Tag: military history

June 10, 1835: Beginning of the Siege of Bilbao during First Carlist War

June 10, 1835 marks the start date of the famous siege of Bilbao by Carlist forces during the First Carlist War (1833-1839). The nineteenth-century Carlist Wars (with later conflicts taking place in the 1840s and 1870s) are somewhat under the radar of most general European history narratives but they were crucial in defining the political and administrative direction that modern Spain took. Interestingly for the purposes of this blog they also played a major role in shaping the fortunes of the Basque Country, which served as a principal theater of war in the 1830s and 1870s. In short, the outcome of these two civil wars established not just the Basque Country’s modern legal relationship with Spain but also played a big part in the decision of many Basques to leave their homeland in search of a better life on the other side of the Atlantic.

Although ostensibly the result of a dynastic struggle between different pretenders to the Spanish throne, the Carlist Wars were more complex civil confrontations that reflected different visions of how Spain should be organized politically. Most Basques were on the Carlist side (supporters of the pretender Don Carlos), among other reasons because they believed it guaranteed them the continuation of a political system that safeguarded Basque rights when it came to decision-making authority. On the other side, the Liberals (supporters of the regent  Mar’ía Cristina on behalf of the infant princess Mar’ía Isabel) sought to modernize Spain, centralizing decision-making authority and removing or lessening where possible those specific Basque rights.

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Carlist plans of the city for the siege of Bilbao in 1835. By Antonio de Goycoechea. In the Zumalakarregi Museum. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

During the First Carlist War, while most of the rural Basque Country supported the Carlist cause, larger urban enclaves tended to favor the modernizing ambitions of the Liberal side. The Carlist forces there were led by a brilliant and charismatic Basque general, Toma‡s Zumalacarregui (also spelled Zumalakarregi), who argued for a strike on Madrid from the Carlist bastion in Navarre, via Vitoria-Gasteiz, in sweeping fashion down from the Basque Country. He was overruled, however, by Don Carlos and was instead ordered to capture the Liberal bastion of Bilbao as an emblematic prize for the Carlist cause. Carlist forces thus laid siege to the city on June 10, but during the siege Zumalacarregui was shot and wounded, and subsequently died from his wounds. The siege formally ended on July 1, with the Carlists unsuccessful in their attempts to take the city.

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Tomas Zumalacarregui, the charismatic Carlist leader. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

Thereafter, the Carlists, bereft of their charismatic leader, plagued by internal divisions and grave tactical errors, and confronted with a following increasingly tired of battle, slid toward defeat. In 1839, the Carlist leader Rafael Maroto signed the Treaty of Bergara with his Liberal adversary Baldomero Espartero. This ended the war and set Spain on a path toward an administrative reshaping that gradually eroded Basque political rights.

The Zumalakarregi Museum in Ormaiztegi, Gipuzkoa (his birthplace) is a great source of information for this period in Basque history in general.

For a general introduction to the Carlist Wars and their impact on the fortunes of the Basque Country, see Cameron Watson’s Modern Basque History, available free to download here.  

The political and administrative implications of the Carlist Wars for the Basque Country are discussed in detail by Joseba Agirreazkuenaga in The Making of the Basque Question: Experiencing Self-Government, 1793-1877.

And for a riveting first-hand account of the Carlist offensive in the Basque Country during the first war, including an account of the siege of Bilbao, check out The Most Striking Events of a Twelvemonth’s Campaign with Zumalacarregui in Navarre and the Basque Provinces by C.F. Henningsen.

 

 

Flashback Friday: The Resistance

On October 30, 1512, during the conquest of Navarre, troops loyal to the Navarrese King Juan de Labrit surrendered to the forces of the Spanish King Ferdinand II of Aragon in Lizarra (Navarre). Some months earlier, on July 25, after the Spaniards occupied a large part of the territory of Navarre,  the Lizarra nobility had rejected the authority of the new Spanish monarch and legitimized Juan de Labrit’s power. Indeed, only the Navarre noblesse of Lizarra and Tutera, as well as that of the Erronkari, Zaraitzu, and other valleys, did not recognize Ferdinands’ authority. These so-called Navarre legitimists organized themselves to overthrow Ferdinand’s rule. Thus, on October 5, they rose in rebellion to take over the city of Lizarra. Some days later, Ferdinand’s army, for its part, counterattacked the rebellion. The resistance persisted during the whole month of October.  On the 30th day, eventually, the Navarrese defenders of Labrit surrendered, after they signed the agreement to lay down their arms.

