1660–1830 Political incorporation, economic advance

Until the nineteenth century, transport and communications continued to occur at the same pace as much of the middle ages. Even so we find much greater movement of population than in previous centuries, in particular through migration from the countryside to urban areas. Throughout Europe the state form was also undergoing rapid change. A shift in which Castile, its political culture and language increasingly became synonymous with Spain. The Spanish regime sought to emulate the centralising model of France yet much of the history of Spain from the 1660s is a failure to do so. The Hispanic Monarchy was immersed in a profound crisis. Spain lost most of its European dominions becoming much more oriented to Spanish-America than previously. This is a Spain that is no longer a great power and enters a long spiral of decline, lasting until late into the twentieth century. The Spanish state was virtually bankrupt and was negatively impacted by the new European land power: France. The strategic position of Catalonia, straddling most of the Pyrenees frontier with France and with extensive access to the Mediterranean, deepened the determination of the rulers of Spain to control the territory. The peace treaty between France and Spain also concerned itself with issues of trade and smuggling. Whilst France assimilated the northern Catalan territory acquired in 1659, the Spanish administration was so weakened it was required to be accommodating with local regional elites. The end of conflict in 1652 had led neither to reprisals nor the abolition of the Catalan institutions. Traditional rights (furs) were largely upheld and respected and this became known as a neo-foralist policy. Whilst many of the upper echelons were content to obtain privileged roles in the new post-1652 regime, it did not mean that they had abandoned their political culture wholesale. The defence of regional institutions remained ingrained. When the possibility of a French Bourbon monarch taking the throne of Spain in 1705 took place, we find anti-French hostility and attachment to a confederal political system in Spain a part explanation of the Catalan revolt that leads to the dramatic events of 1714.

A new revolt

War between France and the Spanish monarchy was near constant between 1659 and 1697. Catalonia developed its strong anti-French sentiment as a result of repeated French occupations of Catalan territory which were marked by abuses and harassment of the population. In 1675, Louis XIV asserted the permanence of the new frontier with Spain by the completion of the defensive system of the Pyrenees. During the Nine Years’ War (1689–1697), French troops occupied much of Catalonia and held Barcelona for four months. Barcelona submitted after a lengthy siege with substantial civilian casualties.1 War with France entailed the constant presence of Spanish soldiers. The Catalan revolt of 1640 had many causes, yet one we noted was that of the forced billeting of troops. Defeat in 1652 had negative consequences for the Catalan peasantry, including increased indebtedness and pressure from local lords.2 Just 20 years after resolution in 1659, the same issue produced a new outburst of popular rebellion. The stationing of the Spanish army incurred great costs on rural areas and discontent grew with the casual indiscipline of the troops. The economic situation had itself deteriorated in 1687 after a locust plague had damaged crops. A soldier who sought to take a hen from a peasant woman was the spark that led to a new revolt.3 The Revolt of the Barretines, as it became known, was both social protest movement and popular uprising in the countryside.4 The situation worsened when a new system of taxes was decreed to be collected by the nobility. The revolt proper broke out in the Llobregat plain and insurgents blockaded the city of Barcelona.5 The revolt required harsh repression to subdue but was achieved as peasants had no support from Catalan elites as they had seen how the previous peasant revolt of 1640 had rapidly turned against them. Left to stand alone, the peasantry was defeated though concessions on billeting costs accrued were made. Conflict between lord and peasant was also evident with a series of revolts in 1688 where again the lordly class aligned itself with the viceroy and government authorities.

Economic revival

Economic recovery in the Catalan economy contrasted with developments in Castile, where stagnation and decline was evident. For Catalonia, a new period of the expansion of the land under cultivation occurred, with processes of forest clearing and new methods of cultivation being introduced. Farming that usually only supplied basic subsistence needs became increasingly productive providing surpluses. With new sources of income, some sectors now had opportunities to consolidate or invest in early industry. Even so, these advances remained modest as Catalonia, as we have seen, continued to be affected by a state of near permanent war with France. Later in the century, during the period of the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, major disruption will occur. Yet for now, changes were underway leading to a reconfiguration of the social structure in the countryside with the consolidation of an elite peasantry.6 Throughout the second half of the eighteenth century, objects that were previously unknown appeared in modest homes, such as napkins, spoons and forks.7 Differentiation between those able to buy these basic commodities and those too poor to do so indicated changes underway in the social structure. These changes then represented a shift from a medieval system of mostly self-sufficiency though in most cases, the farmhouse remained the main locus of production.

Access to land was a fundamental requirement for marriage, where the eldest son inherited the whole estate of his father.8 The figure of the hereu (heir) prevented the fragmentation of smallholdings that occurred in other zones in Spain. Male figures in the family who did not inherit were those most likely to leave the land and migrate to the urban zones. Marriage had a clear social function in the countryside allowing the transfer of property to the next generation. Where landholdings between families were concerned, agreements were established where those to be married were simply pieces in the negotiation.9 The situation became ever more pressured for poorer indebted peasants. Common lands were subject to privatisation, with access to woods and forests limited, leading to increased social conflict.10 This conflict over the commons was increasingly common in many areas of Europe. Land that had been abandoned was brought into use and devoted to wheat, olives and vines. Changes in land owning led to increased concentration in fewer hands, produced growing numbers of day labourers, some of whom migrated to the cities. At certain times of the year, large numbers moved around in search of temporary work, whether on the land or in search of other forms of work. Landless day labourers were numerous and survived with difficulty.11 Many of them began to emigrate to the cities which in time would form a new industrial urban working class. Thus, society was becoming much more complex than had been known in previous eras.

The city of Barcelona began to experience sustained economic revival and growth. What was distinctive about this period was the growing inter-connectedness of Barcelona with other urban zones.12 By the early eighteenth century, Barcelona was developing an increasingly sophisticated political culture.13 In this context, economic ideas flourished amongst an emerging merchant elite. The leading figure to emerge for the framing of an early Catalan capitalism was Narcís Feliu de la Penya who crafted a strategy for economic progress.14 He sought to devise an economy policy where Catalonia could emulate English and in particular Dutch commercial economies. The Dutch Republic achieved notable advances in agriculture and trade, partly enabled by wealth obtained in the slave trade. Feliu de la Penya attached great importance to the textile industry as a lever of economic growth. He was also deeply anti-French. He took part in the defence of Barcelona during the siege of 1697 and campaigned for protectionist measures against the entry of French manufactures into the country. With much of Spain in a pessimistic cycle of decline, it was significant that Feliu de la Penya advocated greater Catalan involvement and leadership in the economic development of Spain, a notion we will return to.

