On July 6, 1808, Baiona (Bayonne) in Lapurdi assumed center-stage once more in the dramatic events unfolding in Napoleonic Europe when the Baiona Statute was officially approved, paving the way for Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, to become Joseph I of Spain.

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Joseph Bonarparte, the brief Joseph I of Spain (1808-1813). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This agreement formed part of a wider strategy on the part of Napoleon to control Spain as yet another part of his satellite outposts in his enduring (and almost successful) quest to rule Europe as a whole. For the background context to these events, and the later consequences of Napoleon’s Iberian adventures, see an earlier post we did here.

In 1808 the Spanish Kingdom was officially in an alliance with the French Empire, but following the abdication of Charles IV of Spain and the brief rule of his son Ferdinand VII, Napoleon sought to install his brother on the Spanish throne as the best means of controlling the country.

In order to demonstrate that this was fully compliant with a due legal process, however, Napoleon convened a meeting of Spanish notables in Baiona to draft and approve the constitutional basis for the new regime. The resultant so-called Baiona Statute was duly approved on July 6 and promulgated on July 8. In effect, though, Joseph was a puppet ruler, with most decisions regarding Spain being taken by Napoleon and his military staff.

Joseph I of Spain abdicated after the French loss at the Battle of Vitoria-Gasteiz in 1813. As Philippe Veyrin notes in The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre: Their History and Their Traditions,

in June 1813, the loss of the battle of Vitoria-Gasteiz obliged the French armies to fall back on our frontier. King Joseph was responsible for the defeat. He took refuge in a house in Senpere—Suhastia in the Elbarron (Helbarron) district—where, on July 11, he received the Emperor’s emissary bringing him notification that he had been stripped of his command, which was handed over to Marshal Soult, who turned up the very next day and took over straightaway.