Part I: The Initial Problems
Serrano's appointment as the Regent of the Kingdom of Spain, and thus Head of State of the Spanish Nation until such a time that the King of Spain was finally found, was something that satisfied most everyone in the government: Serrano now found that his political ambitions had been, at least temporarily, satisfied, as being the Regent meant holding the country's highest institutional position, and, at the same time, it calmed the monarchical Democrats, who had feared that either Serrano or Prim might decide to throw it all to the wind and become worse tyrants than Isabel had been, as Serrano's position meant he lacked any actual troop command.
Unfortunately, there several problems and frictions within the Government Coalition and within the Progressive Party, divided between those led by Práxedes Mateo Sagasta who believed that reforms should now end and supported some of Cánovas del Castillo's ideas for a monarchical nation where individual rights were legislated, and those led by Manuel Ruiz Zorrilla (the Radicals) who supported the continuation of reforms, the non-legislation of individual rights and the transitional nature of the new monarchy towards a Republic. Trying to bring the balance of the Government Coalition within the Government proper, President Prim, who intended to keep the Progressives as the central party between the Unionists and the Democrats decided to replace Lorenzana and López de Ayala as Ministers of Home Affairs and Overseas with Democrats Cristino Martos and Manuel Becerra in July 1869, a move that earned him the Unionists' suspicions.
Of course, many in the Courts claimed that this was not the time to start reshuffling the government, but of looking for the new King of Spain. Now that things within the government had, at least partially, calmed down, Prim agreed to that, and accepted the Courts' choice for the members of the commission that would be in charge of determining and controlling the Government's actions. However, this was not of much help, because, as some comic strip drawers joked, the Commission had ten candidates and nine members.
The first candidate to be considered was Antoine d'Orléans, Duke of Montpensier, who had partially financed the revolutionary cause. Unfortunately for him, despite the support of part of the Unión Liberal, among them Navy Minister Topete, Prim and many others immediately rejected him because of his kinship ties to the recently dethroned Bourbons, both by marriage to Isabel II's younger sister and by blood (as he was part of the Borbon-Orléans dynasty), as well as the fact that he had not returned to Spain from his exile in Lisbon until the revolution triumphed, despite his presence being required as General Captain of the Spanish Army.
Other potential candidates considered from Spanish dynasties were the eternal Carlist pretender Carlos María de Borbón y Austria-Este, the one naturally preferred by the Carlists and the Catholic fundamentalists, who called him Carlos VII following the the Carlist line of succession, and Prince Alfonso de Borbón, son of Isabel II. Both were, naturally, rejected by the government, the former because he would never accept being a king without any actual power (in the words of Carlos de Borbón himself, I did not fight for my rights only to become the puppet of the Parliament) and the latter because he would be clearly influenced by his mother and those who had been at the former Queen's side.
Thus, it became clear that perhaps it might be better to start looking for other candidates out of Spain. Portugal, being the nearest nation, was the first place where a potential candidate was looked for and found: former Portuguese king Fernando de Coburgo, admired for his political impartiality and his already great experience in the matter, as he had been Consort King of Maria II and then Regent for his son Pedro V, who died without issue and was succeeded by his brother Luís I. His candidacy was supported by those who believed in the idea of an united Iberia, like Republican Nicolás Salmerón, but Fernando rejected it: he disliked the idea of unifying the Spanish and Portuguese crowns against the will of the people, he knew that such an attempt would immediately bring an answer from the British and, probably, the French government, and he had just married with opera singer Elisa Hensler, with whom he wished to have a quiet life, away from institutional roles.
Fernando's rejection meant that the search was continued, and the commission's eyes were cast at Italy, which had very recently been nearly unified by the Savoia dynasty. Two members of the family were sounded out: Amedeo di Savoia, second son of Italian king Vittorio Emmanuele II, and Tomasso Alberto di Savoia, Duke of Genoa. Amedeo, although somewhat tempted by the idea, rejected the throne, because the instability Spain had shown in the last decades made him wary of becoming the king of Spain: in everyone's mind was Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico at France's behest, who had ended up shot by the Republicans when the Mexican Civil War ended. Meanwhile, the 13-year-old Duke of Genoa's candidacy was initially accepted by the Courts for 128 votes in favor and 52 against, and supported by the Duke of Montpensier as long as the pretender married one of his daughters, hoping to be able to have influence on the young man. However, in the end Tomasso's mother and the Italian government gave a refusal, arguing the Spanish instability as well, although some thought it could be revenge for Isabel's support of the Papal States in 1848 and the promises to Napoleon III to send Spanish troops to defend the Latium, the last territories held by the Pope.
The search for the new king constrained even more the political situation, especially in the aftermath of the Duke of Genoa's rejection, because Ruiz Zorrilla started to support the possibility of starting what he called a Liberal Dictatorship, in order to develop the newest aspects of the 1869 Constitution without waiting for the new King and without Unionist support. The intra-coalition division was fostered by Treasury Minister Laureano Figuerola's economical plans, who wished to establish a free trade plan to foment industrial and commercial growth with the elimination of tariffs, but this plan was opposed by the Unionists, the Radical Progressives and the protectionist Progressives, the latter of which wished to support the Catalan industries.
The search for the new king was further complicated when, on March 12th 1870, the Duke of Montpensier dueled and killed Infante Enrique de Borbón, brother of former Consort King Francisco de Asís de Borbón and another rejected candidate for the crown. Montpensier was exiled because of this assassination, and thus his hopes to become the King of Spain were shattered.
Some deputies, angry with the failures at finding a good King for Spain, suggested that the crown was given, not to a foreign prince, but to an actual Spanish hero. Thus, Juan Prim and Pascual Madoz wrote a letter to now retired General Baldomero Fernández Espartero, who had been Regent for Isabel II and was a hero among the lower and middle classes. His advanced age and lack of issue made him the favorite candidate of the Radical Progressives and the Republicans, because, after his death, the probability of Spain becoming a Republic was a greater one. However, the general declined the offer, arguing that he had chosen to retire from politics after the events of 1856, and he did not want to leave neither his ailing wife nor his beloved Logroño.
Due to the string of failures, the ravages from the bloody Cuban guerrilla war and the brutal repression of a Carlist uprising and a Federal Republican insurrection that had brought furious criticizing by the Republican and Democrat deputies, the Liberal Union tried to pass a motion of no confidence against Prim on May 19th, but Prim survived the motion thanks to the support of his party and the Democrats.
Meanwhile, the Radicals in the Government (among them Ruiz Zorrilla, who had been Minister of Public Works until July 1869, when he was shuffled to Justice, and then in January 1870 he became President of the Courts) had started a labor that wished to modernize Spain through their advanced policies: they approved liberty of professorship, the secularization of Spain (civil marriage was legalized), the liberalization of the market and several administrative and judicial reforms. These measures, although approved by the Courts, were constantly rejected by the Isabeline nostalgic deputies and the Carlists, as well as arousing distrust in the conservative sectors of the Liberal Union and the Progressive Party.
The search of a king continued unabated, although unsuccessful (Prim himself would famously state Finding a democrat king in Europe is harder than finding an atheist in Heaven!), which was strengthening the Republican position. Prim tried to win them by offering Emilio Castelar and Francisco Pi y Margall the positions of Minister of Treasury and Public Works, but both of them rejected the offer, believing that soon the monarchical regime would fail and Prim would have no other choice than to accept the proclamation of a Spanish Republic.
Having failed in Southern Europe, the commission started to look for potential candidates in Central Europe. There were many possibilities initially in there, due to the many political changes the last years had brought, but the requirements placed by Prim's government (that the candidate was Catholic, that he accepted to swear allegiance to the 1869 Constitution and that he did not meddle in the Spanish political life beyond his constitutional duties) ruled out many candidates: the Habsburg dynasty that ruled in Austria, although it had ties with the monarchs that had preceded the Bourbons, was rejected because of their traditionalism and Neo-Catholicism, especially that of the Austrian emperor Franz Joseph I; the Wittelsbach dynasty of Bavaria was also rejected, but this time due to the congenital madness most of its members suffered; and the Prussian Hohenzollerns, who, although seen as perfect thanks to the titanic job they had done in the last years by turning Prussia into Europe's emergent great power, mostly thanks to Chancellor Otto von Bismarck's negotiations, and slowly managing to unify all of Germany in one sovereign state, were not desired due to the fact that they were Protestants.
All of this seemed to corroborate President Prim's statement, but then, on June 21st 1870, an agent of the Spanish government in Berlin informed through telegraph of the existence of a candidate that would be perfect for the Spanish Crown.
Part II: The Prussian Candidate
The agent was a former member of the Spanish diplomatic mission in Berlin, Eusebio Salazar y Mazarredo, who had also been Deputy to Courts. Being a part of the conspiracy to topple Isabel II nearly from the start, Salazar had been, even then, projecting what he considered the perfect candidacy for the post-revolutionary Spanish throne. In summer of 1866, two years before La Gloriosa started, he met with Baron von Werthern, the Prussian ambassador to France, in the summer resort of Biarritz, where many dignitaries and rich people of the time went (the choice was not random: one of Biarritz most faithful visitors was Chancellor Bismarck, and Salazar had hoped to meet the Chancellor there) for a lunch meeting. Salazar introduced the subject of the possibility of the Spanish throne becoming vacant for any reason, and asked the Baron what was his opinion. The Prussian ambassador answered that, if that were to happen, and in his personal opinion, the best candidate for the Spanish throne was Leopold zu Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen.
The Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was a Hohenzollern branch that, in the 16th Century, had planted its dominion in the region of Swabia, and had ceded their rights to their Prussian relatives after the 1848 Revolution. Karl Anton zu Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, Leopold's father, had been Prussian Chancellor between 1858 and 1862, Leopold was an officer in the Prussian Army, and Karl, Leopold's younger brother, had become King of Romania in 1866 under the name of Carol I. Thus, it could not be argued that Leopold's chances did not lack precedents.
Besides, Leopold had several characteristics that made the idea of his becoming the King of Spain even more attractive. Most important of all, Leopold was Catholic, like his whole family, for the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen had remained faithful to Catholicism after the Protestant Reform; he was a very educated man, of great intelligence, who would surely be a great support in improving Spain; his personal fortune was among the most considerable in the continent; he was married to Portuguese Infanta Antónia de Saxe-Coburgo-Gota e Bragança, Portuguese King Luís I's sister, so that could give him the support of those that looked for a candidate that unified Spain and Portugal, and his succession was secured thanks to his sons Wilhelm (born in 1864) and Ferdinand (born in 1865), as well as, shortly after La Gloriosa's triumph, a third son, Karl Anton.
Along 1869, Salazar, with the official support of the Spanish ambassador in Berlin, Count Juan Antonio Rascón, worked greatly in order to inform Bismarck of his suggestion and to win the Chancellor's support for the candidacy. Rumours of Salazar's schemes appeared in several corners in Europe, prompting newspapers to ask about them, but the protagonists managed to fake ignorance of the matter while vital contacts were developed. One of these contacts was a secret visit of President Prim to Prince Karl Anton's house, in order to propose him his son's candidacy. The candidate himself and Prussian King Wilhelm I had several doubts about this, due to both Spain's internal politics and the pro-coup philosophy developed in the Spanish Army, but the candidacy gained a great support in Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.
At first sight, it seemed that Bismarck was indifferent towards the idea, in spite of his liking of the Spanish Ambassador, but his closest confidants could see that he was excited by the idea of not only gaining another ally in Europe, but also of helping to produce German unification: Bismarck was sure that the affair could be used to attract France into a war with Prussia, a war that would surely be won by Prussia. He decided that the best way to go was to wear down Wilhelm I's and Leopold's reluctance.
