Dos de Mayo Insurrection in Spain Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Dos de Mayo insurrection in Spain, a rebellion first against the incompetent Spanish monarchy and then against France, resulted in the defeat of French emperor Napoleon I. Napoleon had infuriated the Spanish people by refusing to accept the ascension of Ferdinand VII as king of Spain in his bid to take control of Spain and advance his own empire.

Summary of Event

With the French Bourbons Spain;Bourbon Dynasty Bourbon dynasties;Spanish ascending the throne of Spain in 1700, a close alliance formed between France and Spain. Throughout the eighteenth century, Spain and France often fought against their common enemy, England. When the French Revolution (1789) French Revolution (1789);and Spain[Spain] broke out, however, the Spanish crown supported the French monarchy against the revolutionaries; after Louis XVI was executed, the Spaniards joined the First Coalition against France. Following the return of more conservative governments in France, Spanish policy once again veered toward an alliance with France against England. Dos de Mayo Insurrection (1808) Spain;Dos de Mayo Insurrection Spain;and France[France] France;and Spain[Spain] Napoleon I [p]Napoleon I[Napoleon 01];and Spain[Spain] Charles IV Ferdinand VII Godoy, Manuel de Murat, Joachim [kw]Dos de Mayo Insurrection in Spain (May 2, 1808) [kw]Mayo Insurrection in Spain, Dos de (May 2, 1808) [kw]Insurrection in Spain, Dos de Mayo (May 2, 1808) [kw]Spain, Dos de Mayo Insurrection in (May 2, 1808) Dos de Mayo Insurrection (1808) Spain;Dos de Mayo Insurrection Spain;and France[France] France;and Spain[Spain] Napoleon I [p]Napoleon I[Napoleon 01];and Spain[Spain] Charles IV Ferdinand VII Godoy, Manuel de Murat, Joachim [g]Spain;May 2, 1808: Dos de Mayo Insurrection in Spain[0420] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;May 2, 1808: Dos de Mayo Insurrection in Spain[0420] Bonaparte, Joseph Goya, Francisco de Luisa, María

Spanish policy in the 1790’s was controlled by Manuel de Godoy, the so-called Prince of the Peace, chief minister of King Charles IV, and the lover of María Luisa, Charles’s wife. Charles was a weak, incompetent monarch, completely dominated by his wife and her lover. Many of the reforms initiated by the earlier Bourbons and carried through by Charles III Charles III were ignored or allowed to lapse by Godoy, who was chiefly interested in his own advancement. Godoy intended to use the French alliance to procure power and wealth for himself.

In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in France and in 1804 made himself emperor of the French. In his ambitions to control Europe, he saw the possibility of using Godoy’s avarice to take over Spain. Through a series of alliances concluded during the early nineteenth century. Spain became closely tied to France and subservient to Napoleon. Spanish naval strength was drained to serve France’s needs, while Godoy enriched himself.

By 1807, Napoleon believed that the time had come to take over Spain completely. Both Spain and Portugal were weak links in his Continental System (trade embargo against the British), and the Anglo-Portuguese alliance bothered him. In 1807 he concluded a treaty with Godoy that allowed French troops passage through northern Spain into Portugal. By late 1807, the French forces had driven the Portuguese royal family out of the country and had occupied some of the fortresses of northern Spain.

All the pent-up, anti-French feelings in Spain now rallied to Ferdinand VII, son of Charles IV and heir to the throne. He was popular with those Spaniards who were offended by the scandalous character of Queen María Luisa Luisa, María and by the incompetence of the king as well as Godoy. Ferdinand hoped to obtain aid from Napoleon to overthrow his father and Godoy, and he promised Napoleon that he would marry a Bonaparte princess in return for help.

Napoleon, however, intended to eliminate the Spanish Bourbons Spain;Bourbon Dynasty Bourbon dynasties;Spanish and place his brother Joseph Bonaparte Bonaparte, Joseph on the throne of Spain. In February, 1808, he sent Marshal Joachim Murat with a large army toward Madrid. The Spanish populace welcomed the move, believing that the French were there to help Ferdinand secure the throne. Shortly before Murat entered Madrid, a mob attacked Godoy on March 19, 1808, and demanded both his resignation and the abdication of Charles in favor of Ferdinand. Charles abdicated, named Ferdinand king, and made plans to leave for America. Napoleon, pleased with Charles’s abdication, found that the popular support for Ferdinand upset his plans and therefore ordered Murat not to recognize Ferdinand. Murat persuaded Charles to retract his abdication and place himself in Napoleon’s hands.

The French also committed a major blunder. Anticipating the restoration of Charles when Ferdinand would abdicate, Murat announced that Charles IV was the king of Spain. Therefore, Murat appeared to protect both Godoy and Charles even though Ferdinand had begun to place his uncle Antonio in charge of a junta to rule Spain.

Reception at the court of King Charles IV.

