Monday, July 8, 2013
Consort Profile: Maria Christina of Austria
Subsequent Spanish historians have praised Queen Maria Christina for her impeccable commitment to upholding the law and observing all of the proper rules and customs for the government. Spain entered a relatively stable period, at least when compared to the earlier chaos and civil war, with power alternating between the moderate conservative and liberal factions. Universal suffrage and the Law of Associations were both passed during the regency and signed into effect by Queen Maria Christina on behalf of her young son. However, there was at least one very major foreign policy crisis that arose during the regency and that was the Spanish-American War. It was a crisis the Queen met with admirable courage and determination. The war with the United States came about mostly due to American sympathy for the rebels in Cuba who had been waging a long and irritating war against the local Spanish authorities. There were also those in America who had been pressing for (and even attempting) the conquest and annexation of Cuba to the United States all the way back to the earliest days of the republic. Dealing with the local rebels had not been particularly difficult for Spain, even after many years of steady decline starting with the conquest by Napoleonic France and followed soon after by the Carlist civil wars. Cuba still generated income for the Spanish economy and the insurrection provided a place for Spanish army officers to gain combat experience. However, what had been a Spanish problem suddenly became a potential international crisis when the United States and especially the American media began to seize upon Cuba as a major object of interest.
There was no doubt from the very beginning that Spain was hopelessly outmatched in the war against the United States. Nonetheless, the U.S. sent an ultimatum to Madrid demanding that the Spanish withdraw from Cuba and when Spain broke off diplomatic relations with the United States an American declaration of war soon followed. Queen Maria Christina was horrified by this turn of events but had no choice but to take Spain to war as she could no more order the abandonment of Cuba than the President of the United States could abandon New York or Massachusetts just because a foreign power demanded it. Queen Maria Christina did appeal to the other crowned heads of Europe (which was all of Europe at that time save for France, Switzerland and tiny San Marino) to come to the aid of Spain. She protested, with considerable foresight, that if the monarchies of Europe did not come together to oppose this blatant aggression on the part of the American republic on behalf of Spain, the United States would only grow stronger and stronger and soon other countries would suffer the fate of Spain until America was completely dominant and not a monarchy remained in Europe. There was some sympathy for Spain in some quarters but, as we know, no other countries decided to get involved. The Spanish fleet was decimated by the American navy, Cuba was conquered and the few remnants of the once mighty Spanish empire fell to the United States. When Spain finally had no choice but to sue for peace the United States gained Cuba (temporarily), Puerto Rico, Guam and The Philippines. Manila had fallen after only symbolic resistance with the Spanish garrison effectively tossing America the keys on their way out and, while gaining the islands, America also gained her first colonial rebellion as U.S. forces had to be rushed over to suppress the Filipino independence movement that Spain had already been dealing with.