War of the Spanish Succession

By 1700, Spain had ceased to be a major power in Europe and the evidence of the weakness of Spain was the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1713). This war has its origins in the struggle to obtain European dominance fought out between the two great European powers of the period, the Austrian Habsburgs and the French Bourbon dynasty. The death of King Charles II of Spain without an heir in 1700 led to an attempt by both European powers to place their preferred candidate on the Spanish throne. The war that broke out in 1701 had complex European entanglements and shifting alliances, with the conflict itself testimony to the diminished status of Spain as it was other powers that decided who would be Spain’s ruler. Spain split internally with much of the kingdom of Castile, including the Basque zones, supportive of the French Bourbon claim, whilst the territories of the kingdom of Aragon (including Catalonia) supported the Austrian Habsburg claimant. The War of the Spanish Succession can also be seen as a type of civil war within Spain, with the country split from west to east over its preferred pretender. Catalans generally believed that the French Bourbon tradition would erode their traditional privileges. Amongst the privileged sectors of society, the French were also their commercial rivals. When the Habsburg pretender visited Catalonia he was warmly welcomed.15 This was not though a war of secession, but rather a defence of a type of monarchical regime.

The war began to be fought out in the Iberian Peninsula and in 1707, with the victory of Almansa in Valencia, Philip V conquered the regions of Aragon and Valencia. The king immediately suppressed the autonomous institutions of both territories, making it very clear that he did not intend to forgive the disloyalty of his rebellious kingdoms. Thus, defeat would mean the annihilation of Catalan institutions. At the beginning of 1711, with the fall of Girona, only Vic, Cardona, Tarragona and Barcelona remained for the cause of Archduke Carles. The wider European conflict was officially brought to a close by the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, with the French candidate victorious. Britain received important concessions from France in Canada and Gibraltar from Spain. Thus satisfied, the British abandoned their previous allies in Spain, including the Catalans. Yet the Catalans did not accept the result of the Treaty even though they stood alone after Habsburg and British forces left Spain in July 1713. Catalans hoped that the constantly shifting international alliances that had been a feature of the whole war since 1701 might change again, providing them with new allies. However, this was not to be. Furthermore, early eighteenth century Barcelona was already a dynamic and wealthy city that no ruler would allow to fall into others hands.16


The new Spanish Bourbon rulers first sought to pacify the Catalan countryside leaving only the city of Barcelona still resisting. During this rural pacification, reprisals against the peasants were brutal with hundreds of summary executions.17 There was little to prevent Bourbon domination. By this time, there were over 85,000 Bourbon troops in a Catalan population not totalling more than half a million. Society fell under military occupation. By 1713, most of Catalan territory was in Bourbon hands leaving just the city of Barcelona and the town of Cardona still willing to resist. The harsh repression of much of the Catalan countryside only strengthened the willingness of the city of Barcelona to continue resistance. In June 1713, the Barcelona authorities met and initially decided to capitulate. However, the decision to surrender was overturned by popular and guild pressure. The defence of Barcelona was now organised. Repeated bombardment over the course of the year 1713–1714 was largely ineffective. Well-organised local forces allowed the city to hold out for over a year, and morale within the city mostly remained high. To break the deadlock, new French reinforcements arrived in July 1714. The final assault took place in the early morning of 11 September. Over 18,000 troops took part. Even so, the defenders remained capable of intense resistance and great losses again occurred. The final hours of the siege saw fierce hand to hand fighting, house by house, street by street, resulting in terrible destruction to the city. Estimates of the total losses amongst the defenders are around 7,000–8,000 dead and wounded, whilst losses for the besiegers are believed to total at least 10,000 with an upper figure at a high of 15,000.18 Barcelona was conquered.


In contrast to the former territories of the crown of Aragon, Navarre and the Basque Country retained significant autonomy until well into the nineteenth century as they had not backed the Austrian side. For those who had been defeated, however, a different policy was pursued. The defeat of Catalonia and the wider territories of the former Kingdom of Aragon led to the abolition of the traditional local rights and privileges maintained since the middle ages. The Spanish Bourbon victors of 1713–1714, inspired by the model of France, began a process of centralisation which included the standardisation of linguistic and cultural differences. Unlike the outcome of 1652, this time there was no forgiveness for the vanquished. The new ruling system for the defeated regions was militaristic. The traditional figure of the civilian viceroy was also replaced by that of a military Captain-General. The whole population was banned from carrying weapons, including sharp knives. This policy extended to the small university sector. The then existing universities of Lleida, Barcelona, Girona, Tarragona, Tortosa and Solsona were closed and their activity transferred to a new location of Cervera, a town seemingly rewarded for its loyalty to the Bourbon king. This remained the only Catalan university until the 1830s. Even in this period of conquest, a number of small-scale revolts broke out on several occasions in the 1720s and 1730s. To ensure that resistance from the city of Barcelona might never be possible again, an enormous military fortress, the Ciutadella, was built overlooking the city, being completed in 1725. Over 6,000 Bourbon troops were permanently stationed in Barcelona, with some 20,000 more remaining in Catalan territory.19 Most of the new high-ranking posts were held by Castilians, though sufficient numbers of local nobility were content to assist in their rule. 1714 has become embedded in Catalan historical memory as the moment when Catalan political identity was destroyed. Yet in 1814, there was no marking of this event and the re-interpreting of the meaning of 1714 is something that is constructed later in the nineteenth century. As elsewhere in Europe, it will be the rise of nationalism that will craft a narrative of difference and national revival.

