Peru was the strongest bastion of royalist sentiment in South America and the hope was that it could be secured as used as a base from which republican rebels could be suppressed one by one in neighboring regions such as Colombia and Argentina. But, the Spanish faced internal as well as external difficulties. Commanders often wavered according to their politics and discord between officials and generals were far from uncommon. The case of General De la Serna illustrates this. Arriving in 1816, he was first posted to Alto Peru, in what is now Bolivia, and ordered to march against the rebels in northern Argentina by the Viceroy of Peru, Don Joaquin de la Pezuela. However, De la Serna opposed this plan as being too ambitious and was often at odds with the Viceroy who was an old-fashioned royal absolutist while De la Serna was a more liberal moderate, leaning in the direction of a constitutional monarchy. This was hardly uncommon, nor was it unique to Spain. During the American War for Independence most of the British commanders sent to suppress the rebel colonists were Whigs who sympathized with their complaints against the London government. Nonetheless, De la Serna began to move but made it only as far south as Salta in the Lerma Valley of northern Argentina in early 1817 when he was surprised by the appearance of a rebel army under Jose de San Martin who had crossed the mountains from Argentina, conquered Chile and was moving north.
Hoping to placate them, De la Pezuela had De la Serna promoted to lieutenant general and made president of the war council in Lima. But his supporters were not placated. In September of 1820 Jose de San Martin landed in the coastal city of Pisco, Peru and prepared to march on Lima. The De la Serna faction then made their real bid for power, pressuring De la Pezuela to resign and make De la Serna Viceroy of Peru. De la Pezuela, however, refused to be pressured and, in what he likely regarded as a test of loyalty, ordered De la Serna himself to put down the uprising that favored him. If it was a test, De la Serna failed, saying that he did not have sufficient forces to suppress them. De la Pezuela had been the victim of a very well managed coup. He was beaten and knew it and so on the evening of January 29, 1821 he resigned and handed power over to Don Jose de la Serna, making him Viceroy of Peru. Sadly, this too was not unusual and, also as usual, the Spanish government simply went along with what had already happened ‘on the ground’ and validated the decision.
|Meeting of San Martin and la Serna|
His Catholic Majesty King Fernando VII, however, seemed to have no doubts about the loyalty of La Serna, granting him the title of Count of the Andes after he returned to Spain. He was given a lofty command appropriate for his rank, Captain-General of Granada, where he finished out his military career. He died in Cadiz in 1832. His life and military career were illustrative of the problems that beset the Spanish empire in the early 19th Century as well as the internal divisions, both in Spain and in America, that precipitated its ultimate demise.