La Pepita), recently named governor of the señorío de Soto de Roma; the title and encomienda were held by Godoy and, after his political demise, given to the Duke of Wellington in 1813 by a grateful Fernando VII.
With the war in progress, Minister Valdés informed Godoy of Malaspina’s request to present Carlos IV a proposal for peace with France. Six days later Godoy answered Valdés that he would not show it to the monarch as it would cause the same chaotic conditions in Spain as were then prevailing in France, thus ruining Malaspina’s career.
The response did not stop Malaspina, as a week later in Aranjuez he wrote Godoy and attached his peace proposal, Reflections regarding Peace between Spain and France, which clearly reflects Aranda’s own views that had contributed to his banishment to the Alhambra. Godoy wanted to continue the war and wrote Valdés that Malaspina should correct himself. At the commencement of that fateful year of 1795, Malaspina still was a Navy Captain, with 160 naval officers senior to him. Aranda, on the other hand, was a Captain-General of the Army, former minister, ambassador, grandee of Spain, etc., etc., etc. With a minimum knowledge of the military bureaucracy of almost any country, one realizes that Malaspina will have a run-in with Godoy. Padre Manuel Gil, who would edit the journal of Malaspina, commented on the Reflections:
We all admired the little caution of Malaspina in writing on a subject of State so grave, secret and delicate... It does not reflect much honor on his knowledge of the workings of the Court.
Godoy must have thought that Malaspina had corrected himself, because on March 24 he received his promotion to Commodore. However, during that Spring, in the tertulias at Aranjuez, he continued expounding his critical views of the war; he believed peace would come soon, as seen in his letter to Greppi on June 19:
I am confident that within a few weeks, Spain... will obtain a peace treaty. The Marquis of Iranda will sign it as it is a question of money...
According to the Marquis of Lozoya, “Godoy... negotiated secretly with the French through the Marquis of Iranda, a wealthy multinational Basque who had large holdings in France.” Ambassador Domingo Iriarte later signed the actual peace treaty of Basel, but Iranda was a chief negotiator in the secret negotiations in Bayona. Iranda was the uncle of venezolano Olavide, one of the Expedition’s officers.
Possibly Malaspina’s proposal finally had its effect on July 22, when Spain and France signed the treaty; however, it is doubtful that Godoy felt any gratitude towards the mariner. Two months later Godoy received the title of the Prince of the Peace. Malaspina noted: “He could just have well received that of the Prince of the War.”
When peace arrived, Malaspina turned to his diary of the Expedition. A Royal Order named Padre Gil editor owing to Godoy’s sensitivity to Malaspina’s views on the Spanish colonies in the Americas. In a letter to Greppi, Malaspina wrote, “Each time I am becoming more opposed to the vocation of being a writer...” To relax from his diary he went to the Real Sitio de San Ildefonso on August 25, no doubt to enjoy the Saint’s day of San Luis. When he returned to Madrid he wrote his brother Jacinto expressing disillusionment:
Ignorance is the only thing that surrounds us... the Navy receives no money... there is a Prince of the Peace and we are at the point of entering into war with the British...
The mariner continued to struggle with his manuscript while Gil remained close to the power, presenting Carlos IV his “Plan” for the Introduction of Malaspina’s work without the latter’s approval. Gil criticized Malaspina’s stress on the political situation of the colonies. According to Blanco White who spent long years in London, Lady Holland had a poor opinion of the priest during her 1803 visit to Sevilla.
In the first days of October, the monarchs left for El Escorial, where Malaspina arrived and lodged at the Posada del Paseo. Five years before, Great Britain and Spain had signed in the Monastery the convention that resolved the Nootka Crisis, and undoubtedly the mariner would reminisce about his visit to this island. After his literary progress, Malaspina requests royal permission for leave in Italy and recommends Cevallos as his replacement. The Order of November 10 gives Malaspina four months' leave. The following day Valdés’ request to be relieved as Minister received approval. Gil noted that Malaspina listened to the news, “with great disdain and indifference ... no one thought it was right”; Valdés had been his mentor and a promoter of the Expedition.
Soon, on the 14th, Malaspina’s bombshell burst in El Escorial. The previous night he had visited one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, La Pizarro, to commence the conspiracy. Her only son, José Pizarro, a future Minister of State and a keen observer, noted in his seven-volume Memoirs, now conserved in the magnificent Archives of the Foreign Ministry:
[Godoy], in addition to many other affairs, entered into an intimate relationship with Josefa Tudó... his brashness reached such a level that he wished to isolate his protectress (la Reina) from any other relationship but with him, which resulted in the fury of the Queen, [and her] formulating a plan to replace Godoy ... proceeding through indirect means... securing confidants to execute the plot... but due to that incredible charm of the Favourite and her passion for a man who humiliated her in private and in public... at the last moment when the plan was to be carried out, she herself would abort the plot, revealing the secret to the Favourite through a third person and sacrificing the accomplices and confidants. This was what happened in 1795 when the conspiracy against Godoy was prepared by the principal actor and confidant, Commodore Malaspina. During the Royal Hunt in El Escorial, the Duke of Alba would present Carlos IV the plan of Malaspina, which detailed the scandals of Godoy, advocating his removal from the Ministry. The Duchess of Matallana, lady-in-waiting, would console the Queen while Valdés sent Godoy to the Alhambra. But before the plan could be carried out, the Queen made the plot known to a third person [La Pizarro], who informed the favourite [Godoy]...
