Dos De Mayo – A History Of Madrid And Spain

Dos De Mayo – A history of Madrid and Spain.

Today commemorated as a public holiday in the city of Madrid, it celebrates the uprising of the Madrid populace against Napoleon´s army which led directly to Spain switching sides during the Peninsular War and the “Declaration of Independence” from France.

On the 2nd May 1808 the inhabitants of Madrid rose up against the French occupying force that had marched into Spain under the terms of the Treaty of Fontainebleau of October 1807 signed between the Bourbon Carlos IV of Spain and the French Emperor Napoleon.

The treaty had been ostensibly to allow the French army to pass through Spain in order to invade Portugal which was allied to Great Britain and to have it´s territory and empire divided between Spain and France.

Carlos IV and family

However the secret terms of the treaty were onerous to Spain with Charles IV effectively being held as captive by Napoleon in the French Basque town of Bayonne. He was subsquently forced to abdicate in favour of his son Ferdinand VII.

The French revolutionary regime was deeply mistrusted by Spanish aristocracy and peasantry alike but nevertheless the French took their treaty positions and Marshal Murat established a French garrison in Madrid. With the abdication of Carlos  IV he instigated a move to hold the new king´s daughter and children as captives in order to keep the Spanish under the French banner.

Rumours abounded in the Spanish capital and crowds gathered around the royal palace that a French force would be moving the royal children to captivity in France to add to the indignity of the treaty and occupation. In fact the Spanish Court had already heard a petition to this effect which had been initially refused and only after a message had been received from the captive Charles IV had the court agreed reluctantly to the move.

Thus on May 2nd 1808 the children of the Spanish royal family were being prepared to be escorted by a French guard to Bayonne to join the erstwhile captive King. A  series of spontanenous events led in turn to a succession of confusing events which ended with the royal butler shouting from the palace balcony to the anxious crowds ” Take to arms – They are taking the Infanta!” – the crowds closed the exits from the palace and thus began the confrontation between the populace and the French guard ending with a fussilade against the crowd and sparking the uprising.

Initially the populace blockaded the palace to stop the French guard from entering and then reinforcing the palace garrison. In fact the Spanish royal guard had been confined to barracks and in the confusión with the communication betwen the exiled king, the new king as well as the court they were inactive and kept to their orders of being confined to barracks.

The French garrison however were reinforced outside the palace by amongst others the famed and fierce Mamalukes of Napoleons´s Imperial Guard who charged the crowd and forced them back back from the palace. The famous painting by Goya of the Charge of the Mamelukes, depicts the brutal putting down of the rebellion in the streets by the Puerta del Sol. 

The charge of the Marmalukes

Despite having few modern weapons, the Madrid populace fought with what arms they could find and the rebellion spread through the city. Huge street battles raged with hand to hand and door to door fighting that brought the full wrath of the French garrison onto anyone found in the streets.

The initial uprising and bravery displayed by Madrid’s civilians inspired individual regiments and units of the Spanish royal army to act. Famously Captains Pedro Velarde and Luis Daoíz defied orders and led a group of soldiers out to the Monteleón barracks to engage the French. Outnumbered and outgunned by the French they fought through the day.

The Spanish rebels refused to surrender and made their final stand in the archway of the Monteleón barracks before being killed. The arch remains to this day and stands erect in the centre of the Plaza Dos de Mayo behind a statue of Daoíz and Vellarde situated in the heart of the very district of Malasaña, named after the heroine Manuela Malasaña who was amongst the hundreds of civilians who were executed the following day under the orders of Murat. Francisco Goya´s painting Tres De Mayo depicts a scene that was replicated throughout the capital.

Tres de Mayo – Goya

The news of the uprising reached outlying towns including Móstoles on the same day, and led to Juan Pérez Villamil, who was secretary of the Admiralty to urge the two mayors of the town, Andrés Torrejón and Simón Hernández, to sign a declaration of war calling all Spaniards to rise up against the occupying French. The name of this declaration was “Bando de los alcaldes de Móstoles” or “Declaration of Independence”.

The declaration went out – “For King and For Country!” The famed Pedro Serrano rode west to alert the country to the uprising and the population responded by fighting the French whenever and wherever found. A new term entered military vocabulary  ” Guerrila”

The French dealt brutally with the uprising in Madrid and the reprisals continued well after the public executions of the 3rd May.

However the proclamation of Napoleon’s brother Joseph as king of Spain caused the remainder of the country to rally to the cause of independence and the alliance with Wellington and his army in Portugal.

Deliverance was not long coming, in July of that year General Castaños Spanish Army of Andalucia inflicted the first major defeat on Napoleon´s army at the Battle of Bailen.

The subsequent campaigns saw the Anglo – Portuguese – Spanish armies defeat the occupying French and in turn entered France in 1814 contributing to the fall of Napoleon´s empire and his abdication the same year and short lived exile to Elba.

Napoleon would later rue his Iberian intervention calling it his ” Spanish ulcer”.




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