The Church

Catholicism in Catalonia retained its centrality throughout this period, though most of the bishops during the War of the Spanish Succession supported the Bourbon dynasty. The parish network of the middle ages retained its structure and permanence in everyday life.20 The theology of the counter-Reformation contributed to religious fervour and in a city such as Girona, the continued dominance of the church held back both cultural and economic development.21 The locust plague of 1687–1688 saw clerics leading a campaign of prayer. Where necessary religious buildings were subject to repair, religious processions became an almost weekly event. The religious brotherhoods were one of the key expressions of popular religiosity. Just between 1650 and 1702, there are 37 new approved brotherhoods.22 Church-run hospitals expanded, administering a form of social welfare to the poor, homeless and marginalised.23 The Catalan language became more used, where it substituted Latin in preaching and administration.24 However, the new post-1714 regime saw increasing use of Spanish and at the level of bishop, these appointments were frequently from other areas of Spain. Spanish became increasingly used in the seminaries in Catalonia. However, in the local parish, Catalan continued to be used with complete normality and the increasing use of documentation in Spanish had little impact on a population with at best limited literacy. The church, however, remained a wealthy landowner and organisation. The church was deeply embedded in the power structure and the new century would bring an increasing anti-clerical culture.

Population growth

By the end of the seventeenth century, there was, in general terms, a decline in mortality and an increase in the birth rate, with earlier marriage than other areas of Spain.25 Early marriage suggested confidence in the future. The eighteenth century represented a demographic revolution in terms of population growth. Between the census of 1717 and 1787, the Catalan population grew by 70 per cent. Although the population earlier in the century was greater than once believed, this is still a remarkable increase.26 This also represented an important increase in the proportion of the Catalan population within Spain from 7.25 per cent to 9.5 per cent. This growth occurred throughout the territory, in urban, rural and mountainous zones.27 These changes impacted on increased marriage rates, even in the cases of those who had little to inherit, which also led to the building of new homes. Where the land could not cope with population growth, the outcome was migration.28 In spite of periodic shortages and the return of plagues at times, the birth rate rise was able to overcome disruption. The ever-increasing efficiency of the agricultural sector was key to ensuring that food shortages were infrequent. To avoid the potential of shortages and even famine, more land was brought into cultivation.

Economic and social recovery

As in most areas of Western Europe, the eighteenth century is a century of economic expansion. It is widely accepted that whilst the war and siege of 1714 represented political defeat, the medium- and long-term economic consequences were much more favourable in the Catalan case. As part of its project of harmonisation and modernisation, the new Bourbon regime removed trade barriers within Spain which rapidly gave Catalonia economic advantage in much of the peninsula.29 The country was beginning to develop an internal market. During this century, trade improved, both within Catalonia and abroad. Philip V issued a series of decrees banning the import of cotton fabrics and that preference be given to domestic products in the purchase of military supplies. This meant that the cotton industry in Spain, which was essentially synonymous with Catalonia, was given an unusually high degree of support.30 Printed cotton was imported from India and the first textile factories were established between 1736 and 1738. At the end of the century, there were a hundred textile companies in Catalonia and the foundations of the modern cotton industry were already in place. Britain’s war with America in the 1770s permitted a new opportunity for Catalan cotton.31 By 1790, Catalan cotton production was second only to that of England. Types of production varied with home-work being one form. This provided an extra source of income to both middling and poorer sectors. This was a type of industry that impacted on the countryside through the transfer to rural areas of textile activities.32 Women’s role in society was increasing through the putting out system of the textile industry. Women, in spite of the long days of work, with shifts normally at least 12 hours, also moved to the new factories and became, though subject to factory discipline, relatively autonomous through acquiring their own income. Child labour of those aged between 9 and 14 was already in evidence in these early factories.33 The textile industry was joined by expansion in the agricultural sector, particularly of brandy and wine production. These products became increasingly lucrative meaning that land growing of cereal was much reduced. Abundance of olive trees generated a production of oil important enough to dedicate it to export. This was increasingly a commercial agriculture.34 Their export allowed the import of essential products for domestic consumption, such as wheat, salt or plants for dyeing.35 Thus, we can increasingly speak of a new capitalist agrarian model in the second half of the eighteenth century.36

End of the Seville monopoly

The contours of Catalan economic expansion were greatly facilitated by the end of what was known as the Seville monopoly, meaning that all Spanish exports were required to first pass through this port. In 1765, this trade was liberalised for nine Spanish ports, a list which included Barcelona. The port became increasingly important to the city’s expansion. Trade in a range of goods, imports and exports could be conducted via the port and at greater speed than land routes. It was the industrialising Catalan urban areas that produced a commercial class that crafted trading networks with other areas of Spain.37 Thus, new markets were being added both internationally and within Spain. Trade liberalisation led to rapid economic growth, providing sales opportunities to wine and brandy and in particular intensifying production in the textile trade. Other industries such as paper, iron and shipbuilding were stimulated due to demands from overseas. In the latter decades of the century, about 20,000 people worked in the cotton industry in Barcelona alone whilst Mataró, Olot, Manresa, Vic and Vilanova also benefited. We can see the impact on growth in a small town in the Girona region, Tortella, whose population constantly expanded until the 1830s.38 Reus became Catalonia’s second city, growing from some 4,000 to 16,000 inhabitants by 1802 and was a magnet for the surplus rural workforce. Barcelona was increasingly an industrial city and was now polluted by coal and fumes from the dye factories.39 These elements, agricultural expansion, growing overseas trade and emergent industry, combined to produce a virtuous cycle of growth until the French Revolution.