With that objective in mind, Bismarck managed to convince Wilhelm I and Prince Karl Anton to organize a private dinner, which would be attended by the Prussian government, General Helmuth von Moltke, Prince Leopold, the Prussian King and his son and heir, Kronprinz Friedrich. During the dinner, Leopold's candidacy was floated by Bismarck, and most of those present were in favor of it, as it would gain them France's southern neighbour as an ally. Only the King and the Kronprinz remained unconvinced, while Leopold remained ambiguous awaiting the King's settlement. That settlement would come soon after, thanks to Bismarck's sibylline pressures to convince the King, the Kronprinz and Leopold of the great opportunities the latter's accession to the Spanish throne would generate for Prussia.
Salazar then notified through telegraph to Manuel Ruiz Zorrilla, the President of the Courts, that he would arrive to Madrid with Leopold's acceptance of his candidacy and Wilhelm I's approval on July 6th (*), right in time to present it before the Courts, whose members were restlessly awaiting for the end of the parliamentary session period. At the same time, many secret agents of Bismarck's maximum confidence entered Spain, in order to join the agents that were already in place, in order to help the candidacy's success.
Part III: French Meddlings... ¿Or Not?
The Prussians were not the only ones that were spying on what was going on in Spain. Among the most interested ones were the French, especially Emperor Napoleon III, who had looked at Isabel II's overthrow with a mix of interest, distrust and worry, so he had sent more agents than ever in order to be the first to know (and, thus, to be able to manipulate) what was happening in Spain.
This was not the first time France had done this. In fact, this would be but the last in the interventions France had carried out in Spain in the last decades. The most notorious, recent examples were the invasion of the Hundred Thousand Sons of Saint Louis, who had invaded Spain in 1823 to end the constitutional experience started three years before by Lieutenant Colonel Rafael de Riego and re-establish Fernando VII's absolutism, and their meddling in Isabel II's marriage in 1846, preventing the young queen from marrying Leopoldo de Coburgo, Fernando de Coburgo's younger brother, who was the British preferred candidate.
However, this time there was a great difference with previous French interventions. For starters, this time France was diplomatically isolated due to the many mistakes of Imperial France's foreign policy: French support for the Polish rebellion in 1863 had broken the alliance with Russia; lack of French support to Austria during the Seven Weeks War against Prussia offended the Habsburg; French defense of the Pope so that he could keep the Latium had greatly angered the previously friendly Italians, who had given them their Savoy and Nice possessions, after two popular referenda, in 1860; France was also seen from Istanbul as a vulture that encouraged the Ottoman Empire's disintegration through their help to the Egyptians (who showed their gratefulness by giving permission for the construction of the Suez Canal, which was inaugurated in 1869 by Eugenia de Montijo, the Spanish-born Empress) and the Greek, to keep all of their colonies; and, in the New World, the United States of America didn't forget neither the Imperial venture in Mexico nor the tentative support Napoleon III had given the Confederates during the American Civil War. By the year 1868, there were only two European nations that could be said to be amicable towards France: Isabel II's Spain, and Victoria I's United Kingdom.
Unfortunately, the United Kingdom maintained a policy of neutrality in most continental affairs, and they did not trust Napoleon III, after French pretensions to annex Belgium and Luxembourg were made public by Bismarck, and Spain was a great unknown factor due to the unexpected revolution of September 1868.
From his personal point of view, Napoleon was opposed to the possibility of Montpensier accessing the Spanish throne, whether it was directly or through his wife. Such accession could destabilize Napoleon III's internal power in France, as the Duke was one potential candidate to the French crown since he was the tenth son of Louis-Philippe I, whom Napoleon had overthrown in 1848, and his crowning as King of Spain could provoke the re-emergence of the Orléanist movement.
Napoleon III's agents were the first, after the Portuguese, to hear about Fernando de Coburgo's possible candidacy. This was one Napoleon III supported, because he thought that, if he did it from its infancy, the resulting Iberian nation would become a French ally. However, Fernando's rejection was a setback for his plans and prospects.
