Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Esquilache, the scapegoat

Marquis of Esquilache

Yesterday we studied a little bit the program of enlightened reforms Charles III started when he became king of Spain, after 20 years of experience as king of Naples. Charles III brought some Italian ministers, who were in charge of putting the reforms into practice. Leopoldo di Gregorio, Marquis of Esquilache, was one of Charles III´s most trusted secretaries. Firts he was appointed Secretary of the Treasury and later he became Secretary of War and Navy and finally Secretary of State, the highest rank post in the Bourbons´ bureaucracy. In this post he implemented several reforms on Charles III´s behalf: 

- He reduced the privileges of the Church (revision of the decisions of the ecclesiastical courts of justice by the Royal Courts of Justice)

- He created the first lottery in Spain

- He created a fund for widows and orphans of the members of the Army

- He modernized the city of Madrid, one of the dirtiest capital cities in Europe: some municipal ordinances prohibited throwing garbage of dirty water to the streets, many streets were paved and 5,000 lampposts were installed in Madrid. 

- He liberalized the prices of wheat and some other basic products, in order to stop hoarders´ speculation

But the most unpopular decision was the one related to clothes and public order: Esquilache ordered replacing long cloaks and broad- brimmed hats (chambergos) for short cloaks and three-cornered hats, because many criminals took advantage of the usual Spanish clothes to hide their faces and escape justice.

Sheriffs cutting cloaks and brims in the street

 The privileged, who didn´t like Esquilache´s power, used popular discontent by this public order ordinance and the increase of prices of bread and other staple food to instigate the revolt against the hated secretary. The riot started on the 23th March 1766 in different cities of Spain, but was more serious in Madrid: the rioters destroyed the 5,000 streetlights, burnt Esquilache´s residence, the House of the Seven Chimneys (a very curious building, with several legends behind), and demanded Esquilache´s dismissal to the king. Charles III gave up and dismissed Esquilache, who was appointed ambassador in Venice. The revolt finished after three days. Apparently the rioters got what they wanted, but the enlightened reforms didn´t stop. Charles III continued his reform program in some fields (economy, administration and education) and went on with the idea of imposing the royal authority over the Church. The last consequence of the Esquilache Riots was the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767. The king accused them of having been responsible for the riots, but the truth was that the Jesuits were an important power in the kingdom and the king wanted to take control over their possessions. 

No comments: