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The Carlist Wars were a series of civil wars that took place in Spain during the 19th century. The contenders fought to establish their claim to the throne, although some political differences also existed. Indeed, several times during the period from 1833 to 1876 the Carlists — followers of Infante Carlos (later Carlos V) and his descendants — rallied to the cry of "God, Country, and King" and fought for the cause of Spanish tradition (Legitimism and Catholicism) against liberalism, and later the republicanism, of the Spanish governments of the day. The Carlist Wars had a strong regional component (Basque region, Catalonia, etc.), given that the new order called into question region specific law arrangements and customs kept for centuries.
When Ferdinand VII of Spain died in 1833, his fourth wife Maria Cristina became Queen Regent on behalf of their infant daughter Isabella II. This splintered the country into two factions known as the Cristinos (or Isabelinos) and the Carlists. The Cristinos were the supporters of the Queen Regent and her government, and were the party of the Liberals. The Carlists were the supporters of Carlos V, a pretender to the throne and brother of the deceased Ferdinand VII, who denied the validity of the Pragmatic Sanction of 1830 that abolished the semi Salic Law (he was born before 1830). They wanted a return to autocratic monarchy.
While some historians count three wars, other authors and popular usage refer to the existence of two big engagements, the First and the Second, with the 1846-1849 events being taken as a minor episode.
- The First Carlist War (1832-1839) lasted more than seven years and the fighting spanned most of the country at one time or another, although the main conflict centered on the Carlist homelands of the Basque Country and Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia.
- The Second Carlist War (1846-1849) was a minor Catalonian uprising. The rebels tried to install Carlos VI on the throne. In Galicia, the uprising was on a smaller scale and was put down by General Ramón María Narváez.
- The Third Carlist War (1872-1876) began in the aftermath of the deposition of one ruling monarch and abdication of another. Queen Isabella II was overthrown by a conspiracy of liberal generals in 1868, and left Spain in some disgrace. The Cortes (Parliament) replaced her with Amadeo, the Duke of Aosta (and second son of King Victor Emmanuel of Italy). Then, when the Spanish elections of 1872 resulted in government violence against Carlist candidates and a swing away from Carlism, the Carlist pretender, Carlos VII, decided that only force of arms could win him the throne. The Third Carlist War began. It lasted until 1876.
- The Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) was considered by the Carlists as another crusade against secularism. In spite of the victory of their side, General Franco frustrated the pretensions of Carlist monarchism; he subsumed their militias into the Nationalist army and their political party (Comunión Tradicionalista) into his National Movement (Falange Tradicionalista y de las J.O.N.S.).