Popular protest

Conflict in the countryside never entirely ceased, but most incidents remained of a local character. The growth of an agriculture designed for profit meant anti-lord struggles intensified as the century proceeded. From mid-century rent increases were the catalyst for greater protest.40 Catalonia’s rebellious culture was evident in a series of riots in towns including such as Mataró, Vic, Tarragona, Lleida and Girona and Cervera.41 In 1773, what became known as the revolt de les quintes broke out against an attempt at forced military recruitment which impacted on the poor disproportionately. Communities organised to prevent a forced call-up and assisted those who fled to the mountain areas. Growing discontent led to revolt in Barcelona in May 1773. Troops fired on the crowds and relative peace was restored. However, the measure was withdrawn. Food shortages and clashes with the authorities occurred with frequency throughout the century, though rarely large in scale. Three months before the outbreak of the French Revolution in France, on 28 February 1789, Barcelona experienced a popular uprising. There had been a series of poor harvests, and on the day the protest broke out, basic foodstuffs like bread had seen a price rise of 50 per cent. For those who financial situation was always precarious, price rises which meant basic commodities such as bread could not be afforded produced collective outrage. A deep-rooted popular culture of revolt was finding new forms of expression. Women played a major role in the revolt and a leading figure was Josepa Vilaret, who was later executed. Until this point, the family remained the place that decided women’s role in society. Women were permitted to be single, married or widows with the only alternative being the nunnery. The bread revolt and women’s part in it indicated that a new political subject was emerging: woman as rebel.

Organising modernisation

As the Catalan economy continued its development, new ideas and organisations appeared to direct what was increasingly a commercial revolution. As an indication that previous political conflicts were of lesser importance, relations tended to improve between trading elites in Catalan cities and their rulers in Madrid.42 In 1758, the Junta de Comerç de Barcelona (Board of Trade) was created with a view to influencing economic policy and as it developed, it launched technical schools as well as science-based vocational training.43 This organisation then can be seen as part of the emergence in Europe of civic engagement with learning and development, or what was termed at the time as improvement. The Junta acted as a lobby in Madrid and sought to promote innovation and modernisation in all areas and was supportive of measures to remove internal trading barriers. This body acted as an institution that communicated the interests of a new business class. In parallel to this scientific and economic strategy, the Junta also engaged in cultural patronage and the key figure to emerge from this policy was Antoni de Capmany. In 1779, the first part of Capmany’s Memorias históricas sobre la marina, comercio y artes de la Antigua Ciudad de Barcelona (Historical Memoirs on the Navy, Commerce and Arts of the Old City of Barcelona) was published in Barcelona, with the final volume in 1792. This work of economic history represented a model of history writing in the rationalist mode, supported by great empirical data.Capmany also produced material on contemporary economic issues, and as with his predecessor earlier in the century, Feliu de la Penya, he too looked to Holland and Britain as models for capitalist and commercial development. As an indication of the growing differentiation of Catalonia from most Spanish regions that did not develop economically, Capmany formulated the notion of an increasingly advanced and productive Catalonia.44 Capmany’s ideas had a long-lasting influence and he can be considered as a leading figure of a new intellectual tradition.


Since the end of the war in 1714, Spanish had been established as the sole language of the administration, although this had a relatively limited impact on the public life of the Catalan language. This process would also be applied to Latin which had been the language normally used in the education sector. This policy was not necessarily linguistic persecution and should be situated with a wish amongst Spanish rulers for the political and cultural harmonisation to be established in its territory. In reality, however, it could only mean the diminution of status of the Catalan language. As the century proceeded, a clear shift was evident in terms of the Spanish language as one holding prestige and status, with legislation ensuring its dominance. This process was intensified with a policy of primary education to be delivered in Spanish of 1768 and a number of proscriptive measures around publishing books in Catalan passed in the 1770s.45 This meant that works on history, science and political economy produced in Catalonia were invariably written in Spanish in this period.46 The higher status of Spanish would not be reversed until well into the nineteenth century. We see a differential process at work depending on social class. For the upper echelons of Catalan society, the adoption or use of Spanish had clear utility, whether easing trading encounters, reaching a wider audience or achieving social advance. However, amongst most of the population who were outside of the structures of power and formal education, the Catalan language remained their everyday means of communication. Beyond the key centres of power or urban residence, a process of linguistic substitution advanced little. However, by the end of the century, Catalan barely existed as a language of high culture and it ran the risk of being marginalised and becoming simply a patois associated only with the rural world. Yet as we will see, this did not happen. The decades to come will also see a gradual reversal of the diminished status of the Catalan language, first indicated by the publishing of the Gramàtica i Apologia de la Llengua Catalana (Grammar and Defence of the Catalan Language) in 1813 by the cleric Josep Pau Ballot.

The French Revolution and Catalonia

The French Revolution of 1789 inevitably impacted greatly on Catalonia due to its proximity. More important of course was that this was a revolution that sought to spread its ideology, if necessary through force of arms. Catalonia had long been an entry point for French ambitions in Spain and it became so once again. The rebellious tradition of Catalonia seemed to make it an ideal terrain for the activity of revolutionary committees and distribution of propaganda. The committee established in the former Catalan city of Perpinyà, since 1659 in France, seemed to make it an ideal point for the launch point of revolution. The popular revolt that had taken place in Barcelona just a few months before the French Revolution also seemed to indicate that Catalan society would embrace the revolutionary cause. However, French revolutionaries rapidly discovered that Catalan society was not only deeply anti-French but it also retained profound attachment to the Catholic church.47 The outcome was strong hostility to the new French revolutionary regime. The church in Catalonia became one of the centres of counter-revolutionary ideology, which continued into the Napoleonic period.48 French religious escapees were welcomed by the Catalan church and it became, as elsewhere in Spain, hostile to the liberal and anti-religious culture promulgated by the French Revolution.49 Political exiles in Catalonia organised the counter-revolution and created local forces willing to assist European reaction in the assault on the Revolution.

In 1793, Spain declared war on France, a period which lasted until 1795, becoming part of the European anti-revolutionary coalition. This period of conflict was fought out above all in the former Catalan zone of France, the Rosselló, which Spanish forces sought to occupy. 20,000 permanent troops stationed in Catalonia were increased to over 30,000, and together with Navarre and the Basque Country, were the key zones of war with France. By late 1794, a mass French revolutionary army began a counter-offensive, sweeping all before it. Over 60,000 forces were sent to fight a now outnumbered Spanish force. Spanish troops were expelled from the Rosselló and the French army began its counter-offensive. French conquest of the frontier fortress of Figueres in 1794 was a major blow to the Spanish forces, with heavy losses. The surrender of some 9,000 Spanish troops without much resistance being offered was a minor scandal at the time. French forces now entered Spanish Catalonia and distributed revolutionary material in Catalan. Whilst there were sectors in Catalan society supportive of the revolutionary agenda, for the mass of the population, the French forces were simply deemed an invading army rather than being seen as radical in political terms. French attacks on religious buildings and executions of prisoners ensured that popular resistance quickly emerged. After the Peace of Basel was signed in 1795, Spain undertook to fight alongside France against Britain. This period of changing alliances represented increasing turmoil in the ruling order in Madrid at the posture of Spain, with the Prime Minister Godoy becoming the embodiment of anti-French resentment. As a consequence of the new alliance with France, the British blocked trade with the Americas, which directly harmed Catalan trade interests.

