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Memories of the last Carlist War

Memories of the last Carlist War

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7 Elements of the PROPOSALS IN THIS TOWN
Walk through the places where the most important battles of the Third Carlist War took place, the last fight between the liberalists and the Carlists during the 19th century.


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God, Homeland, Furs (a set of laws specific to an identified class or state) and King. This was the Carlists’ motto, a political movement which rebelled up to three times against the Spanish political system, during the 19th century. Along this route, we will visit some spots in La Garrotxa which played an important role in the Third Carlist War (1872-1876). Marià Vayreda (Olot, 1853 – Barcelona, 1903) will also accompany us, since he not only lived this part of history in person, but also managed to tell the events some years later. Apart from being a painter, like his brother Joaquim Vayreda (Girona, 1843 – Olot, 1894), Marià Vayreda was one of the greatest Catalan narrators of that time. In his novel Records de la darrera carlinada (Memories of the Last Carlist War), he tells us about his experience in the war from a very personal and unique point of view: the one of a young boy who joined the army looking for adventures and defending his ideals. The roots of the conflict can be found in the ideological, economic and political conflict the Carlists had with the central government, and mainly with the modernity, progress and liberal politics implemented by the State during the 19th century. In fact, thirty years before the start of the Third Carlist War, The Second Carlist War had taken place. It is precisely in this second war where Marià Vayreda’s novel La Punyalada (The Stab) was inspired. Back in 1872, at the start of the conflict, the Carlists won several victories, assaulting and taking several towns such as Castellfollit de la Roca or Santa Pau. In fact, it was precisely in Santa Pau where, in June 1872, a small group of Carlists took the town and, as a way to prove its victory, they cut the tree of Liberty, planted by the Liberals. However, this wasn’t enough, because, using the wood of the tree, they built a cross, considered to be a Christian symbol. This is just an example of the strong ideological baggage this war had. In Sallent de Santa Pau there was mas Can Batlle, a farmhouse owned by a Carlist, which was turned into a shelter place to give support to the Carlists who were travelling through the comarca. Among other people, Alfons Carles, who was the brother of the Carlist pretender to the throne, Carles VII and his wife, Maria de les Neus Bragança. Alfons Carles had come to La Garrotxa with the purpose of ending the conflict between the Catalan Carlists, unifying the groups and building something similar to an army. However, the mission started badly, since one of the soldiers in charge, General Francesc Savalls, did not meet him in the border and, so, some days went by until they finally met. Finally, although they both were angry, they had a meeting in Santa Maria de Finestres hermitage. Alfons Carles was annoyed because Savalls had not met him in the border, while Savalls did not understand why the General from Navarre named Larramendi had been chosen, instead of him, to be the first Carlist chief of Catalonia. Although they were both on the same side, they had different interests; one was fighting to defend Catalonia whilst the other was fighting to defend the central power. Savalls came from a rural world and had taken part in the war in the mountains, whilst Alfons Carles enjoyed the comfort of the palaces in central Europe. The gallons, the blood and the promises of the aristocrat, did not succeed in forcing Savalls to accept Larramendi as the chief since, among other things, he was well aware the rest of the soldiers would follow him. Eventually, he managed to formally become the chief. As months went by, the comarca of La Garrotxa kept being one of the epicentres of the war in Catalonia. One of the most dramatic episodes took place in August 1873. On the 20th day the Carlist army attacked the town of Tortellà, famous for its liberalist character and its opposition against the Carlists. In fact, Savalls and his soldiers wanted to punish Tortellà for its public support to the Liberals. The Carlists assaulted the town and most of the inhabitants had to run away into the mountain. However, a group of 42 people, named “Volunteers for Liberty”, fought the attack and remained inside the church. The Carlists tried to assault the church but the volunteers resisted until August the 23rd, while waiting for help. First, a small liberal army arrived from Olot, although they were defeated by the Carlists. Later, 400 men arrived from Girona and succeeded in fighting the Carlists. Still today, this battle is commemorated as an important part of the history of the town. The day after, the 24th of August 1874, another battle took place near Tortellà, in the path that goes down to Argelaguer. We can experience this battle first hand by reading the chapter La Barreja from Vayreda’s book. The author depicts the battle and emphasizes the difficulty the cavalry had in a territory full of slopes and hills. There is also a scene in which Vayreda is asked to end the life of an enemy and, although trying hard, he is not able to do it. However, his act of courage, grants him a promotion in the hierarchy of the Carlist army. In 1874 the war had been going on for two years. During this period, the Carlists had accomplished few victories in Catalonia and even less in Spain. Thus, they had not managed to conquer many territories or important cities. However, they had taken most of the comarca of La Garrotxa, except for Olot, a city which they had laid siege to. It is precisely in this context in which the battle of Toix took place, one of the most decisive events of the war. The Liberals from Girona arrived in Olot to free it from the siege of the Carlists. They were commanded by General Nouvilas, a Republican from L’Empordà, who was also Captain General of Catalonia, appointed by Pi i Maragall, the President of the Republic. Meanwhile, the Carlists, under the orders of General Savalls, gained strength in Castellfollit de la Roca, so as to stop the Liberal soldiers coming from Girona. In the morning of