in the Spain and Europe of his Time.
purpose of this paper is to emphasize the figure of Alejandro
Malaspina, the noble and debonair marine Captain who dreamt the dream
of historical oblivion for so many years despite his great historical accomplishments
on his voyages through the American lands, the Philippines and the Pacific
Islands. We would like to place Alejandro Malaspina in the historical,
sociological and political frame of the Spain and Europe of his time, in
order to be able to shed some light on the complexity of the issues
that surrounded his misfortune and led to it, while keeping in mind the
colossal achievement attained by his voyage, which did not bring him the
fame and recognition that he justly deserved.
has being written recently about Malaspina and his voyage. Emilio
Soler, among other very well informed authors, has provided us with a recently
published book on this subject: La Aventura De Malaspina (The Malaspina
Adventure), in which he describes with great richness and detail the
voyage of Captain Malaspina as well as the unfortunate events after his
successful return to Spain that led to his misfortunes, his imprisonment
and, ultimately, his expulsion from Spain. This forced estrangement from
the country for whom he felt he had given his best effort and produced
an astounding historical event, left him with a deep sorrow and a sense
of unresolved injustice that is believed to have greatly contributed to his
untimely sickness and death.
tried unsuccessfully and repeatedly to obtain the permission of King Charles
IV to return to Spain. He never got the King’s forgiveness or
permission to return, much to his dismay, and by royal decree the books that he wrote about
his successful voyage remained locked up in secrecy for years
might look like an unexplainable occurrence, this unfair and illogical
turn of events for a nobleman of aristocratic upbringing, who managed to
put the naval and exploratory capabilities of Spain on a level
of respect in relation to other European countries like Britain and Russia,
both of which possessed formidable navies during this time. We
will attempt to shed some light on the complex situation of the Spain of
this time to show why Malaspina's well researched, truthful and solid ideas
about reform were defeated, causing him his misfortune, imprisonment and untimely
is well known that Alejandro Malaspina admired deeply the famous Captain
Cook and that he carried with him during his long voyage a volume of Daniel
Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. We
know as well that he had had a careful upbringing, and excellent schooling
and tutors. (Dario Manfredi in his
biographical study of Alejandro Malaspina called him an intellectual of
keen observation, education and enlightened upbringing enabled him
to perceive quickly the serious malady that was afflicting the Spanish
Monarchy and the Spanish Empire. He
was able to notice that if left unchecked and uncorrected the state of chaotic administration, lack of ability
and ignorance of the officers in charge of the American colonies of the
Spanish Empire was going to cause the dismemberment and loss of those same
Spanish Colonies. Unfortunately
for him and for Spain, the climate in the Spanish court upon his return
from the memorable voyage was one of extreme corruption, and the state
of the Monarchy one of ineptitude and intrigue.
Spanish society of this time was still very much webbed in fanaticism,
superstition and ignorance. Despite
the ideas of freedom and revolution coming from France, there was a general
atmosphere of suspicion towards the “Afrancesados”: those sympathetic to French ideas. The
executions of the French monarch and aristocrats had caused a deep shock
and outrage in the Spanish people, who still viewed the monarchy as appointed
by God. The Spain of the XVIII and
XIX Centuries was deeply religious and deeply influenced by the Church. The
minority of Spaniards who held “enlightened” (equivalent to “afrancesados”)
ideas was regarded by most with dislike, fear and suspicion.
Church as an organization which for centuries had shared the reins of power
in Europe with the monarchs was, like the Spanish monarchy, afraid of the
revolutionary ideas leaking through the French border. These
were considered blasphemy, evil and a danger to those of the divine origin
and absolute (God-given) sanctity of the Monarchs’ appointments, since they
appeared to propose a deep change in the Monarchy and in social structure.
Friars and Priests preached at Sunday Mass against the French revolution,
French ideas and the “afrancesados.” One
of the most influential and famous preachers was Friar Diego de Cádiz,
who very successfully exhorted the citizens to a holy Crusade against “perverse France,” and reiterated the divine origin of the Monarchy. This
atmosphere reinforced the alienation of the Spanish Monarchs, who walled
themselves in their palace, closing their doors and their minds to any
perverse and evil “new ideas.”
division of ideas (between those who were “conservative, traditional, and opposed
to change” and those who were “new, reformist, and liberal”) that began to brew
at this time would cause in the future the war between “Carlistas” and “Isabelinos”
(the followers respectively of Prince Charles, brother of the heir Ferdinand VII, and of his daughter Queen Isabel II). The
“Carlistas” would embrace conservative and traditional religious ideas,
while the “Isabelinos” would propose a more liberal and reformed Government,
ideas and society.
division of ideas ran deep in the heart of Spain as a source of poems
and articles, inspiring Spanish literary figures to refer to this phenomenon
as the “two Spains.” In the XX Century
this “division of ideas” would ultimately erupt in the 1936 Spanish Civil War, with General Franco crushing the Spanish Republic three years
later and imposing a Dictatorship and a political regime that will further
alienate and enclose Spain for forty years.