The rumors of the Prussian candidacy were also heard in Paris, but these rumors only reached the City of Lights through the newspapers, as the Spanish and Prussian governments were denying even that any contacts existed. Both groups knew that France would be completely opposed to it, and that a French threat of war might set back all of Bismarck's efforts to convince Leopold and the Prussian King of the worthiness of the idea. On the Spanish side, it helped that France had treated Spain like dirt for many years, as well as Napoleon III's support of the Bourbon monarchy, either for Isabel II or for her son Alfonso, to whom the Queen was willing to transfer her dynastic rights due to the advice of the Isabeline monarchists. These circumstances meant that it was absolutely forbidden for anything about the secret negotiations to reach Paris. It was this, and the great disinformation effort done by the Prussian agents in Madrid, that undermined all French efforts to know the results of the search for the new King of Spain.
In a triumph of French diplomacy, the French ambassador in Madrid, Mercier de L'Ostende, managed to arrange a private dinner with President of the Courts Manuel Ruiz Zorrilla on June 4th. Dinner took place normally, with both politicians talking about trivial affairs, and when the ambassador thought the way was prepared, L'Ostende pounced on the matter as if he was a tiger pouncing on its prey. There are many accounts of what could have happened during that dinner, but the best one that could be determined was, perhaps, Manuel Ruiz Zorrilla's own account of the encounter in his autobiography, “From El Burgo de Osma to San Jerónimo”:
We had just reached the desserts when L'Ostende asked, as if he was speaking about the weather:
“How is President Prim? It is my supposition that the search for your new King must have been very bad for him. Am I right?”
“You are correct,” I answered, my wariness increasing. “I met him this morning, and he was still working on a great number of matters that had his complete attention.”
“Tell me, did he find an answer to this problem of yours?”
I resisted my nearly unconscious response of raising an eyebrow. I had known, from the moment L'Ostende had sent the petition for this encounter, that the meeting would be neither of pleasure nor of diplomacy, but an attempt to gain information. However, the Ambassador's audacity surprised me. Whomever had taught him the art of interrogation was clearly not versed in the art.
“There are... several candidates, and we hope that one of them will be of the liking of both the members of Congress and the Spanish population.” I slightly stressed the word Spanish, because I wanted to let L'Ostende know in a subtle way that we did not care about the French people's opinion.
“Such as...Montpensier, perhaps?” L'Ostende asked, in an apparent jovial tone.
I snorted. It was unavoidable.
“Monsieur Ambassador, believe me when I tell you that we did not expel Queen Isabel only to put her sister and brother-in-law in the throne. He is a buffoon, an idiot, and the most he will receive from Congress will be a few votes from his staunchest supporters in the Liberal Union. Of which there are very few, let me tell you.”
“Surely, there must be a candidate Presidente Prim prefers over the others. After all, you are a member of his Government, as well as a man of his greatest confidence.”
L'Ostende's audacity was slowly becoming an annoyance. In retrospect, I suppose that this was what he had been taught to do: if you want to get answers out of someone that does not want to give them, annoy them until they speak, even if it is to make you shut up.
I nearly told him about the Prussian candidate, Leopold. However, I stopped myself from doing so, thankfully remembering on time that any word of that candidacy would result in its end, death and burial: its success would mean France would be surrounded by their enemies, as history proved soon enough. Then, I remembered that Prim had sent Madoz to Italy, in order to restart negotiations with the Italians. This was being done as a fallback precisely in case the French heard about Leopold, who was the favorite candidate of, not only Prim, but most of the government. So I chose that as a way to misdirect L'Ostende.
“Yes, there... might be someone,” I said, slowly. It was a conscious attempt on my part: any apparent reluctance in stating who was Prim's favored candidate meant that L'Ostende would be more pliable to believe me.
“Who it is?”
“Well, it is someone who said no before, but we are restarting the negotiations with him, and we are hopeful that he might say yes. It's... Prince Amadeo de Savoya, the Italian prince. The President certainly likes him.”
