Spanish Revolution of 1868

Spain’s 1868 revolution overthrew the monarchy to install a short-lived republican government in a transformation that brought to the surface the divisive influences of regionalism and demonstrated the continuing importance of the army.

Summary of Event

The duke of Aosta entering Madrid, where he was welcomed as King Amadeo.

(Francis R. Niglutsch)

Isabella’s reign as queen of Spain began with a war of succession and ended in a coup. From 1833, when she ascended the throne at the age of three, with her mother as regent, she was challenged by her uncle, Prince Carlos, who waged a five-year war to unseat her. Aided by the people of the northern province of Navarre and Roman Catholics Spain;Roman Catholics
Roman Catholics;in Spain[Spain] who hated the liberal constitution Constitutions;Spanish
Spain;constitutions of 1812, which had been restored, Don Carlos and twelve thousand soldiers attacked Madrid Madrid in 1837. During that same year, a new constitution was promulgated recognizing Roman Catholicism as the faith of all Spaniards. The combination of political compromise and military defeats led Don Carlos to withdraw. In 1843, the Cortes declared thirteen-year-old Isabella of age to rule. Spanish Revolution of 1868
Spain;Revolution of 1868
Isabella II
Carlos, Don
[kw]Spanish Revolution of 1868 (Sept. 30, 1868)
[kw]Revolution of 1868, Spanish (Sept. 30, 1868)
[kw]1868, Spanish Revolution of (Sept. 30, 1868)
Spanish Revolution of 1868
Spain;Revolution of 1868
Isabella II
Carlos, Don
[g]Spain;Sept. 30, 1868: Spanish Revolution of 1868[4230]
[c]Government and politics;Sept. 30, 1868: Spanish Revolution of 1868[4230]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Sept. 30, 1868: Spanish Revolution of 1868[4230]
O’Donnell, Leopoldo
Pi y Margall, Francisco
Prim y Prats, Juan
Ruíz Zorrilla, Manuel
Serrano y Domínguez, Francisco

Isabella reigned during one of the most chaotic periods of Spanish history. The mid-nineteenth century saw violent swings between forces of change and reactionary traditionalism. Liberal land reforms, the beginnings of the industrial revolution and an industrial working class, the growth of regionalist sentiments, and passionate conflicts over the role of the Church all occurred during her reign. Moreover, Isabella herself was responsible for many of Spain’s problems.

Isabella was an avaricious woman, subject to her passions, who made and unmade ministers at will. Her reign saw many and varied palace intrigues, and many of her closest advisers were Carlists—supporters of Don Carlos. Isabella often relied on the military and its leaders, especially General Leopoldo O’Donnell, O’Donnell, Leopoldo to maintain her power. By the late 1860’s, most Spanish politicians had come to believe that Isabella was a hindrance to progress in Spain and that overthrow of the Bourbon Dynasty Bourbon dynasties;Spanish
Spain;Bourbon Dynasty , which she represented, would solve many problems.

A revolutionary coalition formed with the aim of deposing Isabella and calling a representative Cortes, or parliament, to create an alternative form of government. The instigators of this coalition were General Francisco Serrano y Domínguez, Serrano y Domínguez, Francisco who took over as the leader of the conservative Liberal Union after General O’Donnell’s death in 1867, and General Juan Prim y Prats, Prim y Prats, Juan marqués de los Castillejos, leader of the liberal Progressive Party. With the help of army and navy leaders, they forced Isabella to abdicate in September, 1868.

In 1869, a representative Cortes framed a new constitution Constitutions;Spanish
Spain;constitutions making Spain a constitutional monarchy with universal suffrage and a bill of rights. The Spanish Bourbons Bourbon dynasties;Spanish
Spain;Bourbon Dynasty were to be excluded from the throne, and a regency was to be formed until a suitable monarch could be found. Serrano became the regent and Prim the prime minister of this new government. Meanwhile, the search for a monarch revealed a new political group, the Republicans. Dominated by Francisco Pi y Margall Pi y Margall, Francisco , the Spanish Republicans were extreme federalists, anticlericals, and antimilitarists. They appealed to the substantial number of Spaniards who favored provincial rights over control by the central government. Furthermore, their reform program was attractive to many.