History would have been written in a different way had Alejandro Malaspina
succeeded in his attempt to convince the Spanish Monarchy of the chaotic
reality and imminent fall of the Spanish Empire, and of the deep changes
that were sweeping the Europe of the late XVIII-XIX centuries.
is easy to understand why, in this general atmosphere of paranoia and alienation,
the underhanded and inept ways of Manuel Godoy, and his close-minded and
catastrophic ideas, were successful, while the “enlightened” ways of Malaspina,
and his well reasoned and truthful ideas, were not.
nemesis, Manuel Godoy, Head of the State, who had a meteoric rise to his
position thanks to his skilful manipulation of the Queen’s favours, had
become the favourite of King Charles IV and was rumoured to be the lover
of his wife, the Queen María Luisa. Godoy
was an incompetent man in governmental affairs but a very able one in sailing
successfully through the tides of palace intrigue. Alejandro
Malaspina, seasoned sailor on the open sea but inexperienced and naive
in handling the turmoil of the sea of corruption and deceit at
the palace, failed terribly in his attempt to convince the King
and the Queen that their dear favourite Manuel Godoy, ironically enough
called “Prince of the Peace,” should be removed from his position in order
to save the nation and the Spanish colonies overseas from cataclysmic problems.
the documents that he was sending through her handmaid to the Queen (like himself of Italian
origin) were surrendered to Godoy himself by the same
handmaid. Obviously Malaspina did
not know of the intimate liaison that Godoy had had with her too.
The result of this action was his disgrace.
was able successfully to turn the tables around and to accuse Alejandro
Malaspina of conspiracy and high treason against the State with the tragic
results of his falling, imprisonment and subsequent expulsion.
should not forget that even though Godoy had the advantage of having at
his side the Queen (and therefore the King, since he followed the desires
and ideas of this wife), the political atmosphere of Spain was highly volatile
at this time owing to the alarm and fear in the monarchs’ hearts after
their failure to save their cousin the French King Louis XVI, who died
by the guillotine at the hands of the French “revolution.”
ideas of reformists like Malaspina struck a high chord of fear in the ears
of the King and Queen who, after the execution of their relative at the
hands of the French Revolution, were very weary of any ideas that looked
very cleverly did not waste any time in making comparisons between the
potential disastrous consequences of the situation that Malaspina was postulating
and the situation that, according to him, led to the tragic events of the
French Revolution, the main problem being the loss of the “limitless power
of divine origin that the King should have as his right.”
papeles estan llenos de las mismas ideas que suscitaron en Francia las
disputas, que causaron las desgracias, sobre el poder ejecutivo y la voluntad
ilimitada que debe residir en el Soberano por Derecho Divino. (1)
this connection was made in the minds of the King and the Queen, the fate
of Malaspina was already decided.
was lucky to escape with his life, but his imprisonment in the castle of
San Antón of La Coruña, located in the north of Spain, with damp
and cold winters, made him ill. His
psychological frame of mind was influenced by his disillusion and sadness
and as well affected his health, which became frail.
for him, Napoleon Bonaparte, the French Emperor, who had ironically become
the ruler of the country that had seen the execution of a King and the
birth and passing of a Revolutionary Government, requested his release
at the urging of several European political figures. In
this case his aristocratic origins and his political connections served
him well and he was released from prison in the year 1802.
Upon his arrival in Genoa in March 1803, hHe
was received with honours and acclaimed as a national hero in the country
of his birth. There
his fame was recognized and he was offered a ministerial position, but
Alejandro Malaspina, devout in his sworn loyalty as an officer of the Spanish
King, rejected the honour. A gentleman, one who lived and died as such.
death occurred in his native Duchy of Parma, in Pontremoli, capital of
Lunigiana and very close to the city of his birth, Mulazzo, in the year
1810, when he was 55 years old. The
magnificent accomplishment of Alejandro / Alessandro Malaspina did not
disappear after all, locked away in some desk drawer with the books of
this voyage. Like his books, his recognition also saw the light. His
contribution has been recognized worldwide and he has been finally recognized
in Spain, the country he chose to serve and tried to change. He
was a man a step ahead of his time and lived at the end of a time period
that was not as “enlightened” as it could have been. He
lived in a time when Spain did not share his vision, but that vision has
lived on and now his name is basking in a golden glow of recognition.
Emilio Soler. La Aventura De Malaspina.Ed.B.,
S.A. Barcelona, Spain, 1999. P. 337.
LOPEZ, Enrique: El fin del antiguo Regimen. El reinado de Carlos IV.
HISTORIA DE ESPANA. number 16.TH,
S.A. Madrid 1996.
Mercedes and SAIZ , Blanca: Diario De Viajes De Alejandro Malaspina.Ed.
El Museo Universal, Madrid 1984.
Mercedes & Cales, Marisa Sanchez, Araceli : Nootka. Regreso A Una
de Asuntos Exteriores de Espana.Direccion
General de Relaciones Culturales y Cientificas. Madrid 1998.
PASCUAL, Emilio: La Aventura De Malaspina.B,
S.A. Barcelona 1999