the 14th of April 1874, the Liberal troops diverted to Tortellà and Plansalloses so as to sneak up on the Carlists, who expected them to come from the river. However, the legend says that the Carlists realized their strategy because of the reflection of the sun on their shotguns. Therefore, when the Liberals reached their destination the Carlists were prepared and waiting for them. They had fallen into their trap and so the Carlists obtained one of their most important victories. The booty consisted in 150 horses, 2,000 firearms and 1,800 prisoners. Only two days after the battle of Toix, on the 16th of April 1874, Olot surrendered. Savalls climbed to the balcony of the Solà-Morales house and reclaimed the furs of Catalonia. His victory speech ended with the following words: “Break ranks and start to engender Carlists”. Such an announcement can give us a vague idea of the parties held by the Carlists when conquering a town. Vayreda tells that the night Carlists had reached a town both the Carlists and the inhabitants had a lot of fun. However, these facts contrast with the alleged Catholic and conservative ways of the Carlist movement. The Carlists controlled Olot for nearly a year, although the end of the war was predictable, since the Carlists were having very few victories. Olot finally fell back onto the control of the Liberal government on the 18th of March 1875, when the Carlists, in front of a superior army had to go away and hide in the mountain. During the year in which the Carlists occupied this territory a conservative newspaper called “El Iris. Periódico Católico Monárquico” came out every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. In it we can find the political and military proclamations of the Carlists. Another war consequence was the construction of Sant Francesc towers on the crater of the Montsacopa. These towers were used to defend the city during the sieges of the Carlists. This is the reason why, instead of being orientated to the city such as Sant Francesc chapel, they face the north. The towers were built right after the Carlists had run away in case there was another war. The walls surrounding Olot were also of vital importance, although they were later demolished to allow the expansion of the city. However, a small part of them can still be found in Pintor Domenge Street, going down to the Montsacopa. On the 26th of March 1875, in La Corda lodging house, near Riudaura, General Savalls had a meeting with General Martínez Campos and, without explicitly recognizing the King Alfons XII as the legitimate King of Spain, he accepted a truce. This is how the Tird Carlist War came to an end in La Garrotxa. However, the Carlists were still killed by shooting during some time after the end of the war. Marià Vayreda managed to go away shortly before. He narrates it in the chapter called Calvari in which we can read about his personal situation: “Consumed by the fever, I was laying on some straw, hard as a rock, and I had almost lost consciousness. On my left hand I had a hole similar to the one Jesus Christ had.”With a severely injured hand, he wanted to reach the hospital of Besora, in the mountains of Vidrà. Thus, he had to cross three rivers in three days: the rivers Cardener, Llobegat and Ter. Feeling ill and with no help he finally got to Vidrà. The desolation he found there pushed him to go to France. At the age of 23 he started a new life as a painter apprentice and, shortly after, he came back to Barcelona and Olot where he painted and wrote. His story can perfectly be a metaphor of the country, worn by so many wars, which went back to its routine to face the ending of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.
Nearly 200 years ago, at the beginning of the 19th century, the King of Spain died without an heir and so Isabel II became the new Queen. This fact did not abide a very old rule that said the king always had to be a man and not a woman. At the same time, there were some important political changes in the country. For the first time, there was a president of the government and some ministers. Thus, the most conservative branches rebelled against the State and demanded a male king named Charles, a relative of the dead king. This is why the ones advocating for this king were named Carlists. In general, the Carlists criticised the modernization process taking place in Spain. They were extremely conservative and Catholic and did not want to lose the rights they had always had. This is why the Carlists wars had a stronger impact in Catalonia and the Basque Country. There were three wars in nearly 60 years. In the last ones, the Carlists demanded one of the descendants of Charles V, who had already died, to be the king. In La Garrotxa the Third Carlist War was especially important. At that time many young men joined the Carlist army looking for adventures and using it as a pretext to fight for their ideals. However, some of them took advantage of the situation to steal, assault and kidnap innocents. This war lasted many years and the Carlists gained the control of almost all the towns of the comarca, including Olot, the capital city. Finally, though, the war ended as the previous ones, with the defeat of the Carlists. The soldiers of this war lead a very different life. They travelled along the paths, on foot or riding horses, and hid in the mountains, from where they attacked towns and villages. In some towns they were welcomed, but, in others, the people opposed them and so there were conflicts. It was an exciting life, although they suffered from hunger and cold. They had to walk long distances and often fight with very old arms which did not work properly. Marià Vayreda was a painter and writer from Olot, who, at a very young age, took part in the Third Carlist War. He told the experience in his book Records de la darrera carlinada (Memories of the last Carlist War). For instance, he explains that, when the Carlist soldiers had to shoot from the forests, the bullets went into every direction and a lot of branches fell on top of them. Walking around the volcanoes in Olot we can imagine how the sieges or the attacks against the city could have been. In every volcano there are defence towers for the village people to defend themselves from the Carlists. Fortunately, these days there is a quiet and peaceful atmosphere in areas where life did not use to be so quiet and peaceful as it is now.


