Unfamiliar with the First Carlist War? Want to know more about our newest Men-at-Arms book? Today on the blog we speak with author of MAA 515: Armies of the First Carlist War 1833-39, Gabriele Esposito, about his newest book. 

What was the First Carlist War, why did it begin?

The history of Spainduring the 19th century was characterised by a turmoiled political life and by the presence of three bloody civil conflicts, known as the Carlist Wars. These were fought between two main factions over the succession to the Spanish throne, but under many aspects the two opposing sides represented two totally different visions of Spain as a country. On one side there were the Liberals, with a progressist programme and supporting constitutional monarchy as the best form of government; on the other side there were the Carlists, having conservative principles and asking for the return of an absolutistic monarchy. One of the most important political questions that troubled the last years of King Ferdinand VII’s rule was the succession to his throne: until1830, in fact, the king had no direct heirs. Don Carlos, as brother of the monarch, was first in the line of succession and was considered by the majority of the Spanish people as the next king. In 1829, however, Ferdinand decided to marry again in order to have a direct heir who could take the throne upon his death. In the following year he announced the existence of a Pragmatic Sanction signed by his father Carlos IV in 1789, which abolished the Salic Law for the succession to the Spanish throne. This way his direct heir, male or female, would have inherited power in any case. In October of the same year Ferdinand finally had a daughter, named Isabella, from his new wife Maria Christina. This event dramatically changed the political situation ofSpain, because the supporters of Don Carlos had no intention to accept the Pragmatic Sanction and thus the succession of Isabella. On 29 September 1833 Ferdinand died and his daughter Isabella was proclaimed Queen of Spain under the regency of her mother Maria Christina. Don Carlos refused to swear loyalty to the new queen and issued a manifesto, known as ‘Manifiesto de Abrantes’, in which he presented himself as the legitimate king and defender of the traditions (absolute monarchy and religion). In the following weeks his supporters started to organize groups of insurgents (known as “partidas”) in various areas of the country, launching guerrilla operations against the military forces of the royal government. Very soon the conflict escalated into full civil war, which would end only in 1840.

Where did your interest in this topic come from?

Well, I’ve always been very interested in all the military conflicts fought inEuropeafter the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and before the revolutions of 1848. Many people think that thanks to the Congress of Vienna, Europe experienced a long period of peace until the outbreak of the bloody Crimean War.In reality this is not true, because during the years 1815-1848 the countries of Europe were involved in a series of small-scale wars that deeply changed the political geography of the continent. These little wars have never been fully studied from a military point of view. This aspect has always fascinated me and it’s probably one of the main reasons why I’ve spent most of my life researching them. In addition, from a uniformologic point of view, I think that these European wars were very peculiar: in the years of Romanticism the military uniforms of many countries became extremely colourful and elegant. The styles of the Napoleonic Period were mostly retained and in many cases became even more ornate. It was an important period of transition, during which uniforms started to be gradually adapted to the new needs of modern military campaigns. Starting from the Crimean War, after reaching their peak of elegance during the years 1815-1848, the military uniforms of Europe gradually lost a great part of their most fascinating features. In the years of Restoration most of the European armies were involved in suppressing Liberal revolts across the continent, but this was not their only employment: Romanticism saw the formation of several new independent countries, which armed forces were organized and fought for the first time exactly during those years. The First Carlist War was just one conflict in a long series of wars happening inEurope: Caucasian War, Greek War of Independence, Portugal’s Liberal Wars, Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829, November Uprising of Poland and Belgian Revolution. My personal ambition for the future is that of dedicating a MAA title to each of these conflicts.

What other countries were involved, are these featured in the book?

The First Carlist War was a very international conflict, because it saw the large military involvement of three other countries in addition to Spain. England, France and Portugal all sent troops to support the Liberal government of the ‘Cristinos’ against the Carlists. Since November 1833 Lord Palmerston, the British Prime Minister, had ordered to the Royal Navy to blockade the coasts of northernSpainthat were in the hands of the Carlists. As the war progressed, the involvement of the Royal Navy became even more significant. Its ships transported Liberal troops and supplies, while the Royal Marines and Royal Marine Artillery launched occasional land operations to help the ‘Cristinos’ when they had particular difficulties against the Carlists. The British help to the government of Maria Christina, however, was not limited only to these measures. In June 1835, due to the negative performance of the Spanish Army against the Carlists, the British government decided to organize an ‘Auxiliary Legion’ of volunteers, which  would have been included into the Liberal military forces (thus being paid by Madrid’s government). This wayBritainwould have avoided direct involvement into the conflict, at least formally. Like Great Britain, France had strong political and economic interests in supporting the Liberal government of Maria Christina; similarly, the French wanted to avoid a direct involvement of their regular military forces in Spain. For this reason they transferred their entire recently raised Foreign Legion to the Spanish Army. The Foreign Legion, however, was to serve under its own French officers. The heavy involvement of Portugal in the First Carlist War was something inevitable: the conflict that was now ravaging Spain, between Liberals and Conservatives, had already been fought in Portugal during the years 1828-1834 inthe so-called ‘Liberal Wars’. Remembering very well the help received by Maria Christina, the new Portuguese Liberal government decided to form an expeditionary force to help the Regent Queen in the war against the Carlists. The Portuguese decided to intervene because they feared a possible connection between the Carlists and the Conservative guerrillas still active on their territory. With Don Carlos as new King of Spain, a resume of the hostilities in Portugal was something very probable. All the foreign military forces that helped the Liberals are included in the book.