Prim and Serrano Serrano y Domínguez, Francisco found a monarch in the Italian nobleman Amadeo Amadeo , the first duke of Aosta, who proved to be a conscientious ruler with no unconstitutional ambitions. However, he was deprived of his most important adviser when Prim was assassinated on the day on which Amadeo arrived in Spain. Political rivalry between Serrano’s Liberal Unionists and the Progressives under Prim’s Prim y Prats, Juan political heir, Manuel Ruíz Zorrilla Ruíz Zorrilla, Manuel , made any hope of moderate constitutional government impossible. In addition, the new Carlist pretender, Carlos VII Carlos VII , initiated the Second Spain;Carlist Wars
Carlist Wars Carlist War in 1872. Unable to maintain an effective government, Amadeo Amadeo abdicated the throne in February, 1873.

Although only a minority of its members were Republicans, the Cortes decided in desperation to proclaim a republic. Francisco Pi y Margall Pi y Margall, Francisco was made president of the First Spanish Republic. He was only the first of four presidents during the republic’s solitary year of existence. To remain in power, the Republicans were forced to ally with the centrist Radical Progressives of Ruíz Zorrilla. This alliance lost them the support of the Provincialists, and their anticlericalism lost them the neutrality of the clergy. The Carlists continued their rebellion against this regime. Even radical proletarian support was lost when the Anarchists Anarchism;in Spain[Spain] became active. Spain was in a state of civil war.

Finally, in January of 1874, when the republic had endured for only one year, President Emilio Castelar Castelar, Emilio was defeated in a parliamentary vote and resigned. At that point, the army dismissed the deputies and dissolved the Cortes. The First Republic had ceased to exist.


The failure of the republic created by the revolution of 1868 and the Second Carlist War Carlist Wars over royal succession left the Spanish nation eager for order and political stability. The coup that overthrew the republic was widely supported, and there was little opposition to the appointment of General Francisco Serrano Serrano y Domínguez, Francisco y Domínguez as temporary chief of state. In 1876, Spain adopted a new constitution Constitutions;Spanish
Spain;constitutions that gave the nation some long-term political stability.

Further Reading

  • Brenan, Gerald. The Spanish Labyrinth: An Account of the Social and Political Background of the Civil War. Canto ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Begins with the end of the reign of Isabella and the revolution of 1874. Explains the link between the failed republic and the restoration.
  • Carr, Raymond. Spain, 1808-1939. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1966. Although a general history of modern Spain, one chapter focuses on the Revolution of 1868, recognizing the revolution’s link to a depression in 1867 and the impracticality of the Federalists’ program.
  • Crow, John A. Spain, the Root and the Flower: An Interpretation of Spain and the Spanish People. 3d ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985. Chapter 10 focuses on the Bourbon Dynasty in Spain during the nineteenth century. Extremely useful for its combination of political and cultural history.
  • Flynn, M. K. Ideology, Mobilization, and the Nation: The Rise of Irish, Basque, and Carlist Nationalist Movements in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Broad study of the development of nationalism in Ireland and Spain during the nineteenth century that illuminates the rise of nationalism among Spain’s Carlists.
  • Hughes, Robert. Barcelona. New York: Vintage Books, 1993. Chapter 6 gives a regionalist picture of Spain’s history during the period by focusing on the impact of national events in Barcelona.
  • Madariaga, Salvador de. Spain: A Modern History. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1958. Despite its age, this work is a very personal, interpretive history of Spain by a Spaniard, and is valuable for its perspective.
  • Smith, Rhea Marsh. Spain: A Modern History. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1965. This general history of Spain has specific chapters on the reign of Isabella II, Amadeo and the First Republic, and the reign of Alfonso XII.

Dos de Mayo Insurrection in Spain

Carlist Wars Unsettle Spain

Spanish Constitution of 1876

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

Don Carlos; Isabella II. Spanish Revolution of 1868
Spain;Revolution of 1868
Isabella II
Carlos, Don