Monarchist Profile: Juan Domingo de Monteverde
Juan Domingo de Monteverde y Rivas was one of the Spanish royalist leaders in the South American Revolutionary Wars and one of the later Captain-Generals of Venezuela. He was instrumental in bringing to ruin the first Venezuelan fall into republicanism. Juan Domingo de Monteverde was born in San Cristobal de la Laguna on the Canary Islands on April 2, 1773 to Stanislaus Monteverde and Francisca Rivas Lugo into a respected land-owning family. A bright youth, in 1785 he entered the La Villa Provincial Militia Regiment as a cadet but, like many of his background, he looked to the sea for his future and as a young man joined the proud ranks of the Royal Spanish Navy in 1789 as a midshipman in the department of Cadiz. He earned steady promotion and, as a young officer, served under Juan de Langara who, in alliance with the British Royal Navy under Admiral Samuel Hood, defended Toulon against the French revolutionaries.
He saw extensive service in the French revolutionary wars, fighting in the Battle of Cape St Vincent, at Gibraltar and participated in the epic battle of Trafalgar where he was wounded and taken prisoner. He was exchanged, returned to Cadiz and later fought the French during the Napoleonic invasion of Spain. He earned further promotion and decoration during the war. He was serving as a Frigate Captain when trouble began to boil over in the Spanish Empire in the Americas. In Caracas local republican revolutionaries declared independence from Spain and on July 5, 1811 proclaimed the First Republic of Venezuela with Francisco de Miranda as their commander. Captain Monteverde was dispatched to Cuba and Puerto Rico but was quickly transferred to Venezuela when the situation there got out of hand. His mission was to defeat the rebels and restore the authority of the Spanish Crown across the region. He arrived at Coro in March of 1812 with only a little over 200 marines, a priest, a surgeon and a little food.
Ever since the naval defeat at Trafalgar, Spain had been cut off from her colonies to a large extent and republican revolutionaries were quick to seize the opportunity. Spain had been devastated by the Peninsular campaign against the French and had little to send to the Americas, very few ships to send it and at a time when many American colonies had been incited against Spain, the Spanish themselves were most in need of resources from America. It was not an enviable position that Monteverde found himself in when he arrived. His only hope was to try to exploit the discontent the local people were beginning to feel due to the republicans promising much and delivering little. He had to encourage was divisions he could among the revolutionaries while concentrating all available royalist forces. He marched to Siquisique where he was reinforced by about 200 riflemen and 100 indigenous archers under “the Indian” Juan de los Reyes Vargas. With just over 1,500 men Monteverde decided to throw caution to the wind and advance deep into republican territory.
This was an unauthorized campaign and he was warned that going so far into enemy country, cutting himself off from his base at Coro would be extremely dangerous. Nonetheless, Monteverde’s bold gamble paid off and his troops captured Valencia, Barinas, Tocuyo and San Carlos. Since he had too few troops to leave behind garrisons in these cities, the republicans were able to re-occupy Valencia but Monteverde returned again and soundly defeated them, earning great acclaim across the Spanish Empire and a promotion to the post of Captain-General of Venezuela. As his army seemed to be the winning side, more people found the courage to volunteer for service and Monteverde gained enough confidence that he decided to seize the initiative and march on Caracas in what was hoped to be a successful sweep of all revolutionary forces in the country. General Francisco de Miranda commanded the rebel forces opposing Monteverde but he was forced to retreat again and again in the face of the patchwork royalist army.
Monteverde was assisted in his campaign by the divisive tactics and social arrogance of the republican elite which drove many middle and lower class locals into the ranks of the royalist army. His army entered Barquisimeto on April 2, 1812 after the population switched sides as a whole, rejecting republicanism and cheering the Crown of Spain. On May 3 his forces defeated a republican army in front of Valencia and then occupied the city. Miranda retreated again in the face of the royalist advance but finally was forced to give battle to try to stop Monteverde from seizing Caracas. The result was the Battle of San Mateo (aka La Victoria) on June 29, 1812. Prior Spanish attacks on the city had failed but many of the local populace had had enough and republican morale was broken when Spanish prisoners escaped and seized control of their prison along with a slave rebellion in Caracas. A cease-fire was negotiated and the first Venezuelan republic collapsed. Miranda was arrested and sent to Puerto Rico and later Spain with most of the republican elites fleeing the country rather than face justice for their treason. Monteverde was awarded the Cross of Carlos III for his victory in bringing down the republic and restoring the country to the Crown of Spain.