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Portrayal of Lizarra


On the history of Navarre, see Navarra: The Durable Kingdom, by Rachel Bard.

Every Friday we look into our Basque archives for interesting historic events that happened on the same day.

 

 

Flashback Friday: In the Claws of the German Eagle

On October 23, 1940, Adolf Hitler and Francisco Franco met at Hendaia, Lapurdi, in the Northern Basque Country. The purpose of the meeting was to negotiate the incorporation of Spain into the Axis Powers (made up of Germany, Italy, and Japan) and find out any areas of possible agreement. On the one hand, Hitler saw Spain as a unique geopolitical and strategic territory in his expansionist aspirations. After the occupation of France, Hitler planned to conquer Great Britain as part of his aspiration to control Europe. Hitler thought that Spain, because of its geostrategic position, could play an important role in his quest for expansion. Thus, Franco had to accept the Germans’ conditions and join the Axis powers. On the other hand, the Spanish Dictator, convinced of an imminent German victory over Great Britain and the final Nazi domination of Europe, fully intended to join the Axis. After the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), nonetheless, Franco’s Spain was still too weak militarily to combat side-by-side with the Axis powers in the World War II (1939-1945). In turn, Franco asked Hitler for some African territories and military equipment. Eventually, Hitler and Franco did not reach any specific agreement. As a crossroads between North and South Europe, this coastal Basque town became the scenario of this meeting between the Nazi and Franco regimes.

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Francisco Franco and Spanish officers greet Adolf Hitler on his arrival at Hendaia


War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott, is a collection of essays that explore common themes related to the impact of warfare in Spain and Europe as a whole during this critical ten-year period.

Every Friday we look into our Basque archives for interesting historic events that happened on the same day.

Flashback Friday: Dead Soldier

On October 16, 1896, Jose Aramendi Arraiza, a Basque soldier on the island of Cuba, passed away at the age of twenty-two. In the Cuban War of Independence (1895-1898), soldiers of Basque birth or descent served in the Spanish armed forces. From the beginning of the colonial crisis in Cuba in 1868, the loyalty of Basques to the Spanish crown, reflected in their participation in its armed forces, responded primarily to economic and constitutional issues. Generally, the enrolled men defended the preservation of the traditional political and economic status quo in the Basque Country. Between 1868 and 1898, because the Cuban crisis was a prominent threat to a particular Basque oligarchy, the Basque provincial councils demonstrated a capacity to mobilize their citizens for war to fight the secessionist movement in the Caribbean territory. In this context of transformative change, those traditional classes feared the loss of their social status. In 1898, United States declared war on  and eventually defeated Spain, followed by the independence of Cuba. Then Cuba became a protectorate of the United States.

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Map of Cuba

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Col. Theodore Roosevelt and American soldiers after the fighting at San Juan Hill in Cuba, 1898


The Cuban War of Independence and its ramifications in the Basque Country is discussed in some detail in Basque Nationalism and Political Violence: The Ideological and Intellectual Origins of ETA, by Cameron J. Watson.

Every Friday we look into our Basque archives for interesting historic events that happened on the same day.

Flashback Friday: Privileged Fleets

On September 25, 1728, the “Royal Gipuzkoan Company of Caracas” (La Real Compañía Guipuzcoana de Caracas) was established in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa. An early eighteenth century Spanish reform had established a system by which the government issued royal licenses for the establishment of commerce companies endowing them privileged positions in colonial trade. This system followed the Dutch, English, and French models, by which the government granted some companies permission to be the sole merchants and have monopoly rights on certain trading routes between the American colonies and the Old World. In this way, moreover, the chartered companies became important mainstays of the Spanish empire and its military rule in America. Thus, those privileged fleets were allowed not only to consolidate their positions in transatlantic markets, but they played an even larger role in Spanish foreign relations abroad. Following its Basque predecessor’s steps–the“Company of Honduras” established by Diego de Murga in 1714–the “Royal Gipuzkoan Company of Caracas” was created with the intention of establishing a shareholding company between Venezuela and the Old World. In 1742, the “Royal Gipuzkoan Company of Caracas” obtained the monopoly of trade to Venezuela. Through the establishment of this and other commercial companies, Basque merchants took an active role in the Atlantic trade of different kind of products in the West Indies during the eighteenth century.