Catalonia and Napoleon

In October 1807, Spain and France signed the Treaty of Fontainebleau, which authorised French troops to cross Spain to attack Portugal. It soon became clear that the French not only intended to traverse Spain but also to occupy Spanish territory militarily. Brutal sieges ensured the conquest of major cities such as Tarragona and Girona. Massacres of civilians such as that in the case of Lleida contributed to rapid popular alienation. With the French installing Napoleon’s brother as king of Spain, patriotic sentiment rallied around the Spanish monarch Ferdinand, even though he embodied the absolutist political tradition. French forces occupied Catalonia between 1808 and 1814. However, from the very beginning, attacks were launched against the invaders with rural Catalonia being the principal centre of resistance. This became a sustained war of attrition against French occupation with often extremely harsh responses by French forces on the ground. Confiscation of produce and harvests added to popular grievances. It is perhaps significant that whilst in Spain, the Napoleonic wars is known as the War of Independence, in Catalonia, it is remembered simply as the French War. In popular memory, hostility to France had been formed over the eighteenth century from resistance to the French Bourbon claimant in 1714, to the loss of a fifth of Catalan territory in 1659 and to the frequent wars with France, most recently in 1793–1795. As the century developed, there was a generalised Catalan acceptance of the Spanish monarchy, and former pro-Austrian sentiment gradually faded. Hostility as expressed in Catalonia in the period 1789–1815 was in fact directed at forces in Madrid and locally that supported accommodation with France. The pro-French sectors in Catalan society were mostly made of the upper echelons including some landowners, merchants and manufacturers, and bishops who felt it was necessary to align with the new power. However, at the popular level, hostility to the French occupiers was the dominant sentiment and was usually combined with defence of traditional religion. Only in the city of Barcelona was a notable divergence evident. With a distinctive urban culture, the city broadly accepted the new French rulers and their promise of citizenship.

After the conquest of most of the country, the French sought to win over the general population with an accommodationist policy. Marshal Augereau, the first Napoleonic governor in Catalonia, made the Catalan language, which had been banned from the public sphere since 1714, official and its usage was permitted within the administration. The daily Diari de Barcelona was published in Catalan and French. In 1812, two months before the proclamation of the Constitution of Cádiz, Catalonia was annexed to the French Empire. Four new administrative regions were created: Ter, Segre, Montserrat and Boques de l’Ebre, each with their departmental capital. Catalonia now became a French province. Over 2,000 French officials were sent to organise and harmonise Catalonia according to the French administrative and legal tradition. This attempted pro-Catalan policy did little to change the reality on the ground with a situation of near permanent guerrilla war in the interior of the country. A popular uprising which began in Madrid on 2 May 1808 and was severely repressed, led to a near revolutionary situation in much of the country. The traditional order seemingly collapsed and popular committees, known as juntes, took charge of the situation. The events of 1808 also disrupted the feudal order as peasants refused payment to their landlords. Catalan resistance to the French occupation, as in the rest of Spain, began spontaneously. Priests, landowners and educated sectors joined together in the organisation of the juntes in order to organise the anti-French struggle. The first to be created in Catalonia was that of Lleida, significantly presided over by the bishop. Whilst it became ever more evident since the 1790s that the value systems of countryside and city were diverging, those who would become post-war known as liberals and absolutists were temporarily united in the collective goal of removing the French occupiers. Whatever position Catalans held in terms of their status within Spain, this did not prevent Catalonia being part of the wider Spanish opposition.50 All evidence points to the Catalans as sharing the same position as other areas of Spain throughout the conflict. No claims for the separation of Catalan territory from Spain were made.

1812 and the Constitution of Cadiz

What became for Spaniards the war of independence had a dramatic impact on the country’s political culture. In 1810, the Central Supreme Junta convened the Cortes in Cádiz to draw up a Constitution, which was agreed in 1812. The Constitution established the basic parameters of a liberal and democratic regime including a separation of powers, universal male suffrage, individual rights and equality of all Spaniards before the law. The Constitution of 1812 was one of the most enlightened of Europe of the early nineteenth century. The political programme was broadly supported by an emergent bourgeois class, professionals as well as artisans and workers. However, the Catholic church and a range of conservatives throughout society remained hostile to its content. Twenty representatives from Catalonia attended Cádiz but they were a mostly a conservative cohort and sought to defend ancient privileges and resist the abolition of feudal dues. The 1812 Constitution of Cádiz was also an expression of Spanish national sovereignty which produced a centralisation of government and administration. The division of Spain into provincias followed the model initiated by France in the creation of the département and ended the official recognition of areas such as Catalonia and Galicia. The Constitution of Cadiz came to symbolise the dream of a liberal and modernising Spain and it would be invoked repeatedly in the decades to come. For its opponents, however, Cádiz represented an assault on tradition and conservatism.

Impact of the wars

The French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars were the most devastating conflict Catalonia experienced until the Spanish Civil War. Population losses numbered some 70,000, around 7–8 per cent of the population. War impoverished Catalonia, factories ceased production and trade was paralysed. Agriculture and livestock suffered very serious losses, with labour shortages meaning harvests were uncollected or confiscated by French troops. This was combined with dramatic falls in agricultural prices. At least a decade was necessary to re-establish production in sectors such as wine and olive oil. The wars and French occupation produced extensive destruction to the infrastructure of Catalonia. The population experienced the traditional ravages of war as well as brutal reprisals. The church and aristocracy suffered through forced confiscations and erosion to their positions under French rule. The resultant economic crisis brought a temporary halt in the growth of Catalonia.

