Dos de Mayo Uprising
|Dos de Mayo|
|Part of the Peninsular War|
The Second of May 1808: The Charge of the Mamelukes, by Francisco de Goya (1814).
|Spain||First French Empire|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Pedro Velarde y Santillán †
Luís Daoíz de Torres †
Jacinto Ruiz y Mendoza
|Casualties and losses|
|200–500 dead, including 113 prisoners executed||31–150 dead|
The Dos de Mayo of 1808, was a rebellion by the people of Madrid against the occupation of the city by French troops, provoking a brutal repression by the French Imperial forces and triggering the Peninsular War.
Inspired by elements from outside its ranks, a section of the army - in this case the royal guard - had sought to impose its views upon the body politic by 'pronouncing' against the régime. Challenged by this call of arms, Godoy and his royal patrons found that they had few defenders. The officer corps as a whole was disgruntled by the failure of the favourite's reforms to make any difference in its situation, and his orders to resist the French were already being widely disobeyed; much of the upper nobility and the Church was hostile; reformist circles had long since lost all faith in Godoy's political credentials; and the common people were in a state of open revolt. As for Fernando, he was seen as a saviour, the reception that he received when he rode into Madrid on 24 March.
Popular though the new king was, his security was far from assured. Murat had occupied the city only the day before, and, despite increasingly abject attempts to win France's favour, refused to recognise Fernando; still worse, indeed, Carlos IV was persuaded to protest against his abdication and appeal to Napoleon for assistance. With the two rivals openly craving his mediation, the emperor was placed in a ideal position to recast situation as he wanted, Carlos, María Luisa and Fernando alike being summoned to meet him for a conference at Bayonne (as a sop to the former king and queen, Godoy was rescued from captivity and whisked to safety in France). With all the protagonists in the drama united in his presence, Napoleon exploded the waiting bombshell: the rival kings were both to renounce the throne and hand it to the emperor. To this demand Carlos made no resistance, and on 5 May, after some days of unedifying squabbles, such feeble defiance as Fernando was willing to offer was also overcome, the throne now being formally signed over to Napoleon in exchange for generous pensions for the royal family and guarantees of territorial and religious integrity for Spain herself.
With the whole of the Peninsula now apparently subjugated, Napoleon appeared to have achieved his every objective. Even as the Bourbons departed to a decorous exile - Carlos, María Luisa and Godoy to Italy, and Fernando, his brother, Carlos, and uncle, Antonio, To Talleyrand's chateau at Valençay - however, the Peninsula was astir.
The city had been under the occupation of Napoleon's army since 23 March of the same year. King Charles IV had been forced to abdicate in favour of his son Ferdinand VII, and at the time of the uprising both were in the French city of Bayonne at the insistence of Napoleon. An attempt by the French general Joachim Murat to move the daughter and youngest son of Charles IV to Bayonne led to a popular rebellion that was harshly suppressed by French troops after hours of fierce street fighting. The uprising in Madrid, together with the subsequent proclamation as king of Napoleon's brother Joseph, provoked resistance across Spain to French rule.
Setting this aside, however, opportunism was the key. Napoleon had been motivated neither by an altruistic desire to spread the benefits of freedom and elightenment, nor by a gigantic strategic combination, nor by an overwhelming clan loyalty that made the creation of family courts the centrepiece of French foreign policy. Strategic, ideological and historical factors were present in his thinking, certainly, but in the last resort what mattered was, first, the emperor's chacter, and, second, the force of circumstance. Forever eager to demonstrate his prowess, impose his stamp upon affairs, and demonstrate his contempt for diplomacy, the emperor was confronted with a situation in which nothing seemed to stand between him and the stroke that was more audacious than anything that he had yet attempted. Never had he been more wrong.
The beginning of the uprising
The spark that provoked the rebellion was the move by the French Marshal in command of Madrid, Joachim Murat, to send the daughter of Charles IV and the Infante Francisco de Paula to the French city of Bayonne. Murat was the brother-in-law of Napoleon, and would later become king of Naples. Initially the governing council of the city refused the request from Murat, but eventually gave way after receiving a message from Ferdinand VII who was also in Bayonne at this time.
On 2 May a crowd began to gather in front of the Royal Palace in Madrid. Those gathered entered the palace grounds in an attempt to prevent the removal of Francisco de Paula. Marshal Murat sent a battalion of grenadiers from the Imperial Guard to the palace along with artillery detachments. The latter opened fire on the assembled crowd, and the rebellion began to spread to other parts of the city.
What followed was street fighting in different areas of Madrid as the poorly armed population confronted the French troops. Murat had quickly moved the majority of his troops into the city and there was heavy fighting around the Puerta del Sol and the Puerta de Toledo. Marshal Murat imposed martial law in the city and assumed full control of the administration. Little by little the French regained control of the city, and many hundreds of people died in the fighting. The painting by the Spanish artist Goya, The Charge of the Mamelukes, portrays the street fighting that took place.
There were Spanish troops stationed in the city, but they remained confined to barracks. The only Spanish troops to disobey orders were from the artillery units at the barracks of Monteleón, who joined the uprising. Two officers of these troops, Luis Daoíz de Torres and Pedro Velarde y Santillán are still commemorated as heroes of the rebellion. Both died during the French assault of the barracks, as the rebels were reduced by vastly superior numbers.
The impact of the uprising
The repression following the crushing of the initial rebellion was harsh. Murat created a military commission on the evening of 2 May to be presided over by General Grouchy. This commission issued death sentences to all of those captured who were bearing weapons of any kind. In a statement issued that day Murat said: "The population of Madrid, led astray, has given itself to revolt and murder. French blood has flowed. It demands vengeance. All those arrested in the uprising, arms in hand, will be shot." All public meetings were prohibited and an order was issued requiring all weapons to be handed in to the authorities. Hundreds of prisoners were executed the following day, a scene that has also been captured in a famous painting by Goya, The Third of May 1808.
On the same 2 May, in the nearby town of Móstoles, the arrival of the news of the repression prompted Juan Pérez Villamil, who was secretary of the Admiralty and prosecutor of the Supreme War Council, to encourage the mayors of the town, Andrés Torrejón and Simón Hernández, to sign a declaration of war calling all the Spaniards against the invaders. The name of this declaration was "Bando de los alcaldes de Móstoles" or "bando de la Independencia" which translates to "Declaration of Independence".
While the French occupiers hoped that their rapid suppression of the uprising would demonstrate their control of Spain, the rebellion actually gave considerable impetus to the resistance. In the weeks that followed there were further rebellions in different parts of the country.
Within a matter of days of the outbreak of revolt, in Old Castile, New Castile, Aragón and Catalonia, French columns were striking out against the nearest insurgent forces. In the event it was the Spaniards who fired the first shots. On 5 June 1808 two squadrons of French dragoons under a Captain Bouzat were attacked by insurgents at the northern entrance to the pass of Despenaperros in the Sierra Morena and forced to retreat to the nearby town of Almuradiel, leaving behind a number of dead. Spain was at war.
The 2nd of May is now a public holiday in the Community of Madrid. The place where the artillery barracks of Monteleón was located is now a square called the Plaza Dos de Mayo, and the district surrounding the square is known as Malasaña in memory of one of the heroines of the revolt, the teenager Manuela Malasaña, who was executed by French troops in the aftermath of the revolt.
Several memorials to the heroes of 2 May are located over the city, including the Monumento a los Caidos por España (Monument to the fallen of Spain).
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- Charles J. Esdaile in The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars by Gregory Fremont-Barnes (main editor) (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2006) 596.
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