The Carlist War follows the Peninsular War, was this fought in a similar way? How did the Spanish learn from the events of 1808-1814?  

Yes, the First Carlist War was fought exactly with the same weapons and the same tactics of the Peninsular War. During the long struggle against the French troops underNapoleon, the Spanish patriots had learned very well how to employ the mountains of their country to conduct guerrilla operations against the invaders. The Carlists used this experience against the regular troops of the Liberals, obliging them to fight a war of skirmishes and rapid incursions. The supporters of Don Carlos were able to compensate for their numerical inferiority with a perfect knowledge of the terrain. The kind of operations conducted in northern Spain during 1833-1840 showed to the world the new importance of mountain artillery and light infantry, two elements that were to become fundamental for the future tactical doctrines of mountain warfare. As explained in the book, cavalry and heavy artillery were practically of no use in the mountains ofNavarreand of theBasque Provinces(where most of the effective fighting took place). The Carlist forces included large bodies of irregular ‘guerrilleros’ that were active across the whole Spanish territory. The majority of these were easily crushed by the regular paramilitary forces at the beginning of the war, but in some provinces the Carlist insurgents remained active for several years and caused many troubles toMadrid’s authorities. Bandits and armed smugglers had been a serious problem for the monarchy since the end of the Independence War. Various bands of ‘guerrilleros’ retained their weapons after the French retreat of 1814 and started to act as common robbers. In 1833 most of these bands embraced Don Carlos’ cause, seeing an opportunity to enlarge their activities under the sacred flag of traditions and religion. The Carlist ‘guerrilleros’ conducted more or less the same kind of warfare that they had already used against Napoleon: intercepting supplies and communications, harassing Liberal troops marching on their territory, assaulting isolated enemy positions and raiding every possible resource. The areas where Carlist irregulars remained active also after 1834 wereGalicia, Old Castile andNew Castile.

This is one of the first English-language books to go into detail on both the ‘Cristinos’ and the ‘Carlists’, who will MAA 515 appeal to?

This book is probably the first one in the English language to cover all the military units involved in the First Carlist War. In addition to the regular army of the Liberals and insurgent forces of the Carlists, it also covers several other participants to the military operations. First of all the foreign military contingents that helped the Liberal government: British Auxiliary Legion, French Foreign Legion and Portuguese Auxiliary Division. I can anticipate to our readers that for the first time this book will include a colour reconstruction of the French Foreign Legion’s cavalry inSpain, but also very precise info on Portuguese uniforms. In addition, the section of the book devoted to Liberal forces will also include naval infantry, militia, paramilitary units (the famous ‘Carabineros de Costas y Fronteras’ and the Catalan ‘Mossos d’Esquadra’) and volunteer/mercenary units. In addition to the regulars and militia, the Liberal government employed a certain number of volunteer military units that were known as ‘Peseteros’ (from their daily pay of one ‘peseta’ which was a lot more than that of the regulars). The origins of these units can be traced back to the early months of the war, when the regular army was in no condition to defend the provinces bordering with Carlist lands. In order to defend their home territories, the local citizens started to form irregular units known as ‘tropas francas’ and made up of volunteers. Details on uniforms and organization of these troops will be included in the book. Finally, regarding Carlists, the book will include details never published before on the mostly unknown Carlist Army of Catalonia, as well as a lot of information on Carlist irregular guerrilla units and foreign corps (‘Argelino’ Battalion and Portuguese Battalion). Combined with the original art work by well-known military artist Giuseppe Rava, this book will be a must for students of military history, re-enactors, modellers, wargamers and people interested in Spanish military dress or organization.

Armies of the First Carlist War 1833–39 by Gabriele Esposito is available for pre-order and will be available to purchase from 28 December 2017. To pre-order your copy, click here.