If we know about the routes through La Garrotxa followed by Alfons Carles, the brother of the Carlist pretender to the throne is thanks to his wife, Maria de les Neus Bragança. This Portuguese aristocrat shared with him many travels across the mountains. She tells everything in her memories called Les meves memòries. Sobre la nostra campanya a Catalunya el 1872 i 1873 i en el centre el 1874 (My memories about the Catalan campaign in the years 1872, 1873 and 1874). Maria de les Neus Bragança became a highly appreciated woman by the Carlists.

Additional data

Recommendation: To read two great books by Marià Vayreda set in the Carlist La Garrotxa: La punyalada (The Stab) and Records de la darrera carlinada (Memories of the last Carlist War). You will enjoy them and you will also learn the geographical and historical aspects of the country.

More information

The geography of the Carlist Wars: The geographical advantage of the Carlists was the mountain. The Iberian Peninsula, Navarre, the Basque Country, the Principality of Catalonia and the Maestrat were areas where the Carlist movement found more support and, so, where the majority of events during the war took place. In Catalonia, the comarques of La Garrotxa, El Ripollès, Osona, El Solsonès or El Berguerdà, among others, were full of armed men ready to fight the troops of the Spanish army. This way, both the Pyrenees and the Pre-Pyrenees territories were controlled by the Carlists, although there were towns more involved than others. In his book, Vayreda mentions the mas Cavaller de Vidrà, the place where he first joined the army and where, some years later, came back. He also spent some times in Camprodon, first recovering from the injuries and, later, enjoying the comforts of the rear-guard. One of the towns which has a painful memory of the Carlists is Tortellà, because it was the setting of different battles and, finally, it was burned down by General Savalls, as an act of revenge for the support the town had given to the Liberals.

The Carlists: The Carlism was a political movement which rebelled against the Spanish Government demanding another dynastic line to the throne. Firstly, the Carlists demanded Carles V to be the king, but, later, they also gave support to his descendants. It was a conservative, Catholic and rural movement, which opposed modernity and progress. During the 19th century there were three Carlist Wars (until 1936 there were referred to as “civil wars”) and the Carlists were defeated in all three. The first one, in the 1830s, was the longest one. At the end of the 1840s the second one took place, mainly in Catalonia, and the third one started in the beginning of the 1870s and lasted three years. The Carlists were internationally supported by the Papal States and the rest of the absolutist states in Europe. Their internal supports were the Church, the rural landlords, young men seeking adventures and the vast majority of the rural population, who opposed liberalism and modernity. However, the Spanish Government was starting to show a centralist attitude and, therefore, the Catalans were also fighting the Spanish State.

Marià Vayreda: Marià Vayreda was a 19 year old boy who joined the Carlist army in 1872. He saw how the Carlists progressed and, then, backed away, he saw them win and lose positions in the Catalan mountains until 1875, when he fled into exile in France. A few years later, he came back to Catalonia. After some years working as a painter he started to write. He only wrote three books and one the most famous ones is La Punyalada (The Stab). It is set in the Alta Garrotxa where, after the Second Carlist War, there were some people who weren’t able to adapt to the new town and remained hidden in the mountains, stealing, kidnapping and fleeing from justice. Another one of his books, written in 1898, is Memòries de la darrera carlinada (Memories of the last Carlist War). It is a novel based on the personal experiences he went through during the war, even though it was written twenty years after it ended. It describes how the soldiers lived; they did not sleep much and were always hungry. But, apart from anecdotes, his book contains amazing descriptions of the different characters who took part in the Carlist Wars. Thanks to this descriptive style and its rich vocabulary, Vayreda manages to take us back in time to the mountains and get to know the people who inhabited it more than 150 years ago. However, Vayreda does not only talk about war, he also details the different ways to see life depending on one’s age. In the chapter Fantasies, he says the following: “Life is like crusty bread: when we start eating it, we feed the dogs with the crust, but when there is not much left, we even fight over it with family members.” Throughout his life, his political beliefs changed from being extremely reactionary to a more conservative Catalanism attitude. This Catalanism, though, was incorruptible, as shown by some of his comments in his work.