It was not a lie: Prim had liked Amadeo, and that was the reason why Madoz had traveled to Italy. But it was not the whole truth, either: while we hoped that he may affirm his will to become King, we expected that negotiations would end very soon, when the first voting went on.
Fortunately, L'Ostende was satisfied. Conversation turned to more pleasing matters, and soon after we finished desserts he left for his home.
Little did we know that, soon, this gentle relationship would turn as bitter as hemlock.
The morning after their encounter, Ambassador L'Ostende went to the nearest telegraph and communicated to the French Government and Emperor about his findings: Montpensier had no chance. No mention of the Prussians. The favored, and most probable candidate, was Amedeo di Savoia, the Italian Prince.
Part IV: The Voting
The day after L'Ostende sent his telegram, July 6th, Eugenio Salazar y Mazarredo arrived to Madrid, carrying with him Prince Leopold's acceptance of his candidacy to the throne of Spain. Being adverted of his arrival, Manuel Ruiz Zorrilla convened an extraordinary session of the Courts for the following day. The only matter to be debated would be who would become the new holder of the Spanish crown.
The debate lasted several hours, and some angry discussions were held, but peace among the deputies was held, and Salazar's presentation of Leopold's signed acceptance was met with great applause on part of many deputies. At five PM, after a two-hour recess ordered by the President of the Courts, a voting was finally held, and the results, out of 381 Deputies, were these:
Prussian Prince Leopold zu Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen: 210
Proclamation of a Federal Republic: 76
Carlos María de Borbón y Austria-Este: 20
Antoine d'Orléans, Duke of Montpensier: 13
Alfonso de Borbón y Borbón, Prince of Asturias: 11
General Baldomero Fernández Espartero: 8
Infanta Luisa Fernanda de Borbón, Duchess of Montpensier: 2
Proclamation of an Unitary Republic: 1
Null or none of the above: 5
Absent: 35, including 18 from Cuba and 11 from Puerto Rico
When the result of the voting became know, the President of the Courts, Radical Manuel Zorrilla, solemnly declared Queda elegido, como Rey de la Nación Española, el señor Leopoldo de Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (It has been agreed that the new King of the Spanish Nation is Leopold zu Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen) in the middle of a thunderous ovation in the chamber of the Palace of the Courts in the Carrera de San Jerónimo, Madrid.
The next morning, July 8th 1870, all Spanish newspapers had in their front page grand titles, stating the proclamation of the Prussian candidate as new King of Spain. Most Spanish people were excited at said proclamation and about their new King, whom many newspapers compared with the man who had created the Spanish Empire, Emperor Carlos I of Spain (and V of Germany), and said that Leopold would bring new greatness to Spain, just like Carlos I had done in his time.
However, this explosion of popular joy did not prevent some jokes to appear about the King's surname, which many found difficult to pronounce, and soon Leopold was nicknamed by the Spanish people as ¡Olé, olé si me eligen! (Olé, olé if I am chosen!), referencing as well how difficult it had been the search for the new king.
This nickname was soon acquired by those sectors that had opposed Leopold's election, among them the Carlists and Isabelines, who started to use it as a derogatory way to refer to Leopold. It would be those same sectors who would start to use the international consequences of this choice as ways to prevent the Prussian from taking the Catholic Monarch's throne.
(*): This is the Point of Divergence. Leopold had accepted his candidacy, and Eusebio Salazar had sent the telegram. The Divergence happened when, by a strange and transcendental transmission mistake, the telegram received by Ruiz Zorrilla stated that Salazar would arrive on July 26th. With this information on hand, Ruiz Zorrilla decided that he could not keep the Deputies waiting for eighteen more days, especially since July 8th had been declared the last day of parliamentary sessions, and thus sent them away earlier. The delay meant that, in the meeting between French Ambassador Mercier de L'Ostende and Ruiz Zorrilla, the latter talked about Leopold, and the Ambassador notified his government. The French government's answer was the catalyst for the start of the Franco-Prussian war.