Slaughter in Saragossa:
February 20, 1809
The Bourbon Carlos IV had been king of Spain since 1788. A man of great physical strength and a firm believer in his divine right as a king, Carlos had nevertheless been a weak ruler. Taking little interest in governing, he had allowed his prime minister, Manuel de Godoy, to rule Spain.
King Carlos IV did not seem to have much family loyalty, for he had abandoned his Bourbon cousin, Louis XVIII, to make an alliance with revolutionary France. However, it was really Godoy, not the king himself, who had made the alliance with France. It also was Godoy who, in late 1807, had allowed the French general, Jean-Andoche Junot, to march a French army across Spain to punish Portugal’s king for refusing to close his ports to British ships. And it was Godoy who had signed a secret treaty at Napoleon’s palace of Fontainebleau in Paris to divide Portugal between France and Spain.
Junot led a large French army into Spain in late 1807. In December he entered the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, only to find that the Portuguese royal family had fled by ship to Brazil. With one of his armies in Lisbon, Napoleon got to thinking how inconvenient it was that an independent Spain lay between France and French-controlled Portugal. Only the Bourbon family, thought Napoleon, stood between him and the mastery of the entire Iberian Peninsula, and he schemed how to get rid of them.
Napoleon’s opportunity came in March 1808 when Spain’s Crown Prince Fernando, who was tired of Godoy, led an uprising against his father, King Carlos. On March 17, soldiers and peasants attacked Godoy’s residence at Aranjuez, near Madrid. They captured the minister and forced Carlos IV to dismiss him. Two days later, the royal court forced Carlos to abdicate, and the crown prince became King Fernando VII of Spain.