The Royal Guipuzcoan Company of Caracas logo

The Royal Gipuzkoan Company of Caracas logo

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The Royal Gipuzkoan Company’s business headquarters in Caracas, Venezuela, in the 1940s

Check out Gloria Pilar Totoricaguena’s book Basque Diaspora: Migration and Transnational Identity, which will give you the whole picture of this and other stories about the Basque presence overseas (available free to download here). On the eighteenth century, see Cameron Watson’s Modern Basque History: Eighteenth Century to the Present (2003).

For further discussion on Basque emigration, see: José Manuel Azcona Pastor’s Possible Paradises: Basque Emigration to Latin America (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2004); and William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao, Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1975).


Every Friday we look into our Basque archives for interesting historic events that happened on the same day.

Flashback Friday: No Escape

On August 28, 1937, Joseba Elosegi (1915-1990), a captain in the Basque Army, and other Basque soldiers –-or gudariak–- were imprisoned in the Francoist camp of Castro Urdiales, in Cantabria (Spain). After the war ended in the Basque Country in the victory of Francisco Franco’s army, a considerable body of Basque nationalist troops escaped westward to Cantabria. On August 24, 1937, they were arrested there in Santoña by the Italian Fascist division, the Black Arrows, which was aiding Franco’s army. The Basque Army surrendered to the Italian militia and they signed an agreement, commonly known as the Pact of Santoña. Among other things, the agreement would have allowed all the Basque authorities in Cantabria at that time to leave Spain. Thereafter, however, when Franco received word of this pact, he dismissed the agreement and ordered the immediate imprisonment of the Basques. These Basque prisoners were then moved to El Dueso prison in Santoña.

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El Dueso prison in the 1940s


Every Friday we look into our Basque archives for interesting historic events that happened on the same day.

Related reading

War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott, is a collection of articles that examine the impact of war, occupation, and exile on ordinary Europeans in the conflicts that engulfed the continent between 1936 and 1946. Many of these articles focus especially on the Basque experience during this tumultuous decade. The book is also available free to download here.

The events described in the post are also discussed in detail in Cameron Watson’s Basque Nationalism and Political Violence: The Ideological and Intellectual Origins of ETA.

Flashback Friday: Against the King’s Will

On July 17, 1134, Alfonso I, King of Navarre and Aragon, known as “the Battler,” escaped from Fraga (Huesca), where the Moorish military forces had defeated the Christian army. Despite a series of successful military campaigns in the central Ebro Valley in the years before, Alfonso’s troops had encountered a stronger Almoravid resistance that they had expected in Fraga. Two months after the defeat of Fraga, Alfonso passed away. The succession to the throne resulted in quarrels between different aspirants, which undermined royal government power and weakened its military presence at frontier lines. In turn, the Muslims, although only momentarily, took advantage of this situation to gain back lost territory. Finally, the deceased King’s brother, Ramiro I, became King of Aragon and García Ramírez was crowned King of Navarre. After Alfonso’s death, then, the Kingdoms of Aragon and Navarre were separated.

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Portrait of Alfonso I


Every Friday we look into our Basque archives for interesting historic events that happened on the same day

Flashback Friday: The Pretender

On July 3, 1875, Carlos VII (1868-1909), the aspirant King, took the oath of allegiance to the foruak (the ancient Basque rights and privileges) in Gernika (Bizkaia) during the Second Carlist War (1872-1876). Under war powers, Carlos was proclaimed Lord of Bizkaia at the foot of the Tree of Gernika. Carlos had gained broad support in the Basque Country because of the sympathy for Catholicism and the widespread traditionalism and very strong resistance to Liberal rule there. In 1876, the war ended in victory for the Liberal forces after the Carlist troops surrendered and Carlos VII escaped to France. Once the war came to an end, Alfonso XII, the new King of Spain, entirely abolished the foral system, restructuring many aspects of Basque society. This is considered one of the most consequential periods in the contemporary history of the Basque Country.

