Napoleon was furious. The
"damned Spanish affair" was out of control. Early on, the power-mad
Emperor of France had thought it would be a pushover. Charles IV of Spain,
a weakling at best, had retreated into the background, leaving the
government in the hands of his wife Maria Luisa and her lover Manuel Godoy.
Napoleon could have won over the ambitious Godoy by making him viceroy of
Spain. However, his links with Napoleon, which led to a disastrous war
with Great Britain, made Godoy unpopular throughout Spain. He only barely
escaped being lynched by fleeing to France.
Napoleon, cunning as he was, had always treated Spain,
an ally of France, like a subject nation. He refused to admit defeat at
the hands of a nation occupied by his troops. Pretending to seek
reconciliation, he summoned the Spanish king and queen, with the crown
prince in tow, to France. Napoleon's real intention was to keep the
Spanish royals captive and put his eldest brother, Joseph Bonaparte, on
the Iberian throne. When Napoleons treachery became known, a desperate
revolt broke out in Spain on 2 May 1808. Hopelessly outnumbered, a band of
people armed with knives and lances attacked a powerful French cavalry
force in the Puerta del Sol, a square in the heart of Madrid. Begun in
blind, impotent anger, the revolt was doomed from the outset to failure.
Still it signalled to the world that a conquered people had dared to stand
up to Napoleon, who was then at the zenith of his power. The French
Emperor exacted a terrible revenge. That same night, everyone suspected of
having taken part in the rebellion was executed by a French firing squad.
No one has come closer to showing the naked brutality of
those events than
Francisco de Goya,
Court Painter to Charles IV, who had originally welcomed Napoleon's
ideals. Imbued with the spirit of the French Revolution, he had not
hesitated to show the Spanish royal family for what it was, painting them
in a highly unflattering light. However, Napoleon turned out to be the
opposite of what he had seemed to be. Although he had originally
proclaimed freedom for his own and other peoples of Europe, he revealed
himself as a despot. Perhaps his values had become corrupted and twisted.
In any case,
depicted the scene with a twist: his hero is the victim who will be the
next to be shot. The man in the white shirt spreads out his arms like
Christ on the Cross. The wounds on his hands are like Christ's. His
message is: I die that you may live. It was to take five years to drive
the French out of Spain.