(Francis R. Niglutsch)

Napoleon next invited Ferdinand and Charles to come to Bayonne to settle the dispute. Cleverly putting pressure on both and taking advantage of a disgraceful family quarrel, he persuaded Charles and Ferdinand to abdicate in favor of any person whom he nominated, but on the condition that the Spanish Empire would remain intact and that Roman Catholicism Spain;Roman Catholics would remain the state religion of Spain. Napoleon then gave both men estates in France and named his brother Joseph as king of Spain.

When news of the dethroning of the Bourbons Spain;Bourbon Dynasty Bourbon dynasties;Spanish reached Madrid, the populace turned against Napoleon and the French. On May 2 (Dos de Mayo), 1808, a large crowd sullenly watched the members of the Spanish royal family prepare to leave the palace for their journey to France. As the royal coach prepared to depart, one of the younger children in it cried out at leaving, and the crowd became a mob. They attacked the French guard and massacred them. Murat ordered the French troops to fire on the mob, and martial law was proclaimed. Madrid had erupted against the French. When news of the uprising reached the rest of Spain, there were similar uprisings against French garrisons.

The famous riot became immortalized by Francisco Goya Goya, Francisco de [p]Goya, Francisco de;The Second of May, 1808[Second of May, 1808] , a visionary artistic genius who is considered to be one of the founders of modern art. Goya mastered the use of bright colors when he was a young artist. As painter to the Spanish court after 1789, a profound event occurred when syphilis Syphilis took away Goya’s hearing in 1792. The supernatural aspect of Goya’s work became pronounced as Goya withdrew into melancholy. By now a liberal who idealized French culture, Goya began to attack the king and believed ardently in the ideals of the French Revolution (1789).

The French invasion in 1808 jolted Goya’s life and art. His moving painting, The Second of May 1808: The Charge of the Mamelukes (1814), preserves brilliantly the attack by mostly unarmed Spanish patriots upon Napoleon’s well-armed cavalry. More astounding is Third of May 1808: Execution of the Citizens of Madrid (1814), which contains all the romantic horror that fascinated Goya.


By May 30, all Spain was in rebellion against the French. Napoleon had to send more troops to fight the Spaniards, but he was not able to defeat them. The fighting and the disruption of authority in Spain caused a political, social, economic, and religious revolution whose reverberations continued into the twentieth century.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Altamira, Rafael. A History of Spain; From the Beginnings to the Present Day. Translated by Muna Lee. 1949. Reprint. Princeton, N.J.: D. Van Nostrand, 1966. A general history of Spain that considers the results of the insurrection.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carr, Raymond. Spain, 1808-1975. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. Carr’s study of nineteenth and twentieth century Spain covers the uprising of 1808 in detail and includes an excellent analysis of the factions involved in both the uprising and the events immediately preceding it.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chastenet, Jacques. Godoy, Master of Spain, 1792-1808. Translated by J. F. Huntington. London: Batchworth Press, 1953. An excellent biography of Godoy and a study of his part in the events preceding the insurrection.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Esdaile, Charles J. Fighting Napoleon: Guerillas, Bandits, and Adventurers in Spain, 1808-1814. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2004. Focuses on the Spanish peasants, bandits and other guerrilla fighters who attacked the French army, assessing the contributions they made to the Peninsular War.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Herr, Richard. The Eighteenth Century Revolution in Spain. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1958. This work is one of the best books ever written on this period in Spanish history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hilt, Douglas. The Troubled Trinity: Godoy and the Spanish Monarchs. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1987. A revisionist study of the Spanish leader that effectively synthesizes modern scholarship.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lovett, Gabriel H. Napoleon and the Birth of Modern Spain. 2 vols. New York: New York University Press, 1965. This two-volume study of the events of the war in Spain is the most detailed and comprehensive study of the period.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lynch, John. Bourbon Spain, 1700-1808. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1989. Lynch provides an insightful and comprehensive overview of the crises facing the Bourbon monarchy in Spain. The book contains a bibliographic essay on different aspects of the Spanish Bourbon regime.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ramos Oliveira, Antonio. Politics, Economics, and Men of Modern Spain, 1808-1916. Translated by Teener Hall. London: Victor Gollancz, 1946. A socioeconomic history of the results of the insurrection written by Spain’s noted Marxist historian.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smith, Rhea Marsh. Spain: A Modern History. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1965. A general history of Spain that also considers the results of the insurrection.

Bonaparte Is Crowned Napoleon I

Peninsular War in Spain

Battle of Salamanca

Goya Paints Third of May 1808: Execution of the Citizens of Madrid

France’s Bourbon Dynasty Is Restored

Carlist Wars Unsettle Spain

Spanish Revolution of 1868

Spanish Constitution of 1876

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Nineteenth Century, 1801-1900</i>

Napoleon I; La Saragossa. Dos de Mayo Insurrection (1808) Spain;Dos de Mayo Insurrection Spain;and France[France] France;and Spain[Spain] Napoleon I [p]Napoleon I[Napoleon 01];and Spain[Spain] Charles IV Ferdinand VII Godoy, Manuel de Murat, Joachim

Categories: History