The Ominous Decade (Castilian: Década Ominosa) is a traditional term for the last ten years of the reign of King Ferdinand VII of Spain, dating from the abolition of the Spanish Constitution of 1812, on 1 October 1823, to his death on 29 September 1833.
Ferdinand VII had become king after the victorious end of the Peninsular War, by which Spain was freed from Napoleonic domination. He returned to Spain on 24 March 1814 and his first act was the abolition of the 1812 liberal constitution; this was followed by the dissolution of the two chambers of the Spanish Parliament on 10 May.
These were only the first moves towards a severe anti-liberal reaction, which caused a series of military riots, started in January 1820 by General Rafael del Riego. The monarch was forced to reintroduce a constitution, with a solemn oath during a ceremony in Madrid on 10 March 1820. This began the so-called Trienio Liberal ("Liberal Triennium", or Constitutional Triennium), during which Ferdinand had to witness the fall of the main absolutist institutions and privileges, and the increasing shift towards radicalism of the Parliament's majority.
Ferdinand, however, had not abandoned his reactionary goals, and appealed to the Holy Alliance established at the Congress of Vienna in 1814, by which the main absolutist monarchies of Europe had agreed to help each other in case one of them had to suffer a democratic revolution. On 7 April 1823, France launched an expedition, by which a military corps, known as the One Hundred Thousand Sons of St. Louis (Los Cien Mil Hijos de San Luis) and led by Louis Antoine, Duke of Angoulême, invaded the Spanish territory. Louis was welcomed on 24 May in Madrid, after the liberals had abandoned the city and taken refuge in the commercial city of Cádiz, where Ferdinand was kept as prisoner.
Here the democratic Cortes met to declare the king's deposition. The French troops besieged the city, until 31 August, when the Battle of Trocadero marked the liberals' defeat and the capitulation of the city.
After his restoration, Ferdinand VII started a period of his reign known as "Ominous Decade", due to its marked stress on the suppression of his enemies. Most of the members of the Liberal Party fled abroad, to London (where some received monetary help by the British government for their role in the wars against Napoleon), Paris, Malta, the USA, or to newly proclaimed independent republics of South America, towards which the Spanish liberal government had held a far less hostile stance than Ferdinand VII. Others, instead, were ruthlessly eliminated, such as Del Riego, the main symbol of the revolution, who was hanged on 7 November 1823 in La Cebada Square of Madrid.
Harsh censorship was re-established, while an archaic and totally reactionary organization of universities was introduced under the strict control of the Minister of Justice, Francisco Tadeo Calomarde, who was the mastermind of the suppression of opposition and of the restoration of medieval institutions, such as the Jesuits, monasteries and others. The French corps remained in Spain, with the de facto role of an occupation force: however, its heavy cost of supply caused further damage to the Spanish treasury, which had been depleted under the liberal government, also due to the South American revolutions.
The discontent of the Spanish military was further spurred by the formation of the Voluntarios Realistas ("Royalist Volunteers"), a militia created by Ferdinand VII in 1823, a short time after the collapse of the constitutional cabinet, in order to provide the king a direct means of suppression against the liberal opposition. In 1826 the militia amounted to some 200,000 volunteers, half of which included in 486 infantry battalions, 20 artillery companies, 52 cavalry squadrons and some sappers companies.
The decade saw an endless series of riots and attempts of revolutions, such as that of Torrijos, funded by English liberals, on 11 December 1831. Aside from the liberal side, Ferdinand's policies caused discontent also in the conservative party: in 1827 a revolt broke out in Catalonia, and later extended to Valencia, Aragon, the Basque Country and Andalusia, spurred by ultra-reactionaries according to whom Ferdinand's restoration had been too timid, failing in particular to reinstate the Inquisition. In what was called the War of the Agraviados, some 30,000 men controlled most of Catalonia and some of the northern regions, and even established an autonomous government. Ferdinand intervened personally, moving to Tarragona to quench the revolt: he promised an amnesty, but once the rioters had surrendered, he had their leaders executed and others exiled to France.
Further instability came when, on 31 March 1830, Ferdinand issued the Pragmatic Sanction, which had been approved by his father Charles IV as early as 1789, but not published till then. The decree allowed the succession to the Spanish throne also to female heirs, in case a male one was not available. Ferdinand would have only one child, a daughter, the future queen Isabella II, who was born in October 1830. The Sanction excluded from the succession Ferdinand's brother, Carlos, Count of Molina.
Illness and death of Ferdinand
In his later years, Ferdinand fell severely ill, and he lost the ability to direct his own affairs. His young wife, Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies, took the regency. Since the other pretender, Don Carlos, was considered a champion of absolutism, Maria Christina decided to seek support from the liberal opposition.
Her policy worsened the acrimony amongst Carlos's supporters. At Ferdinand's death, in 1833, Carlos declared himself the legitimate heir to the throne with the name of Charles V. This was the beginning of the First Carlist War.
- Luis, Jean-Philippe. La década ominosa (1823-1833), una etapa desconocida en la construcción de la España contemporánea. Ayer. pp. 85–118. ISSN 1134-2277.
- History page about the Ominous Decade (Spanish)