The republicans would, however, be back to bedevil the royalist cause and in the future would be under the more dangerous and capable leadership of Simon Bolivar. Spanish royalists also planned an offensive against the Republic of New Granada which had recently been proclaimed but events closer to home quickly overtook them. The following year, in 1813, Monteverde had to respond to another rebel invasion, which he did not managed to reverse but at least contained. However, it was at that critical junction that Simon Bolivar began his so-called “Admirable Campaign”. Monteverde had to redeploy his forces to Valencia to guard against those rebels already present as well as the threat of Bolivar coming down from the mountains. In many ways, he found himself in the same position Miranda had been in the year before. Public support for the Crown had also been diminished when their unrealistic expectations were not immediately fulfilled.
Having set out with only 300 men (his force growing to only 500 on the way to La Guaira) Monteverde’s royalists were outmanned and outgunned at every engagement with expected results. The odds were long against him but the outside threat was not his only concern. Defeatism was spreading in his own ranks as many officers began to ponder joining the revolutionary cause to further their own interests and be on the winning side. Yet, he continued on, aided by the Granada Regiment from Spain which he took from Puerto Cabello for an offensive against Valencia, in the center of his defensive line, which had fallen back into republican hands. With about a thousand men, Monteverde showed his usual zeal in combating the revolutionaries, being wounded in the battle known as Las Trincheras (the battle of the trenches) on October 3, 1813. However, he was outmatched and his army almost totally destroyed. His jaw had been almost totally shot away and he was no longer fit for front-line service. His officers finally persuaded him to hand over command and retire to Puerto Rico. In 1816 he returned home to Spain and finally died on September 19, 1832 in Cadiz with the rank of brigadier-general.
Monteverde’s career had ended on a sad note with two defeats and a terrible wound. However, he was a committed and capable servant of the King of Spain. His skill and daring succeeded in restoring royal authority and bringing down the first effort at republicanism in Venezuela. Had his successors met with similar success in the years after him, the history of the country, and much of South America as a whole, might have been considerably different.
Thanks for your research. I really enjoy your site. I would like to add some color to the discussion on Monteverde. Definitely, Monteverde was an able and courageous commander. However, Venezuela’s first republic was not a formidable enemy. It had a monthly rotating presidency, and did not give full command to Miranda as Generalissimo until it was evident that the cause was nearly lost for the Republicans. Miranda was a Girondin, and commanded the French troops in several victories in the 1792 campaign in Flanders. His name was inscribed in the Arc de Triomphe, even though his re-entry to France was forbidden by Napoleon. In Venezuelan history, Miranda is viewed as a tragic figure. He came up with the idea of Colombia, and envisioned a constitutional monarchy similar to the British.
When Monteverde disembarked in Coro, one of the Venezuelan provinces that didn’t sign the Act of Independence, he got immediate popular support. The reasons were obvious for the General Captaincy of Venezuela: Independence was mostly a creole endeavor, where the Venezuelan population was mostly mestizo. The racial laws of Indies had created a gulf between the creoles (Venezuelan whites) and the pardos (mestizos), and resentment was high.
Miranda eventually noticed not only that the Republican cause was lost, but that the racial divide, evidenced by a slave revolt in Barlovento against the creoles, had the potential for a bloodbath. To this effect, Miranda surrendered in San Mateo in 1812 (as a side note, San Mateo was the massive Bolivar’s estate – Bolivar inherited Venezuela’s largest fortune). The armistice included amnesty for the leaders of the rebellion and respect for their properties. Monteverde agreed to this to end the war.
This is where, in my opinion, Monteverde did the greatest disservice to the cause of his king and to his honor: he did not honor the terms of surrender, and proceeded to confiscate and imprison the rebels. Thus, in many rebels minds, Miranda’s surrender became treason. Bolivar himself would imprison Miranda and had it delivered to the royalists. Miranda would end his days in La Carraca prison just outside Cadiz.
The dishonor of the surrender terms would open the darkest chapter in Venezuelan history: the War to Death. Bolivar, in his 1813 campaign that would establish Venezuela’s second republic issued a decree that would not have been issued otherwise: all Spaniards that did not actively support the rebellion were subject to the death penalty. By 1820, when the war of independence became “civilized” again, a third of the white population was wiped out. No other country in Latin America suffered as much for their independence.
Additionally, Monteverde was not the ablest monarchist commander in that war. Jose Tomas Boves would wipe out the second republic in the most murderous campaign ever documented in Venezuela, and Morillo, who came with a regular expeditionary force from Spain, did pacify the country momentarily. The problem, in my opinion, is that the continual heavy handedness by the crown, and the unwillingness by Ferdinand VII to agree to any negotiated solution continually created discontent in the Spanish colonies. Otherwise, independence would have been impossible.