ESPARTERO, BALDOMERO (1792-1879), duke of Vitoria, duke of Morella, prince of Vergara, Count Luchana, knight of the Toison d'Or, etc. etc., Spanish soldier and statesman, was born at Granatulu, a town of the province of Ciudad Real, on the 27th of February 1792. He was the ninth child of a carter, who wanted to make him a priest, but the lad at fifteen enlisted in a battalion of students to fight against the armies of Napoleon I. In 1811 Espartero was appointed a lieutenant of Engineers in Cadiz, but having failed to pass his examination he entered a line regiment. In 1815 he went to America as a captain under General Morillo, who had been made commander-in-chief to quell the risings of the colonies on the Spanish Main. For eight years Espartero distinguished himself in the struggle against the colonists. He was several times wounded, and was made major and colonel on the battlefields of Cochabamba and Sapachni. He had to surrender to Sucre at the final battle of Ayacucho, which put an end to Castilian rule. He returned to Spain, and, like most of his companions in arms, remained under a cloud for some time. He was sent to the garrison town of Logroño, where he married the daughter of a rich landowner, Doña Jacinta Santa Cruz, who eventually survived him. Henceforth Logroño became the home of the most prominent of the Spanish political generals of the 19th century. Espartero became in 1832, on the death of King Ferdinand VII., one of the most ardent defenders of the rights of his daughter, Isabella II. The government sent him to the front, directly the Carlist War broke out, as commandant of the province of Biscay, where he severely defeated the Carlists in many encounters. He was quickly promoted to a divisional command, and then made a lieutenant-general. At times he showed qualities as a guerillero quite equal to those of the Carlists, like Zumalacarregui and Cabrera, by his daring marches and surprises. When he had to move large forces he was greatly superior to them as an organizer and strategist, and he never disgraced his successes by cruelty or needless severity. Twice he obliged the Carlists to raise the siege of Bilbao before he was appointed commander-in-chief of the northern army on the 17th of September 1836, when the tide of war seemed to be setting in favour of the pretender in the Basque provinces and Navarre, though Don Carlos had lost his ablest lieutenant, the Basque Zumalacarregui. His military duties at the head of the principal national army did not prevent Espartero from showing for the first time his political ambition. He displayed such radical and reforming inclinations that he laid the foundations of his popularity among the lower and middle classes, which lasted more than a quarter of a century, during which time the Progressists, Democrats and advanced Liberals ever looked to him as a leader and adviser. In November 1836 he again forced the Carlists to raise the siege of Bilbao. His troops included the British legion under Sir de Lacy Evans. This success turned the tide of war against Don Carlos, who vainly attempted a raid towards Madrid. Espartero was soon at his heels, and obliged him to hurry northwards, after several defeats. In 1839 Espartero carefully opened up negotiations with Maroto and the principal Carlist chiefs of the Basque provinces. These ended in their accepting his terms under the famous convention of Vergara, which secured the recognition of their ranks and titles for nearly 1000 Carlist officers. Twenty thousand Carlist volunteers laid down their arms at Vergara; only the irreconcilables led by Cabrera held out for a while in the central provinces of Spain. Espartero soon, however, in 1840, stamped out the last embers of the rising, which had lasted seven years. He was styled "El pacificador de España," was made a grandee of the first class, and received two dukedoms.
During the last three years of the war Espartero, who had been elected a deputy, exercised from his distant headquarters such influence over Madrid politics that he twice hastened the fall of the cabinet, and obtained office for his own friends. At the close of the war the queen regent and her ministers attempted to elbow out Espartero and his followers, but a pronunciamiento ensued in Madrid and other large towns which culminated in the marshal's accepting the post of prime minister. He soon became virtually a dictator, as Queen Christina took offence at his popularity and resigned, leaving the kingdom very soon afterwards. Directly the Cortes met they elected Espartero regent by 179 votes to 103 in favour of Arguelles, who was appointed guardian of the young queen. For two years Espartero ruled Spain in accordance with his Radical and conciliatory dispositions, giving special attention to the reorganization of the administration, taxation and finances, declaring all the estates of the church, congregations and religious orders to be national property, and suppressing the diezma, or tenths. He suppressed the Republican risings with as much severity as he did the military pronunciamientos of Generals Concha and Diego de Leon. The latter was shot in Madrid. Espartero crushed with much energy a revolutionary rising in Barcelona, but on his return to Madrid was so coldly welcomed that he perceived that his prestige was on the wane. The advanced Progressists coalesced with the partisans of the ex-regent Christina to promote pronunciamientos in Barcelona and many cities. The rebels declared Queen Isabel of age, and, led by General Narvaez, marched upon Madrid. Espartero, deeming resistance useless, embarked at Cadiz on the 30th of July 1843 for England, and lived quietly apart from politics until 1848, when a royal decree restored to him all his honours and his seat in the senate. He retired to his house in Logroño, which he left six years later, in 1854, when called upon by the queen to take the lead of the powerful Liberal and Progressist movement which prevailed for two years. The old marshal vainly endeavoured to keep his own Progressists within bounds in the Cortes of 1854-1856, and in the great towns, but their excessive demands for reforms and liberties played into the hands of a clerical and reactionary court and of the equally retrograde governing classes. The growing ambition of General O'Donnell constantly clashed with the views of Espartero, until the latter, in sheer disgust, resigned his premiership and left for Logroño, after warning the queen that a conflict was imminent between O'Donnell and the Cortes, backed by the Progressist militia. O'Donnell's pronunciamiento in 1856 put an end to the Cortes, and the militia was disarmed, after a sharp struggle in the streets of the capital. After 1856 Espartero resolutely declined to identify himself with active politics, though at every stage in the onward march of Spain towards more liberal and democratic institutions he was asked to take a leading part. He refused to allow his name to be brought forward as a candidate when the Cortes of 1868, after the Revolution, sought for a ruler. Espartero, strangely enough, adopted a laconic phrase when successive governments on their advent to power invariably addressed themselves to the venerable champion of liberal ideas. To all - to the Revolution of 1868, the Constituent Cortes of 1869, King Amadeus, the Federal Republic of 1873, the nameless government of Marshal Serrano in 1874, the Bourbon restoration in 1875 - he simply said: "Cumplase la voluntad nacional" ("Let the national will be accomplished"). King Amadeus made him prince of Vergara. The Restoration raised a statue to him near the gate of the Retiro Park in Madrid. Spaniards of all shades, except Carlists and Ultramontanes, paid homage to his memory when he passed away at his Logroño residence on the 8th of January 1879. His tastes were singularly modest, his manners rather reserved, but always kind and considerate for humble folk. He was a typical Spanish soldier-politician, though he had more of the better traits of the soldier born and bred than of the arts of the statesman. His military instincts did not always make it easy for him to accommodate himself to courtiers and professional politicians.
(A. E. H.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)