Manuel de Godoy Alvarez de Faria Rios Sanchez y Zarzosa - Encyclopedia

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MANUEL DE GODOY ALVAREZ DE FARIA RIOS SANCHEZ Y ZARZOSA (1767-1851), duke of El Alcudia and prince of the Peace, Spanish royal favourite and minister, was born at Badajoz on the 12th of May 1767. His father, Don Jose de Godoy, was the head of a very ancient but impoverished family of nobles in Estremadura. His mother, whose maiden name was Maria Antonia Alvarez de Faria, belonged to a Portuguese noble family. Manuel boasts in his memoirs that he had the best masters, but it is certain that he received only the very slight education usually given at that time to the sons of provincial nobles. In 1784 he entered the Guardia de Corps, a body of gentlemen who acted as the immediate body-guard of the king. His wellbuilt and stalwart person, his handsome foolish face, together with a certain geniality of character which he must have possessed, earned him the favour of Maria Luisa of Parma, the princess of Asturias, a coarse, passionate woman who was much neglected by her husband, who on his part cared for nothing but hunting.

When King Charles III. died in 1788, Godoy's fortune was soon made. The princess of Asturias, now queen, understood how to manage her husband Charles IV. Godoy says in his memoirs that the king, who had been carefully kept apart from affairs during his father's life, and who disliked his father's favourite minister Floridablanca, wished to have a creature of his own. This statement is no doubt true as far as it goes. But it requires to be completed by the further detail that the queen put her lover in her husband's way, and that the king was guided by them, when he thought he was ruling for himself through a subservient minister. In some respects King Charles was obstinate, and Godoy is probably right in saying that he never was an absolute "viceroy," and that he could not always secure the removal of colleagues whom he knew to be his enemies. He could only rule by obeying. Godoy adopted without scruple this method of pushing his fortunes. When the king was set on a particular course, he followed it; the execution was left to him and the queen. His pliability endeared him to his master, whose lasting affection he earned. In practice he commonly succeeded in inspiring the wishes which he then proceeded to gratify. From the very beginning of the new reign he was promoted in the army with scandalous rapidity, made duke of El Alcudia, and in 1792 minister under the premiership of Aranda, whom he succeeded in displacing by the close of the year.

His official life is fairly divided by himself into three periods. From 1792 to 1798 he was premier. In the latter year his unpopularity and the intrigues of the French government, which had taken a dislike to him, led to his temporary retirement, without, however, any diminution of the king's personal favour. He asserts that he had no wish to return to office, but letters sent by him to the queen show that he begged for employment. They are written in a very unpleasant mixture of gush and vulgar familiarity. In 1801 he returned to office, and until 1807 he was the executant of the disastrous policy of the court. The third period of his public life is the last year, 1807-1808, when he was desperately striving for his place between the aggressive intervention of Napoleon on the one hand, and the growing hatred of the nation, organized behind, and about, the prince of Asturias, Ferdinand. On the 17th of March 1808 a popular outbreak at Aranjuez drove him into hiding. When driven out by hunger and thirst he was recognized and arrested. By Ferdinand's order he was kept in prison, till Napoleon demanded that he should be sent to Bayonne. Here he rejoined his master and mistress. He remained with them till Charles IV. died at Rome in 1819, having survived his queen. The rest of Godoy's life was spent in poverty and obscurity. After the death of Ferdinand VII., in 1833, he returned to Madrid, and endeavoured to secure the restoration of his property confiscated in 1808. Part of it was the estate of the Soto de Roma, granted by the cortes to the duke of Wellington. He failed, and during his last years lived on a small pension granted him by Louis Philippe. He died in Paris on the 4th of October 1851.

As a favourite Godoy is remarkable for the length of his hold on the affection of his sovereigns, and for its completeness. Latterly he was supported rather by the husband than by the wife. He got rid of Aranda by adopting, in order to please the king, a policy which tended to bring on war with France. When the war proved disastrous, he made the peace of Basel, and was created prince of the Peace for his services. Then he helped to make war with England, and the disasters which followed only made him dearer to the king. Indeed it became a main object with Charles IV. to protect "Manuelito" from popular hatred, and if possible secure him a principality. The queen endured his infidelities to her, which were flagrant. The king arranged a marriage for him with Dona Teresa de Bourbon, daughter of the infante Don Luis by a morganatic marriage, though he was probably already married to Dona Josefa Tudo, and certainly continued to live with her. Godoy, in his memoirs, lays claim to have done much for Spanish agriculture and industry, but he did little more than issue proclamations and appoint officers. His intentions may have been good, but the policy of his government was financially ruinous. In his private life he was not only profligate and profuse, but childishly ostentatious. The best that can be said for him is that he was good-natured, and did his best to restrain the Inquisition and the purely reactionary parties.


Godoy's Memoirs were published in Spanish, English and French in 1836. A general account of his career will be found in the Memoires sur la Revolution d'Espagne, by the Abbe de Pradt (1816).

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