The Hundred Thousand Sons of Saint Louis and the Trocadero


31 August 1823, French soldiers belonging to the Hundred Thousand Sons of Saint Louis carried the fortifications of Fort Trocadero off Cadiz at bayonet point, virtually ending the Trienio Liberal in Spain.

“The soldiers of the Empire setting out on a fresh campaign, but aged, saddened, after eight years of repose, and under the white cockade; the tricolored standard waved abroad by a heroic handful of Frenchmen, as the white standard had been thirty years earlier at Coblentz; monks mingled with our troops; the spirit of liberty and of novelty brought to its senses by bayonets; principles slaughtered by cannonades; France undoing by her arms that which she had done by her mind.” (Victor Hugo, “Les Misérables“)


Contemporary illustration of the battle


When Napoleon decided in 1808 that his own kin would rule Spain from now on, the preliminary last Bourbon king of Spain was exiled to France and the Peninsular War broke loose, the Junta Suprema Central, in the king’s absence, agreed on a remarkably liberal constitution while fighting the Napoleonic usurpers. The so-called “Constitution of Cádiz” was squashed immediately after the end of the war in Spain, when the Bourbon Ferdinand VII was reinstated and promptly returned to his antediluvial ways. What followed was the Sexenio Absolutista, the six years of absolutistic rule when nearly everything blew right into Ferdinand’s face, from continuous unrest to a constant economic depression and every single Spanish colony in the Americas fighting for its independence. The reintroduction of the old bloody ways of the Inquisition didn’t seem to help very much either, except that even the most backward of his Most Catholic Majesty’s European allies became a bit alienated.


Returned to antediluvial ways and alienated even his most conservative allies:
Ferdinand VII (Portrait by José de Madrazo, 1821)

When a battalion of the next underpaid, underfed and poorly quartered expeditionary force en route to South America mutinied and the unrest in Galicia became a full fledged rebellion that forced Ferdinand to accept the Constitution of Cadiz in 1820, the alienated allies thought better of it, and while Spain begun to celebrate the “trienio liberal”, the three liberal years, the conservative powers of Europe gathered their troops in the North. Proclaiming that his Most Catholic Majesty was at the very least in mental captivity of revolutionaries, the “Holy Alliance” of Russia, Austria, Prussia and France voted to free the king and especially the absolutistic Bourbon Louis XVIII, reigning since 1815, mobilised most of his army to aid his bedraggled cousin.



Another contemporary illustration of the action 



Under the command of his brother, Charles, the Duke of Angoulême, five army corps gathered along the Pyrenees as the “Hundred Thousand Sons of Saint Louis“, the French patron saint, and invaded Spain in April 1823, taking San Sebastian and Madrid without much effort, especially since the local commander decided to take French leave, while the rest of the rebels concentrated their forces in the South. Their stronghold, the island fortress of Trocadero, was taken by a surprise amphibious attack in the early morning of 31 August 1823 in fierce hand-to-hand fighting, costing the lives of 400 French and 600 Spanish soldiers. Ferdinand VII was transferred to the French army afterwards, giving his word not to retaliate against the rebels. During the next seven years of his reign, 30.000 people were executed and 20.000 imprisoned. When Paris expanded her city limits to the Bois de Boulogne, the gallant action was commemorated with the Place du Trocadéro, while the U.S. decided to align their foreign policy along the lines of the Monroe Doctrine to stem the Holy Alliance’s influence in the affairs of the former Spanish colonies in the New World.