Carlos VII (1868-1909) took the oath in Gernika

Carlos VII took the oath in Gernika, Bizkaia

CarlosVII (center) surrounded by carlist soldiers

Carlos VII (center) surrounded by Carlist soldiers

To learn more about the socio-political and legal problems that elicited persistent tensions in the Basque Country during the nineteenth century, browse the book by historian Joseba Agirreazkuenaga, The Making of Basque Question: Experiencing Self-Government, 1793-1877.


Every Friday we look into our Basque archives for interesting historic events that happened on the same day

Historic travel guide to the Basque Country available online

The Koldo Mitxelena Kulturunea Library, the principal archive of Gipuzkoa, is home to a lot of great online sources for anyone with an interest in Basque Studies.

Luminous Guide

One such source is an early travel guide (of sorts), written for British forces taking part on the Liberal side in the First Carlist War (1833-39), and published in 1836 in Baiona (Bayonne). Titled, in the rather long-winded fashion of the day, A Luminous Guide for the British Cooperative Forces in Spain on the Principal Subjects Connected with Particular Information Relative to the Basque Provinces, the book was authored by Sotero de Goicoechea, a lieutenant in the Liberal forces of Bilbao.

 

Luminous guide extract 1

“Curious English, Spanish and Basque Vocabulary of Different Most Useful Words,” with the author pointing out that he uses the Basque of Markina, it being the only place where “purest Basque” is spoken in Bizkaia.

After a brief summary of the current political situation from an unabashed pro-Liberal perspective,  Goicoechea provides a general introduction to Bizkaia: its physical and human geography, some of its customs (music and dance), and system of governance. He then goes on to describe specific towns in the province in more detail, concentrating on their location and social and economic status. Particular emphasis is also given to the area in and around Bilbao. The guide then lists the distances, in English miles, between selected towns, before providing the names and prices of inns, restaurants, and coffee houses, and even detailed pricing of wine and basic provisions. Finally, the book provides a basic dictionary including everyday terms that these British troops may need to know with various translations from English into French, Spanish, and Basque.

This is not really travel literature as such, but what the book does offer is a snapshot of everyday life in Bizkaia in the 1830s. To read the full text, click here.

To learn more about the social and political singularity of Bizkaia at this time, see The Old Law of Bizkaia (1452): Introductory Study and Critical Edition, by Gregorio Monreal Zia. This is a comprehensive account of the specific legal structure that Bizkaia enjoyed within the Kingdom of Spain.

To read a pro-Carlist account of the First Carlist War, check out The Most Striking Events of a Twelvemonth’s Campaign in Navarre and the Basque Provinces, by C.F. Henningsen. This is a first-hand account of the conflict between the spring of 1834 and summer of 1835 written by a English volunteer in the Carlist ranks.      

Flashback Friday: The Return of Urdaneta

On June 26, 1536, Andres de Urdaneta (1508-1568), a Basque explorer from Ordizia (Gipuzkoa), dropped anchor at the port of Lisbon, Portugal, after a long transoceanic voyage. Eleven years before, in 1525, the Spanish Emperor Carlos V had sent this expedition headed by García Jofre de Loaísa to colonize the Maluku Islands or Moluccas (in present-day Indonesia) against his rival, the Crown of Portugal. The expedition included seven vessels. Urdaneta took to sea at an early age on the ship Sancti Spiritus under the command of Juan Sebastian Elkano. Most of the men in this expedition, including Elkano, died. Only one vessel reached the Moluccas. Among the survivors was Urdaneta himself who, after arriving in those archipelagos, lived there for nine years side-by-side the native people and Portuguese settlers, later returning to the old world. Andres de Urdaneta’s story illustrates the dynamics of Basque explorers and their place in early modern transoceanic imperialism.

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Iconic portrait of Andres de Urdaneta

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A map of the Moluccas, 1640

Check out anthropologist William Douglass’ new book Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean, which will give you the whole picture of this and other stories.