Liberal restoration and reactionary revolt

In 1814, Catalonia returned to Spanish sovereignty. This was a fractured society due to the consequences of the Napoleonic War. The restoration of Spanish national sovereignty was seized as an opportunity by the monarchy to reverse the political gains at Cadiz. The monarch closed the Cortes of Cadiz and abolished the Constitution signed there. The new Spanish regime, as it sought to restore its authority, was bankrupt. The planned restoration of the Inquisition was not achieved nor was it possible to restore feudal privileges that had been abolished in 1811. Even so an ultra-reactionary political regime was installed which lasted until 1820. Relations were ruptured between the populace and their traditional rulers and the new regime of Ferdinand only maintained power through harsh repression of liberals. The Catalan church and the constituency it represented entered the modern world as deeply conservative and counter revolutionary. Some 3,000 Catalans of a liberal persuasion went into exile as the consequence of a hostile political climate. The militarisation of society meant that both political traditions, liberal and absolutist, now turned to arms to resolve political differences. Liberals carried out military rebellions or pronunciamientos with the aim of restoring the Constitution of 1812. The first attempted coup against absolutist control occurred in Catalonia in 1817 but failed to have much traction, and its leader, the Captain General of Catalonia Luis de Lacy was executed. However, this revolt indicated a new political culture was emerging with the public reading of proclamations and the communication of ideas. This gave a different tinge to events compared to those of the eighteenth century. The expansion of printing and the distribution of pamphlets and newspapers contributed to the building of a new cultural and political public sphere.

Spanish weakness after 1814 was used as an opportunity by independence movements in the American colonies, a process which continued until 1825 with the separation of most of Latin American possessions. Catalonia, had as we have seen become a major beneficiary of the Latin America trade. The process of independence in the early 1820s was a major blow to the Catalan export market.51 Spain lost most of its former colonial empire in America and only held Cuba and Puerto Rico. The loss of most of the Spanish colonies was initially a major loss but in time Catalan interests made particularly Cuba central to its interests.52 This was a Cuban economy based on the slave trade and numerous Catalan elites were financial beneficiaries of this servitude. Barcelona established itself as the main Spanish port throughout the nineteenth century. The political instability between 1814 and 1820 hindered economic recovery. The contours of an internally divisive nineteenth century were being laid down. Political disturbance was joined with continuing disruption with the climate one contributing factor. From the latter part of the eighteenth century harsher climatic conditions were evident. The little Ice Age impacted in Catalonia in varying measures including the freezing of the River Ebro at various points in the eighteenth century.53 Winter lengthened for a period before a new period of gradual warming. As the climate transitioned to a warmer period in 1817, there was a severe drought which left the peasants without most of the harvest. This was one in a series of sustained droughts of varying intensity which occurred between 1812 and 1824, becoming the most severe water shortage in the history of modern Catalonia.54 The final element in the deadly trilogy of war, famine and pestilence occurred in 1821, when Barcelona and some surrounding areas were hit by an outbreak of yellow fever, which resulted in the deaths of over 18,000.

Malcontents 1827

In 1820, a liberal coup successfully restored the Constitution of Cadiz and a three-year period of reform was renewed. With the return of a liberal administration, it is now the reactionary sectors of society that mobilise against it. The king asked for help from the Holy Alliance, which responding by sending to Spain a vast French force that became known as the Hundred Thousand Sons of St. Louis. This army defeated the liberals and restored the absolute monarchy of Ferdinand VII. The liberal experiment was over after just three years. However, this restoration was deemed too timid by ultra-reactionary sectors and their strength was made evident by the revolt of the Malcontents in 1827, which began in and was mostly centred in Catalonia. A number of factors explain the resort to arms beyond loyalty to an ultra-conservative ideology. Many were ex-combatants from the guerrilla wars against the French whom peace and the poor economic conditions had left many in penury.55 They were attached to a deeply traditional monarchy in the person of Ferdinand and as well as fervent attachment to Catholicism. The rebellion began in April 1827 in Tortosa and soon spread to the rural areas of Girona. The rebels issued proclamations in favour of the Inquisition, as well as public criticism of the French and liberals.56 The revolt spreads to other areas and at its peak comprised some 20,000. The rebels were sufficiently strong to lay siege to the cities of Girona and Tarragona. The malcontents used their knowledge of mountain areas to avoid capture and mounted lightning raids. The government seemed to have lost its ability to maintain safe passage through its own land. Only the arrival of the king in person seemed to halt the revolt as well as the intervention of the church. Harsh repression was meted out to those who had rebelled, including the execution of supposed ringleaders, with others exiled to Ceuta. What this conflict symbolised was that counter-revolutionary forces were prepared to resist violently all attempts at accommodation with liberal reform.

The Napoleonic war ruptured the old order and marked the beginning of the transition to a liberal regime. Traditional power relations had been disrupted by the reforms of Cadiz. Yet their power had been temporarily checked but not broken. The church and conservative sectors retained sufficient power to block reform. Equally, the new liberal block seeking the modernisation of the country and the establishment of a capitalist economy remained too weak to successfully push through their reforming ambitions. Thus, the story of Spain and Catalonia for most of the nineteenth century and beyond is an intense political dispute between supporters of ultra-conservative and liberal positions. This conflict between supporters and opponents of a gradually eroding Ancien Régime was resolved in arms on three further occasions in the nineteenth century. Major change in terms of industrialisation, urbanisation and associated changes in values such as secularisation contributed to a growing sense of crisis and anxiety. In the decades to come, the emergence of an urban working class added to the sense of a growing social conflict between urban and rural Catalonia. This had ideological, cultural and religious elements. Entry into the modern world would be particularly tumultuous in the Catalan case.


1.  Albareda i Salvadó, J. (1995) ‘L'impacte de la guerra dels Nou Anys a Catalunya. L'ocupació francesa de 1697’, Afers: fulls de recerca i pensament, vol. 10, no. 20, pp. 29–46.

2.  Olivares Periu, J. (1995) ‘Plets i endeutament comunal en la immediata postguerra dels Segadors’, Recerques: Història, economia i cultura, no. 33, pp. 33–52.