In the afternoon Malaspina gave La Pizarro the plans, to be delivered to the King and Queen through their respective confessors. That very night, however, she handed the plans to the very person who was supposed to be the victim – Godoy – who wrote her the next morning:
Tell Malaspina the King and Queen received the papers, but that the latter would not act at that moment... Encourage Malaspina to write more and thus it is possible to see the extent of the conspiracy.
Later that night Malaspina informed La Pizarro that she would receive the names of the new Ministers, in code, as they were amongst the most illustrious (including the Duke of Alba to replace Godoy). La Pizarro told him the Queen would not act on the plan at that moment but would retain the papers until his return from Italy. After Malaspina left, La Pizarro wrote Godoy about the details, closing with, “You will see Your Excellency that all are at your feet, as is your lover and recognized slave who gives you a thousand kisses.”
In the attached Memorial to the Queen, Malaspina tells of the dangers facing the Monarchy and the subjects’ hatred of Godoy:
After 20 years of continual battle with the dangers of the sea and my recent requests to risk my life on the Catalonian front, and having seen crowned with triumph my humble requests for peace, I should be able to feel tranquil and go to Italy... But with the dangers facing the Monarchy... it is not time yet to enjoy that rest... I will probably earn the displeasure of His Majesty and the persecution of Godoy... Nevertheless, indifferent to life and death... and prepared to sacrifice myself for the lives of the Monarchs of a generous nation that has adopted me as one of her own... [desiring] only the replacement of the present Minister of State... due to the dangers caused by his excessive attraction to the opposite sex...and not wanting to associate any others in this imminent danger, I assume all the blame... I alone have to be the victim of Godoy...
Malaspina did not attend the Escorial going-away party for Valdés, so one senses the conspiracy is not going well. During these days Godoy corresponds with Valdés and La Pizarro concerning positions for their family members and, on his recommendation, Valdés remains a Councillor of State. However, four years later he will have his confrontation with Godoy, resulting in his own banishment in Burgos.
Before returning to Madrid Malaspina, Padre Gil lunched with two damas, La Pizarro and La Matallana. Gil said that Malaspina appeared worried, fearing that his plans had fallen into the hands of Godoy. According to the work of Dario Manfredi, the Ambassador of Naples in Spain detailed Malaspina’s and La Matallana’s close relationship. Thus, one can understand why, when his trial commenced on November 22, Godoy informed Carlos IV that Malaspina’s papers came to him from La Matallana, undoubtedly because she refused to cooperate and Godoy’s wish was to protect La Pizarro.
Malaspina would be the sole topic of two Councils of Ministers in November in the quarters of Queen María Luisa in El Escorial; these led to the harsh prison sentence of ten years and a day. This does not mean that only he conspired for the removal of Godoy, as when Carlos IV closed the last Ministers’ meeting on the 27th, he ordered, “...the continuation of the investigation against Malaspina and his accomplices of whatever status and position they might be.”
An interesting letter from a keen observer, the Spanish Ambassador to the Holy See, José Nicolás Azara, to his friend who wrote on the Nootka Crisis, Bernardo de Iriarte: “[I am] not understanding anything behind the trial of Malaspina and, to put it bluntly, I take great care not to understand it either.” And as quoted in the Memoirs of Josefa Tudó regarding another of the banishments where the responsibility lay with the Queen:
The banishment of Jovellanos was due to resisting an appointment of a favorite of the Queen, alleging that the person in question was not a university graduate. “The Queen responded: ‘In which one were you educated?’ ‘In Salamanca, Señora.’ ‘What a pity they did not teach you any manners,’ she answered.”
This probably was not the only reason for the encarceration of Jovellanos. In 1798 hope arose amongst Malaspina’s friends that his stiff sentence would be commuted when Francisco Saavedra replaced Godoy, as both attended the same tertulia. However, before this could take place, the conspiracy of Saavedra and Jovellanos to send Godoy to the Alhambra was delayed, which allowed him time to obtain the Queen’s habitual forgiveness. Interesting are the comments of Blanco White:
During the Ministry of Saavedra and in the middle of a temporary cool relationship between the Queen and Godoy, his enemies organized another conspiracy to replace him... One day the King and Queen were on the main balcony of the El Pardo Palace accompanied by Godoy and other grandees... Manuel Mallo appeared with a team of beautiful horses and a brilliant entourage. Carlos IV was most impressed with this magnificent display and on inquiring who the individual was, he was told it was the youthful criollo Mallo. Surprised, the King responded: “I cannot comprehend how this person can maintain this luxury!” To which Godoy responded: “Your Majesty, it is scandalously rumored that Mallo is supported by an ugly, old woman, whose name I cannot recall.” The Queen interjected, “Carlos, you know Manuel, always joking!”
During one of Godoy’s periodic fallings-out with the Queen, caused in part by his arranged marriage to the Countess of Chinchón and his taking up again with La Tudó, the Queen had found a new friend in Mallo, who was banished in 1798, like Jovellanos and Saavedra, with Godoy retaining power for another decade.
Although the Queen and our enlightened thinker were both born on the Italian peninsula only some fifty miles and three years apart, they probably had little else in common. Today Malaspina would be proud that a school was named after him a half a world away, and Malaspina University College should take pride in this remarkable mariner and unique human being.
Updated: June 13, 2018