3.  Camprubí i Pla, X. (2015) ‘L'impacte dels allotjaments a Tona: de la Revolta dels Barretines (1687) al pas de l'exèrcit austriacista durant la Guerra de Successió (1711)’, Ausa, no. 175, pp. 61–87.

4.  Espino López, A. (2003) ‘El coste de la guerra para la población civil: la experiencia catalana, 1653–1714’, Millars: Espai i historia, no. 26, pp. 155–184.

5.  Albareda, J. (1988) ‘Els dirigents de la revolta pagesa de 1687–89: de barretines a botiflers’, Recerques, no. 20, pp. 151–170.

6.  Gifre i Ribas, P. (2003) ‘La consolidació d’un grup pagès: els senyors útils i propietaris de masos (1486–1730)’, Revista Pedralbes, no. 23, pp. 513–536.

7.  Mas Ferrer, J. (2020) ‘Pautes de consum i condicions de vida dels treballadors de la terra a partir dels inventaris post mortem a Catalunya: el cas de la Selva (1750–1805)’, Estudis d’Història Agrària, no. 32, pp. 69–96.

8.  Marfany, J. (2012) Land, Proto-Industry and Population in Catalonia, c. 1680–1829, An Alternative Transition to Capitalism? Farnham: Ashgate, pp. 96–97.

9.  Baldor Abril, E., Cáceres, I. and Farràs Royo, N. (1995) ‘Els recursos econòmics de la pagesia altafullenca: Segona meitat del segle XVIII’, Estudis altafullencs, no. 19, pp. 19–38.

10.Badosa Coll, E. (1990) ‘Endeutament col·lectiu i desaparició de béns comunals a Catalunya a la segona meitat del segle XVIII’, Pedralbes: revista d’història moderna, no. 10, pp. 51–66.

11.Moreno Claverías, B. (2004) ‘Les condicions materials de vida dels rabassers penedesencs al segle XVIII: treball, mercat i consum’, Estudis d'història agrària, no. 17, pp. 615–630.

12.Torra Fernández, L. (2001) ‘Botigues de teixitis, crèdit comercial i crèdit al consum: Xarxes comercials a la Catalunya del segle XVIII’, Recerques: Història, economia i cultura, no. 41, pp. 5–30.

13.Serra, E. (2016) ‘Naixement de la concepció de la ciutadania: el marc històric’, in Dret, conflictes i justícia. Barcelona 1700, Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona, pp. 51–93.

14.Dantí i Riu, J. (2012) ‘Catalunya entre el redreç i la revolta: afebliment institucional i diferenciació social’, Manuscrits. Revista d’Història Moderna, no. 30, pp. 55–76.

15.O'Reilly, W. (2009) ‘Lost Chances of the House of Habsburg’, Austrian History Yearbook, vol. 40, pp. 53–70.

16.Garcia Espuche, A. (2014) ‘Lliçons del setge de Barcelona (1713–1714)’, Gimbernat. Revista d’Història de la Medicina i de les Ciències de la Salut, vol. 61, pp. 11–22.

17.Fontana, J. (2014) La formació d'una identitat. Una història de Catalunya, Vic: Eumo Editorial, pp. 224–225.

18.Catalunya 1714: la Guerra de Successió: Ruta pels escenaris, Barcelona: Ohdigital, 2014, p. 116.

19.Cata Tur, J. (2016) ‘La repressió després de 1714: execucions, empresonaments i exili’, in Puig i Oliver, J. (ed.) 1714, Barcelona: Institut d’Estudis Catalans, pp. 101–107.

20.Puigvert i Sola, J. (1997) ‘Església i territori en els orígens de la Catalunya contemporánia’, Treballs de la Societat Catalana de Geografia, no. 44, pp. 85–111.

21.Boadas i Raset, J. (1986) Girona després de la guerra de succesióriquesta urbana i estructura social al primer quart del segle XVIII, Girona: Ajuntament, pp. 84–85.

22.Bada Elias, J. (1994) ‘La religiositat popular al bisbat de Barcelona en la segona meitat del segle XVII: alguns indicadors’, Analecta Sacra Tarraconensia, vol. 67, no. 2, pp. 259–269.

23.Solà i Colomer, X. (2016) ‘Petits hospitals rurals: caritat, misèria i supervivència en els segles XVI i XVII. Alguns exemples de pobles de la Garrotxa i la Selva’, Annals del Patronat d’Estudis Històrics d’Olot i Comarca, no. 27, pp. 99–134.

24.Agustí i Farreny, A. (1994) ‘Els bisbes de Lleida i l’espanyolització (segles XVI-XVIII)’, Analecta Sacra Tarraconensia, vol. 67, no. 2, pp. 233–245.

25.Muñoz Pradas, F. (1997) ‘Fluctuaciones de precios y dinámica demográfica en Cataluña (1600-1850)’, Revista de Historia Económica = Journal of Iberian and Latin American Economic History, year 15, no. 3, pp. 507–543.

26.Ferrer, L. (2007) ‘Una revisió del creixement demogràfic de Catalunya en el segle XVIII a partir dels registres parroquials’, Estudis d'història agrària, no. 20, pp. 17–68.

27.Vilar, P. (1962) Catalunya dins l’Espanya Moderna, Vol. III, Les transformacions agràries del segle XVIII català: de l'impuls de les forces productives a la formació d'una burgesia nova, Barcelona: Edicions 62, pp. 121–141.

28.Palau Elcacho, L. (2020) ‘L’evolució demogràfica de la Catalunya interior al llarg dels segles XVIII i XIX: El cas del Pla d’Urgell’, Estudis d'història agrària, no. 32, pp. 139–172.

29.Martínez Shaw, C. (1981) Cataluña en la carrera de Indias: 1680-1756, Barcelona: Crítica, pp. 54–56.

30.Thomson, J. K. J. (1992) A Distinctive Industrialization: Cotton in Barcelona 1728–1832, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 71.

31.Thomson, J. K. J. (2005) ‘Explaining the “Take-Off” of the Catalan Cotton Industry’, Economic History Review, vol. 58, no. 4, pp. 701–735.

32.Solà Colomer, X. (2017) ‘Notes sobre la indústria drapera a la Vall d’Hostoles en el segle XVIII’, Annals del Patronat d'Estudis Històrics d'Olot i Comarca, no. 28, pp. 141–166.

33.Mora-Sitjà, N. (2011) ‘El primer proletariat català. Mà d’obra i relacions laborals a les fàbriques d’indianes de Barcelona’, Barcelona: quaderns d'història, no. 17, pp. 237–252.

34.Capdevila Muntadas, M. A. (2004) ‘Pagesos, mariners i comerciants a la Catalunya litoral. El Maresme a l'època moderna’, Butlletí de la Societat Catalana d’Estudis Històrics, no. 25, pp. 193–203.

35.Congost i Colomer, C. (2008) ‘Una societat rural dinàmica i canviant. El segle XVIII’, in Salrach Marés, J. M. and Giralt i Raventós, E. (ed.) Història agrària dels Països Catalans, vol. 3, pp. 559–583.

36.Congost i Colomer, R. (2015) ‘Els canvis en l’Empordà del segle XVIII: la tesi d’una revolució industriosa’, Annals de l’Institut d’Estudis Empordanesos, vol. 46, pp. 371–388.

37.Lluch, E. (1996) La Catalunya vençuda del segle XVIIIfoscors i clarors de la Il.lustració, Barcelona: Edicions 62, pp. 109–111.

38.Soler i Simon, S. (2017) ‘Tortellà al segle XVIII una època de creixement i transformacions’, Annals del Patronat d'Estudis Històrics d'Olot i Comarca, no. 28, pp. 113–140.

39.Martí i Escayol, M. A. (2002) ‘Indústria, medicina i química a la Barcelona de finals del segle XVIII: el tintatge i la introducció del carbó mineral des d'una perspectiva ambiental’, Recerques: Història, economia i cultura, no. 44, pp. 5–20.

40.Tello, E. (1997) ‘La conflictividad social en el mundo rural catalán, del Antiguo Régimen a la Revolución liberal, 1720–1833’, Noticiario de historia agraria. Boletín informativo del seminario de historia agraria, year 7, no. 13, pp. 89–104.

41.García-Varela, J. (1997) ‘Moviments de protesta i resistència a la fi de l'Antic Règim (1714-1808): cap a una integració de les actituds i les trajectòries socials’, in Arnabat i Mata, R. (ed.) Moviments de protesta i resistència a la fi de l'Antic Règim, Barcelona: Abadia de Montserrat, pp. 7–36.

42.Vilar, P. (1992) ‘Les transformacions del segle XVIII’, in Nadal i Farreras, J. and Wolff, P. (eds.), Història de Catalunya, Barcelona: Oikos-Tau, pp. 385–420.

43.Roura, L. (2013) ‘Il·lustració i projectes per al país’, in Albareda, J. (ed.) Catalunya, nació d'Europa, 1714–2014, Barcelona: Enciclopèdia Catalana, pp. 178–223.

44.Grau i Fernández, R. (2011) ‘Un patriota d’altres temps: Antoni de Capmany i la historiografia racionalista’, Butlletí de la Societat Catalana d’Estudis Històrics, no. 22, pp. 93–112.

45.Ballbé i Sans, N. (2018) ‘La “Real Cédula de Aranjuez” del 23 de juny de 1768: propòsits d' uniformització lingüística en un context de Despotisme “il-lustrat” ’, Revista de Catalunya, no. 303, pp. 43–56.

46.Campabadal i Bertran, M. (2006) ‘La Reial Acadèmia de Bones Lletres de Barcelona al segle XVIIIl'interès per la història, la llengua i la literatura catalanes’, Butlletí de la Societat Catalana d’Estudis Històrics, no. 17, pp. 215–227.

47.Roura i Aulinas, L. (2010) ‘Guerra, frontera i absolutisme (Guerra Gran, Guerra del Francès i -de reüll- Guerra de Successió)’, Annals de l'Institut d'Estudis Gironins, no. 51, pp. 89–108.

48.Riera i Fortiana, E. (1982) ‘El estamento eclesiástico catalán en la guerra de la Independencia’, Pedralbes: Revista d'historia moderna, no. 2, pp. 211–236.

49.Barnosell, G. (2012) ‘Guerra i religió a Catalunya: 1792–1840’, in Barnosell, G. and Galofré, J. (eds.) La Guerra del Francès al Pla de l’Estany, Banyoles: Centre d´Estudis Comarcals de Banyoles, pp. 15–24.

50.Fraser, R. (2008) Napoleon’s Cursed War: Spanish Popular Resistance in the Peninsular War, London: Verso, pp. 114–115.

51.Valls Junyent, F. (2010) La Cataluña atlántica: Aguardiente y tejidos en el arranque industrial catalán, Zaragoza: Prensas de la Universidad de Zaragoza, Universidad de Zaragoza, pp. 286–288.

52.Fradera, J. M. (1986) ‘El comerç americà durant el segle XIX’, in El comerç entre Catalunya i Amèrica, segles xviii i xix, Barcelona: L’Avenç, pp. 109–121.

53.Roma i Casanovas, F. (2014) ‘Canvi social i conflictivitat als segles XVIII i XIX. El cas d'Osona’, AUSA, no. 26, pp. 925–944.

54.Dannecker, A. and Barriendos i Vallvé, M. (1999) ‘La sequía de 1812–1824 en la costa central catalana consideraciones climáticas e impacto social del evento’, in La climatología española en los albores del siglo XXI, Barcelona: Publicaciones de la Asociación Española de Climatología, pp. 53–61.

55.Torras Elias, J. (1970) ‘Societat rural i moviments absolutistes. Nota sobre la guerra dels malcontents (1827)’, Recerques: Història, economia i cultura, no. 1, pp. 123–130.

56.Arnabat i Mata, R. (1999) ‘Notes sobre l'aixecament dels malcontents, 1827’, Butlletí de la Societat Catalana d'Estudis Històrics, no. 10, pp. 107–128.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at admin@erenow.org. Thank you!